Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute
The Helmet Update
As it appeared on paper
Volume 19, #1 - January, 2001
We have now settled into a regular annual schedule for this paper version of the Update. Our email Updates are shorter and more frequent, and the details are posted on the web. If you would like to be on our email Update list, drop us an email at email@example.com.
We did not include the 2001 version of our pamphlets with this mailing, but you are welcome to them whenever you need updated versions to duplicate. We now have five:
Our Annual Paper Issue
Most of them are up on our web page, where you can also download them as Word files. Or we can send high resolution printouts on paper for you to duplicate locally in whatever quantity you need.
- A Consumer's Guide to Bicycle Helmets
- Must I Buy a Bicycle Helmet for My Child?
- How to Fit a Bicycle Helmet
- Teaching Your Child to Ride a Bicycle
- Bike Safety (by Candice Discepolo, age 8)
Helmets for 2001
Helmet lines for 2001 showed few real improvements over the 2000 season. Prices are slightly up in the mass merchant channel where most helmets are sold. Demand for bicycles increased last year, and helmet sales too, by perhaps 20 per cent. From the consumer's point of view there are very protective helmets out there for reasonable prices, and very stylish ones for a few dollars more.
All helmets manufactured for the US market after March 10, 1999 must meet the national CPSC standard. Very few of the older ones are still on sale. We still recommend looking for a helmet that
1. Meets the CPSC standard. (Look for the sticker inside)
2. Fits you well.
3. Has a rounded, smooth exterior with no snag points.
4. Has no more vents than you need.
Beware of skateboard helmets with no CPSC sticker inside. Some of them look exactly like a bike/skate multipurpose helmet, but the foam liner inside is not designed for the impacts a bicycle rider should expect. Be sure to look for a CPSC sticker before using a skate-style helmet for bicycling!
Trends: Vents still big; sharp lines softening, more
A major theme for the last three years has been more and larger air vents. If all else were equal, more vents would be a Good Thing, but as usual all else is not equal. Opening up larger vents usually requires harder, more dense foam and squaring off the edges of the remaining foam ribs to squeeze out the most impact protection possible from the narrower pieces still there. Since we believe that rounder shells and less dense foam are virtues in a crash, we don't recommend hyper-vented helmets unless you really need the added ventilation.
Fewer designs are squared-off
The fashion among helmet designers in recent years has favored squared-off edges of the foam remaining around the vents, and the addition of sharp lines in the exterior plastic just for style. The elongated "aero" shape has dominated in the upscale models as well. The aero shape is a less than optimal design for crashing. Fortunately we saw some moderation of this trend in the helmets for 2000, and that has continued this year. Rounder shells reduce any tendency for a helmet to snag or "stick" to the surface when you hit. They also eliminate the aero tail that can shove the helmet aside as you hit, exposing your bare head.
Other trends this year include a continued but disappointingly slow movement toward brighter colors, mirroring what is happening in bike colors, bike clothing and automotive colors. Visors continue to lose ground, as manufacturers have not found them particularly profitable. They had been used in prior years to promote a meaningless difference between visorless "road" helmets and visored "mountain bike" helmets. The distinction is largely artificial, since both types of helmets are designed to the same standard and in most cases both will be used at times for the other type of riding.
Another continuing trend is packaging helmets with other accessories, particularly in the skate market, where a number of manufacturers have knee pads and wrist protectors with their "multi-sport" helmets. Most of those multisport helmets are certified to the same CPSC bicycle helmet standard as a normal bicycle helmet. The list of those certified to Snell's N-94 multi-purpose standard is still very short: ProRider and Vigor.
A trend that would normally not be apparent to the consumer is that during 2000 many manufacturers moved their production to Asia. Many helmets for the US market are now coming from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea and soon from India. The disadvantages of high transportation costs have been overwhelmed by the rising cost of factory labor in the US. Asian manufacturers and tool producers have improved their ability to produce helmets. Some quality control concerns remain, however. Under CPSC rules the US manufacturer or importer is responsible for ensuring that a bicycle helmet imported here meets the CPSC standard. But other types of helmets, labeled for skating, snow sports or some other activity other than bicycling, can potentially be imported by someone who is not too careful about certification and quality control standards. Some manufacturers dealing with the move to Asia have limited the number of new models for 2001 until the new arrangements are functioning smoothly.
To date we have not seen any exciting new materials or major advances in technology in this year's helmet lines. Even the perennial rumors of "miracle" impact foams have been quiet this year, although major manufacturers are still researching them actively. No manufacturer has yet achieved the self-fitting helmet that is today's most critical need. The most novel new feature introduced this year was a spoiler found on one European model. Your Porsche has a spoiler, so why not your helmet?
