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Event Owners Should Know About Research on a New Helmet Rating System

11 Jul, 2018

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

For organizers of bicycling events, the announcement of new research on helmet safety may not mean anything – yet. However, becoming familiar with the latest developments can help organizers stay ahead of the learning curve, when change does come to existing standards.

News out of Virginia Polytechnic and State University, commonly known as Virginia Tech, has shown that a standard can be applied to bicycle helmet’ ability to reduce the risk of head injury. The research, done in collaboration with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, sets up a range of performance, with four earning the highest rating of five stars, two earning two stars, and the rest in the three to four-star range.

Previously, bicycle helmets carried various certifications, some European and some from the U.S. However, the new ratings system may provide an additional – or perhaps an alternate – means of monitoring the relative safety of such gear.

According to announcements from Virginia Tech and the Insurance Institute, the results provide cyclists with a realistic, evidence-based tool for making informed choices about headgear.

It doesn’t tie to cost, either. The first 30 helmets to be tested — all popular adult-size models — showed a range of performance, with four earning the highest rating of five stars, two earning two stars, and the rest in the three to four--star range. Cost wasn’t a good predictor of performance. Both the $200 Bontrager Ballista MIPS and the $75 Specialized Chamonix MIPS earn five stars.

USA Cycling, which mandates helmets for its competitive events, however, will not be taking a stance on the  new standard.

“While we are excited about the new safety rating program from the IIHS and VT, testing/rating helmet crash safety is not an area in which we have experience,” said Jeffrey Hansen, USA Cycling’s  director of product management and operations.

SDM will keep attention on this developing issue, and will let its readers know if and when changes are made to exiting standards.

In the meantime, helmet style also seems to play an important role in performance. So-called road helmets, which have an elongated, aerodynamic shape tended to perform better than “urban” helmets, which have a more rounded shape with fewer vents and thicker shells. 

The lab is continuing to test more adult helmets of different styles, including mountain bike and skate/BMX helmets, and will update its website as new ratings are released. Evaluations of youth helmets also are planned. 

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