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Be freewheeling with the latest safety gadgets

Whether your kids are skateboarders or BMX riders, “Today” tech editor Paul Hochman has the lowdown on the newest protective gear.
/ Source: TODAY

In part two of our week-long series “Safety Smarts,” the “Today” show focuses on small sports. Bikes, blades and boards are becoming more and more popular, but are you doing all that you can to protect yourself and your kids? Paul Hochman, “Today” tech editor and Men's Journal contributor, has the latest in safety equipment.

Skateboard & BMX helmets
If a helmet doesn't look cool, a kid will never wear it. But the underlying safety features of different helmet brands are similar:

  • Bulletproof, ultralight polycarbonate shells are designed to crack on heavy impact so your skull and brain don't absorb much force.
  • Dense, absorbent EVA foam padding (similar to running shoes) also absorbs up to 70 percent of a crash's impact.
  • These helmets are slightly heavier-duty and, therefore, literally heavier since they are intended to protect against crashes that happen around skate park obstacles, and against sharper objects, like ramps and stairs.

Again, it has to be emphasized that while a helmet's aesthetic look may seem of secondary importance to parents, it's paramount for kids. So parents should shop with their child for their child's helmet.

Triple 8's Multiple Impact Helmet with a polypropylene shell is designed for the slighter-but-more-frequent impacts of skateboarding. The helmet is among the most popular on the market. Why? Cool aesthetics, venting, and comfort. The multiple forehead vents allow a hardworking kid to stay cool, and the shock-absorbent EVA liner has a full wraparound “sweatsaver” liner, which has great wicking properties to keep the head dry. $39.95;

Elbow, knee and wrist pads (skateboard, inline skate & BMX)
Again, a huge variety of padding is out there:

  • With few exceptions, toy companies don't make good padding. Skate companies do. Buy your padding at a skate shop or a big-box retailer that has a skate department.
  • Get knee pads and elbow pads that are easy to put on and take off.
  • Wristpads are a must for skaters and skateboarders.

Triple 8's padded hip protector, the “Bum Saver,” is sleek enough to be hidden under shorts, so you don't look dorky while you're protecting yourself. ($44.95) The skateboard knee pads are $29.95, the elbow pads are $24.95 and the 3-pack, which has elbows, knees and wristguards, is $29.95.

Bike helmets
Helmets for road and mountain bikers need much more ventilation and much less bulk. Why? They are shaped for bike-style falls, with fewer jagged edges (like skate parks) in the vicinity. Never send your kid out to the skate park with a vented, lightweight bike helmet. It's not sufficient.

Giro, Bell and Specialized are the best in class since they've spent so much time studying the wind channel effect of their venting, which maximizes the cooling effect on a hard-working biker's head.

  • Giro Atmos Team Discovery Tour Helmet: Pricey, but this is Lance Armstrong's helmet. 26 vents are reinforced on the outside with carbon ribs. And a very easy-to-adjust system called “Loc-Roc” makes it incredibly easy to fit. $190;
  • The Bell Solar fuses the liner and shell into a single piece for strength and protection. The helmet has what Bell calls an “ErgoDial” fit system that makes it easy to adjust to a huge range of head sizes. And its 23 vents keep the head cool while riding. $30;
  • Specialized “Instinct” Mountain Bike Helmet: The “Instinct” is different from the road bike helmet because it has slightly more coverage around the back of the head and has oversized vents to get rid of the heat that builds up during heavy uphill climbing. The new adjustable retention system is easy to use on the fly. $100;

Safety gear isn't the only thing that will help prevent injuries. Bikes with reflectors and bells make bikers more visible to other people, and especially to cars.

  • Breezer Town Bikes: Designed by Joe Breeze, who co-invented the Specialized Mountain Bike 25 years ago. These are great commuter bikes, partly because they have so much reflective gear attached to them, for visibility from every angle. In other words, part of safety is avoiding the accident in the first place. $529-$700;
  • Electra bells: Electra Bicycle Company offers six new bells that are specifically designed to be heard from long distances. $5-$15;