Bike Helmets

Keeping It Covered
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As soon as he heard them, he knew he was in trouble. Thad Quinn was a typical mountain bike fanatic high-schooler. He spent almost all of his free time in the saddle, riding to school, riding to work, and most importantly riding to the trails. One day, when he was as usual pedaling the streets of his quiet suburban town, he heard a car behind him. He recalls hearing someone shout that the driver should "hit him," and then the engine got louder and he could feel the car turning toward him.

Thad still doesn't know why the car full of schoolmates decided to knock him off his bike, or why anyone in his or her right mind would intentionally hit a cyclist. What he does know is that he's lucky to be alive. His fall destroyed his bike, did internal damage, and would have killed him if he hadn't been wearing a helmet.

Too many cyclists eschew helmets thinking that they aren't really needed. Some cyclists argue that their reaction times are so fast that they can avoid hitting their heads, while others complain about how uncomfortable and hot they are. Worse are the wanna-be pros who pilot multi-thousand-dollar bicycles but avoid helmets, claiming that they slow them down.

Helmets Make Sense

The Consumer Products Safety Committee estimated that in 1994 there were over 600,000 bicycle-related injuries, while the National Safety Council reports more than 1,000 bicycle-related fatalities occur each year. Of those, more than two-thirds are due to head trauma.

With statistics like these, it's a wonder that NOT every cyclist is wearing a helmet. But poor understanding of fit and comfort causes a lot of riders to avoid wearing their lid. Many don't realize that modern helmet designs are vastly more comfortable than models made even five years ago. Massive vents provide great circulation and reduce weight, while padding and retention systems hold the helmet firmly in place. Aerodynamic designs provide some advantages that aren't offered by the human head (witness the conical helmets used in time trials) or by a cotton cycling cap. What's more, some states require the use of helmets (at least for children) making riding without one illegal in many areas.

Fit and Safety

Selecting a comfortable helmet is vital, as comfort will lead to use. Bike stores carry helmets in every style, size, and price range. All bike stores should be committed to providing assistance with assuring the proper fit.

Two major certification bodies, ANSI and Snell, test helmets to ensure they provide adequate protection. Any helmet purchased should be certified by one or (preferably) both organizations, and should say so on the packaging.

The helmet manufacturers update designs every year, and innovations such as Giro's"Roc Loc" and Bell's "Half Nelson" improve fit considerably. As a helmet is useless once it's been involved in a crash, it's also important to look for a company that offers replacement programs.

David Schloss founded and was editor in chief of, the award-winning bicycle Web site that blazed trails online and off. Schloss, a full-time sport and technology journalist, writes for more than a dozen magazines and Web sites, and spends as much time on his bike and in his kayak as possible. He has written for GORP about bike racks for cars, bike locks, bike clothes, and cycling computers.

Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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