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The Helmet Update

Volume 13, Issue 2 - December, 1995
BHSIDOC#589
Previous Issue: April, 1995




CPSC Standard Needs Your Comments Now!

The Consumer Product Safety Commission has approved a second draft of the U.S. government bicycle helmet standard. The standard is based on ASTM impact levels and retention system tests, but CPSC has added some new provisions for child helmets. Lower peak g levels (250 vs. 300 g) and more coverage are required for helmets for children up to 5 years old. The draft also makes technical changes and clears up ambiguities. We applaud those changes.

There are two changes we did not applaud. One is a small reduction in the required coverage in the rear of the helmet by raising the test line 5 mm (3/16"). That places the line above Snell B-95, but below ASTM. We do not regard this as a critical issue, but had asked CPSC to keep the lower line for best coverage.

The second change, on which we urge you to send comments to CPSC, regards a requirement for reflective tape or surfaces. CPSC is conducting a study on the subject of nighttime bicycle safety, and pending that study has left just a blank space in the draft instead of requiring reflective tape. Most helmets already have tape around the seam where shell and liner meet anyway, but manufacturers do not want to spend the extra 24 cents to make it reflective. Some even use silver tape that imitates reflective tape, fooling the consumer. We feel strongly that the standard should require at least some reflective surface on the helmet. In nighttime demonstrations we and the CPSC staff noted that reflective tape on helmets helps visibility by adding a reflective point at a higher level than bike reflectors, and drives home to a motorist that there is a live human being there as well as a bicycle. Nobody is pretending that reflectors alone could replace lights to ensure a rider's nighttime visibility, but few riders use or maintain lights, and the reflectors are at least always there, whatever their effectiveness. CPSC needs comments on this subject.

We were also disappointed that CPSC will permit coding of the date of manufacture. This complicates recalls, since cyclists who see a brand x recalled helmet on someone's head will not be able to tell them "All of those manufactured in 1994 have been recalled." Nobody could remember a code in that situation. This is a step back from the ASTM standard, which requires uncoded dates.

You can send comments to CPSC until February, addressing them to Office of the Secretary, Consumer Product Safety Commission, Room 502, 4330 East-West Highway, Bethesda, MD 20814-4408. Or you can send them by email to info@cpsc.gov. Just note that they are comments on the revised proposed Safety Standard for Bicycle Helmets. We have the full draft if you need a copy, as BHSIDOC# 561.


It's Time to Change the Message:
Standards are no Longer a Big Issue

The Consumer Product Safety Commission's progress on a new Federal bicycle helmet standard has changed the helmet promotion landscape. CPSC is now enforcing a requirement that a helmet must meet one of its interim standards (ANSI, ASTM, Snell, or CSA). It has also published its second draft of the required standard, which will probably take effect in early 1997.

So here we are in late 1995. Helmets for 1996, covered in our "Show" article below, are almost universally highly protective. By law, every one of them has to meet at least the old ANSI standard. If they carry an ASTM standard sticker they have to meet that standard by law whether they are SEI-certified or not. CPSC will police that, no doubt aided by manufacturers ratting on each other. We conclude that the likelihood of sub-standard helmets reaching the market is no longer a major issue.

In the enclosed revision of our Consumer's Guide to Bicycle Helmets, you will see that we have made some changes in emphasis. We still have a section on standards, and we still like Snell the best. But with the U.S. Government policing the market, the message can concentrate on persuading people to buy a helmet in the first place, and making sure they take the time to fit the helmet correctly. That should make the job a little easier. Development and improvement of standards will continue, of course, but with the CPSC enforcement we are over the hump.


Helmets for 1996: Interbike Show Report

The biggest news at the Interbike show this year was that manufacturers are addressing the fit and strap adjustment problems that are the number one consumer complaint. Beginning last year most manufacturers have been adding "grippers" in the rear of their helmets to assist in fit and stability. This year many manufacturers have new strap junction pieces, and some have added rubber o-rings to the buckle to try to control strap creep. Visors are increasingly popular. Most are anchored with hook-and-loop to pop off easily in a crash, as they should, but a few are rigid and solidly attached. Standards organizations in the U.S. will have to address that problem, as Australia has already done. At present our standards do not cover the visor at all.

