Nobody rides a mountain bike without a helmet. It’s just not sensible, nor is it safe. But how safe is your helmet really? Is it past it’s protect-by date? Are you really protecting your head or are you just strapping on a piece of gear that’s giving you a false sense of safety? Here are some important things to know about your helmet.
The modern bicycle helmet is a highly-developed piece of safety gear. As a result, most helmets available at bicycle stores meet and exceed one or more of the various international safety standards. It’s not in any helmet brand’s interests to not meet a variety of safety standards as this will obviously impact sales in various territories.
“Australia and the United States require slightly higher bicycle helmet densities to the European Union, which can affect helmet weight, but not significantly. While light weight and maximum ventilation used to be key focus areas for helmet brands, especially in the road cycling sector, both have been upstaged by safety as the priority with the increased acceptance of helmet use globally,” said Sean Lilley of Coolheat, the distributor of Lazer helmets in South Africa.
In South Africa, there appears to be a very good appreciation for the importance of helmet use. In the recent TREAD Sani2c Gear Survey – All The Stats, it was revealed that 74.18% of the riders had bought their helmet used at the event in the past 3 years. The survey didn’t reveal how often the riders replaced their helmet.
“While the buying and wearing of a helmet by South African mountain bikers is clearly a high priority, the care of helmets and the correct fitting are areas where education is required. No matter what it costs, a poor-fitting helmet isn’t going to be as effective as it was designed to be. And helmet care on a daily basis can extend the life of your helmet,” said Lilley.
Most of us don’t view a helmet as a consumable item, but it is. One hard bang on your head in a trail tumble or a racing incident and you should replace your helmet. And even with no hard bangs, you should replace your helmet every three years (on average) to ensure that the helmet you’re currently wearing is best able to do what it was designed to do – protect your brain from injury.
Here’s some useful information about helmets that you should be aware of:
Damage isn’t always obvious
When you go down in a crash, it often happens unexpectedly – and fast. Riders often whack their heads on the ground or on an object such as a tree or trailside rock in a crash, but don’t realise it, paying attention to cuts, grazes and limb injuries, which are more obvious. A headache, dizziness, mild or severe concussion are all signs that your helmet was involved in projecting your head in that crash.
Inspect your helmet carefully after every crash. Look for cracks or dents, both inside and outside. If you notice any of these, it’s best to replace your helmet. Some helmet brands have crash replacement policies that allow you to buy the same brand of helmet at a discounted rate, making it easier for you to afford high quality head protection.
Why replace it every three years?
Your helmet may look quite fine after three years. You may never have had a tumble where your helmet took an impact. But helmets are made of materials that are intentionally light to ensure comfort while protecting your head. Unlike a pair of hardy Shimano SPD pedals, these materials in modern helmets don’t last forever.
Significant changes in temperature as well as lengthy exposure to UV light can degrade the EPS (expanded polystyrene), which is the core/shell of the modern cycling helmet. Some sunblocks contain substances that can erode EPS and sweat can also gradually wear into your helmet’s EPS and affect its structure.
By replacing your helmet every three years, you are giving yourself both peace of mind as well as optimal protection.
How to care for your helmet
In order to get the most from your helmet, follow these simple steps:
- Keep it in a helmet bag. Some come with a bag, or you can use a water-resistant drawstring bag to ensure nothing leaks onto/into your helmet when traveling (chain lubricants can damage the EPS structure).
- Pack it on top. When packing your car or a bag for travel, always store your helmet on top. It’s made to structurally protect your head, not to bear unusually high loads that can occur during transit (always check it for damage after a long trip).
- Keep it clean. If scrubbing it from time to time seems like a chore or hard to remember, take it into the shower with you from time to time and rinse it there.
- Check the padding. Padding inside a helmet can become dislodged. Take a photo of the inside of your helmet when it’s new and make sure the pads are present and properly positioned every so often. If you don’t shower with your helmet, remove the padding and wash it separately, but be sure to return all the bits in their correct places.
Does your helmet include MIPS technology?
According to scientific research, helmets that incorporate MIPS (Multi Directional Impact System) technology can reduce rotational acceleration of the brain within the skull by up to 33%. This can be the difference between sustaining a brain injury or not. Or reducing the potential severity of a brain injury.
A number of Lazer helmet models incorporate MIPS. Have a look at this short video to see how the testing is done as well as the results: