A quick word on helmets for the novices among you

By Dan Pugatch

With all the new riders out there taking advantage of the new Hubway bike share system, I thought it would be a good time to bring up an old topic. Wearing a helmet is a choice in the city of Boston, but it’s a choice that might save your life someday.

Unfortunately, we cannot count on everyone using the road to obey laws, pay attention, or avoid distraction, and that goes for cars, pedestrians and even bicycles. One night I was broadsided by a fellow cyclist who had just run a red light with headphones on and no lights. Overall, the best thing to do is prepare for the worst-case scenario.

Wear a helmet.

We are lucky that today there are many different helmet styles to choose from and we no longer have to sacrifice style for safety. The two basic types are traditional and skate. Traditional helmets are made of styrofoam with the top half covered in plastic. Skate-style helmets have a hard plastic shell with either foam or styrofoam inside.

Traditional bike helmet brands like Bell and Giro are the most common. They tend to have more ventilation than skate helmets, which you will enjoy during the summer. Generally speaking, the more a bike helmet costs the more likely it is to have more ventilation, a lighter feel, and a better adjustment system. As a customer of mine once noted, “You pay more for less helmet.” The basic helmet will do just fine, but upgrading to a model with a visor is well worth it if you don’t tend to ride with sunglasses.

Proper helmet fit positions the helmet squarely over the head, not tilting back or forward.

Skate helmets are increasingly popular as urban alternatives to traditional bike helmets. If you’re headed in this direction make sure there is styrofoam inside the one you buy. Styrofoam compresses during impact, saving your life. Most skate helmets just have foam padding inside designed for skating at slower speeds and will not be adequate for cycling. Well-known brands that use styrofoam are Bern and Lazer. I personally use a Bern in the winter (they offer a winter kit accessory that keeps you super warm) and I just started using a Lazer Cityzen because it is red and plaid. I could not resist.

Regardless of what style helmet you purchase, make sure it has a CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission) sticker inside stating that it has passed certification to keep you safe from a brain injury. Helmets without this certification have not been proven to be effective.

Proper helmet fit is also crucial. An improper fit will not keep you safe as parts of your head may become exposed and make contact with the ground. The helmet should rest level on top of your head and should not tilt up exposing your forehead or tilt forward exposing the back of your head. Most quality helmets come with an adjusting dial on the back of the helmet to tighten the fit. Do not tighten down too much, as this can lead to a headache or at least a funny impression on your forehead when you get to your destination. If your helmet does not have an adjustment dial (usually skate styles and more affordable bike helmets do not) make sure you purchase a size that fits somewhat snugly on your noggin and add/remove foam pad inserts as necessary. Finally, adjust the straps. First, move the side buckles up or down so that they are below your ear but above your chin line. Then adjust the length of the strap so that it feels a tiny bit loose but tightens up when you yawn.


  1. Julie Taylor on August 12, 2011 at 7:33 am


    Great article and I really appreciate your attention to proper helmet fit. My son suffered a TBI after riding without a helmet. It can happen to anyone and the outcome is far better if you protect your head!

    Julie Taylor

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