Bike Helmets, Safety and Looking Good

Like in any other sport, safety ranks highly in the eyes of cyclists and cycling coaches alike.  Not to mention the loved ones of those that spend time on a bicycle.  I know from experience, that sometimes as an athlete you consider trading safety for comfort or convenience.  It is NOT an option.  These days’ things are faster, and harder.  There are more and more people, doing more and more things, paying less and less attention.

Besides your own actions on the road or trail, the helmet is the most important thing you can focus on regarding bicycling safety.  According to the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute, in 2009, 91%of all cyclists killed were not wearing a helmet.  With significant figures like that it is no wonder that 22 states and at least 201 local jurisdictions have instituted laws requiring mandatory helmet use for young riders.  It’s a fact that the use of bicycle helmets has reduced the rate of head injury by 85%.  I have four beautiful children, and the rule is that they don’t even sit on their bike without having their helmet on.  It’s just that important.

Some Pros and amateur cyclists had been using the “leather hairnet” since the 70’s.

The Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), the international governing body for the sport of cycling, attempted to mandate the use of helmets in the sport back in 1991.  The Pros didn’t like it and protested via a rider strike at the Paris-Nice spring classic, that year.  So the UCI quit the effort until 2003, when the tragic death of a rider related to head trauma inspired the mandate to be instituted again, but allowed riders to discard their helmet on the final climb of a race, if that climb was longer than 5 kilometers.  Since that time the rule has evolved to require helmet use at all times during UCI and USA Cycling sanctioned events.

This is my suggestion for buying a helmet for cycling: get the coolest looking, most comfortable helmet you can afford!  Seriously, it has to look good!  Not just you, but your kids too.  Everybody needs to look good in their helmet no matter what it’s for.

Oh, I hear you now…’Chris, how can you say that?   This post is supposed to be about safety, not looking good!’

Well my friends, here it is, if you think you look like a dork in a bicycle helmet, are you going to feel good about wearing it?  Do you want your kid to take that helmet off and throw it in the bushes the minute they turn the street corner with their friends because it makes them look like a “dork” or whatever term kids use these days?  No.  You have to wear it in order for it to protect your noggin.  Period.

Today’s helmets come in a multitude of styles and are often marketed for a specific function or type of riding.  Usually those include road, mountain, recreation, commuting, cyclocross, “urban”/hardsided and downhill/bmx.  Bicycle helmets are commonly made of EPS, or expanded polystyrene, with a smooth plastic covering.  The EPS is designed to crush at the point of impact, absorbing a great deal of the energy your skull (and brain) would normally get in the case of a fall.  The plastic coating is designed to hold the foam together during an impact, but also to cause your helmet to slide along the surface that you fall on or run into.  This reduces what’s call rotational injury, to your neck.  The plastic layer also often makes the helmet look cool, wink, wink.

When shopping for a good helmet, please, please visit your local bike shop.  They need your business and the vast majority of them are owned by people just as passionate about bikes and riding as I am.  They can really help you to make a good choice.  Your new helmet must have a Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) label inside it, or an ASTM F1447 rating.  The quality and rating are identical.  ASTM stood for the American Society for Testing and Materials, but it’s just ASTM International these days’.

Be sure that you adjust the included padding so that it securely contacts your head throughout the inside of the helmet.  TRY IT ON in the shop.  It must fit properly in order to protect your head.  New helmets come in different shapes and sizes.  Many have a universal retention system, which allows you to dial the fit right to your head.  This is a super feature and can change with your hair length or allow you to wear a beanie under your helmet on those colder days.  The chin strap should be comfortable and there should be a nice “v” shape at your ears.  The helmet should rest securely on your head without rocking side to side, and you should never be able to remove your helmet without un-securing the chin strap.  The helmet should sit level on your head, with the front lip right in the center of your forehead, not tipped back like those kids with baseball caps or down covering your eyes like an angry Army Lieutenant with a “Ranger Roll” in his cap (sorry, flashback there…)

Keep your helmets clean and out of the sun when you’re not riding.  This will keep them in good shape.  Plastic coverings can deform and delaminate if you leave your bicycling helmet in a hot car in the summer.

Replace your helmets every 5 years.  Manufactures and bicycle safety institutes claim that EPS can degrade enough over that time to reduce the effectiveness of your helmet.  If you do take a spill and hit your helmet on the ground or run into something, DO NOT USE IT again.  First, see a doctor, to determine whether you may have had a concussion, then get a new helmet.  Once you damage it, it no longer can protect that noggin of yours.

Remember, if you don’t wear the helmet it can’t protect you, so buy a good looking, comfortable bike helmet.  It’s really a little life insurance policy.

Keep Your Line,


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