Most of us are quite familiar with the saying “you get what you pay for”, but is that always true? What about bicycle helmets? What’s the difference between a $30 helmet and a $400 helmet? The ANSWER may surprise you. Oh, there may very well be some differences, but when it comes to protection offered … well, not so much. Basically I would have to say that the biggest difference is $370. So what does $370 get you? Probably the most noticeable differences come under the realm of comfort. The more expensive helmet may be lighter and be better ventilated. It may have better quality headgear and buckles. That’s about it however.
So the big question is … “Is it worth it”? I reckon we all must decide that for ourselves. As for me, no way! I am quite satisfied with my $50 helmet which I bought on sale for 30 some dollars.
It is said that when it comes to the protection a bicycle helmet provides it is more a matter of design than it is price. Some helmets offer more protection because of their physical shape. The truth of the matter is bicycle helmets offer rather limited protection when compared to some other types of safety helmets such as the helmets NASCAR drivers use. And motorcycle helmets offer far more protection as well. And I rather imagine the same is true of the helmets jet fighter pilots wear as well. Still though bicycle helmets do help …
From Helmet.org: Helmets provide a 66 to 88% reduction in the risk of head, brain and severe brain injury for all ages of bicyclists. Helmets provide equal levels of protection for crashes involving motor vehicles (69%) and crashes from all other causes (68%). Injuries to the upper and mid facial areas are reduced 65%.
When it comes to the testing of bicycle helmets the industry is sadly lacking in how they test as well as things they don’t test. Anyway, what standards and tests that are in place all helmets have to pass. That is why there is little difference in helmets when it comes to the protection they offer regardless of the cost of the helmet. You can find more information about helmets HERE.
Although the following video is aimed at children wearing bicycle helmets it has some good information in it.
And here is Consumer Reports video on bicycle helmets.
Awhile back I posted an article on this blog about “an invisible helmet“. Here is an interesting and informative video about bicycle safety helmets and the protection they offer (or fail to offer).
So if you just like spending money you are free to buy those expensive helmets. Just remember one thing about bicycle helmets. They are only good for one impact and should never be reused. A helmet can get damaged simply by accidentally dropping it onto a hard surface resulting in it needing to be replaced. One could buy a lot of $30 to $50 helmets for the cost of one $300 to $400 helmet.
Another thing to keep in mind is that it is highly recommended that helmets be replaced approximately every 5 years or less depending upon how they are taken care of and the actual physical condition of the foam used in them. In time the foam loses it’s effectiveness in protection.
Like I said, no bicycle helmet offers great protection regardless of price. The degree of injury sustained in accidents varies according to the individual factors involved. Never the less helmets do offer some protection and may very well help us to continue to …
ENJOY THE RIDE!
I decided to add on the following to this article. It comes from the helmet.org website. I highly recommend this website as it is packed full of information. Keep in mind that nearly everything written about bicycle helmets are just that … “bicycle” … meaning that not everything one reads necessarily pertains to tadpole trikes. There is a world of difference in the realm of safety and accidents between two and three wheels.
The Two Minute Summary
- You always need a helmet wherever you ride. You can expect to crash in your next 4,500 miles of riding, or maybe much sooner than that!
- Even a low-speed fall on a bicycle trail can scramble your brains.
- Laws in 22 states and at least 201 localities require helmets, although few cover adults.
- Make sure your helmet fits to get all the protection you are paying for. A good fit means level on your head, touching all around, comfortably snug but not tight. The helmet should not move more than about an inch in any direction, and must not pull off no matter how hard you try.
- Rear stabilizers do not substitute for careful strap adjustment.
- Pick white or a bright color for visibility.
- Common sense tells you to avoid a helmet with snag points sticking out, a squared-off shell, inadequate vents, excessive vents, an extreme “aero” shape, dark colors, thin straps, complicated adjustments or a rigid visor that could snag or shatter in a fall.
- Consumer Reports has some brand recommendations.
If you have six minutes, please read on!
Six Minutes More
Your brain is probably worth reading this!
Need One? Yes!!
