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The Helmet Update

Volume 13, Issue 1 - April, 1995

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CPSC Progress On A Federal Standard

The Consumer Product Safety Commission is working its way through the first round of draft and comments on its Federal bicycle helmet standard. CPSC's initial draft was well done, producing a standard similar to the ASTM standard with slightly more coverage. The comments reflect that, but suggest a range of changes and improvements.

CPSC also held a roundtable discussion on the draft last September in Washington which produced more feedback.

Working with CPSC, the ASTM bicycle helmet standard committee formed a task group to review the comments, which was done following the December ASTM committee meeting. The group's analysis of the comments has been transmitted to CPSC, and is available from us as well.

The legislation called for CPSC to approve a list of interim standards to be used until its final standard is published. The week of March 6 the Commission voted to approve a list including ANSI Z-90.4, ASTM F 1447-93, ASTM F-1447-94, Snell B-90, Snell B-90S (with the rolloff addition), Snell N-94 (their multi-purpose standard), Snell B-95 (which will take effect next September) and Canada's CAN/CSA-D113.2-M89. CPSC says that no helmet manufactured after March 16, 1995, can be sold in the U.S. now unless it meets one of those standards. This will finally remove the last remaining junk from our market. It represents the most important benefit of the legislation, since it will prevent any backsliding in impact protection and has the force of law, unlike a voluntary standard.

CPSC is working on another draft, which should be ready for comments at the end of the summer. The full Federal standard will probably not take effect until 1997. It is possible that Congressional action restricting new government regulations will prevent CPSC from publishing its final standard.

The CPSC draft, our comments on it, and the ASTM task force's comments on the comments are up on our Fax-on-Demand service and our Internet website

ASTM Standard Revised

ASTM has made some minor revisions in the its bicycle helmet standard, reflected in changes to the published versions of the F-1446 and F-1447 standards. The test line language has been revised to effectively lower the bottom edge of the test area by 25 mm (about an inch) all around. The excessively sharp hazard anvil, which was flunking helmets which performed well in the field, has been replaced by a curbstone anvil with a more rounded edge. A new size O headform (extra large, with a 62 cm circumference) has been added, and the headforms now must be magnesium.

No matter what you may see in anybody's advertising, there is not in the current published ASTM standard as of March, 1995, a rolloff test for positional stability. A test has been developed and is in the balloting stages, but is not yet included in the standard we bought from ASTM in March. ASTM will be meeting again in Denver on May 18th, and the committee will again consider the rolloff test question as well as some further adjustments in the test line. The meeting will be preceded by a symposium on legal issues in standards-making, a much-discussed topic at ASTM meetings.

The ASTM standard is being certified for manufacturers by the Safety Equipment Institute, and you will see SEI stickers on ASTM helmets now. SEI certifies a wide range of safety equipment, much of it related to fire and other emergency services equipment. They have been around for a while, and seem competent. SEI's contract test lab for helmet impact testing is competent, ad there is no reason why their certification can't be as rigorous as any other. But SEI's followup testing is minimal, and relies on samples taken directly from the manufacturers' production lines. This does not compare well to Snell's more frequent testing of samples purchased directly from retail outlets. We will pass on any further impressions of SEI's performance as a certifying organization. At present we still consider the Snell standard as the most rigorous available, but if you want a Bell helmet you will have to settle for ASTM certified by SEI. SEI reports that they have now certified 34 helmets, (33 from BSI and one from Troxel). Their current certification list is available from them by calling (703) 525-1695.

ASTM is working on a new standard for infant and toddler helmets. It is being balloted now to committee members, with provisions for a 1.5 meter drop onto the flat anvil and 1.2 meters onto the hemispherical anvil. The permissible g level has been lowered to 250 g from the adult standard's 300 g. ASTM is also balloting a new standard for downhill bicycle racing helmets. Neither will be in final form this year.

