Protecting Your Brain

Helmet Use and Fit

In Alberta, all children under the age of 18 are required to wear a properly fitting bike helmet at all times while riding their own bike or on or attached to an adult's bike (including in bike trailers). All participants, regardless of age, are required to wear a helmet during Safer Cycling Calgary courses. You will not be allowed to ride in a course if you forget your helmet, if it's broken, doesn't fit you properly or isn't meant for bicycling. Exemptions for religious headwear apply, though many types of headwear can accommodate a helmet: a helmet that doesn't fit or isn't worn properly (for example on top of a turban or tipped way back to fit a kippah) will not protect your brain and is useless (see below for more on religious headwear).

The government of Manitoba, together with CAN-BIKE Instructors, made this fun video explaining how to tell if a helmet is the right one for cycling and how to make it fit you: 


Helmet Type and Risky Behaviour

kids bikingThere are many different looking helmets, but only a few types: there's helmets that are only meant for biking, or only meant for winter sports (skiing/snowboarding, ice skating, tobogganing) and some that are meant for more than one "summer" activity (skateboarding, inline skating, biking). Any helmet - even the wrong kind - is better than no helmet if you hit your head, but please check your helmet to make sure it's the right kind for biking. Another reminder: only bicycle or multi-sport (summer) helmets are permitted in courses.
Some studies have found evidence that wearing a helmet increases risk-taking behaviour, like riding faster or closer to autos, and that motorists seem to give cyclists without helmets more space. Overall, cycling is a low-risk activity, even accounting for the "extra" risk of wearing a helmet. But accidents do happen, and all people make mistakes: you don't want to find yourself seriously injured or killed because something happened and you hit your head. 
A word of caution: kids' helmets with moulded plastic things sticking to the shell, like the Raskulls or Crazy Safety brand helmets, may not be the best choice. Yes, they're cute. Yes, kids will want to wear them. Yes, they will protect against impacts, but they may contribute to facial and/or neck injuries. Bike helmets are lab tested on a stationary mount with a weight dropped from the top: this is not a real-world crash and in the real world, helmets are going to impact and likely slide on the ground: a helmet that doesn't have a smooth surface, without protrusions, may not slide or may impact on one of the projections and force the body to twist or bend. This could result in a child's face being forced to slide along the ground or their neck twisted in some manner.


Helmets and religious headwear


Religious headwear comes in many shapes and forms, including the Jewish kippa, Sikh dastar, and Muslim hijab, with variations in each. Many of these can be paired with a helmet, so religious beliefs need not be sacrificed in order to enjoy the safety benefits of a helmet. For those with long hair, an adjustment in the method of securing the hair may be all that's necessary to accommodate a helmet. Most headscarves are no concern under a helmet, though the fabric should not be very bulky or slippery, to ensure proper fit. Some turbans are simply too big to fit under a helmet. 



In 2023, a Canadian company has developed a bicycle helmet designed for Sikh kids to fit the patka (may also fit adults with a smallish head and a "sportsman" turban). This is a huge step forward in pairing religion and safety! 2024 update: new medium size available for larger heads. Learn more here.

Wear a large turban or other religious headwear that doesn't work with a helmet? You can still attend courses, just need to sign a helmet exemption.


Helmets are so... blah

Find your helmet boring or uninteresting? Consider covering it with a helmet cover! Safer Cycling Calgary staff mostly wear Tail Wags Helmet Covers. Unfortunately, Tail Wags has stopped making new covers, but they may be available on sites like Amazon, or you can find many other manufacturers. We recommend lycra covers for biking as fleece covers will trap some heat. You can also make your own if you're crafty. 


  • Zebra 1
    Zebra 1

    Melissa is known for the zebra cover

  • Zebra 2
    Zebra 2

    Yes, Melissa wears the zebra when not working

  • Zebra and Panda
    Zebra and Panda

    A work & play weekend in Canmore for Melissa and Sasha

  • Panda

    Sasha's panda got a little muddy in Canmore

  • Ninja

    Obviously, Bennett's ninja turtle helmet cover is the best in this group. 

  • Panda strikes again
    Panda strikes again

    The panda is popular among staff: here's Logan!

  • Fish can bike
    Fish can bike

    David looks awesome in the goldfish helmet cover.

  • Blue fish
    Blue fish

    The blue fish was right at home on Amanda's helmet this rainy day.

Why bother?

Reasons commonly given for why cyclists don't wear a helmet include discomfort, messing up the hair, just riding a short distance, belief that motorists give less space, wearing a helmet makes one take more risks or they're just plain ugly. Much of this is true, but when it comes to your brain, why risk it? A very experienced cyclist, who rode east to west and the reverse across North America wrote in one of his books about a conversation he had regarding helmets that went something like this: friend: "I don't wear a helmet, why do you bother?" Joe Kurmaskie (the very experienced cyclist): "if you don't think your brain is worth $35, then neither do I." How much value does your brain have to you? 

broken helmetWould you think differently if you'd had a bad experience? Could you learn from other people's bad experiences? Men typically take greater risks, but it was a bike park feature meant for beginners. He'd ridden from Calgary to Banff on the highway, gone mountain biking many times and spent countless hours on the bike: a beginner jump was literally no big deal. The image on the right shows his helmet after he made a mistake, on the first run of the day. Imagine if he'd had no helmet? A quick image search for "broken bicycle helmet" will show many more, worse than this. Depending on source and reporting method, it is estimated that anywhere from 40-90% of cycling fatalities could be prevented by helmet use. If death doesn't scare you, what about epilepsy, Alzheimer's disease, osteoporosis, paralysis, loss of speech, impaired balance, or constant headaches? All of these are linked to brain injuries (though not the only cause). A helmet can't prevent all brain injuries, but it can reduce the severity of many of them. I'll defer to Joe's wisdom: if you don't think your brain is worth the cost of a helmet, that's your choice, but I like my brain more than I like having that money in my bank account.  

"Wear your helmet for the love of living, not for the fear of dying" - Dr. Paul Patey  Read the story of how a quick thinking doctor saved a teenager's life following a crash with no helmet. 

Care of your helmet

Remember to replace your helmet after any impact with a hard surface (unless the manufacturer says otherwise), even if there's no visible damage. Invisible damage may mean the next impact is transferred directly to your skull. Helmets should be kept out of direct sunlight when not in use, and out of the extreme heat of an auto parked outside in the summer. Even when it's not hot outside, the temperature inside an auto can rise to extremes, and the foam and plastic in a helmet could melt. When you take off your helmet, don't hang it from your bike's handlebars or throw it on the ground. Take care of your helmet as if your life depends on it: it does! 

Helmet Standards

Helmets are tested to ensure they meet certain criteria in order to provide protection. Organizations that are involved in setting standards, for helmets sold in Canada include:

  • Canadian Standards Association (CSA)
  • United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC)
  • American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM)
  • National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE)
  • SNELL Memorial Foundation (SNELL)
  • European Committee for Standardization (CEN)

Helmets that don't bear one or more of these certification stickers should not be used for biking. Retail stores in Canada can only legally sell a helmet if it bears certification to at least one of these standards.