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Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute

The Helmet Update by Email

Volume 19, #4 - December 17, 2001

All issues index

Helmets for 2002: No Great Surprises

Here is the summary from our long web page on Helmets for 2002. The full page is at http://www.helmets.org/helmet02.htm


Helmet lines for 2002 showed few real improvements over the 2001 season. Prices are mostly stable after rising somewhat last year in the mass merchant channel. Demand for bicycles has been declining, but we can't say if helmet sales are following since there are no industry numbers available. 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. There is nothing on the horizon to recommend delaying a purchase, and no compelling reason to upgrade an otherwise good helmet this year.

Helmets manufactured for the US market after 1999 must meet the national CPSC standard. Very few of the older ones are still on sale. We recommend looking for a helmet that:

    1. Meets the CPSC standard. (Look for the sticker inside)

    2. Fits you well.

And preferably:
    3. Has a rounded, smooth exterior with no snag points.

    4. Has no more vents than you need.

We usually recommend checking Consumer Reports for brand recommendations, but their most recent helmet article was back in 1999, and the models they tested are no longer on the market. Since there is no lab test data available, we do not make brand and model recommendations. We do recommend steering away from models with obvious disadvantages like snag points on the outer surface.

Beware of skateboard helmets with no CPSC sticker inside. Some of them look exactly like a bike/skateboard multipurpose helmet from the outside, but the foam inside is not designed for the impacts a bicycle rider should expect. Be sure to look for a CPSC sticker before using a skateboard-style helmet for bicycling!

Outside the US, the basic features to look for are the same. Unless there is a CPSC sticker in the helmet, you will probably find one that attests to the helmet meeting one of the numerous national standards or the European standard.

Trends: Sharp lines are softer. Fit is improving slowly.

This year's helmets have fewer of the squared-off lines we find objectionable and fewer of the pronounced rear snag points that dominated top of the line models just two years ago. We have a web page up explaining why you need a rounder, smoother helmet to avoid snagging in a crash. It also explains why bigger vents are not always a benefit.

Although fit systems are slowly improving, no manufacturer has yet achieved the self-fitting helmet that is today's most critical need. (We have more on that on our page on the ideal helmet.) Several now have a one-size-fits-all system based on an adjustable ring. They are generally quicker to fit and reduce the number of models dealers have to stock. But the headband used will interfere with anyone using a separate sweatband or earband, who should look for a model with the adjustability of traditional fit pads. As always, your own head is the only standard for fit.

More Trends

  • Colors: 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: Visors continue to lose ground, as manufacturers have not found them particularly profitable. Most visors are now being attached with prongs that plug into the helmet shell, rather than hook-and-loop material. We don't recommend visors unless you really need them for glare riding into the sun (a problem for contact lens wearers). The harder ones can cut you in a crash, and some can even shatter. That is not covered by US bike helmet standards.
  • Offshore production: The trend to moving production to Asia that began in 2000 has continued, and most US production has been moved offshore. In addition, some major brands are including helmets in their lines that are manufactured for them by other companies in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan or Korea.

New Technology

This year a new foam has been announced that may have advantages for multi-impact helmets. The first helmet using it is promised before the end of 2001. It is heavy and shaped as a ski/skate helmet, with minimal vents, appealing more to skiers than cyclists. We don't have test lab data for it yet, so recommendations are on hold. It is covered on our web page under W Helmets.

The Hard Shell Lives!

A number of the skateboard-style helmets on the market are still made with hard shells. Most are hot for bicycle riding. But a company in Taiwan is shipping hard shell bicycle-style helmets to the US market. This year they have found a new technique to mold the foam directly into a hard ABS shell. That model may arrive here in 2002. You can find comments on them in our section on Hopus Technology on our web page.


Bicycle helmets manufactured for the US market after March 10, 1999 are required to meet the US Consumer Product Safety Commission standard by law. But the CPSC standard applies only to bicycle helmets, and there are other helmets on the market that don't meet it. They can be sold for skating, skateboarding, surfing or tiddlywinks, as long as they are not labeled for bicycling. They can be identical on the outside to a bike helmet made by the same manufacturer. They can be 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 inside sticker and on 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, no matter what the salesman says.

The independent Snell Memorial Foundation's Snell B-95 or N-94 multisport sticker is still an even better indicator of quality. But most of the "Snell" helmets on the market meet only Snell's B-90 standard, comparable to CPSC. We can't explain all those numbers to most consumers.

Outside the US there are national standards and a European CEN standard that manufacturers design for. Most of them test helmets with similar techniques but a less severe drop than the CPSC standard requires.

Other News

The National Bicycle Safety Network has at last published the program it has been working on: National Strategies for Advancing Bicycle Safety. It is the first comprehensive attempt to attack all the things that make cycling dangerous in the US. We have been working on this campaign and are excited about it. There is, of course, more info at http://www.cdc.gov/ncipc/bike/

BHSI is alive and well. We have posted our program for 2002 at http://www.helmets.org/bhsi.htm.

The Helmet Update - Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute
Randy Swart
4611 Seventh Street South
Arlington, VA 22204-1419 USA
(703) 486-0100

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This page was revised on: October 31, 2020. BHSI logo