Believe it or not, there’s a battle raging over the usefulness of bicycle helmets in the reduction of severe head injuries. Most accidents that result in severe head injuries involve a relatively high-speed collision with an automobile.
Cycling helmets aren’t designed to cope with such an incident. In fact, the standard to which the manufacturers are held by the safety organizations is pretty limited.
Bicycle helmets are tested to withstand an impact equivalent to an average sized rider traveling up to 12 mph, falling onto a stationary curb-shaped object from the height of one meter. That’s not anywhere near the force of a collision with a car.
So are bicycle helmets a dark plot to rid the cyclist of hard-earned dollars? I guess it depends on who you listen to. I know I don’t see very many cyclists baring their heads as they ride in and amongst car bumpers.
I don’t see too much of a downside to biking helmets, except for the fact that they’re relatively uncomfortable, can be hotter than heck, and they take money from those cyclists who are very, very cheap.
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A Best Bicycle Helmet, Considering That This Is How They Work?
Think of your cycling helmet as a bunch of polystyrene coffee cups mashed together and put on top of your head. The helmet is rigid, but at the same time it’s very crushable. And that’s how it does its work.
It’s a matter of physics. Energy isn’t lost or gained, it’s only transferred. So the energy of your head (kinetic energy) traveling toward a curb, where it encounters an abrupt stop, must be transferred somewhere.
Without a bicycle helmet, that transfer of energy may be used to indent your skull, causing you to permanently forget your mother’s maiden name.
However, a bicycle helmet may serve as a ‘crumple zone’. In this case, instead of reshaping your skull, the energy is used to crush the polystyrene of the helmet. Presto, ruined helmet!
Achieving the Cycling Helmet Perfect Fit
Ever wonder how they shape your favorite cycling helmet? Do they buy a bushel of cantaloupes to mold the helmet around? Nooooo! But they do have to use some kind of ‘head-shape’ and if that head-shape isn’t similar to yours you aren’t going to get a good fit. Try on several helmets until you find the one that fits you the best.
We’ve already gone over how a bike helmet works so you should know that there shouldn’t be a lot of extra space between your coconut and the inside of the helmet. Although this space can be filled up with a ‘sizing ring’ and extra pads, they don’t do you any good in a collision.
In fact, the movement inside of the helmet can serve as an unhealthy ‘slap upside the head’ in the event of an impact.
To find the size of your head, measure around your skull at a level one inch above your eyebrows (or eyebrow if you’ve got that problem). This measurement will be what you deliver to the helpful helmet salesman.
Proper wearing of the cycling helmet is critical for maximum protection. If you wear it too far back like a Jewish skullcap you won’t be getting adequate protection for your forehead. Duh.
If you wear it too far forward you won’t get protection on the back of your head. Wear it somewhere in between for best results. Whew, this can get pretty technical.
Bottomline– get a helmet that most closely approximates the dimensions of your skull. Be like Goldilocks and the three Bears- don’t wear it too far back, don’t wear it too far forward, wear it juuuust right.
Types of Bicycling Helmets
There are three basic types of helmets. Presenting the Mountain Bike Helmet, the Road Bike Helmet, and the ambiguous Sport Helmet.
* Mountain Bike Helmets– these helmets are designed for maximal protection from obstacles along the trail. Consequently they offer more coverage behind the head. They also feature a secure fit for all of the bumps and jerks along the rough trail.
* Road Bike Helmets– these helmets emphasize light weight, ventilation, and aerodynamic styling so that you won’t be held back while riding in the Tour de France.
* Sports Helmets– the best description that I could get for these is that they ‘offer versatile protection at a value price’. I think that these must be the cheap, junky ones.
The Shell– Surrounding the crushed up coffee cups is what is called the Shell. This thin layer of plastic is what keeps the polystyrene together, both when it’s getting poked at by tree branches and when it’s trying to survive an impact with the pavement.
They tell me that the plastic liner slides well on asphalt. I don’t really know. The only time I was ‘nudged’ by a car, I flipped and landed neatly onto my backpack filled with books and clothes. It slid well and it wasn’t even made of plastic.
Ventilation– As you can imagine, riding along with a miniature beverage cooler on your head can get pretty hot. So it pays to buy a cycling helmet with a lot of vents in it. The more the better, but don’t get too many vents or you’ll not be wearing a helmet at all.
Straps– The straps are what keep the helmet in the upright position. There are thicker straps for the rough and rowdy Mountain Bike crowd and there are thinner straps for the Road Bike crowd.
Once again, in the interest of ‘lightness’ the road biker would rather save an ounce in his bicycle helmet straps than get rid of the extra 15 pounds around his girth.
In order for the straps to do their job they need to be fastened snugly beneath the chin. Some straps come with pinch-preventing buckles that help prevent pinching of the neck and/or beard.
Many male riders appreciate this feature, as did the East German women cyclists back when they were really kickin butt.
Hairports and Visors– A hairport is a special design in the strap system to accommodate a ponytail. Visors are handy for shielding the eyeballs from glare. However because the road cyclist rides with his head down, a visor is most likely to be in the way and impair his vision.
The visor is more appropriate for a mountain biker or a ‘sports biker’ (the guy who doesn’t know what the heck he is).
Who Checks For Safety?
All bicycle helmets sold in the US must meet standards set by the Consumer Products Safety Commission (are they part of the conspiracy?). More stringent standards are set by the American Society for Testing and Material (ASTM) or the Snell Foundation.
As if you care to know the names of these organizations.
When To Replace Your Helmet
Any time you suffer any significant impact you should replace your bicycle helmet. You can’t always see what damage has been done. Additionally those who make their livelihood off of selling lots and lots of helmets say that you should replace your helmet every 5 years.
They argue that UV light, pollution, and weathering can weaken your helmet’s components over time. Five years time to be precise.
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