Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute
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WABA Helmet Committee

The WABA Helmet Update

Vol. 1, No. 3 - November, 1983

On black-edged paper

This edition of the WABA update comes edged in black. In September Dr. George Snively, a Director of the Snell Memorial Foundation and our chief collaborator on helmet studies over the past two years, died of a heart attack at age 62. Dr. Snively was a medical doctor who joined with others shocked by the death of race car driver Pete Snell nearly 30 years ago to found the organization which became synonymous with rigorous standards for motorcycle and racing helmets, and which continues to foster improvements in helmets today. We were elated when Dr. Snively agreed in 1981 to work with us on bicycle helmet testing. He brought to the endeavor a great depth of knowledge of the physics of testing, the biophysics of human injury, the design of good helmets and the background of 30 years of wearing and testing many thousands of models. He inspired our WABA motto concerning manufacturers' claims: "You can believe what you can teat." In the hours he spent with us on the telephone and the additional hours he spent in the laboratory bashing helmets, George Snively advanced the state of impartial evaluation of bicycle helmets for the consumer's information by at leant 20 years, bringing us now up to a level where we are only 10 years or so behind the motorcycle and race car helmet wearers. His direct contributions to the welfare of humans, and particularly to that of bicycle riders, ensure that he will be memorialized in the thoughts of all of us who worked with him, and sorely missed for many years.

The work of the Snell Memorial Foundation continues under the energetic leadership of Snell's President, Dr. C. O. Chichester. Dr. Chichester was also one of the original founders of Snell, and a co-manager of a sports car racing team with Dr. Snively in the 1950'a. He has been working with WABA on a preface for the publication of Snell's next bicycle helmet standard, which should be printed soon, and has also been involved in laboratory testing of helmets for many years. Dr. Chichester has agreed to continue the bicycle helmet testing program with us, and we are relieved to have another researcher whose qualifications equal those of Dr. Snively to take over the program. Thanks to him we will be able to continue bringing to you evaluations of new helmets as they are received.

ANSI Standard

The long-awaited bicycle helmet standard to be issued by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) has been approved by that organization, but is still being held up due to an appeal by Skid Lid, blocking publication of the standard until it has been heard by an appeals board on November 17. Among those testifying in support of the standard will be Dr. Chichester of Snell. If this appeal is overruled Skid Lid still has one further chance to appeal to the ANSI Board of Directors, which could delay adoption of the standard until after Christmas. WABA has supported the standard as a member of the ANSI 2-90 Committee, as have other bicycle organizations, including the California Association of Bicycle Organizations (CABO). When last heard from the League of American Wheelmen was considering joining the Committee as well. (Readers of the League's magazine have no doubt noticed that editor Walter Ezell is not only developing and printing good helmet articles, but seldom publishes a photograph which does not show a helmeted rider--quite a contrast from the approach taken by Bicycling for its mass appeal coverage.) If further support is needed from the bicycle community we will sound the call.

Bell Recalls TourLite Buckle

On October 31, Bell Helmets issued a formal recall notice to the Consumer Product Safety Commission covering the buckles on TourLite helmets with aerial numbers from TL 010000 to TL123653, 362028 to 362118, and 371027 to 379028. Owners of those helmets and those without aerial numbers are urged to contact Bell for free replacement buckles. (Write to TourLite Buckle, Consumer Services Department, Bell Helmets Inc., 15301 Shoemaker Avenue, Norwalk, California 90650.)

WABA thinks the recall is overdue, and hopes that this move will help to ensure that all buyers of the earlier version of the TourLite replace their buckles with the new and stronger version. We also hope that the buckle problem will not obscure the fact that the TourLite has performed vary well in the Snell laboratory crash tests, and apart from the buckle is a fine helmet. The replacement buckle is still plastic, still cheap, but better than the originals which broke. Bell contends that its newer "third generation" replacement will pass the Snell 300 pound teat, but we do not have results of the Snell teat yet. Bell is apparently convinced that the consumer insists on the convenience, light weight and low coat of the plastic buckle. While that is certainly their commercial decision, WABA would recommend that anyone with a TourLite pay Bell whatever additional fee is necessary to have the plastic buckle replaced with stainless steel D-rings. (Doing it yourself is not recommended--the stitching must be just right to retain maximum strength.) We think this is particularly advisable since at least one rider who sent for his new TourLite buckle received (free) the second generation replacement, which did not peas the Snell test. (This is the same test Snell uses for motorcycle helmet testing. Bell says the TourLite buckle was designed to pass the less severe ANSI standard test.) The recent American Wheelmen article on this subject was very good, explaining the three generations of TourLite buckles. It is difficult to distinguish the second and third generation buckles, however, and a WABA illustrator is working on drawings to further clarify the differences between them. Bell did not think initially that a recall was necessary. We did, and are glad to see that the company has finally taken the step. This contrasts favorably with an earlier example of a fastener problem--the white plastic D-rings on some mid-1970's Bell Biker models--which has never been brought to the public's attention. We have not tested the plastic rings and therefore could not guess how safe they are, but Bell admits there has been a problem with them because a sharp yank can pull one ring right through the other, and is replacing them free with stainless steel rings for anyone who sends their helmet back to the company. We will have more to say on this subject when we have tested a helmet with the plastic rings.