Bicycle helmets manufactured for the US market after March 10, 1999 are required to meet the CPSC standard by law. That took most of the steam out of the standards issue. But there are two reasons to continue to look for the standards sticker. First, there are still a few older models out there made before 1999 that do not meet the CPSC standard, and can still be legally sold. You find them on the dusty bargain tables. Some may be good buys. If they meet the ASTM F-1447 standard they would be very close to meeting CPSC.
In addition, since the CPSC standard applies only to bicycle helmets, there are other helmets on the market that don't meet it, but just are careful not to say they are for bicycling. They can be for skating, skateboarding, surfing or tiddlywinks, as long as they are not labeled for bicycling. They can even be identical on the outside to a bike helmet made by the same manufacturer, sold in bike shops or in discount stores on the same shelf as the bicycle helmets, with the same packaging and only the wording on the sticker inside and the box different. So a measure of "buyer beware" is still required. We recommend that you look for a sticker inside the helmet saying it meets the CPSC standard. If it is not there, pass it up.
Even when you do find the CPSC sticker, there is a very small risk that the helmet does not actually meet the standard. Several manufacturers have had recalls in the past year, mostly of skateboard-style helmets that also had a CPSC sticker attached. We have details on our web page. Unfortunately, CPSC refuses to release their lab test data, even when we pressed under a FOIA request. (By contrast, the Department of Transportation publishes at least the bare bones of their test data for their motorcycle helmets on the web.) Without any lab test data at all, we are really stuck with just the manufacturer's label saying they meet the CPSC standard, unless the helmet is certified by Snell or SEI, or if it happens to be included in the very limited selection tested by Consumer Reports every other year.
The independent Snell Memorial Foundation's Snell B-95 sticker is still a reliable indicator of quality, since Snell tests helmets in their own labs. But most of the "Snell" helmets on the market meet only Snell's B-90 standard, comparable to CPSC. The Safety Equipment Institute is another independent organization certifying bicycle helmets, this time to the CPSC standard. But few manufacturers are using their program.
Brands: Consumer Reports Picks
The most recent article on helmets in Consumer Reports was in June, 1999. You may still find some of the tested models, including the Louis Garneau Globe model that earned their highest impact protection. The article is on the Consumer Reports website for a fee, and we have a brief summary on our web page.
We do not have space here for the whole list of helmet models available. Our web page covers 87 manufacturers, and we don't even count the models. The details, and a lot more on 2001 helmet lines, are at http://www.helmets.org/helmet01.htm
Study Suggests Head Injury Increases
A study published in the October issue of the journal Neurology by the American Academy of Neurology showed a much higher incidence of Alzheimer's disease (AD) and other dementias late in life among WW II veterans who had suffered head injuries during their military service. Although similar results have emerged in other studies, this one took advantage of military records rather than relying on patient recall, increasing accuracy. The increased risk varied with the severity of the injury, rising to four times normal in those who had suffered severe injuries. The study results for mild head injury were "inconclusive." The risk of dementia increased even when a head injury was sustained 40 to 50 years earlier.
Risk of Later Problems
The authors conclude "The veterans in this study sustained head injuries in early adult life. Their risk of dementia 50 years later suggests that pathogenesis of the degenerative dementias may trace to origins decades before the appearance of clinical symptoms. This result is consistent with the perspective that AD is a chronic disease that unfolds over many decades, with an extended latent phase as well as a prodromal stage (progressive "age-related cognitive decline") and the stage of fully expressed dementia." The authors reportedly have added in press interviews the caution that the wartime injuries studied may not be typical of injuries sustained in a bicycle crash. This study still has implications for any participant in an activity where head injury is a problem.
The study is titled Documented head injury in early adulthood and risk of Alzheimer's disease and other dementias. It is by Plassman, et. al.
Hawaii and Washington, DC Have Helmet Laws
Our list of helmet laws now includes the State of Hawaii (under 16) and the District of Columbia (under 16), making 18 State laws and 76 local laws. We have details on our web page, or can send paper if you request it. Others added during 2000 were Creve Coeur, Missouri (all ages), Onondaga County, NY (under 18), Bremerton, WA (all ages), Aberdeen, WA (all ages) and in 2001, Billings MT (under 16).
BHSI Exhibits at the Smithsonian
We had fun last spring constructing a full scale helmet test rig for a brief exhibition at the Smithsonian on bicycles old and new. The photos are on our web page. The rig is a model, and is not functional, but it illustrates the actual equipment used in helmet testing and gives a feel for the severity of the impacts involved.
The Helmet Update - Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute
4611 Seventh Street South
Arlington, VA 22204-1419 USA
(703) 486-0100 (voice)
(703) 486-0576 (fax)