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The History of Bike Helmets

Illustration for article titled The History of Bike Helmets

In the beginning, there were injuries. From biking’s earliest days there were head injuries. As more roads were paved it is likely that the head injuries increased, considering that macadam and asphalt are entirely unforgiving as crash surface areas. In the 1880's high-wheel users in clubs saw that head injuries were an issue and began utilizing pith helmets. Pith is a crushable product, and was most likely the best material offered at the time. Although it would probably break up on effect, there were couple of cars and trucks on the roadways, so riders required protection just against a single effect.

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Around the millenium racing cyclists began using “helmets” made from strips of leather-covered padding, at first with a ring of leather around the head and a wool ring above that. Then the style evolved and the ring of leather around the head was supplemented by strips of leather set up longitudinally on the head. When I began racing in the 70's we called them “hairnets” and the nicest ones were made in Italy of beautiful soft leather.

Already the interior of the strip was a foam, but it wasn’t extremely protective. They also decomposed from sweat. I asked the more skilled racers if the hairnet we were required to use in races was protective, and they said “they do not help at all in the initial impact, however they keep your ears from being ground off while you’re moving over the pavement.” Years later lab screening showed that their assessment from field experience was precisely correct.

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By the early 1970's club and racing bicyclists with shared experience might see that the injuries that were the worst and the significant cause of death were head injuries. We might likewise see that a helmet could do a lot of excellent. Some riders simply disregarded that, as they do today. Others began using hockey helmets. Still others relied on the variety of headgear on the market, consisting of “bump caps” and others that were more illusion than security.

The Snell Foundation had promoted the very first bicycle helmet standard in the U.S. in 1970, but at the time only a light motorcycle helmet might pass it, and that suggested 2 pounds of unvented helmet.

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Extremely few, if any, helmets were accredited to it, and none made their way to bike stores. Considering that there was no commonly utilized standard, there was no way for the customer to discover which helmets were most protective.

In 1974 the Washington Area Bicyclist Association despaired of discovering info on the relative security of helmet brand names and formed a Helmet Committee to collect information from trip testing. WABA obtained helmets from many sources and began a series of trip tests. At that time we discovered that the helmets on the marketplace mostly had some sort of shell with a squishy foam liner. None had crushable EPS (picnic cooler) foam till the Bell Bicycle Rider (below) and the Mountain Safety Research bike helmet came to market in the mid-1970's.

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Bike club experience rapidly revealed that both were far better in performance than the others on the marketplace

The MSR bike helmet was an adjustment of their mountain climbing up helmet. It had EPS foam in a ring around the headband, with the top safeguarded to a lesser extent with a suspension system whose nylon straps connected to the shell with deformable hooks. Curves in the hooks were created to straighten out on effect as an energy management method. In a few months MSR apparently understood that the suspension system was less effective than the foam area, which riders affect all over the helmet. They supplied EPS glue-on pads to enter the upper area, with a wedge-shaped EPS area in between each of the nylon straps of the suspension system. The shell of the MSR was a stiff polycarbonate, most likely GE’s Lexan.

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The Bell Cyclist also had a hard Lexan shell, and it had a full EPS liner. When it was presented other manufacturers ultimately followed Bell’s lead and this type of helmet controlled for a years. There were still some helmets produced with tough shells and squishy foam liners by Pro-Tec and others, and a notable design called the Skid Cover with strips of tough shell backed by squishy foam.

In the early 1980's Dr. George Snively of the Snell Foundation agreed to work with WABA’s helmet committee to offer us with helmet testing. We acquired the helmets, did a ride test, and shipped them to Snell, where Dr. Snively tested them for strap strength and effect defense in Snell’s laboratory. Snell kept a strict division in between their accreditation testing and the testing they provided for us. By that time there were 20 or so helmets to be tested, and the screening revealed that the Bell Cyclist, and updated MSR and a helmet referred to as the Bailen Bike Pail (below) were the best of the lot.

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The Bailen was the first “one size fits all” bike helmet, with an adjustable ring inside that fit sizes 6 7/8 to 8. It had no vents, and both internal and external tough shells.

Dr. Snively offered generously of his time and unparalled know-how to educate the WABA testers in helmetry and helmet requirements. WABA’s Tom Balderston wrote up the findings and Bicycling Magazine released them— in the face of suit dangers from makers— in 1983. That short article was a landmark, and informed customers to the large differences in efficiency between helmets on the marketplace. It helped lead the way for standards to establish.