Psst! Want a Great Deal on a Summer Helmet?

While on the subject of Bell's products we are happier to announce the discovery of a new model which is now available. Most readers will already be aware that Bell Helmets has a new racer's helmet out called the V-1 Pro. As we reported in September, it performs well in the Snell laboratory teats, and has large vents which make it the coolest helmet which passes the WABA/Snell test--except for its cheap plastic buckle, which is the same buckle now used on the TourLite, and which did not pass the severe Snell teat. In addition to the plastic buckle, the V-1 shell is cut a bit higher on the head than is necessary for a tourist, especially in front where a racer needs unobstructed forward vision while crouched low on the drops. The V-1 is also made only in black, fine for racing on a course but a poor color for visibility on the road. Despite these elements which were clearly designed for racers, bicycle tourists have been buying V1-Pros due to the combination of ventilation and protection they offer.

Enter Bell's "secret" new model, the Mark I. The Mark I uses the same Styrofoam liner as the V-1 Pro, but the shell comes a little further down on the head, it has an adjustable visor similar to the TourLite, the color is a very visible white, and beat of all the strap fastens with stainless steel D-rings! In short the Mark I is designed for hot summer day touring, and should offer superior comfort while retaining very good protection. (We will report later on an actual lab teat, but since the components have already been tested by Snell on other helmets we believe the performance is likely to be in the range of the other Bells and the Bailen.)

Finally some more good news for the consumer--the Mark I is a bargain! Bell intends it to be marketed by department stores instead of bicycle shops, so it is available in some areas at discount houses such as Best & Company, where it is discounted at just under 030. Since that is not far from Bell's wholesale price on other helmets, certain bike shop owners in this area tell us they will probably be buying it from Best and retailing it (with a modest markup) in their shops. For a rider who is a "hothead" and needs something cooler for hot summer touring we think the Mark I is a fine helmet. Unless the rider's psyche needs the macho of the black V-1 Pro this version will make better sense for touring.

Canadian Testing Confirms Helmet Rankings

A new study of bicycle helmets featuring laboratory tests done at the University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, will be published soon in a Canadian technical journal. The study was authored by Patrick J. Bishop, Ph.D. and Bruce D. Briard, B.Sc., and testing was performed at the University's Biomechanics Impact Laboratory. Alan Wachtel of the California Association of Bicycle Organizations (CABO), had contacted the authors of the study and obtained advance copies of the paper. Alan points out that the laboratory testing done for the study used tests which are quite different from the standard testing methods used by U.S. helmet manufacturers, the U.S. armed forces and Snell Foundation. In the Canadian tests a rubber pad was used between the helmet and the anvil it struck (a carryover from football helmet testing which seems questionable for bicycle helmet tests) and the force to which the headform was subjected by the impact was measured on a three-axis headform by three accelerometers, averaging the results. While the numbers obtained are not directly comparable to those of the standard U.S. testing rigs, both WABA and one of the Canadian authors of the study to whom we spoke were struck by the similarity of the rankings of the helmets, with the Bells and Bailen on top, the MSR next and the Skidlid and Norcon on the very bottom. This is the only result which can be directly compared with the Snell testing, and appears to confirm the Snell results. We are still analyzing the Canadian study's results, and will report further any conclusions which we or Alan Wachtel reach on the subject.

Tom Balderston Departs for Paris

WABA's Tom Balderston will be on assignment in Paris for the next year. Randy Swart has taken over editing of the Update for the interim. You can send any contributions (articles or money!) to WABA, or call Randy at home at (703). Do not forget that John and Robin Spiegel are still working on the WABA study of children's helmets, and would like to hear from anyone on that subject. Again you can write to WABA or call the Spiegels at (301).

Randy Swart

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