The Helmet Update
Volume 15, Issue 1 - May, 1997
Previous Issue: September, 1996
We researched much of this article at the Interbike trade show, where we visited with
more than 35 helmet manufacturers and importers. Space prohibits covering every one
here, but use this link if you want more detail and all the manufacturers.
Helmets for 1997
Our award for Smart Helmet Idea of the Year goes to the new and little-known
Taiwanese helmet manufacturers who have introduced helmets made of PU (expanded
polyurethane) foam at retail prices generally below $20, mostly certified to the tougher Snell
B-95 standard. PU foam has fine and very uniform cells in well-foamed helmets, with a
"skin" formed in the mold. The manufacturers include such names as Aerogo, Hoyama
(Hoya), Jago, THH/Sunbeam Trading, VOC Vogue (NOTE: Vogue has been
accused by SEI of claiming SEI certification on uncertified helmets!!), United Royal
Sports, Happy Way Enterprises and Great Group.
We had a tie for our award for Dumb, Dumb, Dumb Helmet Idea of the Year. One
award goes to Bell, for their new "Evo Pro" throwback. It appears to us to be a poor design,
and we recommend that consumers find something better. (See Bell below.) The second
DDDHIY goes to a number of manufacturers of "super ventilated" helmets with oversize
vents. Unless the rider has an unusual problem requiring more ventilation than a normal
helmet provides, these huge vents can mean that there is less foam in contact with your
head in a crash, and that means that all things being equal the foam that does contact your
head has to be exerting more concentrated force on your skull in the smaller areas where it
hits. Our U.S. standards do not test for that, and the magnesium headforms we use are
never fractured by point loading. (For years we have been pushing at ASTM meetings for
point loading tests similar to the Australian standard tests as a way to start getting at this problem.) So oversized vents may mean less
protection. You already suspected that. In the absence of lab data we can't recommend those helmets either.
Almost every high-priced helmet has a rear stabilizer now. The better ones also have
more convenient strap adjusters. Many have visors, but consumers should be aware that the
visors are not tested by any current U.S. standard for shatter resistance or easy tear-off in a
crash. There are helmets now advertised for inline skating, but ASTM's inline skate
standard is exactly the same as the bicycle standard, so either helmet should be fine for both
sports. Colors are still mostly dark and fashionably dull, and few helmets this year have any
reflective surfaces at all.
Retail prices still vary from $8 to $350, and performance is not always indicated by
price. The premium construction method for EPS helmets is still the more expensive
"molded-in-the-shell" process, with the plastic shell actually in the bottom of the mold where
the foam is expanded into it, rather than glued on later. The molding process heat forces the
manufacturer to use a better grade of material for the shell, and there are no air spaces
between shell and foam.
Consumer Reports has announced a helmet article coming soon. Meantime, look for a
Snell B-95 certified helmet first, than a Snell B-90 or ASTM helmet certified by SEI second.
(Without SEI you have only the manufacturer's word.) Ignore ANSI stickers. Above all, find
a helmet that fits well to get all the protection you paid for.
Aria Sonics continues to produce helmets from Expanded PolyPropylene (EPP), a
material which recovers after a crash, confirmed by independent test lab results which Aria
Sonics has provided to us. That makes it ideal for multi-impact sports such as aggressive
skating. Other manufacturers have been slow to pick up on EPP due to its technical
characteristics and requirement for expensive new molding equipment. Note added later:
Aria Sonics went out of business in 1997 and their products are no longer available.