Finishes and colors were similar to last year, with the exception of some brighter graphics on the wilder designs and the sudden rise of matte (flat) finishes. The matte finish gives a helmet an appearance of strength and looks very professional. but does not address the problem of making helmets more visible on the road. There is also a trend toward large stick-on letters for logos, of the type that are thick enough to give a raised effect. We have reservations about those on the basis of durability and believe they could cause an unnecessary increase in the sliding resistance of the shell.

Two years ago every serious helmet in the market had a Snell B-90 sticker in it. Last year that began to change, and this year a large percentage of the production (Bell's huge share, for starters) had ASTM stickers with SEI certification instead. Snell's stickers and followup testing charges are expensive in a highly competitive market, and as the country moves to the CPSC's U.S. Government standard the manufacturers are betting that Snell approval is less a factor for marketing. Unless otherwise noted below, the helmets we discuss are certified to Snell B-90, B-90S or to ASTM. We consider a Snell B-95 model to be a premium helmet. Snell's N-94 standard requires tests with impacts on the same spot at lesser force levels prior to the full drop-height test. A helmet that only meets the ANSI Z90.4 1984 standard is a decade behind the times and should be rejected out of hand.

As the market has gotten tougher, the major manufacturers have turned to advertising agencies to up their hype level. There are unfortunate examples below.

The mainstream helmet material continues to be expanded polystyrene (EPS--picnic cooler foam) although small manufacturers are producing helmets from expanded polypropylene (EPP) and expanded polyurethane (EPU) foam. They claim advantages. It appears that EPP does provide multiple impact performance, but it is more expensive and there may be a rebound effect from EPP's more rubbery, less crushing, response to impact. The rebound takes place during the crash sequence milliseconds after the data for Snell-style tests has already been recorded, but may be significant and nobody knows what the effect is in the field. EPS remains an ideal crushing foam with almost no rebound, and for that reason alone is probably still the material of choice for a single-impact helmet. General Electric's GECET variant, a combination of EPS and a resin, still seems to be the hallmark of premium helmets. One manufacturer who is just putting a first helmet on the market is using expanded polyurethane (EPU). While others have used EPU before, it has its own special problems and may require technical skill that would be beyond most ordinary commercial foam shops. We have not seen test results from EPU helmets.

Pricing is discouraging for the dealer. While competing with mass-merchant stores selling helmets for under $10 retail, the best prices the dealer sees from their suppliers start at $8 per helmet, usually plus shipping. Dealers typically double the wholesale price, so their prices will be almost double that of the discounter. It is no wonder some dealers are resentful at Bell for putting the Bell brand on their discount line, formerly known only as BSI. Most are resigned to the competitive situation and understand Bell's move, however. The dealer has to convince the consumer that the higher style and higher quality helmets they sell, along with the services they provide, are worth the extra cost.

Some Show Highlights

Adidas showed helmets made for them by Pro-tec, including Pro-tec's multisport helmet. They offer a lifetime warranty.

Advent has an adjustable inner band with a dial to vary the fit.

Avenir has a Corsair EPS helmet retailing for $30, a $40 GECET adult helmet with rear gripper and visor, and their $50 VSR Comp GECET with visor. Their helmets all have a small but very bright die-cut rear reflective tab.

Bell improved their line for 1996 by dropping all but two of their old "hardcore" (a BSI trademark) helmets with hard foam inserts around the vents. The sales staff said that Hardcore helmets were very expensive to produce. Consumers should still avoid the Avalanche Pro and the Razor Pro models. Bell has a new flip tab on the strap junction and a rubber o-ring to the buckle to help hold the strap better. Bell's top of the line helmets are molded in the shell, a manufacturing technique which in the past has produced very good performance. They have matte finishes, but no reflective surfaces at all to offset their low conspicuity. Some have visors with Velcro attachments, but Bell's literature says you can use snaps or even screws if you want to. Bell has two different rear gripper attachments. Their child helmets all have thin shells. Bell's pricing now ranges from super-cheap for their department store line to over $100 retail for their top of the line models. Their sales literature projects average helmet prices dropping in 1996 to $15, down from $21 in 1995. Bell's opinion: "If somebody doesn't do something quick, helmets will end up like water bottles: cheap commodity items." Bell now offers a lifetime "nominal fee" replacement program.

