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The Helmet Update

Volume 15, Issue 1 - May, 1997
BHSIDOC#589
Previous Issue: September, 1996




Helmets for 1997

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.

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.


Trends

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.


Highlights

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- impact helmets.

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 Web site. 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.

BHSI News

Our Web site 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 info@helmets.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.

Randy Swart
Director






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