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WABA Helmet Committee

The WABA Helmet Update

Vol. 5, No. 1 - March, 1987

Other issues of the Update

New Bike Helmets Shown in New York

A number of new and interesting helmets appeared at the New York Bicycle show the second weekend in February. They should be on dealers' shelves for the summer season.

Virtually all of the new helmets are designed to conform to the ANSI or Snell helmet standards, which we found very encouraging. Some of these are new models from manufacturers who had never before produced helmets which would pass any standard.

Giro and Echo -- A Revolution?

The big discoveries of the season are the Giro and Echo helmets, which are made of expanded polystyrene (EPS--picnic cooler foam) without a hard shell. The Giro looks vaguely like a liner from Bell's V1, with long vents. The Echo has two different shapes including an "aero" model. Both are very light. They will appeal more to racers than to commuters and tourists, who generally have no trouble with the 16 oz. weight of a normal helmet. We are somewhat concerned that both helmets may be susceptible to damage in use, since they do not have hard shells. Both meet at least the ANSI standard, and the Giro could probably meet the Snell standard if the buckle is strengthened. The Echo has a harder layer of EPS outside, bonded to a softer EPS layer inside. The Giro has a lycra cover.

Although lab test results were not available on either helmet, if they in fact meet the ANSI standard both should provide decent protection, even without the shell. They will provoke the industry to reexamine the sacred combination of hard shell and liner. Watch out for solvents, though. Gasoline or spray chain lube can melt EPS in an instant. And of course the softer EPS will dent in rough use. Although durability is still a question --as it often is with any new product--we think that either helmet should be safe to try, as long as they do meet the ANSI standard. We have requested samples for testing.

Another Bell Buckle

New does not always mean safer. Bell showed its new "Aero" buckle for some of its models, a nice looking plastic piece with squared-off panels which fit together. John Spiegel and I discovered that you can grab the strap on each side of the buckle and jiggle the buckle apart without unsnapping it. Then we bent the tongue of the buckle 90 degrees with a heavy thumb to see if it would spring back, and it just stayed bent. It stayed bent at lesser angles too. With the tongue bent back, we think the buckle can open whenever it is jostled and the strap is not taut, as in the first impact of an accident. We found in our tests of the earlier Bell buckles that when the tongue broke the consumer sometimes did not recognize that the buckle had become unsafe. This raises serious questions about the Aero buckles we examined in New York.

Bell maintains that no consumer will stress the assembly with the combination of forces from our jiggling. They say that the buckle will not open under any crash test conditions they have been able to simulate in their test facility. They think the buckle is safe and do not intend to change it.

We think that conventional ANSI or Snell testing is not adequate for this problem. In addition, Snell has not yet tested the Aero buckle. We are going to simulate some conditions of our own, and will let you know the results. Meantime, we are withholding judgment on the Aero buckle. If you hear any war stories from field use, please let us know. We will follow up when we have test data.

Bell has also introduced several helmets designed to meet only the ANSI standard, a marked drop in performance from the older Biker, Tourlite, Vl and Mark I models. Since production and marketing costs must be almost identical for helmets meeting either standard, and Bell already has the design to produce a helmet with a higher level of protection, it is hard to see the need for a "low end" product which is designed to meet a lesser safety standard.

More New Helmets Introduced

Other new ANSI standard helmets were shown by Pro-Tec (their first), Lazer, Monarch, Kiwi, Vetta, All-American, and Rhode Gear. WABA is obtaining samples of all, and should have ride tests and laboratory crash tests on them completed by early fall. We will cover them individually as the test results come in.

New Pamphlet

We have revised our pamphlet. A camera-ready copy is attached on two separate sheets to facilitate reproduction. We added the new helmets which are claimed to meet the ANSI or Snell standards, revised the language about hard shells (in light of the Giro), dropped out some old helmets which have disappeared from the market, changed the buckle language, added a summary, and made a distinction between the old and new Bell buckles. We probably will revise the pamphlet again at the end of the summer after our hot-weather tests of the new models.

Randy Swart

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