Giro has a new high-end Helios helmet with about as much vent surface as solid helmet surface. They have rear grippers, including one on their AirBlast model that separates and refastens below your pony tail, solving a heat and moisture buildup problem for longhairs. They also have a new strap junction piece, rubber o-rings on the buckle and new visors made of soft foam, which should prevent visor snags from jerking the head in a crash. Giro has matte finishes in their line. They use reflective materials only on their child helmets. They will soon market a downhill racing helmet called Mad Max with full face protection. Three of their models meet Snell's B-95 standard: the Express, Fat Hat and Ricochet. Giro's current guarantee is a "nominal fee" replacement program for the first three years.

GT showed two helmets labeled Troy Lee designs with heavy, rigid plastic visors fastened on with screws, pointing up the need for a visor test in the ASTM standard.

Helmet Worx has been bought by Itek, a major Canadian manufacturer of hockey helmets, and has moved all production facilities to Canada. They are currently producing two models from GECET foam with their unique strap gripper in the back, and pricing of $35 to $45. Their Headcase X-95 is Snell B-95 certified.

J & B Importers displayed Alpha helmets with dealer prices running $8 and up ($16 and up at the retail level) in quantities of 12 or more for Snell-certified helmets, including one B-95 model. Alpha is made in USA, but we do not know the company.

Louis Garneau showed their growing line of helmets including a new molded in the shell design with their thin ABS plastic inner shell, their new strap junction piece, buckle and rear gripper. It has ASTM and CEN but not Snell certification, and will sell for $110. They have some snappy-looking child helmets, and a suitably drab lid made of 10 per cent recycled materials. They have a multiple-impact helmet made of GECET EPP, the first we have seen, and it is Snell certified. One model has a titanium inner reinforcing ring while another has aluminum. There is a downhill racing model with a hard shell and a chinbar. Garneau has five helmets on the Snell B-95 list (LG-10, LG-44, LG-55, S200 and S202). But their time trial helmet only meets the ANSI standard. For the other models they advertise ASTM, CSA (Canada) and CEN (Europe).

Oryx has just begun producing in Israel a very interesting helmet made of expanded polyurethane (EPU). There is a large red LED blinker embedded in a hollow in the rear of the helmet. The rear is designed to split and release the blinker in a crash. They said the helmet meets Snell B90S, but it did not appear on Snell's September 28 list. It will retail for about $50 if they can find any takers at that price.

Netti helmets were exhibited by CTEL, an importer. This Australian manufacturer produces an impressive looking line of helmets, many of them molded in the shell with internal reinforcement and selling at retail prices of $40 to $50, a bit high in today's market for a lesser-known brand. Netti helmets have reflective tape.

Pro Tec had a Snell B-95 helmet, the B-200 B, on display. It has the usual large vents, a rear gripper, and a cloth-backed foam visor. Their Multi-Sport helmet for cycling, inline skating and skateboarding has Snell N-94 certification. At retail price

points of $37 to $50 they offer a lifetime warranty program. Pro-tec's literature has some rather astonishing claims, among them:: the first to introduce a softshell and "first in performance..." Just for the record: Bell and Giro introduced softshells in 1983 and 1986, when Pro-tec was introducing their hardshell Breeze model. And Consumer Reports ranked the performance of a Pro-tec adult model 15th and a youth model last of the helmets they rated in August of 1994. Curiously, the sales literature fails to mention Pro-tec's most notable innovation in helmetry: the internal mesh reinforcing in their soft-shell Mirage model in the late 1980's was the first on the market with a basic and much-copied improvement.

Troxel has a new strap junction fitting which can be tightened with a coin, rear grippers on several models and a new single-tab buckle. Some models have pads made of ScotchFelt designed to wick perspiration to the sides to drip away from eyes. Their visors are mounted with Velcro. Most of their models are still Snell-certified, except for the Catalina "entry-level" helmet, which is an ASTM helmet, and the titanium-shelled ANSI-only Radius-Ti, featured in Troxel ads as "the world's fastest helmet," a mystifying claim to say the least, with the warning that "at these speeds, plastic melts." Absolutely! We understand the concept of image helmets, and hope that the Radius-Ti will continue to sell poorly. Troxel's Vector model, with big vents but a large, obviously warm gripper in the back, is billed as the "world's coolest helmet."

