With school out for the summer and the promise of extended fair weather in Northwest Washington, more folks - especially children - will be bicycling.
A helmet is usually one of the first things parents think about when getting their child a bike. But that should be only part of their consideration, said Ellen Barton, program manager at Everybody Bike, a local nonprofit that encourages people to use bicycles for transportation.
"A helmet is only the last line of defense" against accidental injury, Barton said. "The first thing I like to emphasize about safety is that it's a multi-pronged approach."
Barton said common-sense riding practices are more important - such as teaching young bicyclists not to blast into the street from a driveway.
She also cautions against giving new riders the impression that a helmet is required because bicycling is inherently dangerous.
"It's not dangerous - it's fun," she said. "It's really a safe and healthy thing for kids to be doing."
Still, a helmet can go a long way toward protecting a bicycle rider from injury in a fall or crash.
Barton said to be wary of manufacturers' claims when shopping for a helmet, and instead rely on certification from a reputable agency, such as the Consumer Product Safety Commission or the Snell Memorial Foundation.
"They're all tested under the same safety standards," said Dennis Stickler, a mechanic and salesperson at The Hub Community Bike Shop in Bellingham. "Most helmets are probably fine."
Barton agreed that all helmets must meet minimum standards, but cautioned that some helmets - especially cheaper ones - must be replaced after a single hard fall with a blow to the head.
"Some of those are just plain Styrofoam, which is better than nothing, but it might need to be replaced," after a fall, Barton said.
"The other thing is fit, and it must be adjusted properly," she said. "It shouldn't wobble" or slide back on the rider's head.
For information on helmet fit and sizing, search online for "bike helmet sizing" and you'll find several websites, including the informative rei.com/learn/expert-advice/bicycle-helmet.html.
Barton said it's a good idea for parents to ask their children what they prefer in a helmet, including style and use - from road riding to mountain biking.
Some bicycle helmets are classified as "multisport" and offer protection for a variety of activities. They can be as cheap as $25 or as pricey as $250.
"Get one that kids like the look of," Barton said.
She suggests browsing Bellingham's many bike shops before making a selection. Nutcase, with helmets in a moderate price range, feature graphic designs that are popular with children and teens, she said.
"They have made a specialty of making really attractive riding helmets," she said.