From dry-erase helmets to ones shaped like animals and bugs to others in bright colours, many of today's helmets are designed to make kids want to wear them long after the bike is parked or the snowboard stowed.
"We'll lay out 10 different character helmets at a skate park and let 20 kids try them on and play with them. We're able to see immediately which designs resonate with them," says Brad Blankinship, a spokesman at Los Angeles-based C-Preme, which makes helmets and other skate and bike gear.
Some of what's new:
C-Preme's helmet line Raskullz has a wide range of styles shaped or painted like dinos, sharks, ladybugs and pussycats complete with appendages like fins, antennae and ears. There are lightning bolts, zebra stripes and a Mohawk trim. A new toddler Miniz version of the lineup was added this spring, and in May the Raskullz line adds additional 3-D animal attachments like raccoon tails and feathers. www.raskullz.com
Helmet Zoo makes colorful, elasticized fleece helmet covers on themes like sea, farm and woodland creatures, and fantasy characters. Pandas, tigers, skunks, snakes, pink poodles, devils and a generic version of those popular ill-tempered birds are all available, as are multi-legged spiders and a pink fairy princess with tiara and veil. The covers will fit any style of helmet, and are cleanable. www.helmetzoo.com
Low-key-cool Burton has the RED helmet line that includes kids' Avid Grom, a cross-sport helmet for snow and pavement. No wild graphics, but hip colours like green, white, red, black and orange branded with a logo. www.altrec.com
Smith Optics makes the Gage snow helmet in matte black or white, or more vivid hues like cyan, bright green and violet. They're embellished with an understated, stylized graphic on one side. Also from Smith, a combo of Cosmos Jr. helmet with Galaxy goggles; a magnet and slide-release buckle keep the two pieces together. The Zoom Jr. has a soft, fuzzy lining, and all have lots of head vents, since kids' heads get sweaty quickly. www.smithoptics.com
Swedish company POC makes a helmet named Pocito Light. In-mould technology means the outer hard shell is thinner, and there's expanded polystyrene foam all through the inner layer to disperse impact. A fluorescent orange would stand out on a snowy hill, and there are options for different weather conditions, too: Neck and ear pads may be removed for warmer-weather skiing and snowboarding. www.xsportsprotective.com
Biking and scootering kids might like the imaginative range of helmets from Scotts Valley, Calif.-based Giro, with names like Rascal, Rodeo, Flume and Slingshot. Graphics such as red flames and silver skulls might appeal to older children, while cartoon airplanes, pigs, firefighters and bunnies could attract younger — or goofier — kids. www.giro.com
If your creative kid would just like to jazz up an existing helmet, check out the funky line of helmet accessories from Fauhaux, started by two former ToysRUs executives and moms, Jocelyn Fine and Kelly Dineen. The embellishments are made of lightweight foam and attach with Velcro. Dreadlox come in black, green, blue or multicolored; spiky Punkrox come in pink or red. www.fohawx.com
Anna Luther of Cincinnati, who blogs about life as a mom of three at www.mylifeandkids.com , got out the colored duct tape when her daughter's Barbie helmet lost its charm but still fit fine. Enlisting the help of both her daughter and son, "we had a ball designing the helmets," she says. Her daughter opted for pink and purple hearts. For her son, they created a blue and green helmet cover. "With a project this simple and cheap, we can re-design them every summer," Luther says.
Also for the DIY crowd, Wipeout has helmet and dry-erase marker kits. White, black, pink and green helmets can be decorated with kids' own designs or the stencils provided. Those include rockets, peace signs, clouds and stars. www.iwipeout.com
Finally, some tips from safety experts:
The Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute says the best way to get your child to wear a helmet is to wear one yourself. Start the helmet rule early, be consistent, point out sports pros wearing helmets, and teach kids that having a bike is really owning one's first vehicle — and responsibility comes with the privilege.
At www.safekids.org , find an easy test for fitting a helmet: Once it's on, ask the child to look up. They should be able to see the bottom rim. Straps should form a "V'' under the ears and be slightly tight. When a child opens her mouth wide, the helmet should hug her head. There should be no rocking of the helmet at any time.
You don't need to replace a helmet each year if your child's helmet has thick and thin pads so you can adjust the fit. But do take your child with you when buying the first helmet, and buy from the right category — toddler, child or youth.
All helmets made in the United States must carry the Consumer Product Safety Commission's sticker.
Replace the helmet if there's been a crash.