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In 1984 the ANSI headgear committee adopted ANSI Z80.4, the very first workable bike helmet standard for the United States. The Snell Structure modified their own standard the next year to change the requirements to more realistic levels for bicycle riding impacts. In simply a year or so the junk that could not fulfill the ANSI standard was swept from the market, in some cases by suits. Mid-1980's bike helmets were defined by EPS foam liners, with ABS or polycarbonate hard shells. Essentially all of them had a simple strap style shaped like a Y on each side. For buckles, the majority of had d-rings or plastic buckles made by Fastex.

In the early 1980's the next big action in bike helmet design took place when Bell introduced their “L’il Bell Shell” infant-toddler design.

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To make the helmet lighter, Bell dropped the outer shell, producing a thick all-EPS helmet that was highly protective. The style was in fact an adjustment of a helmet Bell had produced for pediatricians to secure child heads after surgical treatment. Bell restricted the idea to toddler helmets in the belief that adult helmets would always need a hard shell. In 1986 a designer named Jim Gentes developed an adult bike helmet with some vents and no shell, and formed Giro Sport Design to market the concept. The lighter weight was an instantaneous hit, and Giro started offering large quantities of the helmets to racers and others who might pay for the high cost.

Giro utilized an outer cover of thin lycra cloth. The cover was hand sewn in the United States and was among the significant costs of producing the helmet.

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The all-EPS helmets that followed soon identified themselves as protective helmets that had an unfortunate propensity to disastrous failure in the first blow. To hold the all-EPS designs together much better, Pro Tec introduced 2 or 3 years later an all-EPS helmet with internal strengthening. Their Mirage model had a nylon mesh inserted in the foam, clearly visible in the vents.

The mesh shows up in the vents in the second image above. It worked well, and has actually been followed by thousands of other designs utilizing internal reinforcing to hold the foam together. The early ones, consisting of the Pro Tec, still had cloth covers and no outer shell.

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The next big design step appeared about 1990 with the reintroduction of a shell to cover the EPS, this time in FAMILY PET (milk container plastic) and other thin, difficult plastics. The shell assisted to hold the foam together in an effect and reduced the sliding resistance of the helmet to make it skid more quickly on pavement, both crucial security functions. In just a couple of years this thin shell style took over the marketplace, replacing both the remaining difficult shells and the cloth-covered EPS-only styles. The shell was produced separately from the interior foam, and then glued or taped on.

Another development in the early 1990's was molding the foam in the thin shell, by positioning the shell in the mold first, then expanding the EPS bead to fill it. The heat of the process then needs a higher grade of shell than FAMILY PET, generally a polycarbonate, because FAMILY PET will melt at the temperature levels in the mold. The method fills the shell completely, without any gaps in between the foam and shell unless there are quality assurance issues.

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That permitted the designer to produce a more protective helmet with the exact same density.

Designers rapidly discovered that the same method permitted them to thin the helmet down for more appealing styling and to open more vents.

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In the years given that 1990 some manufacturers have actually continued making the difficult shell, mainly in ABS plastic. The majority of their models are for skate-style helmets just, where the style endures. In 2001 a business called Hopus Technologies/ Aegis Helmets handled to establish a technique to make molded-in-the-shell helmets using an ABS difficult shell.

At about the very same time as thin shells, producers added an additional stabilizer in the back of many designs in the type of a plastic patch or cloth strap in the rear to hook below the bulge in many riders’ heads (the occipital bone) and hold the helmet on much better. Lots of developments in these stabilizer styles have actually followed.

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The most effective shape for a helmet in a crash resembles a bowling ball. Round, smooth surfaces slide well and “scrub off” energy from a crash, while preventing any propensity for the helmet to snag and jerk the rider’s neck. This has actually been shown in laboratory tests. However designers started flogging “aerodynamic” styles in the late 1980's as the aero trend peaked. Greg LeMond wore one in a popular time trial where he came from behind to win the Trip de France. Bike helmet shapes have ended up being lengthened since, basically as a style trend, given that the aero quality of the helmet has no genuine effect at the speeds most riders travel.

