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.

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 rider 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. Some people 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 a few 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 riders 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. The instructor uses the biggest ring-fit helmet she has, and tightens the fitting ring to stabilize it.

We also have a page up on using caps under helmets.

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This page was revised on: October 21, 2020. BHSI logo