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Consumer Reports Publishes
A Helmet Article!
July, 2004




Summary: Consumer Reports tested bike helmets in 2004.




Consumer Reports has an article on helmets in their July issue. The article rates 15 adult helmets, eight youth models and six toddler helmets. That is a very small cross-section of the hundreds of models on the market, but it represents the only independent lab test data publicly available, so it is a major event in the helmet field.

Impact Test Results

Among the adult helmets, Consumers Union picked the Louis Garneau Zen as a Best Buy, awarding it a Very Good in impact protection and Excellent for other characteristics. Other Very Good ratings for impact were awarded to the Trek Interval and the Specialized Telluride, but the latter is not recommended because the buckles on some samples failed (see comment below). The Bell Influx was similarly not recommended. All other adult helmets were Good, with only the Bell Scuffle scoring lower in the Fair category. This is not too surprising, as most helmets are basically designed to meet the same CPSC standard.

Among youth helmets, the Specialized Air Wave Mega was the only helmet in this study found Excellent for impact protection. The Louis Garneau Grunge 2-V, Bell Amigo and Schwinn Thrasher were all Very Good. In toddler sizes, the Bell Boomerang was Very Good for impact and highly recommended, while the Fisher-Price Toddler (Bell Belino) model was rated only Fair. The Trek Little Dipper was not recommended due to buckle failures.

Retention Test Results

Most of the helmets tested scored Excellent in retention effectiveness. But remember that in the lab the helmets are adjusted carefully by experts, and there is no test for loosening over time by "strap creep."

Skate vs. Bicycle

The only helmet CU tested this time that met both skateboard and bicycle helmet standards was the Ripper2 by W Helmets. The article does not note, however, that W does not certify the large size of the Ripper2 for bicycle use. (That size is now discontinued.) CU also mentions the adult models corresponding to the youth helmets they tested, but they did not test the adult sizes, and the results might be very different, as they apparently are for the Ripper2.

Buckle breakage: Continued controversy

The Consumer Reports lab continues to break buckles as they did in 1997, but both they and the helmet manufacturers don't seem to know why, since the same buckles pass on other models. Lab technique could be at fault, since the ASTM bicycle helmet standard now requires that the buckle be adjusted away from the steel rods on the test apparatus that simulates the jaw. A buckle placed against those steel rods for the hard jerk required will more often break, but the test is not realistic. On the other hand, there are differences in strap materials, anchoring or strap routing, shells and helmet foam density that could account for the problem if they produce a more rigid structure that gives less and increases the sharpness of the jerk. We are not particularly concerned about the breakage, since it does not seem to be happening in the field on helmets whose buckles CU broke in the past, and CPSC was mostly unable to reproduce the 1997 failures in their lab. In that article CU did not even recommend avoiding the models whose buckles broke, indicating that they did not consider it a serious problem at that time. To be on the safe side you may want to steer away from the three models as CU recommends this time, since there are lots of other good ones available. We would be more concerned about the Fair impact performance of the Bell Scuffle, and see no excuse for buying that one.

We have much more on the buckle question on our page reviewing the 1997 article. Here is Bell's response.

What We Missed

This article is a must-read if you are researching a new helmet, but as always we were disappointed that some really interesting helmets were not included. Foremost among them is the Bell Metro, a round and smooth new helmet for which we would have appreciated ratings. There are others as well, particularly the lower-priced models found at Toys R Us and other discounters, where most parents buy child helmets. But testing is expensive, and no single lab, including the US Government, can afford to test every helmet on the market. Our own listing of Helmets for the current season is much more comprehensive, but has no lab test results, severely limiting its usefulness.

You can read the article in the July, 2004 issue of Consumer Reports, available at your local library or for a fee on the Consumer Reports Web site.

Here is a link to our reviews of Consumer Reports articles for all the years they have published them.

Here is a link to our comprehensive review of all bike helmets on the market. There are no ratings because we don't have a test lab.



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