If a bicycle is on the Christmas shopping list for your kids, a helmet should be right underneath it. Bicycle helmets have been compulsory since 1990. More importantly, they protect kids (and adults) from severe head injuries. Like the bikes we talked about last week, the most important factor in buying a helmet is the fit.
Take your kids with you when you go helmet shopping. They’re much more likely to wear a helmet they’ve chosen themselves, and you can make sure it’s comfortable and fits properly before you buy it. Don’t be tempted to buy a helmet they can “grow into”. Helmets usually come with a variety of foam pads. But they’re designed to make the right size helmet fit better. They can’t make the wrong helmet fit properly.
Let the kids try on a few helmets. The shape of heads and helmets varies, so it’s quite likely one brand will feel much more comfortable than another. Ideally, a helmet should be light with plenty of ventilation, but if your kids insist on a gun-metal grey BMX helmet, let them have it.
Any helmet sold in Australia should comply with the Australian standard, but check to make sure. There’ll be an obvious sticker on the inside of the helmet stating that it does. Don’t buy a helmet if it does not bear that sticker.
Kids should wear their helmets the same as adults. The helmet should sit square on their head with the rim a couple of finger-widths above their eyebrows. The straps should sit just below their ear lobes and the chin strap should be firm (but not too tight) under their chin. It can often take a bit of fiddling to get a new helmet fitting properly. It’s worth the effort though. When it sits firmly, it’s much more comfortable and your kids are more likely to wear it.
Bicycle helmets are designed to protect you from one impact. After that, even if it looks OK, you should replace it. The trick is to look after the helmet so it does protect you when you need it. If it suffers daily bangs, bumps and abuse, it may not.
Encourage your kids to look after their helmets by setting aside a storage spot, out of the sun, and away from grease, dirt and solvents. Try to get them to treat their helmet gently. Scraped knees heal quickly, but a head injury is for life.
See you on the road soon, God willing. Eddie Barkla
First published in the Bendigo Weekly Friday 1 December 2006