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WABA Helmet Committee

The WABA Helmet Update

Vol. 2, No. 1 - April, 1984

ANSI Standard Approved

In mid-March the American National Standards Institute gave final approval to the long-awaited Z90.4 bicycle helmet standard. ANSI is a non-governmental institution which develops standards for various products, including standards for performance of safety equipment. The standards are developed by committees, in the case of helmets the "Z-90" committee, whose members include most of the manufacturers of bicycle and motorcycle helmets, The Snell Memorial Foundation, the California Association of Bicycle Organizations (CABO), the League of American Wheelmen (now changing its name to "Bicycle USA") academics in the field and employees of various U.S. Government civilian and military agencies who work with helmets.

The standard developed for bicycle helmets is officially designated "ANSI Standard Z-90.V: Protective Headgear for Bicycle Users." Copies of the final version of the standard will probably not be available from ANSI for several months. (We will try to keep you posted.) The standard is strictly voluntary, and can be ignored by any manufacturer. A manufacturer who makes a helmet which meets or exceeds the standard's tests is allowed to advertise that fact and place a sticker in the helmet attesting to it. If the helmet does not meet the standard other manufacturers can challenge the use of the sticker. In fact some manufacturers routinely test helmets of their competitors, so cheating should be readily exposed.

The ANSI standard provides that each helmet must absorb sufficient impact in a DOT/Snell laboratory test to meet the 300g standard used in those tests with a drop height of one meter. This is the height used by Snell as the initial screening drop for the WABA article which Bicycling published last March. From those tests one would assume therefore that the helmets we rated poor would not meet the ANSI standard. In addition, the ANSI standard requires that in at least two of the four drops the helmet must impact on a rounded (hemispheric) anvil, which increases the loading on the shell at the smaller contact point dramatically, and is a much more difficult test than the flat anvil test. This will be the most critical requirement for most manufacturers, since most decent helmets should pass the flat anvil test easily at one meter. Although not shown in the Bicycling chart, the Snell tests showed that the Fury, Bells and Bailen passed the hemispheric anvil test. Snell did not test most of the others on the hemispheric anvil, since their failure to pass when dropped from a 6 foot height onto the flat anvil was considered sufficient evidence that they would be unlikely to pass a 1 meter drop onto the hemispheric anvil.

The ANSI standard also includes a test of chin strap strength, which differs considerably from that used by Snell for the WABA article research. The test requires that the strap withstand the jerk of a one-kilogram weight falling down a rod for a distance of one meter and hitting a fixed stop at the end of the rod. The jerk produced is probably equivalent to about 200 pounds of steady pull, well below Snell's 300 pound test. This is probably consistent with the impact test standard, since it is easily met by even cheap plastic fasteners, but is easily exceeded with well made D-rings and the best quality plastic buckles. Thus it meets a certain minimum level of performance but falls well below the state of the art, which is the general approach of the ANSI standard.

The standard requires that the helmets pass the tests described above after being immersed in water for four hours, after chilling to -10 degrees centigrade, and after heating to 50 degrees C. There are pages of technical specifications on the tests, and a weak reference acknowledging "the desirability of light weight and ventilation." The committee discussed other language for the ventilation question, but in the absence of any objective standard which could be specified the wording above was considered sufficient for the time being.

WABA has some ideas for strengthening the standard and raising the test thresholds, but we are pleased at this point that there is a standard adopted, and would not want our comments misinterpreted as criticism. We will be working in the Z-90 Committee with the other bicycle consumer representatives to improve the standard over time. Our chief concern at present is that the manufacturers of the better helmets already on the market will degrade their current production in order to make the helmets cheaper to manufacture, using the standard as justification. Continued testing by consumer groups is probably the best insurance against this happening.

Snell Memorial Foundation has been in the process of revising its own bicycle helmet standard for some time now, and has promised that it will be published soon. We will compare the two standards at that time.

New Pamphlet

Enclosed is a new version of the Consumer's Guide to Bicycle Helmets. This one contains most of the new models now on the market, although we have test results on at least two, the Arai and the Land Tool Company helmet, which do not seem to be available anywhere and therefore did not rate mention. For the record, the Arai is a very protective helmet which ranks in the Excellent category clearly above the Bells and the Bailen, but which is nearly unwearable for most riders until its fitting foam is removed, and at present suffers from the rounded profile of its interior, which is designed to meet the configuration of the Asian head. The Land Tool Company helmet (which we saw without a label of any kind) would rank as a Fair with the Cooper SK2000 in the crash tests, but has a flimsy strap fastener which unsnaps under only a few pounds of pull.

WABA is of course encouraging the widest possible distribution of the pamphlet. We will probably not be providing multiple copies, but will encourage any non-profit public interest bicycle organization or government office which promotes safety and cycling to duplicate copies locally. Others are free to ask, and we have generally given permission in the past even if you do not fit those categories. We do not know if Bicycle USA will want to do a nicely typeset version again this time.

New York Show

Three of WABA's helmet research group managed to get up to the New York bicycle show over Washington's Birthday weekend. The most interesting new development was Bell's child's helmet, known as the "L'il Bell Shell" despite the fact that it has no shell--it is a styrofoam liner without shell, designed to provide some protection for a child's head while holding the weight of the helmet down to avoid stressing young necks. We hope to have samples for testing soon. Bell is also changing over the shells of all of its familiar models from Lexan to ABS plastic. Again we hope to have test results eventually which will rate the performance of the new models. Other news included two new helmets from Europe which are said to pass the ANSI standard, and a new version of the Premier Ultralite which has been introduced as the NJL Tourrite by Abbadon Products, the company which has been manufacturing the Ultralite for Premier. We have samples for testing. Bailen is modifying their familiar "bucket" shape to add some visual appeal, and is still working on the headband mounts which cause some riders fit problems. Most of the other manufacturers have not made major changes.

Bell TourLite Buckles

We do not want to beat this dead horse again, but are attaching illustrations of the various generations of Bell buckles so that they can be readily distinguished. Bell says that the second generation buckle meets the ANSI standard. It broke in Snell's tests at a little over 200 pounds steady pull. Bell also says that the third generation buckle will hold the full Snell 300 pound pull, but we do not have Snell results on that claim yet.

Contributions from any reader are always welcome for this newsletter.

Randy Swart

Paper version was printed on recycled paper.

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