04.What to look for
What to look for
- Australian Standard 2063:1996 certification (look for a label inside the helmet). You shouldn't find any helmets these days that aren't certified, though they might not all carry the easily recognisable five-tick Australian StandardsMark (see right) - manufacturers have to pay to use that. Most state governments require bike helmets to meet this standard. The only exception is WA, where helmets certified to the US Snell Standard are also permitted. The Australian Standard is one of the toughest in the world.
- Easy-to-adjust straps, including a nape strap on the headband
- Clips and buckles with pinch guards - but make sure they don't make the clips hard to use.
- Light weight
- Good visibility
- Bright colours or reflectors, so your kid is easily visible when riding
- A sun visor, detachable or integrated
- Good ventilation - most helmets have adequate ventilation, but if your youngster spends a lot of time riding, you might need to look for a helmet with better ventilation. If your kid feels too hot, they might be tempted to ride without the helmet.
Types of helmet
- Soft shell: A foam shell with a fabric cover or no cover at all. None of the helmets we tested are of this type
- Microshell: Has a thin plastic cover over the foam. This is usually glued or taped on, but some models are in-mould, where the foam is injected into the shell and bonded with it. All the tested helmets except the BIG W are microshell.
- Hard shell: Has a thicker plastic cover over the foam. These aren’t necessarily stronger helmets, but might withstand everyday wear and tear better than other types. The BIG W is a hard shell.
Fitting a helmet
Fitting a helmet correctly is vital. The toughest helmet in the world won't be much good if it slips around on the rider's head when they fall off their bike. So how do you ensure the helmet is a good fit?
- First, if in doubt, get expert help. Any good bike shop should be able to help fit a helmet correctly
- Get your child to help choose the helmet if possible, rather than just being there as an unwilling victim. That way they'll get one they're happy to wear, rather than something daggy that they'll take off as soon as you're out of sight
- Place the helmet on their head so that it sits level, with the rim just above the eyebrows
- Tighten the nape strap if it has one and adjust any extra padding so that the helmet fits snugly. It shouldn't slide around on the head or press uncomfortably at any points
- Adjust the straps so that the 'V' sits just below the ear and is even on both sides
- Do up the chinstrap, snugly but not uncomfortably tight
- Now try to roll the helmet forward and backward - it shouldn't move very far. Adjust the side V straps or chinstrap if necessary. If the helmet still moves around too much after tightening the straps, try another size or model
- Once you've got the helmet fitting properly, make sure your child understands this is the right way to wear it. Many kids push their helmet back on their heads when riding. This is dangerous as the helmet isn't securely in place and their forehead is too exposed in the event of a fall. Let your kids know how important it is to wear the helmet properly: it helps protect them, and it's the law.
When to replace a bike helmet
After a crash or any hard impact, even if the helmet seems only lightly damaged. The real damage may not be visible
- If the shell is cracked, or the foam is cracked or crumbling
- After a few years of use, even if otherwise undamaged. UV light will decay the helmet. Three years is recommended as a typical lifespan for bike helmets. For this reason, avoid buying secondhand helmets; you just can't tell if they're OK. And, of course, replace the helmet when your youngster outgrows it.
Babies on bikes
We tested helmets for young cyclists, but what about infants or toddlers in seats on the back of a parent's bike? They have to wear a helmet like any other cyclist, so find and fit one as recommended above. If you can't find one to fit, don't take your kid out on your bike.
Even littlies riding a trike or similar around the backyard should wear a helmet. Not only is it safer, but it gets them into the habit of wearing a helmet right from the start.
Generally, the advice is not to take kids out riding on a baby bike seat or trailer until they're at least a year old. This is for two main reasons:
- It's hard to find very small helmets suitable for kids this young. Also, they need to be strong enough to support their head under the weight of the helmet and under the acceleration and deceleration of the bike
- The jolting from the bike is bad for the baby's neck and brain. Baby seats are usually positioned over the rear axle, and the baby can't absorb the bumps with their legs like an older bike rider can.
Where to go for advice on road rules and safe bike riding for both kids and adults:
- Check your state government's roads and traffic authority for the latest in road rules for bicycle riding. They vary from state to state
- Bicycle organisations. In particular, Bicycle Victoria offers lots of advice on choosing children's bikes and cycling