side coverage. This will also keep the helmet from rocking
on your head in case of an impact. Removing the top sizing
pads can help lower the helmet, but you may lose a little
ventilation. Comfort-wise, if the liner fits your head properly, removing the top sizing pads shouldn’t cause the helmet
to be less comfortable.
Lowering your helmet maximizes side coverage, but it
may impair vision. You want the front of the helmet one-finger width above your eyebrows. When you look upward,
the front edge of your helmet should barely be visible.
CUSHION YOUR HELMET
There is a good chance that your helmet came with a
thicker set of sizing pads. You can use these to fine-tune the
fit. We say “fine-tune” because the shape of the liner is the
most important factor in finding the proper fit. Don’t try
to mask a poor-fitting helmet by using extra fit pads. Keep
searching until you find a helmet with a liner that likes the
shape of your head.
REPLACE THE PADS
Sizing pads absorb sweat and mud and break down over
time. Change the pads a couple of times over the summer. It
keeps the helmet fresh and tighter-fitting.
TIGHTEN IT UP, PART ONE
The side retention straps are the most misunderstood
helmet adjustment—and the most important. These are the
straps that will keep your helmet in place if you ever have to
The side retention straps need to form a Y just below your
ear. Every helmet requires a slightly different way of dialing
in this adjustment, so you have to refer to the owner’s manual if you can’t figure out the adjustment piece (and you’re
supposed to read the manual anyway).
TIGHTEN IT UP, PART TWO
The strap that runs under your jaw needs to be adjusted
so that it is snug without being uncomfortable. When you
yawn, the helmet should pull down on your head. Wearing
it hockey-style, with the strap hanging under your jaw,
greatly reduces the helmet’s effectiveness.
TIGHTEN IT UP, PART THREE
The side retention straps should not need much adjustment
once set correctly, but you need to check the tension of the
strap under your jaw often. Your helmet straps may stretch
(or shrink) over time. Changes in your weight will also affect
how the helmet fits. Get in the habit of checking the tension
once a month.
STOP AND GO BACK TO THE START
If you can’t snap and unsnap your helmet with your
eyes closed and your riding gloves on, you need to practice.
Helmet snaps are easy to use compared to the D-rings of old,
but each one has its own nuance. You must be an expert at
taking your helmet on and off. If we continued to have trouble operating the retention-strap snap on a helmet, we would
Most helmets have a rear stabilizer feature. This keeps the
helmet from rocking as you are banging through rock gardens
or bouncing over braking bumps. That is all this feature is
designed to do. The stabilizer alone does not offer adequate
helmet retention. The retention straps have to be adjusted
and secured if your helmet is going to stay on your head.
The helmet should be level, snug and comfortable.
SHAKE IT UP NOW, BABY
Once you have everything adjusted properly, shake your
head. Try to tip the helmet forward, and then try to tip it
backward. If the helmet moves more than an inch from its
proper level position, the straps need to be tightened.
USE IT AND LOSE IT
We hope you don’t have to use your helmet, but if you do,
it should be replaced. The liner is designed to collapse during
an impact to absorb energy. It doesn’t spring back. If you hit
your helmet, it did its job and will not be able to do it as well
the next time. ❏
Got you covered: Helmets like the Troy Lee Designs A1 offer
far more coverage than a conventional helmet worn by road
cyclists. The increased temple and occipital lobe coverage
makes sense for trail riders.
World Champ coverage: Former Cross-Country World
Champion Christoph Sauser demonstrates what a perfect-fitting
helmet and sunglasses looks like. Most cross-country racers go
without a visor. Trail riders need them.