The Helmet Update
Volume 15, Issue 2 - November, 1997
Previous Issue: May, 1997
This year's Interbike trade show had fewer helmet manufacturers, reflecting a flat
market, industry consolidation and a profit squeeze. Manufacturers are adding new features
to raise prices. The themes for 1998 are more vents and sharper lines.
Helmets for 1998
All of the US manufacturers have hyper-ventilated models following in the footsteps of
Giro's Helios. To open larger vents many are molding the EPS foam with the plastic shell in
the same mold. The materials bond and fill all of the space under the shell. The heat of the
mold also requires a better grade shell. But bigger vents can involve using harder, denser
foam, and squaring off the edges of the remaining foam to beef up what remains. Worse,
designers are adding bumps and sharp exterior lines just for style. We believe that rounder
shells are less likely to snag in a crash. But despite laboratory evidence that sliding
resistance of a shell makes a difference in both impact and neck forces, there is no test for
this in our standards yet. Harder foam ribs inside can transmit a blow to the rider's head
with more pressure on one spot. We don't know yet if this is a safety problem, and only the
Australian standard has tests for "localized loading," but we would prefer to crash in a
helmet with a wide area of foam in contact with our head. Finally, the larger vents are not
necessary: the normal venting in the good helmets of the mid-90's has proven adequate for
almost all riding by almost all riders in almost all conditions.
New Directions: More Vents and Sharper Lines
Good helmets can still meet the impact performance standards with the larger vents.
The Helios was originally a Snell B-90 helmet, is now advertised as meeting the ASTM
standard, and was top-rated by Consumer Reports in June. The other new hyper-ventilated
models also meet ASTM, including models from Giro, Bell, Specialized, Troxel (GT or Pro-
Action brand), Vigor and others. To reduce potential snagging points to a minimum we
would prefer helmets with vents and ribs well faired and rounded like the Giro Helios or
Vigor's V-Tec. The Specialized Air Speed, Louis Garneau Globe (a Consumer Reports Best
Buy) and Trek's Elixir are also rounded, but have extra ridges for a "sculptured" look that
detract from a smooth round contour.
The squared-off fashion trend is going to make your old, safe round helmet look clunky
and old-fashioned. The new ones are the snazziest-looking helmets we have ever seen.
Despite what we consider sub-optimal features we expect them to perform acceptably in the
field, and if they do get helmets on more riders they would be justified. They will be
expensive, and some will not show up until March or even later.
Other trends include brighter colors as orange and yellow bikes and sports clothing gain
favor in some areas of the U.S. Visors are fading. Rear stabilizers are now on more medium-
priced models, although Giro has announced they now have a patent and will require
licensing fees. Low-priced helmets are being packaged with other accessories like knee pads
and wrist protectors for skate or multi-sport helmets.
Vetta has a new foam to replace the normal EPS that they call NexL. It is a closed-cell,
cross-linked polymer, said to have remarkable properties. We were not too keen on the
design features of the prototype we saw at Interbike. The first folding helmet was
introduced this year by Motorika. It is a true hard shell made in two pieces to fold into a
crescent shape. It seemed heavy at 16 oz, looked hot and costs $79.
New Foam and a Folding Helmet
Bell Covers the Largest Heads
Bell has introduced their Kinghead helmet, a huge lid that fits up to size 8 1/4. People
with average-sized heads can turn it sideways. It meets the need of a small but desperate
group of riders who could not find a large enough helmet. We salute Bell for producing it as
a service, knowing that it will not sell enough to make them a profit.
Bell's helmets are still SEI certified to meet the ASTM standard, not Snell. They placed
very well in the June Consumer Reports rankings. New for 1998 will be the Intercooler, a
hyper-ventilated design made in layers of foam bonded together, with many vent channels.