Snell Standards Revised

The Snell B-90 bicycle helmet standard now has a Supplementary Standard for positional stability. The helmet is placed on the smallest appropriate ISO full chinpiece headform, tilted forward 45 degrees. A hook is attached to the helmet's rear rim and wire rope run over the helmet and down to a test apparatus permitting a 4 kg weight to drop .3 meters and hit a stop, jerking the strap. This test is repeated with the headform face pointing upward, jerking the helmet from front to rear. The helmet may shift but must remain on the test headform. Snell has issued a second sticker for helmets certified to this additional test.

The positional stability test is part of Snell's new B-1995 bicycle helmet standard, which has already been approved and published in final form by Snell but takes effect in September. That standard will slightly increase the energy of the drops, and will lower the test line somewhat in the rear of the helmet. Snell commissioned a study by Technisearch on impact sites, which shows that a significant percentage of impacts occur below the test line of the B-90 standard.

As we noted in our last issue, Snell also has published an N-94 standard for multi-purpose helmets. That standard provides for four "conditioning impacts" around the back of the helmet with a 1 meter drop before the full 2 meter drops are performed. It also has a lower test line in the rear, corresponding to the requests from skaters for more rear protection for backward falls. Several helmets have been certified to N-94, which is perhaps best met with Expanded PolyPropylene (EPP) foam rather than the standard Expanded PolyStyrene (EPS) foam used in most bicycle helmets. Snell's certification list is huge, with more than 800 helmets from more than 50 manufacturers.. The current list is available from them by calling (516) 862-6440. A list provided to us in late March is available from us as BHSIDOC #63.

ANSI Z-90.4 Standard Expires

The ANSI Z-90.4 bicycle helmet standard passed its 10th birthday on December 31 and has been "administratively withdrawn" by ANSI in accordance with their normal standards administration procedures. ANSI will still sell you an "archived copy" of the standard, which will of course continue to appear on many helmet stickers for years to come. Readers will recall that the standard provides only one meter drops, and has been antiquated by helmet technology for more than five years. The Z-90 committee has not met in years, and the effort to revise the ANSI standard has stalled completely. The Snell Foundation, which chairs the committee, announced at the end of March that it was calling a meeting to revise the standard. The meeting will be held on April 13th in Washington, DC. Consumer representatives who want to join the ANSI committee would be welcome. Contact Dr. Channing Ewing, Snell Foundation, at (504)891-5065.

Helmet Trends in '95

The biggest news in helmets for 1995 is price. The bottom has fallen out of the low-priced helmet market, and we find local discount department stores selling Snell and ASTM helmets regularly for under $15. Our local champ is Ames, which had helmets on sale for $7.99 in March, advertising the regular price as $9.99. The trade press is speculating on large industry inventories and the likelihood that prices will fall in the specialty bike stores as well. We now find at least some helmets in nearly any bike store under $30.

Price competition means manufacturers are in some cases cutting corners. Not many of them are still providing reflective tape or graphics, which adds as much as 30 cents to manufacturing costs, or about a half dollar to the retail price. We even see many manufacturers using a silver tape which mimics the former reflective tape, which we consider a gross deception since consumers make assumptions and do not check reflectivity in a store. This is all the more problematic because the fashion in helmet colors remains dark, dark, dark. Combine those factors, and this year's crop of helmets probably would score lower in conspicuity than any year since 1974.

The second biggest change in 1995 is in certification to standards. Bell and Troxel are no longer using Snell, relying instead on meeting the ASTM standard and having it certified by the Safety Equipment Institute. This will be less expensive than the Snell stickers they are now buying. Most other manufacturers are sticking with Snell, but realizing that the CPSC standard will take effect in about two years and probably overtake all others. Snell may retain a niche as the highest quality certification in the market, although SEI could cut into that part of the market as well. Manufacturers are continuing to put ANSI stickers in their 1995 helmets as if that standard were still in effect, and perhaps it is in the de facto sense despite what ANSI says.

