As you travel a steep decline at speeds of 60+km, its reassuring to know your equipment is regulated by safety standards. We don’t want to consider the consequence of accidents from the bike, but we know it happens. If rubber goes up, additional protective measures are a good investment. As a client once told me, "As I was sailing through the air I thought, glad I've got a good helmet." So ... Can you trust your helmet? What precautions can you take to ensure you're protecting your best asset?
Science and Technology: Safety and Design
Helmet design has come a long way from the piece of foam held on your head with nylon straps. While confident riding skills are good to prevent an accident, we can add protection by using decent equipment. Most Brands will emphasis their methods to protect the skull while eliminating reverberations causing brain injury.
There's so much to read about how science and technology have developed to best protect our cognitive health. Whether it's MIPS used by POC or GIRO, Smart Straps by Suomy, or MIT Technology with WG11 approval by KASK, (eg. on Protone or Valegro models) there are plenty of excellent options to read. But in the main, if the Pro's are hitting 100km's cornering a descent, we can likely trust the model the team is wearing.
Common Safety Breaches amongst Cyclists
The argument for the safety features of one brand over another are endless. Even if there were a single helmet deemed more safe than others, the fact is most of us don't follow recommendations set by helmet manufacturers. In fact we more than likely break them. Buying your safe out-the-box helmet is one thing. Looking after the helmet to ensure you can depend on it when needed most, is another.
"Most of us don't follow the number one rule applied by manufacturers that ensures the ongoing safety of your head"
1. Storage and Cleaning
Today the technology and materials used in high end road helmets regards safety very seriously. Often that priority is to ensure the reduction of trauma in a one time event of impact. Of course, the design regarding appearance, weight, aero advantage, colour and comfort also play importance. After all it's a competitive world and the product must sell. But there always need to be compromises and one thing we can all agree is that, regardless of the product, it is rare a brand will prioritise product longevity.
Longevity isn't a concern if the helmet ultimately does what the rider depends on - keeps their head safe in an accident. But it does play importance when a majority of riders use helmets beyond a recommended lifespan or, worse still, treat their helmets in ways that are deemed potentially unsafe.
I recall years ago a customer bought a helmet in with a broken strap. I contacted a distributor who was unable to replace the item and that was fair enough because the damage showed evidence the helmet had been extensively hung by the strap. Admittedly there were photos on his instagram account to verified this. But at the time, I didn't know the typical way to place a helmet on a bike at a cafe could void a warranty.
Cleaning is also a problem for helmets over time as riders sweat and suncream build up. Both can be corrosive.
Helmet specific sanitiser at Chainsmith
Clean the helmet with neutral Ph Soap and water. Separately deoderise, sanitise or wash paddings. To prolong the safety features, it's just as important to store the helmet correctly and avoid extremes in temperature (like in the car at Summer). Place it flat rather than hanging from the straps. Also, avoid placing foreign objects like tight sunglasses, thick caps or even cable ties to the helmet.
2. Wearing your helmet after dropping it
Paul Caswell, the senior brand manager for Giro and Bell helmets distributor says,
"Due to tiny impact after tiny impact over time, the EPS will gradually lose its volume making it less able to deal with the energy in the unfortunate event of an impact."
Remember the time your helmet rolled off the coffee table or when it hit the pavement as you tried resting it on the bars? Any time you drop your helmet on a hard surface the internal structure can be fractured. Like carbon, unless you’ve x-rayed the frame it can be difficult to see. But it's a serious problem when you're missing structural integrity when you really need it.
So tell me, equipped with this knowledge, would you buy a used helmet? Would you lend yours to a friend with a guarantee for safety?
3. Ownership past the recommended warranty period.
Ask most cyclists and they’ll likely say the age of their helmet is beyond 2 years. I asked the question, “How many years have you been wearing your helmet" on a local cycling forum. Responses returned, 59% stated they wore a helmet that was over 3 years old.
As a standard, manufacturers suggest the average lifespan of a helmet should be no greater than 2 to 3 years. This includes POC, KASK, Bell and GIRO.
So, when do you replace a helmet? Buying a helmet can be expensive, but the fact it protects your greatest asset means it's worth investing. If you ride frequently and you've owned your current helmet over 3 years, the likelihood your helmet is already compromised is high.
As we increasingly look at ways to consciously conserve and preserve our environment and reduce our waste, surely looking after our helmet is the optimal outcome.
4. Wear for the intended conditions
So, what makes a good helmet under Australian standards, and when should you invest in one?
It's an intriguing topic. You’d think Australia’s stringent standards and mandatory helmet laws mean helmets in Australia are the safest. But go to department style store and you’ll find what I’d consider a flimsy version of a 9$ helmet that's perfectly acceptable under Australian law. I would not wear such a piece of foam believing it’ll protect me if my road bike and I end in the gutter.
Perplexing is that helmets worn by the Pro’s and made to withstand brutal crashes, are by no means provided the Australian sticker for safety approval. The point? Don’t assume Australian laws ensures equality when it comes to protecting your head. Definitely ensure the helmet has the Australian safety sticker, but still do the research for your favoured features. Ensure that the helmet has features relevant to your type of riding.
Compare a 9$ helmet against a Giro helmet of a design more popular with road riders
Luckily for us the big brands like KASK and POC, Giro and MET have gained authority to sell their helmets under Australian law. That means we benefit from a range of styles. You can be safe and look good at the same time.
5. Wearing the helmet incorrectly
We all know a rider who wears their helmet back behind their hairline. Unfortunately in the case of an accident, this position will have little effect in preventing the rider from smacking their forehead or protecting their facial features.
Wear the front of your helmet equally placed between your brow and your hairline. If this isn't possible, it may be that the size of your helmet is incorrect, or the shape is unsuitable.
Chainsmith Recommendations :
What do we like in a helmet? Obviously high safety standards, but also features like the fully replaceable internal paddings, comfortable straps, plenty of ventilation and systems to allow personalised, adjustable fitting.