The Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute (BHSI) recommends a helmet for any children riding in a bike trailer or carrier, and of course, any children riding their own bike. However, they caution that children under 1 year old should not wear a bike helmet or ride in a bike trailer -- their neck muscles are not strong enough to support the added weight of the helmet or the jostling of the trailer. All helmets sold in the U.S. must meet current impact standards set by the CPSC, so an expensive helmet won't protect your child any better than cheaper models. Most experts recommend trying on a helmet before you buy to ensure fit and ease of use, so make sure the helmet can be returned if you order online. You can expect to spend around $30 for one of the best kids' bike helmets.
Kids' helmets look much like those made for adults, except they typically have fewer vents and a more rounded shape. Many also have pinch-proof buckles, which prevent the buckle from pinching a child's delicate skin. Experts caution that a bike helmet cannot protect your child's head if it is not fitted properly; see our What to Look For page for fitting tips.
For toddlers over one year old, experts recommend the Giro Me2 (*Est. $30), which fits head sizes between 18.75 and 20.5 inches. It comes in colorful patterns of chicks, ducks, pigs or bunnies with a built-in bug net, visor and six wind vents. The Giro Me2 is popular because it receives the highest ratings in one independent test of toddler helmets, with very good scores for impact absorption and an excellent rating for resistance to roll-off.
The Giro Me2 also scores excellent ratings from parents posting to Amazon.com, where more than 160 reviews combine to give the helmet a 4.5-star rating (out of 5). The adjustable-fit system gets rave reviews, particularly because it allows parents to tighten the helmet without fiddling with chin straps. "I love the knob that lets you adjust the helmet while it is on the child's head," says one owner. "It never moves and stays right where it belongs." Since the fit can be adjusted, most reviewers say the helmet can grow with the child -- at least for a while. "It adjusts easily, fits snugly and my 18 month old daughter doesn't mind wearing it," one owner writes. However, the Giro Me2 helmet only has six vents, so it gets lower scores for ventilation. A few parents also have problems with sizing because the helmet is either too big or too small for their child.
The Bell Boomerang also gets very good scores for impact absorption in independent tests, but the popular toddlers' helmet has been discontinued and replaced by the Bell Splash (*Est. $35). The helmet is CPSC-approved for toddlers over one, and it fits head sizes between 18 and 19.75 inches. The helmet comes with a built-in visor, pinch-free buckle and the One Step fitting system, which uses stretchy mesh to automatically adjust the fit for your child's head. Other features include seven vents, a built-in bug liner and flashing safety lights. Eight colors are available, with designs for both boys and girls. Unfortunately, the Bell Splash is still a relatively new helmet, so it hasn't attracted a substantial number of reviews yet.
The Specialized Small Fry (*Est. $45) comes in two sizes -- one for toddlers up to three years old and another for older children between the ages of three and seven. The toddler size fits heads between 17.25 inches and 20.5 inches, so it can accommodate smaller heads than the Giro Me2 or the Bell Splash. The youth helmet fits head sizes of 18.5 inches to 21.75 inches.
In the most recent independent test, the Specialized Small Fry receives a "good" rating for impact absorption, compared to "very good" for the Giro Me2. It scores highly, however, on ease of use and resistance to roll-off. Like most toddler bike helmets, the Specialized Small Fry doesn't have the best ventilation.
For older children between the ages of five and 12, the Bell Trigger (*Est. $35) is favored by parents thanks to the easy-to-use ErgoDial Fit retention system. This fit system uses a dial on the back to snug the helmet to your child's head, so there's no need to fiddle with straps. The Trigger's design is made to look like an adult helmet -- cooler and less cartoonish -- to appeal to older children. It weighs 9.5 ounces and fits head sizes between 19.75 inches and 22.5 inches. With 23 vents, the Bell Trigger has very good ventilation; a pinch-guard buckle is another plus.
The few parents who post to Amazon.com are very pleased with the Bell Trigger helmet, saying it has a precise fit that kids like to wear. "My son really loves the colors and the helmet adjusts to fit very well," one parent writes. In addition, the Bell Trigger receives the highest ratings in a recent independent test of kids' helmets, where it earns "good" scores for impact absorption and "excellent" marks for its fit adjustment system. A few parents say the straps won't lie flat, especially around the ears.
The Schwinn Thrasher (*Est. $30) also receives high marks in one independent test. The helmet has a dial adjustment system, 21 vents and an integrated visor. Like the Bell Trigger, the Schwinn Thrasher is styled like an adult bike helmet, so it appeals to older kids. Test results show that it has very good ventilation and an excellent retention system, but it weighs more than the Bell Trigger.