Tech Tuesday

The bike helmet

Yesterday we had a look at ways to motivate yourself to get back on your bike after a sedentary period.  But what if you’ve not had a bike since you passed your cycling proficiency?  Where to start?  It might sound daft, but not with the bike!

In triathlon, you can’t get into the transition area without wearing your helmet and having the fit tested by a marshall.  So let’s start there.  Bike helmets should be less than 5 years old, or be replaced after any accident (because the foam, if dented, does not re-shape).  Which means you probably need a new one!

How to buy a bike helmet

There are a squillion different designs, makes and models.  A basic road bike model should be fine – but you can get all sorts of fancy aerodynamic designs.  They probably aren’t worth it, you’re not Bradley Wiggins.  (if you are Bradley Wiggins – please sponsor us)

You can spend a little or a lot.  But bear in mind, don’t spend too little – how much is your brain worth?  The basic premise is – try some on!  They should be comfortable.  I bought one without trying it & it left a dirty great welt in my forehead every time I rode and felt like it was twisting my skull.

When it fits properly it feels comfortable, as you tighten the band at the back it becomes snug so that you can bend in half with your head upside down and it won’t fall off.  The chin straps should tighten enough, but not too much – you should still be able to fit 2 fingers between the strap and your chin and the triangle of straps should allow your ear to sit comfortably & not be squished or chafed.

head fit correct, just above eyebrows
chin strap correct (but too high on the forehead)

Safety evidence?

A lot of people don’t wear a bike helmet.  It’s up to you, of course.  We always wear ours to get used to them.  In triathlon you’re not allowed to touch your bike in transition until you have your helmet on.  You must rack your bike before removing your helmet.  I found a statistic that says you will crash every 4500 miles of riding.  I plan to stop riding at 4499 miles ………….

The problem is, the evidence is conflicting, and flaky.  Read this for a full and sensible evaluation.  On the “helmets are safe” side is case-control evidence (not top tier) for reduction in minor head injury and anecdotal evidence (various individual stories) of “my helmet saved my life”.  In a way, it also might be a self-fulfilling prophecy.  The sort of people who wear bike helmets are the sort of people who don’t take risks and ride less recklessly down steep hills and crash less often as a result.

However, on the “helmets are actually dangerous” side is some more modern evidence that bike helmet wearing increases severity of other injuries, does not protect in serious collisions with motor vehicles and increases the likelihood of head injuries full stop.  Is this because, far from being risk averse, helmet wearing cyclists feel they have a licence to ride more recklessly as they feel (falsely) better protected.  No bit of foam can protect your head from a juggernaut!  Also, countries where helmet wearing is compulsory have seen a drop in cycling – and less cycling means more heart attacks!

The bottom line?

If you’re racing or planning a sportive, you need a helmet “‘cos it’s the rules”.  You may as well wear it all the time to get used to it – like any other bit of race kit.  If you’re a pootler or a commuter you don’t have to wear one – think about your attitude to risk.  If you know you’re risk averse, paradoxically you probably shouldn’t wear a helmet!  

If you know you’re a risk taker you might want to wear one to prevent your frequent minor scrapes from becoming big ones.  But know that if you have a really serious collision nothing will save you – so let’s all campaign for safer roads and more safe cycle lanes!

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A tiny hobbit dedicated to saving the world with a decent second breakfast. Also, available to make you feel good in triathlon when you overtake her.......

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