The average careful bike rider may still crash about every 4,500 miles. Head injuries cause 75% of our nearly 700 annual bicycle deaths. Medical research shows that bike helmets reduce or prevent most of cyclists’ head injuries. And helmets may be required by law in your area.
How Does a Helmet Work?
A helmet reduces the peak energy of a sharp impact. This requires a layer of stiff foam to cushion the blow. Most bicycle helmets use crushable expanded polystyrene (EPS), the picnic cooler foam. It works well, but when crushed it does not recover. Expanded polypropylene (EPP) foam does recover, but is much less common. Collapsible plastic liner materials recently appeared and offer promise. The spongy foam pads inside a helmet are for comfort and fit, not for impact protection.
The helmet must stay on your head even when you hit more than once–usually a car first, and then the road, or perhaps several trees on a mountainside. So it needs a strong strap and buckle. The helmet should sit level on your head and cover as much as possible. Above all, with the strap fastened you should not be able to get the helmet off your head by any combination of pulling or twisting. If it comes off or slips enough to leave large areas of your head unprotected, adjust the straps again or try another helmet. Keep the strap comfortably snug when riding. The straps hold your helmet on, not the rear stabilizer.
What Type do I Need?
Most bike helmets are made of EPS foam with a thin plastic shell. The shell helps the helmet skid easily on rough pavement to avoid jerking your neck. The shell also holds the foam together after the first impact. Some excellent helmets are made by molding foam in the shell rather than adding the shell later.
Beware of gimmicks. You want a smoothly rounded outer shell, with no sharp ribs or snag points. Excessive vents mean less foam contacting your head, and that could concentrate force on one point. “Aero” helmets are not noticeably faster, and in a crash the “tail” could snag or knock the helmet aside. Skinny straps are less comfortable. Dark helmets are hard for motorists to see. Rigid visors can snag or shatter in a fall. Helmet standards do not address these problems–it’s up to you!
A sticker inside the helmet tells what standard it meets. Helmets made for the U.S. must meet the US Consumer Product Safety Commission standard, so look for a CPSC sticker. ASTM’s F1447 standard is identical. Snell’s B-95 standard is tougher but seldom used.
Fit is not certified by any standard, so test that on your own head. Visors are not tested for shattering or snagging in a fall, so you are on your own there.
Coolness, ventilation, fit and sweat control are the most critical comfort needs. Air flow over the head determines coolness, and larger front vents provide better air flow. Most current helmets have adequate cooling for most riders. Sweat control can require a brow pad or separate sweatband. A snug fit with no pressure points ensures comfort and correct position on the head when you crash. Weight is not an issue with today’s bicycle helmets.
Some head shapes require more fiddling with fitting pads and straps. Extra small heads may need thick fitting pads. Extra large heads require an XXL helmet. Ponytail ports can improve fit for those with long hair. Bald riders may want to avoid helmets with big top vents to prevent funny tan lines.
How to Buy
We always recommend checking out the latest Consumer Reports article, but they can’t cover very many of the available brands and models, and their articles go out of date.
We have a review up on helmets for the current season. It has no impact ratings, but our limited testing has shown that most helmets have about the same impact protection regardless of price.
When you pick up a helmet, look first for a CPSC sticker inside and a smooth, well-rounded shell with a bright color outside. Put it on, adjust the pads and straps or the one-size-fits-all head ring, and then try hard to tear it off. Look for vents and sweat control. Helmets sell in bike shops from $30 up, or in discount stores for less. A good shop helps with fitting, and fit is important for safety. The $10 discount helmet can be equally protective if you take the time to fit it carefully, and for another $10 you get easier fitting. Helmets are cheap now, and are seldom on sale, so don’t wait for a sale price. Many of us bought our helmets after a crash. You can be smarter than that.
I don’t know whether to call this the daily chuckle or what …
Since I first wrote this article I have come across this website which rates helmets and claims that thru their testing there really is a difference in helmets as far as the protection they offer. One thing that I noticed is that it is not the cost which determines how good the helmet rating is. A $55 helmet scored far higher than many of the helmets costing hundreds of dollars. As they say … “go figure!”
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