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Editorial

Uncle Dave - Poorly Fitting Helmets and Junk Science

Words Dave Tolnai
Date Apr 4, 2019

I generally like to think of myself as a man of science, who is able to rationally take in information and use that to make informed decisions. This is based on nothing, of course, just attributes that I assign to myself. Yet, somehow, it feels like it is in, at the very least, the same ballpark as the truth.

Except when it comes to helmet science. Man. When people start talking about helmet science, I very quickly head for the exit. I read AJ's piece from the other week, and when he started talking about how current helmet test don't account for hair (hair!), I felt quietly triumphant for my years of ignorance. If those guys were able to ignore something so important, why can't I?

There are valid reasons why I feel this way about helmets. And I know, this is very slowly, but surely turning into Uncle Dave's bi-weekly reminiscence hour, and I'm sorry for that. But at the same time, It's my party, and all the things that go along with that.

The reason why I don't listen to what helmet manufacturers have to say about helmet safety is that most of them don't seem to know what they're doing. Okay, sure. They're getting better. And there's some pretty nice helmets out there, these days. And I'm certainly glad that there are people willing to dedicate their lives to constructing things that I can strap to my head. But when you have one helmet manufacturer laying months of groundwork for their revolutionary product launch, followed by another helmet tech manufacturer officially calling bullshit on their position...I mean...it's tough to have faith in what these people are saying.

Worse though, is when you take into consideration the history of the product that some of these people have made over the years. Here's where I reach into my Uncle Dave pocket-o'-good-ol'-days and pull out another gem. But helmets of yore...holy crap! They were terrible! And it's not like they had to be that way. There were countless examples of helmets that worked quite well at comfortably staying put in order to fend off injuries. Yet the bike helmet manufacturers decided that none of these models were worthy of consideration, and we'd be way better off balancing a hunk of styrofoam on top of our head and securing it indirectly to our skulls via two long and finicky straps that converged at the centerline. And now, the people that brought us these abominations have the balls to start talking about concussion science? It's like having a loud relative who gets drunk at every event, who suddenly shows up and starts talking about quantum theory. Maybe he's right and maybe he isn't, but all I can think about is the time he wet his pants on the front lawn.

I'm not exaggerating here. If you bought a bicycle helmet in the mid-90's, you could very easily spend two hours adjusting the straps on it, and they still wouldn't fit properly. Honestly. It was a Sisyphean task of absurdity. Meanwhile, the 5 people that wore a helmet skateboarding just plunked them on their head and went for it.

Somebody finally got it right. Eventually. Giro was the first to make strides with what is now the ubiquitous fit gizmo strapped to the rear of your helmet. Can you believe that there was a time where a bike helmet didn't have a hunk of plastic that wrapped around the rear of your head, that could be easily cinched down? Yes, it is true.

The next step was to provide a bit more coverage in the rear. Which did two things:

1) It provided more coverage in the rear.

2) It created a fit that was more around your head than on your head.

These were both good things. And the final good thing, was of course, the skate style strap. I think that most people think that I'm a bit of an idiot...when I talk at length about skate style helmet straps, but see my above traumatic experience for straps of yore to understand how magical an advancement it was to just attach the damn straps to the bottom of the helmet and call it a day. For me, it's just so much easier to adjust straps like these and make the helmet fit properly.

Now, of course, even I am starting to recognize the problem with some of my positions here. I mean, the majority of them are based on knowledge gained from a time when people comfortably went out in public wearing pants that hid their shoes. Things have moved on since then, man! It may be time to lay down the past.

But at the same time, there are a lot of things that are better about helmets. But there are also things that are worse. Take the aforementioned fit gizmo. Before the fit gizmo invention, you had to work pretty hard to find a piece of styrofoam that actually fit whatever weirdness you had going on up top. If the actual shape of the helmet didn't match the actual shape of your head, there was nothing to fill in the gap. But we've gone too far! Most helmets now only come in a couple of sizes, and it's down to the fit gizmo to make it all work. Which...Well...I have several helmets in rotation, right now. One is quite fancy, has a lot of features and is comfortable. And if I'm being totally honest with myself, there's no way this helmet actually fits my head. There's a giant gap at the rear of the helmet, and if I ever crash in the thing probably won't stay on my head for long.

