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WABA Helmet Committee

The WABA Helmet Update

Vol. 1, No. 2 - September, 1983

Welcome to the second edition of "Update." Our first edition, in May, was well received judging by responses from as far away as Australia. Please circulate this newsletter to other interested parties, such as your local bicycle clubs and bicycling publications, and let us know of anyone who would like to be added to our mailing list.

We would like to thank all those who have sent in donations to the Mary Gaffney fund to support the Update. Funding is still slim in our work; we solicit your contributions to support us. A contribution of $10 from each subscriber would go a long way to defraying our expenses. Please make checks payable to:

    The Mary Gaffney Memorial Fund
    Washington Area Bicyclist Association
    (WABA's 1983 address was here)
    Washington, D. C.

If you cannot donate please do not fret about it--our purpose is to spread information and we want you to read or use what we present here whether or not you can help us meet our expenses!

New Test Results

Readers will probably be most interested in the results of our ongoing teat program. Detailed results will be compiled and reported more fully in the near future, but we can give you an outline of the results of the first five helmets we have tested since publication of our article in Bicycling in March. The helmets tested include an excellent helmet from Japan, the Arai; a new model from Bell, the V-1 Pro; the Land Tool Company's helmet; the OGK; and the Monarch "Tour Guard."

Before we go into the actual teat results, it might be beat to outline our test procedures again to help new readers understand the remarks-which follow. Our tests consist of two phases: a laboratory phase and a comfort teat phase. The laboratory crash testing is performed at the Snell Memorial Foundation, and consists of placing the helmet on an instrumented headform and dropping it onto anvils from various heights. The drop heights used for these bicycle helmet tests are 1 meter, 1.5 meters, and 1.82 meters (6 feet). If the instrumentation inside the headform registers force levels exceeding 300 G's the helmet is considered to have failed the test at that drop height, because acceleration above that level can cause fatal injury to a human head in a real crash. After the drop teats, the chinstrap of the helmet is tested by hanging a 300 pound (136 kilogram) load on the strap. If the chinstrap breaks or stretches too much at this weight it fails, because the helmet might fly off in a real crash.

The comfort test consists of test rides by a panel of bicyclists here in Washington, DC. After riding with each helmet for a time each rider writes an evaluation of the helmet covering many comfort factors such as fit, coolness, and visual obstructions.

With this background, let us look at some real tests.


The Arai helmet could be an exciting product for bicyclists who are concerned about maximum protection for their heads. It not only passed all drop tests, but the acceleration values were appreciably better than any of the other helmets in our March test except the Fury. Like the Fury, the Arai is a full-cover helmet with only six small (5/8") round vents. It weighs 24 oz, heavier than the Bella and Bailen but much lighter than the Fury (35 oz.). Our comfort tests are not yet complete, but even if the Arai is not as cool or comfortable as some other helmets it will provide a high-protection alternative for those who recognize the importance of a very high level of head protection. In our listing in the Bicycling article it would rank below the Fury and above the Bells and Bailen.

The Arai is a Japanese helmet, said to be designed for use by professional bicycle racers in Japan, and said to be widely used in Japanese racing.

Bell V-1 Pro

This new Bell helmet, announced in May, seems to be designed to appeal to those who admire the ancient racer's hairnet. Its black shell looks a lot like a hairnet from the outside, but it is an up to date design nevertheless, with a hard outer shell and a thick polystyrene inner liner. (Liner thickness varies with size, a feature we have not yet fully evaluated which will require further testing.) In the laboratory testing to date the V-1 Pro performed as well as its cousins, the Tourlite, the Biker and the Prime; it passed all the drop testa with flying colors. However, like the Tourlite, it failed the chinstrap test. Its plastic hook fastener opened up under the severe test of the 300 pound static load. For this reason it would have been ranked right with the Tourlite in our March article. If they passed the chinstrap test, both the Tourlite and the V-1 Pro would rank near the top of all the helmets tested, along with the Bailen, Bell Biker and Bell Prime.

For comfort our panel of riders ranked the V-1 Pro "very good" to "excellent," more comfortable than any other helmet listed in the March article which passed the drop tests. Although the helmet is actually almost as heavy as the Biker at 15oz., its ventilation is very good, and the "hairnet" design seems to pre-dispose the wearer to believe that it is cool and light even before placing it on the heed. Early acceptance seems very good, and the V1-Pro is in short supply.

WABA will report further on this model when Snell's additional tests are complete. See below a separate article on Bell's plastic buckles.