Ribbed surfaces outside and inside spoil the smoothness of the shell and reduce the area of
inside foam contacting the rider's head, so we do not consider the design optimal. Bell also
will have the Nemesis 2, with huge front vents and very squared-off lines. It has ribs on the
top (where few riders hit) but not on the sides, where most impacts occur. Two "wings" in
the back stick out about 15 mm. The more rounded Psycho Pro, Image Pro and Oasis are
still in Bell's line. The Jumpstart Pro youth helmet replaces the hard-to-fit Jammer, and the
new Half-Pint Pro child helmet is well vented. The Bellistic downhill racer's helmet has a
full chin guard. Bell's discount BSI helmets ($8 to $30) are also ASTM/SEI certified, and still
have rounded profiles. Bell has a traveling exhibit in an 18-wheeler, worth seeing. They
also have a pamphlet advising replacement of helmets every three years "to accommodate
head growth in children and to avoid any deterioration. Cracks, dents, holes, and other
forms of damage reduce protective capabilities." Well, if your helmet is cracked, dented, or
has holes in it, do replace it, and don't wait for three years. But normal riders do not need to
trash a helmet just because it is three years old.
Giro (a Bell subsidiary) has also dropped Snell for ASTM/SEI certification. Their top six
models are inmolded. The Helios started the hyper-vent craze last year, and was
ranked first by Consumer Reports in June. The new Boreas super-vent model has interior
ridges reducing the foam contact surface and rear "prongs" that stick out about 30 mm. The
Switchblade for downhill racing has a detachable chinguard. Without chinguard is the
Exodus ($150), in green foam, with squared-off ribs and two 15 mm "teeth" sticking out of
the rear. The Hammerhead ($110) is another design with angular lines. The Alturus is a
rounded-profile helmet similar to the Helios with fewer vents, so it is worth a look. Less
expensive with taped on shells are the Gila ($70, with some reflective material), Torero,
Incline, Riviera and several kids helmets: the Holeshot, Mudshaker and Minimoto. The
Dervish is Giro's inline skate helmet. The Mad Max is a downhill racer's helmet, with a
substantial chinbar. Some models have bright colors this year, and most have Giro's newly-
patented rear stabilizers.
GT (by Troxel)
GT's line of ASTM/SEI helmets is made by Troxel, who refuse to use the hardest densities of
foam in their helmets. Top of the line for 1998 is the $100 Pegasus, a squared-off shell
design. The Machete, at $80, is a highly competitive hyper-ventilated helmet with a nicely
rounded outer shell, and since it also has no super-hard foam it is worth considering. The
Gator ($40) is another model with "points" on the rear of the shell. Other models included
the Stinger at $50, and the Orion at $25 with a ribbed interior design reducing the foam in
contact with the head. The Lightning, a $35 child helmet, has the shell extended in the front
to form a stiff visor, not a design we would recommend. The Li'l Thunder toddler helmet
($35) has a rear stabilizer in cloth to meet parents' reluctance to put plastic stabilizers on
Headstrong's extensive line retails at mass merchants for $30 to below $15. Their Cycling
model is nicely rounded and reasonably vented. The Ultra has more vents and styling but
still has a smoothly rounded shape. The Multi Sport has a smooth profile and certification to
Snell's difficult N-94 multi sport standard, with a Radical version for under-14's and another
for a circus promotion. Their downhill helmets have full facial protection, but appear to have
bolted-on visors. Their Skateboard & In-Line model and their ski helmet have very rounded
hard-shells, while the equestrian model has a hard visor, vents and is certified to ASTM's
equestrian standard. There is also a Toddler model. All have a lifetime crash warranty.
Louis Garneau has an extensive line. Some are inmolded, while others have
polypropylene lower sections or a lower shell. The new hyper-vented Genius has too many
ribs on the shell to suit us and a price tag of $119. The Ozone at $80 is better-rounded, the
Super MSB is very nicely rounded with a lower shell and there are the Bumper PSB, the
Bonded CX inmolded, the Alien, with fussy ribbed exterior, and the very well
rounded and somewhat cheaper Globe, Saturn and Space. The Globe was designated a Best
Buy in the December issue of Consumer Reports. For youth there is the Grunge, and for
kids the Terrible or the Baby Boomer, both with nice graphics and vents. The kevlar-
reinforced Buzz downhill has full face protection. Garneau's rear stabilizer adjusts with a
knob after you put the helmet on. There are brighter colors and higher gloss shells on some
of the Louis Garneau line.
