Cycle Helmets | A No Brainer?

road bike helmet

Nowadys, for most cyclists a cycle helmet is probably the most important purchase after that of your bike. Though, for others, its a waste of £30 or more.

One thing both sides of the argument agree on is that accidents are unpredictable and can happen to the best of riders. But they disagree on what effect a cycle helmet will have on mitigating the effects of such an incident.

road bike helmet

CycleGrampian is not going to take sides - we want you, the cyclist, to decide for yourself. If are happy to cycle "bear headed" - then we are happy. If you want to wear a bike helmet - then make sure it meets the relevant design codes (e.g. SNELL, ANSI, BS etc) and we will be happy.

To help you decide if a helmet is right for you, here are a few questions and answers, and a few links to other sites which may exercise your (protected or unprotected) grey matter!

How do cycle helmets work?

A helmet has two main parts to its construction; a thin outer shell and a stiff foam inner liner. The outer shell provides two functions:
- it spreads the force of an impact over a large area of the head thereby mitigating the effects of an impact,
- and reduces friction between head and ground in a slide.

The helmet's liner is designed to crush under impact, in doing so it absorbs energy that would otherwise be passed to the head and brain. However, a certain minimum force is required before it starts to crush. Until this minimum is reached, the head must absorb the impact. Once the minimum is reached, the liner absorbs energy until either all the remaining energy is absorbed or the liner has been crushed to its minimum thickness. If the blow is of such severity that the liner gets crushed to its minimum thickness, the head absorbs the remaining energy. Unfortunately, this is likely to lethal.



Are cycle helmets designed to save lives?

This is where we play with words. Strictly speaking cycle helmets are not designed to save lives, they are designed to mitigate the effects of an impact to the head. In doing this they may save lives. But this is not guaranteed, as explained above.

If a helmet was designed to save your life, that is provide significant protection, then it would be more akin to a motorcycle helmet, and you would be unlikely to wear that for cycling.

So, what kind of protection does a helmet provide?

Helmets are designed, and subsequently tested in the laboratory, for protection against straight line (linear) blows only. Test procedures set by standards bodies like The Snell Foundation and ANSI require a cycle helmet containing a 5kg rigid headform (i.e. a dummy head) to be dropped onto a flat anvil from a height of 1.5 to 2.0 metres (5ft to 6ft 8in). If more than 300g's is imparted to the headform the helmet cannot be certified.

Are the standards adequate?

Adequate for what - to protect against death, or to lessen impact? Some members of the medical profession believe that the 300g level is too high and that lesser accelerations can produce serious injury. Remember however, that to protect against death you would need a helmet more akin to a motorcycle helmet.

Further Reading

A good resource if you want to find out more about Cycle Helmets, their design and testing is The Dome website, a global authority in helmet testing, research and development.


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