(Back in 1983 there were only a few bike helmets on the market. Designs had not really settled on a hard outer shell and styrofoam for
shock absorption; foam rubber which, after all, does not need replacement after each crash was used in some designs. Of course foam rubber
does not absorb as much energy as a reusable foam.)
This month we will test the most important piece of bicycle equipment, the helmet. The helmet is the bicycle accessory which interfaces most directly with the two most important parts of your anatomy. Other helmet tests have been published from time to time, and all of them focussed primarily on the importance of protecting your head in a crash. This is indeed the same criterion which most people use in purchasing a helmet. One helmet manufacturer, who emphasizes the helmet's ability to resist abrasions rather than to prevent fractures, concussions and the like, always loses in these objective tests. Then this manufactrer writes a letter attempting to obfuscate the entire issue: Not enough is known, no test is 100% valid.
Well, I did a thoroughgoing real world test and they lost again.
The criteria used in my test were somewhat different than I have seen used in other helmet tests. I carefully analyzed all of the miles logged last year and my reaction to my helmet at 5 minute intervals. What I discovered was somewhat surprising. It turned out that over 75% of the miles I put in last year were on hot humid Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Typically I would ride to the Bijou in the early afternoon, and take in a double feature to take advantage of the air conditioning. I never crashed. I discovered that the most aggravating thing about my helmet was trying to juggle a large popcorn, a large soft drink, a box of Mason Dots and my helmet all at once.
Since this was the place where my old helmet was failing me, it was the basis for my test of all the helmets on the market. It is a real world test and corresponds exactly to the way that my helmet is actually used. How easily can you carry the helmet along with the above items? The Bijou doesn't give out paper bags, and none is allowed in the test. Eventually it became apparent that the best way to handle all of these items was to dump the popcorn into the helmet. I tried dumping the soft drink into the helmet instead, but only one of the helmets was satisfactory in this respect. That helmet received an extra point for versatility, but lost points in another criterion of the test, the ability to dump the 'old maids' onto the floor.
The Bell Biker--This helmet was rated a Best Buy. Disadvantages: A few kernels of properly popped corn sometimes dropped through the vent holes before they jammed. the foam pads tended to soak up butter more than some other models. Advantages: light weight, dropped most 'old maids' easily through the vent holes. Can be comfortably tucked under an arm while the hand holds a soft drink.
The Bell Tourlite--Disadvantages: Heavier than the Biker, due to additional styrofoam at the front and back of the helmet. More foam rubber which tended to soak up more butter than the Biker. Advantages: The vent holes are narrower and longer than the Biker, this gives slightly better ventilation on the way to the theater, and is much better at sorting the 'old maids' from the popped kernels. Unfortunately, most of the 'old maids' are trapped by the hair net, a unique feature of this helmet.
The Protec Firefly--Disadvantages: This glow in the dark helmet way annoying to fellow theater goers. The amount of foam used was maximal, as was the amount of butter soaked up by the helmet. The vent holes were poorly shaped and tended to pass popped kernels nearly as easily as unpopped kernels. Advantages: If you leave the helmet on your seat when you go to the rest room, it is easy to find your way back. Disadvantage: One time my fellow theatre goers started playing catch with the helmet while I was in the rest room.
The Bailen--Advantages: this is the only helmet which can be used to hold a soft drink. It has less foam than any of the other helmets and soaked up no butter. Care must be taken to turn the helmet rght side up so that the butter can run out after you have finished the popcorn however. Disadvantages: All 'old maids' were retained, a major problem (two cracked molars resulted).
The Skidlid--This helmet utterly failed this test. It is mostly air (like the Emperor's new clothes) and dumped all of the popcorn onto the floor. It did manage to soak up some butter on the way, however.