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The Helmet Update

Volume 15, Issue 2 - November, 1997
BHSIDOC#590
Previous Issue: May, 1997




Helmets for 1998

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.


New Directions: More Vents and Sharper Lines

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.

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.


More Trends

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.


New Foam and a Folding Helmet

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.

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.


The Helmets

Bell

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

Giro (a Bell subsidiary) has also dropped Snell for ASTM/SEI certification. Their top six models are molded in the shell. 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 small tots.

Headstrong Group

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

Louis Garneau has an extensive line. Some are molded in the shell, 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 molded in the shell, 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

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.

Trek

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 Web site.


Briefs

  • 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.
  • Mandatory 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.





BHSI News

Our Web site 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 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 info@helmets.org. 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 bhsi.org 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 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.

Randy Swart
Director
Editor, The Helmet Update






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