Visors and other add-ons are making an appearance as the helmet market grows and accessories become more profitable. Consumers should bear in mind that the standards specifically exclude these add ons, including visors, from testing, whether they come with the helmet or are an after-market item. You have only the manufacturer's assertion that the visor will not snag or shatter in a crash, or that the accessory will not degrade the sliding resistance of the helmet and result in more strain to your neck in a fall.

Here are some highlights of what is available this season:

American Safety Awareness Programs, a non-profit based in Harlowton, Montana, is now providing Snell-certified helmets to police departments and non-profits for $6.95 including shipping. You must order at least 12 helmets. These are basic thin-shells, available in black or white. Most are without graphics, although some have graphics if the manufacturer happens to send them. The sample they sent us had a Tech 1 graphic and even had reflective tape around the shell.

Bell Sports Inc. has indeed dropped the Snell sticker from their helmets, even those which were formerly Snell certified. Bell Sports has just announced a merger with American Recreation, a Canadian-based company which owns Denrich Sporting Goods and Service Cycle, with a claimed 20 per cent of the world market. Added to Bell's claimed 50 per cent of world bicycle helmet production, the new company will be very large, with gross sales of about $270 million. Bell has a new "Bellistic" full face helmet for downhill racers, which will be very expensive. It looks a lot like a light motorcycle helmet with vents in the top. Bell also has announced a patent on its Hardcore technology, which unfortunately uses very high density foam rims around vents. This permits the helmet to pass the ASTM standard, since a magnesium headform will bridge the hard foam without complaining. Human skulls are unfortunately not as rigid as magnesium headforms, and we advise consumers to avoid those helmets. Unfortunately Bell has announced they would be making more use of the hard foam. They also are continuing to promote their "pump" models, with inflating headbands. Bell had already dropped their Image model prior to Consumer Reports' naming it among the best helmets they tested, and are now marketing the Image Pro, which Consumer Reports rated only average for impact protection. (As noted below, Cannondale may sell the old Image in 1995.) Bell also is pushing their visors, and has a child helmet called the Bellster with the visor built permanently in, adding to the length, providing a protrusion which could snag, but at least included in certification testing. Bell now has 16 models in their lineup, not counting the BSI helmets they sell through discount stores. For all our carping about their hard foam models and other design excesses we think Bell still produces a good quality product. Now if they could just avoid implying in their ads that the ASTM standard already has a rolloff test...

Cannondale has added a new line of clothing and accessories to their bicycles. Among the things they will be selling in the 1995 season is what appears to be the old Bell Image, which is now called the Cannondale HT-500 and is made for them by Bell Sports. If in fact it is the identical model it is unfortunate that most consumers will not be aware that it is the model Consumer Reports rated number two and awarded its highest impact protection rating.

Louis Garneau continues to produce their two-shell helmets, with an inner plastic liner as well as an outer thin plastic shell. They have a titanium inner ring reinforcing one of their models. You can get them with black and white graphics to match Louis' dalmatian, Félix.

Giro has a number of new models, including three with a supplemental rear piece they call the Roc Loc to stabilize the helmet on the head. Their Riccochet has additional coverage in the rear. They continue to emphasize fit through multiple shell sizes. They have three models out under the LeMond Bicycle Helmets label, endorsed by Tour de France winner Greg LeMond. Giro is still using Snell certification, and they are still aimed at the high end of the market.

Helmet Worx is a new brand which started up last year. They have a unique design with a supplemental rear strap they call the Lidlocker which stabilizes the helmet on the head. They can also do custom paintjobs at low prices.

Renaissance Marketing is another new company in 1994, but with a difference. They are true mass merchandisers, and claim to have sold two million helmets in 1994, expecting to sell three to four million in 1995. Renaissance ships to Target, Toys R Us and other discounters. They sell to dealers and non-profits in large numbers at less than $8 per helmet, ranging up to perhaps the $25 level. They handle several brands, including Wolf Pro, Headstrong, Lazer and more recently Star. Their helmets are Snell certified for now, but eventually they will offer retailers other certification options. Other manufacturers were talking about Renaissance, one joking that "somebody better buy those guys out quick and raise their prices." There have been rumors reported in the trade press that other companies have in fact tried to buy them. Renaissance is just the sort of operation consumers have needed to bring prices in the industry down to cutthroat competitive levels. N.B. - Renaissance did not exhibit at the 1995 show, and at least one manufacturer has ended its relationship with them. We do not know their current status.

