Now… About Helmet Hair…

A few notes about bicycle helmets. These also apply to skateboarding and similar activities:

Mostly, it’s your choice… unless you’re a child

A bicycle helmet is a single-use device. One crash, even just dropping it on the floor drastically affects its ability to protect. Most modern helmets are not just a bowl of expanded polystyrene, but often a complex mesh of technical fibres, fabrics and plastic mouldings as well as the often stylish outer shell. In the event of a shock, these elements are designed to absorb the forces. They will not return to their pre-collision integrity even if there is no visible damage.

Helmets are also degraded by perspiration, extreme temperatures (ie: being left in hot cars and freezing garages), applying stickers, and so on. Manufacturers recommend that helmets are replaced after five years regardless, although some people are comfortable with ten years for an infrequently used helmet. So when purchasing a new helmet check the manufacturing date which, by law, will be on a sticker inside the shell.

All helmets produced by reputable manufacturers will also conform to at least one major regulatory body for bicycle helmets. The major standards are; US&Can/Euro/Australian. Each one of these has significantly better specifications in some respect, but most helmets sold in the industrialised world conform to all three anyway, so you get the best of all worlds. The best place to buy your helmet is an independent bicycle shop which will only stock makes they personally use. Avoid big box stores.

A modern helmet using “slip plane” technology

A few years ago a dreadful secret became apparent. Bicycle helmets actually made some types of injury worse… much worse. Since then new types of internal cradles and shock-absorbing materials have been devised, and are a significant improvement on the old brain-bucket type helmets. Initially, these new helmets tended to be very expensive, but now even value ranges have the latest innovations.

When shopping for a helmet prices will vary from several hundred dollars to around forty. If there are cheaper than that on offer go to another shop. The thing is a $400.00 helmet is not 10x safer than a $40.00 one. In fact, they’re pretty much equally effective. More expensive helmets tend to be lighter, cooler (temperature-wise), and cooler (looks-wise), come in sizes rather than one size fits all, and have more elegant and efficient fittings. You pays your money and you makes your choice.

Your choice…

Should you wear a helmet? Well, that’s your choice, unless you’re a juvenile. Data shows that wearing a helmet is not necessarily the single safest choice you can make. For example, people driving cars pass closer to cyclists wearing helmets. In fact, the people who would benefit most from wearing helmets are the occupants of cars, but when did facts ever mean anything? Helmets are most effective in solo incidents; falling off, etc. Helmets make very little difference if you’re going to be hit by a soccer parent’s SUV or monster truck. So you have to make your own risk assessment.

Me, and the most effective headwear I’ve found for riding around Red Bank

I do not invariably wear a helmet. I do when riding my road bike because 50mph+ descents, etc. are pretty scary, and on mountain bike technical rides. Around the town, I’m more likely to wear my old Panama. The most well-regarded research in the world found that wearing a long, blonde wig is more effective than wearing a helmet AND hiviz apparel. Well, that’s another story.

What are my qualifications for writing this stuff? I have been riding all sorts of bicycles for 65years+. I’ve been involved in bicycle retail for over forty years through family and the worst-paid, but the best job I ever had at one of the east coast’s top retailers. I’ve worn helmets since the first polystyrene buckets became available in the ’70s, and continued to wear them when appropriate ever since.

Shop at your local independent bike shop… Then just ride…

Author: Alan E Hill
Stranger in a strange land

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