Afro hair and kids bike helmets

Trying to find a cycle helmet that fits a child with afro hair can be a real challenge.

We've asked Janett Walker, CEO and Co-Founder of Anti Racist Cumbria to explain the challenges she's found when kitting her kids out for a bike ride.

Afro Hair and bike helmets - a logistical challenge!

I was recently chatting with a friend about how much me and my daughters cycled during lockdown.

We had great weather and it was a fantastic opportunity to get their cycling proficiency up and running.  We could cycle on silent roads with not a car to be seen for miles.

Compare that to our usual summer months, which are no place to take a 9 and 7-year-old, with roads filled with lost tourists in cars driving along windy unfamiliar routes.

I mentioned absently that even though we cycled a lot, it always took some planning because I would need to work out when our hair (all 3 of us) would fit under our helmets.

Afro Hair Article

Although the person I was talking to laughed a little at my comments, this wasn’t a joke.

It’s actually a logistical nightmare thinking about when we can go cycling.

If I think ‘I’ll take the girls cycling at the weekend’ my thoughts are not only followed by the usual ‘if the weather is nice’, I have to think about when I will be washing and plaiting their hair, and will the style it’s currently in fit under their helmets.

Yes, I have to plan to that level!

That’s simply down to the fact that cycle helmets are not made with afro hair in mind.

Why?

Because the cycling world has never really considered what it's like for people with hair like ours, and what products we need.

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child afro hair

My daughters both have afro hair, like mine.

However, theirs is what I would call natural afro hair and they have it in beautiful Black Girl Magic abundance.

They like to wear it in all kinds of ways - cornrow, french plaits, extensions, straight, afro bunches, afro buns, and just plain old afro.

The other week the youngest made me style it in a Mohican! She looked amazing but had we wanted to cycle, there was no way it was getting under a helmet.

My hair is locs. Not locks - everyone’s hair is locks and I am not Rapunzel! They are locs as in ‘dreadlocks’.

They are very long, reaching way down my back.

When they are left loose down my back without a ponytail or anything in them, I can just about get a helmet on. But like my girls, I like styles - hey when you’ve got such fabulous hair, you wanna rock it all the time, right?!

So I often wear it piled up on top of my head, or in pigtails or thick plaits or bantu knots - and my most favourite style is when I have it in petals.

But each of those wonderful styles means I struggle with wearing a cycle helmet.

I’m either left trying to avoid removing my head from my neck, so deeply the strap, that is supposed to be under my chin, is cutting into me, or the helmet is placed so precariously there is really no way I can head out unless I want to risk taking my life into my own hands running the gauntlet of said ‘no idea where I am going’ or ‘look at the incredible view’ tourists.

afro hair - Janett Walker and daughters

Protecting afro hair under a helmet

If I am honest, I have never worried too much about protecting our hair under our helmets, other than I might put a bandana under my helmet to help with the sweat - hey when your helmet is crammed onto your head, it soon gets ridiculously hot!

But, having read some great articles about this, I will certainly be doing that in future - to protect our hair, remain comfortable and arrive in style!

If you’re thinking about it too, check out:

How To Make A Helmet Work With Your Afro by Kristin Collins Jackson 

and
Styling Natural Afro Hair for Cycling by Elle

for their great advice on styles that work.

It's not just cycling that causes problems for afro hair

I should also add that my daughters and I (and countless Black people who were born with and are proud to wear crowns that belong to Kings and Queens) have the same problem with anything that requires headgear.

Swimming is a whole other issue, although Alice Dearing has really come to the rescue on that score and I am now able to swim with a very large swimming hat on my head no problem.

My eldest daughter loves the skate park, where she can ‘drop down’ (or is it ‘drop in’?) on her scooter - different helmet required, the same problem arises.

And as for the youngest, well, if the choice of style that week is a Mohican, let’s just say even the hood on her coat would be straining to cover her head and keep her dry if she had to venture out in the rain.

Afro Hair under bike helmet

What does the future hold?

So, back to my comment about the cycling industry being in a position of never thinking about how Black people manage with helmets…

That’s been the case for years and like so many things, we’ve just had to adapt and flex and work harder to do the things we want to do, when we want to do them.

My helmet strap has been perched (uncomfortably) against my chin for example or we’ve had to put an extra piece of elastic into the strap to make enough space to close the clasp, but I then spend the whole time worrying it’s not protective enough for the girls, resulting in me curtailing how far and where we go.

Now we have champions like Beth Shriever and Kye Whyte - who won BMX gold and silver respectively at Tokyo 2020 Olympics last year.

The freestyle category was added for the first time, and the road cycling and the velodrome all having had majorly successful sportsmen and women for several years now, so naturally, there has been a huge growth in families taking up cycling.

Seeing people like Kye as a Black person and Beth as a woman doing so well in the sport has inspired my girls to get on their bikes even more, and with the new pump track at our local park, the eldest has made the move from scooter to BMX as smooth as sweet honey.

We’re even planning a trip to the velodrome in Manchester this year - don’t worry, I’ll have their hair in a style that means they can get on with having fun, instead of fiddling with a painful strap.

Organisations like Bike Club have also helped, making buying a bike more affordable for families with their monthly payment scheme and exchanging your bike as the kids grow and bike clubs generally have sprung up everywhere, with initiatives from helping fix bikes to keep costs down, and Bikeability becoming more and more common in primary schools, paid for by local government schemes.

 

Afro Hair bike helmet

It’s great to see this surge in cycling and getting kids out on their bike when they’re younger inevitably means a decent cycle ride will require parents or carers to go along too.

I can honestly say it’s a fantastic way to spend family time - in our house, summer cycling usually involves a picnic in rucksacks on our backs and always ice cream for the girls en route and a coffee for me (!).

But how good would it be if we didn’t have to plan it like a military expedition each time we go!

We'd love to hear what solutions you've come up with - what hair styles and brands of helmet work best for you and your kids?  Do leave us a comment below, or share your pictures with us on Instagram using #CycleSprog 

This article was written by Janett Walker, CEO and Co-Founder of Anti Racist Cumbria.

Anti Racist Cumbria was formed in 2020, their mission is to make Cumbria the UK’s first actively anti-racist county.

They are currently crowdfunding for the Animated Futures - The Fell We Climb project, an animated short film inspired by the real life experiences of black and brown youngsters growing up in Cumbria, produced with the help of Cumbrian animation studio Plus3k, Cumbria composer Ella Jarman-Pinto and British TV Presenter, Nigel Clarke.

Cycle Sprog has donated toward the crowdfunder as payment for this article. Please do have a look at the amazing work that Anti Racist Cumbria are doing, we're proud to support them.

Anti Racist Cumbria logo

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