Saturday, October 24, 2009

More Helmet, Please.

I have a bit of a continuation about helmets... Also known as "Why I wear a full face helmet."

I fully understand that many riders prefer not to wear the same style of lid that I recommend, and that is their choice. However, when I get asked why I wear what I wear I have a simple answer, "Ever seen what happens to a face that meets the pavement?" It may be a slightly brusque reply, but the fact remains that in the majority of impacts the initial point of impact is in the face, or there abouts. This diagram shows the general, statistical break down of impact points:

As you can see, fully a third of the primary impacts are along the chin bar, the next 18% along the forehead, and another 10% in the area of the face shield. In my wreck a year ago, I levered over directly onto my face and got to watch the grass slide by inches from my eyes. My experiences, along with those of people I know and the above diagram, are the main reasons I wear what I wear and why I recommend full face helmets to anyone who asks.

That said, how do you choose the one right for you?

That's just a small sample of what is waiting for you when you go in to buy a helmet. With over 13 different helmet standards in the world, it's hard to know what is right to pick. The answer is short, but hardly simple. The only right helmet is the one that fits you best and that you will wear every time you ride. If a cheaper DOT certified helmet is what feels right, with no hot spots or pressure point, than go ahead and get that one. If a top of the line DOT/Snell/BSI certified helmet is what fits best (and fits your budget), by all means get that one.

The best advice I can give about helmet shopping is have fun with it. Take your time and go to several places. Talk to the sales people while wearing a helmet or two and looking at whatever else they have and don't rush your decision.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Halloween costume helmets

"Cape does not allow wearer to fly."

This label, off a kid's Batman costume, has been circulating on lists of stupid warning labels for at least a decade before Batman Begins, which was the first time I can remember anyone actually showing Batman using his cape to actually fly. With Halloween costumes showing up in every Wal-Mart now, it's time to address a similar type of costume that's sold in bike shops year round, the novelty helmet.

Novelty helmets do have their place - as costumes on the set of a movie, or in a play, or yes, as a Halloween costume. They don't really make much sense on your head on a public road. Your average bicycle helmet provides more protection than a novelty helmet.

Unless you've wandered into a very unscrupulous motorcycle shop, they're easy to spot in the shop by the lack of a DOT approved sticker on the back, and often by a warning label inside it that it's not a real helmet. If you look closely, you can spot them on the road much of the time - they're very thin compared to a real helmet. It's a dead giveaway. There are a couple of somewhat thin, legal helmets, such as the Davida Ninety-One, but engineering a thin helmet that actually protects the head inside it is a major challenge. And many of the novelty helmets you see out there are about a quarter of the thickness of the Ninety-One.

To understand the problem with making a helmet thin, imagine that you've got a choice of diving off the roof of your house onto (1) a stack of four matresses, or (2) a concrete driveway. Assume it's just as far to either one. Obviously, the stack of matresses is going to hurt a lot less than the concrete. The reason a soft object is going to hurt less is that it compresses more. As a first approximation, if that stack of matresses compress 100 times more than the concrete, it'll only have to push you 1/100th as hard to stop your fall. The amount of crash (kinetic energy, if you want to get techincal) the helmet can absorb is equal to the force it pushes back on you times the amount of distance your head can push it. A real, DOT approved helmet is often ten times as thick as a novelty helmet... meaning if you smack your head into concrete wearing it, that novelty helmet is likely to give you ten times the hurting.

I'm a bit puzzled about why people wear novelty helmets on the street. Is it cost? That doesn't make that much sense, as you can get real helmets for only a couple more dollars. Comfort? Not if you've chosen the helmet correctly; the companies that make the good helmets put a lot of R&D into making their products fit comfortably. Style? That may be it. The thing is, what you put on to ride your bike isn't just what everyone sees; it's the only thing between you and that 10,000 pounds of steel hurtling towards you at over a hundred miles an hour in the other lane. It's not a fashion statement. It's not your costume. It's your armor.