A regrettable pattern in shapes became evident in the late 1990's as designers started producing helmets with ridges, rear projections and squared-off lines to give them a more trendy appearance. We have ranted versus the pattern, but without much effect, and have actually been unable to get provisions in any basic requiring low moving resistance. We might only hope the style will reverse as styles always do, and lead us back to smoother designs. Finally in 2004 there were signs of a minimum of a couple of rounder, smoother designs produced for the “commuter helmet” niche in the market. Bell presented the City, followed rapidly by a number of others.

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The City was an intentionally cumbersome style, however SixSixOne found a style in China soon thereafter and brought the helmet on the best below, the Allride, to the United States market. Weak marketing doomed it to low sales, and the business dropped it from their line after 2005. However the original producer brought it back for 2006 as the Vcan VCK37 (on left listed below).

In 2006 the round helmet trend advanced in Europe with the introduction of the CASCO Warp II helmet, a really round and smooth style for track racers. The producer markets it as a more aerodynamic style based upon vehicle research study. Track racers in the UK were early adopters and their need alone resulted in backorders for the helmet. It is unclear why the aerodynamic claim led purchasers to turn down all of the aero research of manufacturers of the extended designs.

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The extreme of the extended aerodynamic design is the chrono helmet developed in the 1980's for Olympic time trials. This one has a rounded front and usually has a very long tail that rests on the riders back when in the tuck position utilized by time trialers. Vents are very little or non-existant. Early designs had only a shell without effect protection, however in 2002 Louis Garneau presented one that met the requirements of the US CPSC standard, and different makers soon began making them to the European CEN standard. We have a page up on existing chrono helmets.

Another significant helmet shape that crept into bike helmets is the “skate-shaped” helmet. Originally developed for skateboarders by Pro-Tec, the design has lower rear protection, small round vents in the front and even smaller round vents in a circle on top.

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The skate design helmet is often a tough shell with ABS plastic. Although originally using a squishy rebounding foam that provided the multi-impact performance required for aggessive skateboarding, the helmets evolved into bike helmets since the squishy foam would not carry out in more difficult impacts called out by bike helmet standards. After 1999 when the CPSC requirement came into effect, big-box retailers were not ready to put a helmet on the flooring that might be bought as a bike helmet however did not satisfy the CPSC standard. As a result, many skateboarders now are purchasing single-crash bike helmets with crushable EPS foam inside. A few producers are making helmets with EPP foam or other foam that can be licensed to both the ASTM skateboard helmet standard and the bike helmet requirement.

Up until the 21st century, bicycle helmet liners were all crushable foams. In the late 80's or early 90's came the intro of new foam types to change the basic EPS picnic cooler foam that dates from the 1950's. Among the very first was EPP, Expanded Polypropylene, a foam that looks similar to EPS but has a somewhat rubbery feel. It is extensively utilized in the car market. EPP has the desirable quality of slow go back to its initial shape after an impact, and is therefore well matched to multi-impact helmets. It is typically thought about to have slightly more rebound on preliminary impact than EPS, and a little less effect attenuation for a provided thickness. Although Aria Sonics had an EPP helmet for 5 years or more, the design was never ever appreciated by consumers, and its marketing was inadequate to develop its advantages. A Canadian business called Headstart introduced EPP styles in the mid-1990's, but the helmets were not well completed and did not have the quality look that was required to sell in the U.S. market by that time.

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In the early 1990's an advance in EPS from General Electric called GECET was introduced to bike helmets. Although GE had not originally created its mix foam and resin product for bike helmets, it was appreciated for its resistance to devastating failure, allowing producers to open up larger vents and thin out liners in some locations.

Another foam introduced in the 1990's was Expanded Polyurethane, or EPU. This is a somewhat much heavier foam with extremely little and uniform cells. It skins over in the mold, producing a shell-like cover on the lower area below the regular plastic shell.

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EPU can be formed in the shell or the shell can be used afterwards. It has practically no rebound and performs well in lab tests. Taiwanese manufacturers are the main users of EPU, and helmets made of it are among those on the Snell B-95 accreditation list, suggesting that they carry out well certainly. There may be some ecological problems related to the production process for EPU, nevertheless.

In 2001 a ski helmet company referred to as Team Wendy or W Helmets revealed a brand-new helmet with a foam they call Zorbium.

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Current helmets are much more safer and comfortable, you can check out the modern kids ATV helmets here.

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