Bell has about 70 per cent of the world bicycle helmet market. Consumer Reports tests
in 1993 showed that Bell can produce some of the best helmets on the market, but we have
been disappointed since then by their top-of-the-line models. Their design features seemed
to us to be inspired by the marketing department and provided no advance in safety that we
can document, since Bell has settled for ASTM certification on all their models while
companies like Giro have been certifying their best helmets to the Snell B-95 standard. We
are thankful that last year's "hard core technology" models are biting the dust, and can only
hope that the new "Evo Pro" model does the same. Its exterior has plastic strips alternated
with strips of bare EPS foam, a partial throwback to the days when many helmets had no
shell. We have often noted the importance of a smooth, hard, unbroken, rounded shell to
minimize a helmet's sliding resistance, a feature shown in lab tests to reduce peak impacts
and strap forces on the neck in a crash. But product differentiation requires that a helmet
not look like all the others. We hope this one dies soon! Bell's Image Pro, which ranked one
rung below their best model in the 1993 Consumer Reports tests, is still in production,
joined by several other molded-in-the-shell models that could be good choices based on this
premium construction method. Bell's toddler models have a new buckle with a shield to
prevent pinching the neck. Bell is producing a new helmet design in XXL size (see article on
page 4) to be available in September. We had asked a lot of manufacturers to do that, but
only Bell stepped up to this profitless task. We applaud them for that decision and don't like
having to pour cold water on the top helmets from a company that retains a long-standing
commitment to community service.
Briko has several aero-style models with deep vents in the lower rear section, and some
really bright colors. They have an extreme aero model which is not certified to any standard
and therefore can't be sold here.
Cratoni has wild, highly visible color schemes available in every model. Their rear
stabilizer has a dial adjuster, and one model has vent screens to keep bees out. Their
Evolution and kid's Fox models bring back an old idea from the popular Bailen helmet of the
70's: an adjustable inner ring to fit the helmet so that "one size fits all."
Louis Garneau bonds a lower piece onto their helmets made of polypropylene to permit
venting, and on upscale models they add a coating of ABS plastic. All have reflective logos,
and some use trendy kevlar, titanium and carbon fiber reinforcing. Three Garneau models
are Australian-certified, including tests for visors and point loading. Several are Canadian
CSA-certified, but the child helmet is not, so we have still not seen any helmets meeting the
new, stricter, CSA child helmet standard.
Giro is now owned by Bell, but you wouldn't know it from their independent line. They
have two models with extreme ventilation. Three have Snell B-95 certification (Express, Fat
Hat and Ricochet). All have extended rear coverage. A few have bright colors. Giro will not
be producing their XXL helmets for super big heads this year, but only because they
destroyed the molds. Giro President Bill Hannemann thought enough of the idea to check for us
on that, for which we thank him.
Head Gear of Australia has three smooth, well rounded designs that meet Australian
standards, including visor and point loading tests.
Headstrong has an extensive line including a Blue Goulding design in a very visible
red, white and blue. Their multi-sport helmet (also by Goulding) is certified to Snell's tough
N-94 standard, and some of their other models are Snell B-95 certified. Something called
"Thin Skin" technology is described in their literature as a new inner foam making the
helmet significantly thinner, but it still is not available.
J&B's Alpha and Flashtec brands, all certified to Snell B-95, retail for $25, with some
models sold in plain plastic bags to hospitals and non-profits for as little as $6.
Mango has helmets fitted by a band inside similar to the old Bailen. The size is adjusted
with a dial in the back where the band drops down to become a stabilizer.
Specialized offers some snazzy helmets with sometimes whimsical touches like shark's
teeth around a vent. They have an impressive ad photo of an Air Cobra smashed by a Tour de France
rider who fell on a rainy Dutch stage and hit a concrete bollard at 45 mph (kph?) head first,
then to the amazement of the crowd got up to finish the stage! Many of their models including their
Sub 6 Pro are certified by Snell to Snell B-90, B-90S or B-95 (Air Foil and Force Field).
Specialized is another company with a well-developed sense of community service.
Trek showed five helmets, all with the Trek Cinch Retention System for stability.
Vigor Sports showed a number of Snell B-95 models and a Snell N-94 multi purpose
standard helmet called the Duo, with good rear protection, a bright yellow option, a rear
stabilizer, 3M reflective tape and a lifetime crash replacement policy.
Accessories this year include tiny mirrors to fit inside your eyewear, pieces to lock a
bike helmet through its vents, and many decoration, mostly for kids. There are also
products that go under the helmet, including bandannas and caps.
