Missisquoi Valley Rail Trail, 2019 (copy)

A family bikes together on a stretch of the Missisquoi Valley Rail Trail in Sheldon.

Bike season is here, and whether your child is learning to pedal for the first time or is an experienced rider, a properly-fitted and comfortable helmet is essential.

Though Vermont law does not require cyclists to wear a helmet, it is scientifically proven that helmets help prevent severe head injuries in an accident.

Studies find helmets provide between an 66-85% reduction in the risk of head, brain and severe brain injury for cyclists of all ages.

Joe Drennan, co-owner of Earl’s Cyclery and Fitness in South Burlington, said kids will be more-likely to wear their helmet if it looks good and fits properly.

Here are three more of his tips to consider:

1. Seek out a helmet with a dial in the back for making micro adjustments.While most helmets have an adjustment dial that turns to tighten and loosen it, some toddlers’ helmets have an elastic strap instead. Drennan said those should be avoided if possible.

“Some of the smaller ones for toddlers will have kind of an elastic in the back which I’m not a huge fan of,” he said. “The ones with the adjustment, those helmets should sit all the way onto your head and then you should have at least a couple of twists of that knob. That’s really what helps secure it.”

Kids' bike helmets

Children’s bike helmets for sale at Earl’s Cyclery and Fitness in South Burlington. “Helmets should fit without being jammed on,” co-owner Joe Drennan said.

2. When kids are rapidly growing, don’t hesitate to buy a new helmet if the current one isn’t fitting properly.“Parents always try to get too many years out of a helmet for a kid,” Drennan said. “It rides up high on their head when it shouldn’t be.”

Bike helmets should sit level on the head and low on the forehead, just above the eyebrows. Helmet sizes are based on head circumference, measured in centimeters.

To measure head circumference, wrap a flexible tape measure around the largest portion of the head—about one inch above your eyebrows.

If you put a helmet on a child’s head and there’s barely any room to adjust it, go up a size. Drennan says it’s better to tighten a slightly bigger helmet than to loosen a smaller one.

“If you can’t get it tight at the back of the head, and the child does fall, the helmet could roll off,” he said.

Even after a child is no longer growing, helmets should still be replaced on a regular basis, because the foam and padding inside will gradually wear out.

Drennan suggests replacing helmets based on what the manufacturer recommends, which is usually every three to five years.

Helmets that have sustained physical impact, like a fall, need to be replaced immediately. On impact, the foam inside will contract, as it’s supposed to, but will not re-expand.

Helmets kept in hot attics, garages and cars will also need to be replaced more often. Heat exposure will cause the foam inside to deteriorate faster.

“Don’t hesitate in replacing,” Drennan said. “It’s such a small amount of money for what it protects.”

3. Helmet straps should be pulled snug, so no more than one or two fingers fit between the chin and the buckle.The side straps should form a “Y” and meet just below the ear.

“It’s hard with kids, because kids don’t like the helmet to be fastened the way it should be,” he said.

His advice to parents is to start with the strap slightly looser than it should be, and to pull it tighter each day so the difference is barely noticed.

“Within two or three days they kind of get used to it, and then you can finally get it on their head properly,” he said.

Drennan also said it’s important to let the child pick out the helmet’s color. They won’t wear it if they don’t like the way it looks, he said.

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