Land Tool Company

The sample of this helmet which we received following the New York Bike Show had no identification label. It can be recognized by its hard plastic shell with vertical vent slots in the sides and a round vent hole in the top. The shell extends in front into a short visor with slits in it. When squeezed between the buyer's hands the shell and liner are notably less rigid than the high-ranking helmets we have tested.

It was the visor on this helmet, combined with a loosely mounted headband, which caused the main problems in our comfort tests. Every panelist who rode with the helmet noted that it interfered with vision in certain circumstances. For this reason alone the helmet would have ranked low in our comfort ratings.

The Land Tool helmet did not fare especially well in the laboratory, either. It passed the drop test at 1 and 1.5 meters, but failed at 1.82. Further, it failed the chinstrap test; in fact, it took very little pull to separate the chinstrap. We would have ranked this helmet at about the same level as the Cooper SK2000 in our Bicycling article, but the low quality of the chinstrap snap would force a "conditional" rating even at that level--conditioned on the buyer's replacing the snap. Still, the Land helmet retails for only about $20, showing what can be done with the hard shell/styrofoam liner design even with apparently inexpensive materials.

Monarch Tourguard

This helmet can be recognized by nine large (1 5/8") round ventilation holes. It has a hard fiberglass shell, but it is lined with soft foam rather than the rigid shock-absorbing material used in the helmets which perform well in the crash tests.

The Tourguard not only failed the first drop test at one meter; even a drop of 50 cm. produced acceleration beyond the tolerable limit of 300 g's. Given this poor laboratory performance we do not consider it worthwhile to review its wearability, since we would not be able to recommend its use.


This Japanese import manufactured by the Osaka Grip Company is a conventional design with a hard shell and a hard foam liner. It has vertical ventilation slits and an adjustable visor, with an appearance not unlike a Bell Tourlite. The helmet performed in an unusual way in the laboratory tests, evidently due to the design of the inner liner, which varies greatly in thickness from place to place. The helmet performed well when dropped on the back, where the liner is thickest; it passed even the 1.82 meter drop. But when dropped on the side, where the liner is thinner, the acceleration level far surpassed the limit of 300 g's. in a 1 meter drop. In addition the OGK failed the chinstrap test, due to failure of the fastener. The OGK would rank in the same category, or below, the new model Hanna Pro, Supergo, and the Cooper SK2000 in our March article.

Bell Buckle Problem

We pointed out in our Bicycling article that the buckle of the Bell Tourlite failed the Snell 300 pound static teat. That first version also had a weak retaining tab (the "tongue" which holds the two pieces of the buckle together). Bell produced a second version of the buckle, which seemed to have solved the tab breakage problem but which also failed the 300 pound test. (This is a severe test, more severe than the proposed ANSI standard, but is easily met by a normal nylon strap with D-rings or a high quality buckle.) The early production run of the new Bell V-1 Pro used the same second generation buckle.

We understand that Bell is now introducing a slightly modified version of the second generation buckle which is designed to pass the Snell test. This third generation buckle looks almost exactly like the second generation one, except that it has some added material in two ridges which run along the back of the hook portion. A WABA illustrator is working on drawings which hopefully will make it possible to distinguish the two buckles. Bell has been replacing the first generation model upon request (it is easy to identify because the strap is sewn on, rather than threaded through slots--the newer buckles have the slots to thread the strap through.) For more information on this subject, see the forthcoming October issue of American Wheelmen, the League of American Wheelmen's monthly magazine; it will contain an article about the Bell buckles. WABA will be following design changes such as this when they involve good helmets, since the manufacturers seem to feel that recalls are unnecessary, but obviously someone should be providing this information to the consumer. We hope that our concern will not obscure the fact that the Bell helmets are among the best on the market, and the buckles may well meet the proposed ANSI standard even if they do not meet Snell's more severe test.

More Tests Under Way

Testing of new bicycle helmets will be an ongoing process--we have several more helmets which are in various stages of testing, and there will doubtless be more when these are completed. The helmets we have in test now include an interesting new helmet from Premier, the Ultra-Lite, the new Giro model from Brancale, and the 1983 version of the Bailen. We have more testing to do on the Bell V-1 Pro and the Arai, and Snell is also testing some older models of the MSR which are still in use. We will have reports on at least some of these in the next Update. In addition we will be updating our blue pamphlet to include the new helmets, and will send it out with another issue later this fall. We are enclosing a copy of a pamphlet with a somewhat more national scope than WABA's which was prepared for the League of American Wheelmen and circulated by them for clubs to duplicate.


Please keep us informed of activities and news items regarding helmets in your area. We cannot keep track of everything, and we rely on you, our readers for news items and information. Articles sent by readers will be included in each mailing. Keep those cards and letters coming!

Tom Balderston

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