Ride Safe, in its fourth year of offering non-profits and PTA's a packaged helmet campaign complete with low-cost helmet procurement, is offering BSI helmets at prices ranging from about $25 for the models with the Reebok air pump for inflating fit pads down to about $11 for the standard thinshell. Since Bell has dropped Snell certification, these are all ASTM certified only. Ride Safe also has toddler helmets, protective skating equipment, helmet videos, reflective t-shirts, lights and other safety gear.

Specialized has a new rear projection to hold the helmet more firmly on the head, similar to those from Giro, Helmet Worx and Headwinds. They call it the Headlock, and it is on a helmet advertised for off-road use. Specialized is now on the Internet with a World Wide Web server up at http://www.specialized.com/bikes/ftrdacc.htm where you can see their helmet ads, or leave a message for their tech support.

Shinn & Associates can deliver Headstrong helmets to groups along with a kit for setting up a local program for prices beginning at $9.75 delivered (in poly bags, white foam, no graphics). They charge more for colors or individual boxes.

Star helmets caused a small stir in 1994 with several models which had a very high quality appearance for a very low price. Star is another brand selling to non-profits at low prices--in the below $10 range for some of their models. They have a helmet certified to Snell's N-94 multi-purpose helmet standard.

Troxel has a new model with a thin titanium shell. Called the Radius Ti, it will have only an ANSI sticker since it can't meet the ASTM standard, and will sell for $199 retail. It should at least have very low sliding resistance. Troxel also has added an off-road model with greater coverage. Their pony tail port is our nominee for this year's Most Ripped Off Design Feature, and idea so useful you wonder why it only surfaced in 1994.

A manufacturers list with addresses and phone numbers for all the manufacturers and importers we are aware of is available from our Fax on Demand service (BHSIDOC #535), and the discount suppliers are available by selecting our "Cheap Helmets" document (BHSIDOC #539).

European Standard Progressing Slowly

The draft CEN European standard for bike helmets has been revised once again and may receive final approval by the end of this year. Meantime, the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) directive comes into effect on July 1, which will probably require a transition period using national standards until the CEN standard is final.
We do not have the new draft yet to update our standards comparison, but it apparently introduces a second helmet type with a self-releasing buckle designed to prevent children from strangling on playground equipment.

Bike Club Puts Up Helmet Billboards

The Quad Cities Bicycle Club put up 45 full sized billboards in Iowa last summer, with a graphic of a helmeted rider and the message "Be Head Strong. Wear a Helmet! A message from the Quad Cities Bicycle Club." They placed the billboards under a public service announcement fee schedule through Ragan Outdoor Advertising, who designed the billboard. Photos of the full sized signs are impressive. Suggestions for a theme or artwork for their next campaign would be welcome, says Kathryn B. Storm, Quad Cities Bicycle Club, P. O. Box 3575, Davenport, IA 52808.

The Government Wants to Help You

The Centers for Disease Control, part of the U.S. Public Health Service, just published in February a new set of Injury Control Recommendations: Bicycle Helmets. The introductory material is about bicycling and helmets, standards, barriers to helmet use and means of increasing helmet use. The Recommendations: Appendices cover some elements of legislation, components of a community-based helmet promotion campaign, and some of the organizations providing campaign materials. One chart in this publication was so useful that we include it with this newsletter: Evaluation of Legislation and Community Programs to Increase the Use of Bicycle Helmets--Selected Locations.