PTI - Zacko
Protective Technologies International (PTI) is a large bicycle helmet producer for mass
merchants. Their bike store line is called Zacko, (1998 note: a name now
discontinued) known for its sexy ads. Their top model is
the $80 Attack, with numerous vents sharply defined at the edges but an otherwise rounded
profile. The other models all have very well rounded exteriors: the Trip at $40, the Raw at
$30, the Wacko child helmet at $25, and the toddler model at $20. One version of the Trip
has "POLICE" on the sides for law enforcement agencies. The "Promo" model has a very
round exterior but very small vents, a $6 dealer cost and a suggested retail of "FREE" to be
used for giveaway programs. In our local Toys 'R Us we found PTI helmets with "Approved
to ASTM F1446.7" on the box, but a sticker in the helmet saying only "ANSI Z90.4." We
were put off by Zacko's ad with a young man and woman kissing in only underwear and his
Zacko. The shocking part is that even though his mouth is open in the kiss the helmet strap
is still so loose that it is flopping forward on his chin. Children should not be exposed to such
things. (1998 note: PTI has discontinued using the Zacko brand name.)
Specialized has five models for 1998, led by the Air Cobra, with its "mouth port technology"
and a "chiseled, muscular look." They will also bring out the King Cobra, with large vents
and other features at $150. Their Air Speed has a more rounded profile, but still shares
with the Air Cobra a rear overhang that could be better faired. The Air Cut with a lower
price is now their budget model, the Air Wave Mega is the youth market model, and the
Bike Bug for toddlers has appealing ladybug graphics. Specialized has colors now to match
their bicycles. Specialized is one manufacturer who tests their helmets for long term sun
and weather effects, probably making them a good bet if you cycle frequently in extreme
weather. They are continuing Snell B-90 certification for the Cobra, Banshee, and the new
Sub Zero and King Cobra. In August of 1997, Specialized announced a helmet recycling
plan, with three different programs offering new Specialized helmets at reduced prices.
We saw Trek's 1998 line through their Gary Fisher subsidiary. The Elixir model is a
hypervent with a rounded profile, but adds ridges to achieve the "sculpted" look. The Icarus
seemed a less conservative design, with pronounced internal ribbing and ridges on the shell.
The Milenium model has vents that might best be described as "lumpy." while the Caliber
has a very well-rounded shell, smaller vents, and looks a little out-of-date. The Gecko Youth
model had smoothly rounded contours.
Others - Some Really Good Helmets, Too!
Space prevents us from covering Advent, Answer Products, AST Multisport, Briko, Byke
Ryder/KR, Concord, Cyclelink, Cratoni, Ecko, Edge, Euro-Met, Hallaby, Hamax, Happy
Way, Headstart, J&B Importers, Kent, Nuovo Meyster, Prowell, Qranc/OGK, Seven Star,
Shenzhen Qukang, THH, Troy Lee Designs, Vigor Sports and WHH. All had interesting
helmets. We have all the details on our website.
Consumer Reports covered helmets in its June issue, ranking Giro and Bell models
tops. In December they added the Louis Garneau Globe as a Best Buy.
CPSC expects to publish its next (and final?) draft of the U.S. Government bicycle helmet
standard very soon.
ASTM is making many improvements to its bike helmet standard, and actively publishing
other standards for skate, ski, downhill bike racing, and more activities.
helmet laws have been adopted by 15 states and 62 localities. Effectiveness varies by
community and gains may not last unless reinforced. New Jersey reports that bicycle-
related fatalities for the under-14 age group covered by their helmet law fell 60 per cent in
the five years since they introduced the law. NY reports usage gains are slipping, and
ridership is down somewhat, but they don't attribute that to their helmet law.
Our website will celebrate its third birthday in February. We updated our Internet
link and increased speed by about 25 per cent this fall. That forced an update of our
web server machine as well. In 1997 we added another domain name: 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, a Toolkit for Helmet Promotion Programs, our latest
helmet laws list, annotated bibliography, Most Asked Questions About Bicycle Helmets,
helmet standards comparison and a lot more. To receive this newsletter by email send your email address to us. We hope to surpass 50,000 visitors this year.
We still have our 24-hour interactive Fax on Demand service, and of course we pick up the line when you select the "Talk to us or leave a message" function. We have a dedicated fax line at (703) 486-0576. We enjoy hearing from you and welcome inquiries by any means.
Editor, The Helmet Update