Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute

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Summary: As the manufacturer makes clear, the Ribcap padded cap is not a helmet, does not have the protection of a helmet, does not meet any helmet standard and offers minimal padding when you hit. But the aura of "protection" in the company's advertising and references to testing and a CE mark could distract you from that.

Ribcap is a knit wool and acrylic cap with thin foam inserts.

Ribcap photo 1 The foam is only about 11mm thick and 20mm wide. Ribcap photo 2 When the cap is stretched on the head, there can be 20mm of gap between the foam fingers. Ribcap photo 3 It should be apparent at first glance that it does not offer helmet-like impact protection. The foam is very thin compared to a helmet's liner, and is squishy slow rebound foam, not crushable helmet foam. And in fact the Swiss manufacturer says that up front. If you read the label in the cap, it says "Product protects against minor impacts which do not affect vital head areas (bumps, grazes and bruises). Warning: no protective effect like a helmet." That seems very clear. And the website says "Note: RIBCAP® is not certified as a sports or riding helmet (such as skiing, skating, cycling, ... etc.)."

But after stating that the cap is not a helmet, Ribcap's website goes on to tout various elements that could prove distracting:

Dr. Rémy Willinger of the University of Strasbourg evaluated samples of foam of the type used in Ribcaps and stated in his extensive technical report that it provided some protection in all the test situations where he tried it. But he did not test actual Ribcaps, and his report does not say whether the foam samples he did test were the same thickness and density as production Ribcap foam inserts. The reader may not realize that the drop tests were all at lower levels than helmet testing, and the headforms used were not helmet test headforms, but an automotive headform designed for car crash testing. Even so, the resultant g levels were all substantial. Putting almost any foam on the anvil would of course reduce those g levels, if only by a g or two. But testing an actual cap would risk hitting between the fingers, where only wool fabric would be between headform and anvil.

The manufacturer formerly labeled the Strasbourg report "certification" and when you clicked on that word they had a short form of the report on their web page as the technical underpinnings of their claims for protection. And they quoted Dr. Willinger "Ribcap prevents head trauma- Heads protected by Ribcap show up a significantly lower injury risk in all tested impact configurations" Ribcaps prevent head trauma? He did not test any actual Ribcaps for the report. There is an appearance here of having conducted a serious investigation of the protective capabilities of the foam used in the caps, but only at low velocities on a flat anvil. Really protective headgear is tested at higher drop heights, using less-forgiving metal headforms and on hemispheric or curbstone anvils as well as flat. The actual headgear is tested, not a sample of the materials in it. So there is no actual test of the caps, and no comparison anywhere of the caps' performance with that of helmets meeting actual helmet standards.

For more, see Ribcap's web page.

The Guardian article

In May of 2011 a blog writer for the UK's Guardian endorsed the product, and the editors not only used the headline "Ribcap folding bike 'helmet' - review" but mislabeled a photo as "Helen Pidd wearing a Ripcap foldable bicycle helmet." They did not even spell the product name correctly. And the author says she is going to "review the very cosy cycle helmet I've been rocking all winter on the streets of Berlin." Confusion reigns at the Guardian. The caps are not helmets. This article illustrates how the manufacturer's advertising can be distracting and clearly the Guardian was misled.

Bottom line

If you want to wear a Ribcap rather than a helmet, that's up to you, but we hope you do not confuse the level of protection offered by the product with the protection of a helmet. For that you have to wear a helmet with a sticker inside saying it meets the standard for the sport you are engaged in. The testing to meet that standard is based on impacts you can reasonably expect. We think that settling for less is cheating yourself of the protection your brain deserves.

For a hat-style helmet that meets the CEN European bike and skateboard helmet standard, see the Danish Yakkay or the Lazer CityZen. You don't have to settle for less to have a real helmet that looks like a cap or hat.

For more on the protection offered by non-traditional headgear, see our page on turbans. Some of them would probably out-perform the Ribcap in an impact test.