Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute
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Hair and Helmets

Summary: "Helmet hair" is a problem. So are braids with beads or balls, for which we have no good answer. Baseball caps and other caps can be ok if the helmet is still fitted correctly, but that takes extra effort.

Helmet Hair

One of the consistent problems in selling helmets is riders' concerns about managing "helmet hair." The combination of heat and humidity under a helmet in summer is disastrous for all but pixie cuts or very short hair. Although not caused by the helmet, drying in the sun and wind is another hair problem.

A different sort of helmet fit problem is posed by those who wear caps under their helmets or those whose hair styles disrupt the fit of a standard helmet.

Long Hair

What is a guy or girl to do with long hair? A low pony tail seems the most practical, but hair on the neck is hot. Some use a French braid. Others use a higher pony tail, but thread it through the stabilizer on the back of their helmet.

A number of members of one Internet chat list seemed to agree that the low pony tail was the most practical, but the hair should be either held with a rubber band every few inches or put in a "Hair Glove" to keep it off the neck. Reportedly Harley Davidson makes a black leather bag with snaps, useful also for beards. (Sweaty leather is a motorcycle thing.) The discussion brought out that there are many types of hair, and many different lengths, and the happiest riders are those with some imagination who develop a personal approach.

Beaded Hair

Hair styles that are thicker than plain hair affect fit:

  • The thickness of hair braids high up on the head, particularly with beads included, raises the helmet above the head. The result is that the helmet covers less of the head than it should, leaving part of the sides unprotected. This is a problem, since studies have shown that a significant number of impacts occur below the helmet line anyway, and that the helmets would be more protective with more coverage, not less.

  • Raising the helmet on the head destabilizes it by moving the sides, that normally keep the helmet steady, up and away from the sides of the head. Combined with the loss of coverage from the helmet perched up higher on the head, this has potential for disaster in a crash, where the helmet must be stable to remain in position and actually be between the head and the hard place upon impact!

  • If beads are included, they are a possible impact hazard. They may of course shatter in a fall if they are brittle enough and hollow. The shards could cut the scalp. More serious injury might result, however, if the beads did not shatter but instead concentrated the force of the blow on one spot. The helmet is designed to spread out that force to prevent the skull from fracturing. Concentrated impact force from the beads could fracture the skull, and could transmit more g's to the brain whether or not the skull fractures. We have not seen reports of this happening in the field, but the data will not show up in statistics anyway.

This is not a fad. It will not go away any time soon. The girls wear their hair in this style for months or years, not for the day. A helmet for them to use now has to work with the hair style, not ignore it.

The ideal solution for this problem would be a helmet that adjusts for braided, beaded or otherwise thicker hair. Unfortunately we are not aware of one, except for the few remaining pony tail ports that can provide relief for that particular style. Here is an opportunity for a manufacturer! In the meantime, we have heard from one helmet promotion program that they are fitting adult size helmets on girls with beaded hair styles. While the fit and protection may not be optimal, this is probably the best solution available until someone produces a helmet to accommodate this hair style. In effect the program organizers are using larger-sized helmets than would normally be required, and tightening the ring fit headband below the beads and balls. This was confirmed by a seasoned bicycle educator with a lot of field experience as the only practical way to deal with the hairstyle when a rider in a class you are instructing has beads. She uses the biggest ring-fit helmet she has, and tightens the fitting ring to stabilize it.

Baseball caps under helmets

Baseball caps under a helmet pose the same problems as thicker hairdos. The thickness of the cap and its sweatband, as well as the bill of the cap, interfere with the fit of the helmet, causing it to ride higher than it should and perhaps leave some of the head unprotected. In addition, many baseball caps have a steel ball in the button on the top. That ball causes all the same problems as the beads mentioned above. Caps without the ball are less problematic. Just fit the helmet with the cap on, and make sure the fitting ring or pads and the straps are properly adjusted. Of course, if you ride without the cap you need to adjust the helmet again. We question whether most riders will take the time to do that.

If the cap being tried out seems likely to push the helmet back on the head in an impact, leaving the forehead exposed, that requires either better adjustment of the straps or trying a new cap.

People wear other caps under helmets, mostly to either keep in warmth or protect against sunburn. Most of them are used by bald riders. We have a page for them with tips on using caps. The thinnest ones avoid pushing the helmet up on the head and interfere less with the helmet's coverage.

Other products that claim to help

Our page for bald riders has some info on products that the follicularly-challenged have used to manage problems with non-hair. We have never tested a cap that could compare in cooling to a bare head under the helmet in summer, but there are various suggestions from users that might be worth considering.

And one manufacturer's headgear

There is an expensive airbag headgear made in Sweden that sits as a heavy collar around your neck until you fall, and hopefully it inflates. We have a page up on it. We do not recommend it. But at least one manufacturer recognizes the problem and has designed a product for it.

This page was revised on: April 18, 2019.
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