Vetta had two helmets: an Antares model from Taiwan with a sloppy shell/liner interface and no standards sticker at all, and a Gryphon with a good shell fit and a visor with an l-shaped brace in the center which wrapped under the helmet brow to a hook-and-loop pad. We don't like that design, which could snag if the visor is pulled upward.

Wolf Pro remains among the price leaders in the market. They have ended their association with Renaissance Marketing. Dealer prices start at $8 and go all the way up to $16 for Snell-certified helmets. with $5 more for rear LED flashers. Some of their models have rear grippers. We have no comments on any manufacturer who was not at the Philadelphia show. Next year the rival trade shows will re-integrate and we hope to see everyone.


PTI Helmet Recall

The first helmet recall after the CPSC interim rule was adopted was undertaken by Protective Technologies International last spring, recalling PTI's Jaguar Model 3060 child helmets manufactured before February, 1995. PTI has informed us that it was a voluntary recall initiated by them rather than CPSC. Recalls seldom net even half of the defective helmets. Have you seen any other notice of the recall? This points up the importance of the manufacturer's quality control and the uncoded date in the helmet.


CPSC Announces Amnesty for Manufacturers

The Consumer Product Safety Commission announced on August 17 a new program to permit manufacturers to 'fess up about flawed products they have not reported in the past, without paying any of the usual

penalties. There may be some helmet manufacturers who will take advantage of the amnesty, which will be available to them for six months.


B-95 Snell Standard in Effect

The Snell Foundation has put into effect its B-95 Bicycle Helmet Standard. It has a positional stability test, slightly increased test impacts, and a lower test line in the rear of the helmet. We do not consider it a major revision from the consumer's point of view, although many current helmets fail to meet the rear coverage requirement.

Snell is permitting manufacturers to continue using the old B-90 standard, as well as the B-90 supplement adding a positional stability test. This accommodates hundreds of current helmets which are unable to meet the new requirements, particularly the increased coverage. When we last checked, Snell had certified 51 helmets from 21 manufacturers to their new B-95 standard.

Snell has certified only a handful of helmets to its 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.


ASTM Standard Revisions Stalled

ASTM's F-08 Committee has been working on a number of changes to its bicycle helmet standards, but has been largely unable to make progress due to a combination of editorial problems and philosophical differences between committee members over such issues as the maximum g level to be permitted for children, constant vs. size-variable headform weights, how to specify a spray box and where to locate test lines. There will not be a new version of the ASTM standard until at least mid-1996.


ANSI Adopts ASTM Standard

As we reported in April, the ANSI Z-90.4 bicycle helmet standard passed its 10th birthday on December 31, 1994 and was "administratively withdrawn" by ANSI. The Z-90 committee met twice this spring and approved the adoption of the ASTM F-1447 standard as

the ANSI standard updating the entire ANSI standard in one action. Harmonizing the two standards will eliminate a source of confusion for consumers and reduce the amount of repetitive testing needed.


European Standard Takes Effect

We thought that the new CEN European standard for bike helmets took into effect on July 1. But Per Nygaard says otherwise. It is in use by some people, one way or the other. It introduced a second helmet type for children with a self-releasing buckle designed to prevent the wearer from strangling on playground equipment. We will have the new provisions incorporated in our Standards Comparison before long.


Bike Shop Sued After Test Ride Death

A bike shop in Texas is being sued by the family of a customer who died of a head injury while test riding a bike. The customer was reportedly offered a helmet but declined. The family alleges that the shop was negligent because it failed to force the rider to wear a helmet.


BASF Pushing Expanded PolyPropylene

BASF is showing helmet manufacturers their EPP resin and a new process for making helmets. The process uses pre-heating of the mold to melt the first layer of bead into a tough EPP skin. Then the rest of the bead is expanded into foam with steam under pressure, producing a fully-formed helmet with the thin shell already on it. Samples looked good and might be certified under multiple-impact standards. BASF said the EPP costs about 50 cents more per helmet than standard EPS, which makes it a tough sell in the current market. One manufacturer, Aria Sonics, has been making EPP helmets for years and claiming advantages for them, but has had difficulty marketing the material. They estimate the extra cost of EPP over EPS to be on the order of $1.50 or $2 per helmet, but believe that the material's advantages will eventually be recognized. Note added later: Aria Sonics went out of business in 1997. Their helmet is no longer available. If BASF can make the outer skin reflective or mold in the graphics their new process could be cost-competitive.


