Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute

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Helmets for Bicycle Polo

Summary: We recommend multi-impact bicycle helmets for bike polo. See our page on dual-certified helmets for a list.

Bicycle polo was reportedly invented in 1891 by Richard J. Mecredy, an Irishman. The sport is also known as bike polo, cycle polo, and even bicycle hockey.

Since bicycle polo is characterized by quite a few spills as the riders race after the ball, a helmet for the sport should be multi-impact. The typical single-crash bike helmet made with crushable EPS foam must be replaced after every hard hit, so it would not last long in a cycle polo environment. You can use a bike helmet and it will protect you, but you may have to discard it after one or a few games. When helmets sell for $7.14 at Wal-Mart or Target that may not bother you at all. If you go that way, be sure to look at our page on when to replace your helmet.

When cycle polo is played on grass, the surface is considerably more resilient than pavement. Pavement does not give--even the slightest fraction of an inch--and the energy spike to the brain generated by an impact is very very intense. On a graph it looks like a spike. On grass the spike becomes more of a bell curve, with a much less intense peak. For that reason cycle polo might be played in a skateboard helmet. But riding to and from the field, usually in the same helmet, the rider is on pavement. And some bicycle polo is played on hard surfaces, a type known as bicycle hockey in the bike messenger subculture. It is rougher than normal bicycle polo. So a skateboard helmet would not have the energy management capabilities needed.

Our recommendation for bicycle polo is a dual certified helmet that meets both the ASTM F1492 Skateboard standard and the CPSC bicycle helmet standard. There are some on the market. We have a page listing the models we know about.

Beyond the standard that a helmet has to meet, there is the question of ventilation. That is not covered by standards, in part because it is an easy one for the consumer to judge. The climate you play in is very important--a hot summer day requires lots of vents for cycle polo, an intense sport, even if you are playing the short regulation 7.5 minute chukkers. The ratio of effort to wind speed is considerably worse than normal road riding, similar to riding up a long steep hill. Road bike helmets use large front vents to get more air flowing, but some mountain bike helmets also have large top vents to allow air to rise when the speed is low. The classic skate style helmet with tiny round vents will be difficult to tolerate in hot conditions. Winter ventilation should be much less critical.

A disclaimer: we don't play bicycle polo! If you do and have more insights into helmet issues, please drop us an email with your comments so we can revise this page.