How Safe Is Your Bike Helmet?
Hi there. It’s Jim Dodson. I’m a personal injury and bicycle accident lawyer in Clearwater. Most people know me as The Florida Bike Guy.
I want to talk to you this morning about “How Safe is Your Helmet.” A helmet is probably one of the most important pieces of equipment that we wear when we ride whether we’re a casual rider or the ultra elite rider.
Let’s step back and try and understand something about helmet design. In the 80s the Consumer Product Safety Commission designed the criteria for bike helmets. And really they were designed to protect the head from one directional forces. Basically, a dropped weighted object on the helmet. It was designed to prevent skull fractures and they do a good job of doing that. They have an EPS foam liner inside and it’s got a plastic shell on the outside and from a one directional impact, the helmet will generally protect you from a skull fracture. But over the course of time, we’ve come to realize that most bicycle impacts don’t occur from one direction but rather from side impacts, a glancing blow, or the cyclist hits an object or the ground.
Over twenty years ago, some good folks over in Sweden began developing what is known now as the Multi-directional Impact Protection System, MIPS. This has been studied and applied in the industry for more than twenty years. A lot of the manufacturers have gone to MIPS, brought the technology into their own factories and adapted it to their own helmet designs. You can watch some interesting videos online. Giro has a great video explaining how the MIPS helmet works and I think you’ll learn a lot if you watch it.
This is actually my helmet. This is a MIPS helmet and let me show you what is essentially the operational component of the helmet. So if you look inside the helmet, rather than your head just sitting on the EPS foam liner, you see that your skull comes in contact with this plastic inner lining which looks pretty simple. This is designed so that in an impact the lining will move between 10 and 15 millimeters. And the research tends to show that that movement is enough to protect and give the brain an extra advantage so that it doesn’t stop so abruptly and it minimizes the impact of the forces of rotation that causes concussions.
You can actually slide this liner within the helmet a little bit. Mine through Giro is black but some of them are all yellow and they show up a little better on video. This is the whole system of how a MIPS helmet works. And, in my view it’s the only technology that I’m aware of that is commercially available to give us as cyclists an added advantage of when the unexpected could happen.
I think there is some debate from people whether they want to get the MIPS technology. In my view it’s looking at it this way. We had seat belts in cars, they were a lap belt. We now know that a shoulder harness works a heck of a lot better. Your basic helmet is your lap belt and the MIPS helmet is your shoulder harness. I think my view for cyclists is, you always want that extra edge of protection. And, that’s what this MIPS technology does.
When the MIPS helmet first came out I had a hard time finding one. I ordered my first one from POC in England maybe four or five years ago. Now, they are generally available in most stores. And, when you see on the back of the helmet this little sticker, MIPS, that’s what you’re looking for. And, then when you turn it over and look in the inside, you’ll see the MIPS system. These helmets were available through REI years ago when I was in San Francisco visiting my daughter but they didn’t have them on display. I had to ask for it. Today, these helmets are pretty mainstream. Specialized, Bontrager, Trek, they all have MIPS technology in certain helmet lines.
I want to give a shout to Tracy who’s joining us today. Thank you Tracy. We had a question that was actually sent in by Jerry. He wanted to know “what does the industry recommend for life-expectancy of a helmet,” which is a great question. Which reminds me if you have a question, send it to me if you don’t catch this live. Just send me an email and I’d be happy to answer it.
So, what does the industry recommend for helmet replacement? I actually didn’t know the answer to that question. There’s a great post by a guy named Jon Woodhouse who’s a British writer involved in the biking industry and he went to Giro, Bell and Bontrager and asked their product design people what they recommended for replacing a bike helmet. The general recommendation was about three years. There’s another industry recommendation of five years. And, all of them are essentially saying the same thing, that these helmets, as you and I know, sometimes they fall off your bike when you’ve stopped at a rest area or you drop it. There are all types of little impacts that happen that affect the helmet but don’t damage the integrity of it. All of the oils in our hair, sunscreen perspiration and all those types of things ultimately affect the composition of the EPS liner and it can become compromised in it’s ability to compress.
He mentioned in his article seeing someone riding with a ten year old bike helmet which was obviously very used and how he was just cringing for the other guy not realizing that he is riding with a helmet that won’t do what he thinks it will do. So, Jerry what they are telling me is about three years but other people have said five years. I think three years is a good general time to think about getting a new helmet. I’m going to do a separate program on what you need to spend on a helmet.
What I’d like to do is encourage you to look at your own helmet and think about what you can do and what we can do to increase the odds of protection for us while we’re riding. And, I would urge you to look at the MIPS technology because in my practice one of the most common medical problems suffered by any cyclist in a crash is a concussion. Almost every cyclist that calls our office has had a concussion of some degree. Some of them are just a few moments of being dazed. I’ve had people get knocked out cold in a relatively simple accident. So, anything that we can do as riders that can kind of minimize the impact of the chances of having a concussion is huge in my opinion.
The data for concussions today is very alarming. It doesn’t take more than one, especially two concussion impacts to create the probability of significant brain damage. Damage to cognitive function, Alzheimer's and dementia. All of these things become a higher probability as we have multiple concussions over the course of time. We’re seeing this in the football industry. I don’t want to alarm everybody but I tell you this because I want everyone to be safe out there. MIPS gives you an edge and I highly recommend that you use it.
I’ve got a resource for you. This is my Cycling Essentials guide that you can download from our website. It will give you the basic information on the MIPS technology and some other cycling essentials I think that all cyclists should know, including what insurance you should have for yourself and your bike as well as other safety tips.