The Spoke March 3, 2011

Protect your head!

I cannot claim to have many good habits - but I think wearing a cycle helmet is probably one to stick with. There is some debate as to whether wearing a helmet can/does actually save you from serious injury. Facts, statistics and advice aside, it seems logical that something on your head could help protect you from a serious, or worse, injury, in the event of you falling off. What I was suprised to learn that the EN standard relating to cycle helmets, EN1078:1997, only requires a helmet to withstand an impact of less than 12 mph and from a height of of 1 meter. Whilst I concede this is better than nothing, you might have expected it to offer more statutory protection than that. In addition, the accepted advice is that if you drop a helmet from that distance onto a hard surface it needs replacing as it's safety properties may well have been compromised. Regardless, I think you should wear one - but it's food for thought. 

These days it looks strange when you see a cyclist NOT wearing a helmet. It still happens. When I'm riding around West Sussex you often see some of the older boys (men over the age of 50) wearing a racing cap, beenie or nothing at all. It surprises me they don't bother - but maybe it's a lifetime of habit. Perhaps I'm part of the generation were the wearing of cycling helmet started to become 'socially acceptable'. I started wearing one when I was at University in the mid 90s. At that time helmets were...how can I put it....not very flattering. Basically (and frankly somewhat humourously) it looked like I had a massive (purple) mushroom growing on my head. In short, not completely ideal. That said, I quickly got into the habit of wearing it and just accepted my hat would never become 'pub wear' (same category as my cycling shorts). I faded in and out of cycling in the intervening years so there was no real need to change it. However with the purchase of 'The Spesh', a new lid was inevitable. Recently I can also claim to having 'nagged' at least 3 friends (and counting) into buying (and more importantly, wearing) helmets. All were of the opinion that they did'nt need one....but that's changed now. You might say they were even converts.

I have been wearing a Uvex lid for the past couple of years. It has plenty of ventilation, small visor at the front, adjustable strap at the back (plus slight 'bespoke' A/V modifications.) It's reasonably light - approx 300 grams. Uvex are a German company with plenty of experience of making cycling helmets; they provide equipment for Columbia Highroad and Francaise des Jeux pro racing teams. One thing I have noticed is that unlike my helmet, the more recent versions have a strap or plastic brace that goes some way down the back of your head - meaning that it fits tighter and has less chance of being pulled off in the event of an accident. It's also good practice to frequently check the tension on your chin strap. Over time it (well, with mine ayway) works loose, and again should you come off, the straps won't be tight enough to keep your lid on. Not much point in wearing a helmet if it's going to come off when it needs to stay put. (Critics would argue that because cyclists wear helmets, it subsequently leads them to behave irresponsibly as they feel unstoppable. The 'Superman' Complex. This sounds like nonsense to me and the type of argument that non-cyclists would use, as sharing the same road space with cars, for example, is hardly a formula for feeling impregnable!). Nevertheless, a common theme amongst the available (and often contradictory) advice states that a correctly fitting helmet is essential if it is to offer the rider optimal protection. Makes sense. 

One positive example the world of professional cycling provides is the wearing of helmets. It is now extremely rare to see any pro - or even semi-pro rider not cycling with a helmet on. This should be enough evidence for the rest of us to heed - especially since every additional gram carried by those riders is heavily scrutinised. Certainly the speeds that those riders go presumably makes a helmet technically useless (according to the EN standard) - but still it's a UCI requirement. 

Until the wearing of helmets is a legal requirement for cyclists, the debate over whether they actually prevent injury will continue. However, more and more organised cycling events state that the wearing of a helmet is a mandatory requirement in order for you to participate. This was the case with the wiggle 'Super Series' ride and the 'Sky Ride'. Even the 'Winter Warmer' Audax I completed recently required all riders to wear a helmet. On the basis of this, surely any piece of kit you can wear that can help prevent or minimize personal injury should be encouraged? Even if there is no definitive evidence that helmets save lives per se, if they contribute to saving your life, then it's probably a sound idea to wear one. Today, if I cycle just a couple of hundred meters to the local shops it feels strange not putting my helmet on - in the same way as putting on a seat beat these days is second nature. The same now goes for my helmet. I'm not saying that I'm particularly in favour of a legislation being passed so that you cannot choose - but it just seems to make sense. Ideally, avoidance is the best policy. So managing potentially dangerous situations, cycling within not only your own limitations and road conditions will help reduce possible injury. In this country though, ultimately, it remains a personal choice.

In summary, there might not be any scientific evidence that wearing helmet can save a life - but for what it's worth, I'll still be wearing mine  - just in case. Hope you'll be doing the same. 

Notes:

Mandatory Safety Standards for cycle helmets. Only purchase a helmet if it conforms to these minimum requirements: 

EN1078: 1997 - European Standard for older children and adult helmets

EN1080: 1997 - European Standard for younger children's helmets

CPSC -  US Regulations

SNELL B-95

Sources: 

www.whycycle.co.uk

us.uvex-sports.com

www.cyclehelmets.org

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