Bell Grows, Goes Discount

Bell is no longer using Snell certification, and is instead promoting the ASTM standard, with an eight million dollar advertising campaign. Bell is now selling Bell brand helmets in discount stores for the first time, and has a more expensive line for sale exclusively in bike shops called

Bell Pro. In late June, Bell Sports Incorporated completed its merger with American Recreation. The new company says it has 70% of the world helmet market. Bell's stock price has fallen, (check out BSPT in the financial section of your newspaper) and they announced their first-ever loss for the year in October.


New Australian Study is Top Notch Work

The Australians have a leg up on us in many helmet matters, and they have proven it once again with the publication of a new reference work by Dr. Michael Henderson. Titled The Effectiveness of Bicycle Helmets: A Review, this study is destined to become a standard reference work, and will be essential for anyone beginning research in the field of bicycle helmets.

Henderson is a physician who has spent most of his professional life in highway safety research and administration. He established and ran Australia's first government crash research group and test lab, and he chaired the Standards Australia committee that wrote the first standard covering bicycle helmets. In short, he is well known in the field.

For this study Dr. Henderson has digested the available literature and laid out chapters on why cyclists need helmets, crash and injury characteristics, the biomechanics of head injury, the effectiveness of helmets, the history and effectiveness of helmet laws, and more. He fits the relevant findings of hundreds of studies into a comprehensive framework, adding his judgment and perspective to aid the reader. The text is fact-filled and it seems as if every other sentence is a statistic. The study uses Australian experience as a starting point, but it is an international study. There are a few questions not covered, notably the difference between Australia's 400 g test threshold and the 250 to 300 g threshold used by the rest of the world. But this study can save many hours for a researcher. We recommend it highly for anyone engaging in a helmet debate-either side will find it invaluable.

Copies of the study are available from Anne Deans, Rehabilitation Manager, Motor Accidents Authority of New South Wales, Level 12, 139 MacQuarie Street, Sydney NSW 2000 Australia. Telephone from the U.S. is 011-61-2-252-4677 Fax 011-61-2-252-4710. We can supply copies from here if you send us $6.50 to cover our cost of photocopying and postage. As for BHSIDOC# 586. We have asked Ms. Deans for permission to put the entire study up on our Internet Web server.


Army and Navy Require Helmets on Bases

The League of American Bicyclists reports that an Army Times article says that after April 13, 1995, all cyclists on Navy bases were required to wear helmets. They report that at least some individual bases of other services also require helmets. Riders on Army bases will be required to wear helmets "within the next few months."


BHSI News

We are enclosing the latest revision of our helmet pamphlets. You will note a change in emphasis from being careful about standards to encouraging a good fit.

You can find this newsletter, our latest annotated bibliography, our Most Asked Questions About Bicycle Helmets, our helmet standards comparison, statistics and a lot of other helmet stuff on our World Wide Web server at http://www.bhsi.org. Many of you have visited, including browsers from at least 45 foreign countries. Our email address is still info@helmets.org. We still have our 24hour interactive Fax on Demand service at our regular phone number, (703) 4860100. Faxes 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, our pamphlets, our current list of helmet laws, our list of manufacturers, the 2nd draft of the CPSC standard and more. We also have a recorded comment on current developments in helmets. The same number is our regular voice phone number, so you can leave messages or even reach a live volunteer if you prefer old-fashioned human contact. If we are in the office we pick up the line immediately when you select Option 2 to "talk to us or leave us a message."

We hope these different avenues for access will be useful.


Randy Swart
Director



The remainder of the newsletter is a section of additions to our Annotated Bibliography of Helmet Documents.





The Helmet Update
Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute
4611 Seventh Street South
Arlington, VA 22204
(703) 486-0100 (voice or Fax on Demand)
email: info@helmets.org
Web Server: helmets.org




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