Bicycle riding safety begins at the top with a proper helmet and most states make this a requirement for riders of all ages. There’s good reason for this. The average bicyclist will be involved in a crash every 4,500 miles. Each year, there are 700 bicycle-related deaths with 75% of those fatalities due to head injuries. Research conducted on the use of bicycle helmets has shown that head trauma is significantly reduced, when cyclists wear a safety helmet and it’s for that reason that most states make the wearing of helmets mandatory.
The Technology of Bicycle Helmets Explained
Essentially, a bicycle helmet limits the passing of energy at the point of impact, during a crash. The stiff foam within the helmet is instrumental in this process, cushioning the effect of the impact against the individual’s head. The foam is made out of either expanded polystyrene (EPS) or expanded polypropylene (EPP), though the EPS material is far more common. Some prefer EPP, because the material can recover following an impact, whereas EPS is usually crushed and cannot be reused.
When shopping for a new bicycle helmet, choosing one that has the right fit for your head is vital. The goal is to find a helmet that will remain in place throughout multiple impacts, because the typical bicycle accident involves the cyclist getting thrown against a car, other objects, such as trees or boulders, and finally getting thrown to the ground.
To begin, the helmet should have a resilient strap and a quality buckle to ensure it won’t come loose during a crash. The helmet itself should sit evenly on your head and cover as much of your cranium as possible. As you try on the helmet, fasten the strap and attempt to pull the helmet off your head. A properly fitting helmet shouldn’t budge, regardless of how much twisting and pulling you do. If the helmet does come off, or if it shifts enough to expose large portions of your head, you can try adjusting the strap or you may be better to select a different style of helmet.
Helmets Come in a Number of Styles
There are as many styles and types of helmets as there are types of bicyclists, but they’re essentially constructed of the same materials. The outer plastic shells, for all of their differences in appearance, serve the same purpose. The outer shell is designed to skid across pavement, reducing the shock of an impact. This prevents jerking of the neck. The plastic shell also holds the inner foam casing together throughout the impacts.
As mentioned, bicycle helmets come with a number of bells and whistles. Some are ridged, some include vents, and some have shaded visors, all of which may enhance the riding experience, but do little to protect in the event of the crash. If you choose a fancier helmet, be sure that extra features won’t interfere with the protection provided by the safety features of the helmet. For instance, larger vents mean that there’s less foam covering the interior of the helmet. Bicycle helmets with a tail at the back can also complicate a crash by getting caught in the other vehicle’s grill, mirror, or other external parts.
When looking for a helmet designed for safety, the sticker inside the helmet is a useful indicator of its safety standards. For instance, a CPSC sticker is in compliance with US Consumer Product Safety Commission standards, as is a F1447 sticker. Snell issues a B-95 standard, which meets tougher safety standards, but these helmets are difficult to find.
It’s also a good idea to select helmets with bright colors, so the bicyclist can stand out in traffic and at night. Some cyclists add reflective stickers to their helmets to increase visibility even further. Before each bicycle ride, it’s important to examine the helmet for flaws. Look for cracks and scratches on the exterior and on the interior of the helmet. Also check the foam lining for wear and for signs that the adhesive connecting the foam to the plastic shell is wearing out. The headband and chin strap should also be examined for wear and damage. Any visible cracks in the shell are a strong indication that the helmet should be replaced immediately. Other wear on the helmet may also suggest it’s time for a new helmet. Typically, bicycle helmets should be replaced every two years and whenever involved in an accident or crash.