BHSI Files FOIA Request for CPSC Data
The Consumer Product Safety Commission purchases bicycle helmets from retail outlets
with taxpayer funding and tests them in labs paid for by the taxpayer. Then they don't
release the results. BHSI has filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the data from
CPSC testing. If it is denied we will have to take the issue to court for a final ruling. We
believe that the public is entitled to have that data.
Harborview Publishes in JAMA
The December 25, 1996, issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association has
two articles from the emergency room research study conducted in Seattle by Thompson,
Rivara and Thompson on helmets and injuries, with more detail than the summary we sent
you. We will provide an abstract when we update our bibliography.
CPSC Standard Further Delayed
The Consumer Product Safety Commission is delaying in their bicycle helmet standard.
The main issues are the g-level for the children's standard, impacts on the severe curbstone
anvil, the type of test rig, labeling and reflectivity. CPSC hopes to have another draft out
soon, with the final standard taking effect in 1999. Until then, helmets barely meeting ANSI
Z90.4-1984 can be sold here. CPSC tested reflectivity on bicycle helmets and bicycles, and is
now analyzing test data. Meantime, Bell's trade show signs say "All models will meet and
exceed the CPSC standard when effective."
ASTM F8.53 Subcommittee Makes Progress
At its December meeting in New Orleans the ASTM Headgear subcommittee noted some
changes and voted some others, resulting in its most productive meeting in years. Notable
changes included appointment of veteran ASTM staffer George Luciw to handle support,
and BHSI's Randy Swart as 2nd VP. (Dean Fisher of Bell is 1st VP for Life.) The group now
has a tracking system for ballots, and a beefed up Form and Style Committee with John
Sabelli of ETL/Inchcape Labs, Dan Pomerening of Southwest Labs and Randy Swart.
Harmonization of the ANSI Z90.4 and ASTM F-1446/1447 standards is supposed to be final,
but if you call ANSI they still tell you their standard died and has not been updated. ASTM
has approved an inline skating standard (thanks to Les Earnest of USA Cycling) identical to
the bicycle standard, confirming that you don't need two helmets to bike and skate. The
standard does not cover trick or freestyle skating, where frequent crashes require multi-
Bell Will Produce Oversized Helmets
Bell has announced that they will produce a helmet to fit people with head sizes up to 8
1/4. They are designing it from scratch, rather than just expanding an existing model, so it
will not reach bike shops until September. We congratulate Bell on the decision, made in the
certain knowledge that the helmet will never make them any money. This is a public-service
undertaking, and one that we have been promoting for a long time. It could mean life or
death for those unable to find a helmet large enough.
BHSI's Toolkit Enhanced
We have added to our Toolkit for Helmet Promotion Programs a fabulous manual
originally written by John Williams and the folks at Adventure Cycling (then
Bikecentennial) for the State of North Carolina. It was updated by BHSI in 1997. The entire
manual and associated files, including our current list of mandatory helmet laws (15 states,
53 localities), our Stats page and more, is on the enclosed IBM format disk with pages from
our website. The only catch is you need a web browser like Netscape, Explorer or Lynx to
read the files. But you don't have to be connected to the Internet. If you need tech support,
call or email us. We could even send a paper copy, but the disk was almost free to produce,
and photocopying is always expensive.
Our website celebrated its second birthday in February. This year we changed our
address to www.helmets.org (the old one still works) because nobody can remember our
initials. On the web we have articles from this newsletter with more detail, our latest
helmet laws list, annotated bibliography, Most Asked Questions About Bicycle Helmets,
helmet standards comparison and a lot more. We hope to surpass 50,000 visitors this year.
You can also reach us directly by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. (Again the old address still
works.) We still have our 24-hour interactive Fax on Demand service at our regular phone
number, (703) 486-0100, and of course we pick up the line when you select the talk/message
function. We have added a dedicated fax line at (703) 486-0576. We enjoy hearing from you
and welcome inquires by any means.