As of 1999, all Mountain Bike Helmets (as well as other bicycle helmets) sold in the U.S. must pass a series of tests set up by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The CPSC document states… Testing requires a minimum of 8 helmets of each size for each model helmet offered for sale. Helmets are tested in the condition in which they are offered for sale. Helmets must meet all of the requirements of the regulation when tested both with and without any attachments that the manufacturer offers.
Helmets are tested to make sure that:
- they do not block the rider’s vision (the “peripheral vision test”),
- they do not come off when the rider falls (the “positional stability test”),
- the straps that hold a helmet on a rider’s head do not stretch enough to let the helmet come off in an accident (the “retention strength test”), and
- the helmet significantly reduces the force to the rider’s head when the helmet hits a hard surface (the “impact attenuation test”).
There are a multitude of different mountain bike helmets on the market these days.
Some claim they are made for more ventilation, some say they are made specifically for road riding, some are molded in our favorite colors, some are full-face (just like some motorcycle helmets). While different brands make various different claims, I find it comforting that all mountain bike helmets must pass the rigorous CPSC tests listed above.
While not an expert, I do have some personal experience when it comes to helmets. For my near-fatal crash I was wearing a $30 helmet purchased at a local department store. I had tried on a lot of helmets (in various bike shops) in an attempt to find one that fit my fat head. While not the “better expensive” models of the bike shops? (I tried some that were over $180 yet still made out of styrofoam with a plastic coating on top.) I chose the cheaper one only because the helmet fit snug yet comfortable.
I suffered no concussive symptoms even though I landed on a hard granite surface… directly on the top of my head… from a height of about 3 feet (the height of my handle bars). My helmet ended up split right down the middle.
For a different point of view I asked a 30-year mountain biker and (MIT) engineer… Jens Jensen about mountain bike helmets. He told me he didn’t like wearing a bicycle helmet at all. He said bike helmets are built for looks and ventilation… not for protection.
He claimed his engineer training would not allow him to wear a helmet with oblong parts that could catch and twist the head while falling.
The helmet he wears is a rock climbing helmet… smooth as a bowling ball.
As far as a full-face helmet? I am going to defer the question (once again) to my buddy Jens Jensen. While on the Prospector Trail I asked Jens if he had ever considered wearing a full-face helmet to prevent getting his face smashed. He said he once had a full-face dirt-bike helmet and didn’t like the way it restricted his breathing. Since a cross country mountain biker breathes a whole lot more than a motorcycle rider… he would never consider it.
I have a full face helmet (for rugged downhill riding where there is an increased chance of falling and getting hurt. To be honest, my full face helmet fits better than my regular one. What I don’t like about the full face seems kind of dumb. I like to be able to blow/wipe my nose and spit excess mucous during a ride… and with the full face I have to remove the helmet. The full face is also much hotter and heavier, and makes eating and drinking much more difficult. But for rocky downhill segments… I think it might be worth the inconvenience.
I am going to suggest the most important factors when looking at Mountain Bike Helmets are to:
Make sure the top of your head fits up into the helmet and the headband is snug.
Make sure the straps are adjusted properly and tight (to ensure the helmet stays on your head snugly if you fall).
Always wear your helmet when mountain biking.
The following poster was on display at a local bike shop.
For more information on proper fitting please visit this Bell Helmet website.
When buying your helmet make sure you read (and follow) the instructions. Please remember, the best mountain bike helmets in the world will not protect us if they fall off before our head hits the ground or some other solid object.
Below you will find a link recommended to me by two youngsters (Elizabeth and Patricia) who came across the site while doing some research on the subject of helmets. While I commonly see kids suffering from the “It will never happen to me” syndrome, I find it refreshing to see some of our youth showing such a great deal of common sense. Thanks (young) ladies! Here’s the link: Is A Helmet Worth It?