The Recommendations are narrowly drawn, and basically follow the formula used by injury prevention professionals in the U.S. for any sort of injury prevention strategy, including a heavy reliance on legislation. There is no acknowledgment that Australia and New Zealand are years ahead of us in this field, and we could profit from analyzing how they did it.

The 24 page pamphlet is available from us or through our Internet website.

In addition to this publication, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has formed the National Ad Hoc Working Group to Prevent Bicycle-Related Traumatic Brain Injuries. The group has met three times so far and is working on its mission statement. The meetings have been useful for sharing information on helmet promotion resources and programs. They are coordinated by Darlene Curtin of NHTSA (202) 366-9832, and Julie Russell of CDC (404) 488-4652.

Finally, the Federal Highway Administration is sponsoring the clearinghouse explained in the next article.

Clearinghouse Opens

On November 1, 1994, the new National Bicycle and Pedestrian Clearinghouse opened, sponsored by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and run jointly by the Bicycle Federation of America and the Rails to Trails Conservancy. The clearinghouse will distribute US Department of Transportation documents related to bicycling and walking, including information on trails. It will also make referrals to other resources, and has requested organizations involved in bicycle and pedestrian issues to send in lists of contacts and publications if they want callers referred to them. Finally, the clearinghouse will develop fact sheets on specific topics and provide brief technical assistance to bicycle and pedestrian professionals, safety experts, planners and engineers. (According to FHWA officials the clearinghouse is not designed for the general public.) The Manager of the clearinghouse is Peter Moe. Their address is 1506 21st Street, N.W., Suite 210, Washington, DC 20036. Their telephone is (800) 760-NBPC, and their fax is (202) 463-6625.

Voigt Hodgson, Helmet Pioneer

One of the veteran researchers of helmet design and testing passed away at age 71 last August after a brief illness. Dr. Voigt Hodgson's career at Wayne State University began with the team which developed the original Wayne State Curves for acceleration tolerance in humans, and continued with active work on football helmets for forty years. He developed a unique humanoid headform designed to mimic the response of the human head which was used to develop NOCSAE football helmet standards and test football helmets. Hodgson was particularly pleased when the 1990 football season ended without a single fatality for the first time in 60 years. Dr. Hodgson did some remarkable research on sliding resistance of bicycle helmets in 1989-90 which showed that no-shell helmets did not skid well in crashes, possibly increasing forces on a rider's neck. We visited him in his lab in 1989 to discuss that research and see his test rig, and we were immediately impressed by the depth of his background, his commitment and his compassion. Voigt Hodgson will be missed.


We have connected our BHSI LAN to the Internet. You can find this newsletter, our latest annotated bibliography, the latest revision of our Most Asked Questions About Bicycle Helmets, our latest helmet standards comparison dated March 14 and a lot of other helmet stuff on the Internet at our World Wide Web server, reached at http://www.bhsi.org. A lot of people are finding us, including browsers from at least 22 foreign countries in our first few weeks of operation. And don't forget that you can reach us directly by email here at info@bhsi.org.

We still have our 24 hour interactive Fax on Demand service at our regular phone number, (703) 4860100. You can call us from the handset of your fax machine and receive documents by fax immediately. Selections include statistics and background information for preparing press articles or speeches, recent helmet industry articles from Bicycle Retailer and Industry News, this newsletter, our helmet standards comparison and more. We have a comment on current developments in helmets, our pamphlets, our current list of helmet laws, a list of manufacturers, our bibliography, the draft CPSC standard, our comments on that standard, the ASTM comments on that standard, the Technisearch study on impact sites in relation to coverage lines, and more. The same number continues to be our regular phone number, and you can leave voice messages or even reach a live volunteer as well as use the Fax on Demand. If we are in the office we pick up the line when you select the message function.

Improving our access has been very satisfying for us, and we hope it will be useful to you.

The Helmet Update - Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute
Randy Swart, Editor
4611 Seventh Street South
Arlington, VA 22204-1419 USA
(703) 486-0100 (voice)
(703) 486-0576 (fax)