They cost approximately £30, are filled with hard polystyrene and cause controversy among Bicycle enthusiasts. I am – of course – talking about Bicycle Helmets. It comes as a surprise to many that cycle helmets cause any controversy at all because, surely, some protection is better than no protection right? Maybe. Nevertheless, it’s certainly a more complex issue that you may assume at first.
It is often hard to find impartial information because cycle safety is a topic wrought with emotion and personal experience. The aim of this article is to lay out both sides of the argument in a clear and unbiased way. This article will not, of course, be extensive or conclusive.
How a Bicycle Helmet Works
Bicycle Helmets are designed to protect the head from damage by reducing the acceleration and consequent deceleration of the brain during an impact. Effectively, the helmet acts as a shock absorber for the head; the polystyrene filler in the helmet is designed to compress upon impact, this disperses the energy over a greater surface area, thus lessening the impact to the head.
Bicycle helmets only help while the polystyrene is compacting, once fully compact, energy passes through the helmet directly to the head, skull and brain.
Crashes involving a motor vehicle are beyond the design limits of the majority of helmets. Your average car is over 100 times the weight of a cyclist and bike and is likely to be travelling at least twice the speed. In the case of an accident with a motor vehicle, a standard bicycle helmet is likely to break after absorbing a miniscule amount of the impact; according to cyclehelmets.org, accidents where serious injury is likely involve energy levels that would overwhelm the helmet of a formula 1 driver.
Types of Injury
Cycling head injuries can be split into two categories; direct and rotational.
Direct injuries usually lead to concussions, cuts and lacerations; while they can be painful, they don’t usually lead to long-term effects. Direct injuries usually occur through the linear acceleration of the skull as a result of a collision with another object or surface.
Rotational injuries do not necessarily involve direct contact with the head; the damage is caused due to the brain moving in relation to the skull. Rotational injuries are statistically the most dangerous to cyclists and are most likely to be the category of injury that results in death or disablement; although, their frequency is far less than that of direct injuries. Rotational injuries are caused due to rotational acceleration rather than linear acceleration.
Cycle helmets are designed to combat direct injuries rather than rotational ones; some corners have even gone so far as to say that the likeliness of rotational injuries is increased when wearing a helmet.
It’s important to note that head injuries aren’t the only type of injury that you can sustain on a bicycle; all parts of the body are potentially at risk in the event of an accident although back, spinal and neck injuries are often the most dangerous.
Cycle Helmets & the Law
Making cycle helmets a legal requirement when cycling on the road is a much-discussed topic, the reason for this is the belief that it would increase safety for cyclists. This is a valid idea in theory, but it has been debated by some cycling enthusiasts who have said that it could in fact do the exact opposite. The ‘logic’ behind this is that they believe that by making cyclists feel safer, more comfortable, they are actually being encouraged to take more risks which, in turn, makes cycling all the more dangerous.
There are also fears that enforced helmet laws would result in a drop in cyclists on the road.
Having said all this, there is no doubt that cycle helmets have helped to prevent/lessen injuries to countless cyclists over the years, so there is obviously a benefit to them.
It really is up to individuals to decide whether or not to wear a helmet but children especially should be made to wear them
As Olympic champion Bradley Wiggins said recently
‘Ultimately, if you get knocked off and you don’t have a helmet on, then you can’t argue, you can get killed if you don’t have a helmet on.’
What he may have forgotten to add is ‘…but even with a helmet on you can still be killed’.
This article is for information only and is not to be taken as medical or safety advice.