So, here is my old school, damn the science, helmet fitting tip from the past. Try the helmet on. Adjust it so that it fits your head. But before you walk out the store, back that fit gizmo right off and see how well the helmet shell actually fits your head. Something that intrinsically works without requiring a lot of extra involvement is going to do better than something that only works due to two pieces of plastic and a ratchet. I'm convinced that the best thing you can do is buy a helmet that fits your head, is comfortable, and stays firmly in place. By doing that you're going to be far better off than worrying about the latest advancements in helmet science arguments.

Sorry,

Uncle Dave


Uncle Dave's Music Club

I started thinking about songs related to head injuries, and this is all I could come up with. I love the little bassline intro, and it almost makes up for Fat Mike's whine, which I'm struggling with a bit after all these years. This is a catchy little song though.

Comments

slyfink
+2 kiwizak cyclotoine
slyfink  - April 4, 2019, 7:15 a.m.

Yes! glad you wrote about this. I remember spending hours in the bike shops trying on all their helmets to find the one that fit my noggin the best (and that I could afford) back in the 90s. Now, I am someone who falls squarely on the line between medium and large. the mediums typically just barely fit, but seem small and sit on top of my head. the large's are, well, large. They have a little side to side play, and fit deep on my head. it's what I typically go for, but in this day and age of $300 helmets*, I wish there was an in-between shell size that didn't rely on a thin plastic strap so much to adjust for size.

*I can already hear the people yelling expletives at this price. I have a Kali Interceptor and a Leatt DBX 3 All Mountain helmet. Once taxes are factored in, they come out pretty close to $300. Having crashed on my head a few times now, and having my neck saved from severe trauma, I'm happy to shell out that amount of money. But I wish there was a broader range of shell sizes that fit better given the significant cash outlay.

Reply

oldmanbike
0 Evil_bumpkin Nouseforaname 4Runner1 kiwizak
OldManBike  - April 4, 2019, 8:18 a.m.

Since my own concussion several years ago I've put a fair bit of effort into understanding helmet safety, and I believe Dave's suggestion to ignore recent technological developments and just buy whatever helmet fits is lazy, bad advice that will result in more readers getting concussions.

Reply

davetolnai
+6 4Runner1 Heinous kiwizak AJ Barlas Paul Lindsay Niels mtnfriend Evil_bumpkin
Dave Tolnai  - April 4, 2019, 8:25 a.m.

So who should we listen to, then?  All we have is bickering helmet technology companies that contradict one another.  I'm suggesting that a helmet that fits properly is just as important, if not more so, than any technology, that may or may not have actual science behind it.

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oldmanbike
0 Evil_bumpkin redbarn 4Runner1 kiwizak
OldManBike  - April 4, 2019, 8:34 a.m.

I agree that, until the industry gets its shit together and adopts new standards, we're all fumbling in the dark. It's bananas that didn't happen like 3 years ago. But it's irresponsible to tell readers to ignore the promising developments of the past couple years and so just buy whatever fits.

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cam@nsmb.com
+4 4Runner1 Heinous kiwizak mtnfriend The Chez Evil_bumpkin
Cam McRae  - April 4, 2019, 8:50 a.m.

Please show me some actual evidence that any of this new technology can reduce the risk of concussion in a crash. I'd be very interested to see it because all I've heard are claims and bluster and I've yet to see science that proves anything.

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oldmanbike
+5 Evil_bumpkin Kos Nouseforaname Andy Eunson mtnfriend cyclotoine 4Runner1
OldManBike  - April 4, 2019, 9:09 a.m.

I wish I could. But that doesn't mean that it's sound advice to assume that none of it helps. Do you think there is empirical data proving that full-face helmets are safer for DH? Knee pads? Gloves? Not as far as I know. How about closed toe shoes? No science, just claims and bluster, so go hit A-Line in your flip flops?

Where the data ends, judgment has to take over. My judgment tells me that MIPS is unlikely to provide much real-world benefit, but that other innovations--rounder shells, smaller shells, dual-density foam, breakaway visors and accessory mounts, and the new generation of slip-plane cushioning (Kali's LDL, Leatt Turbines, Super MIPS, Bontrager Wavecel)--likely provide a significant concussion-reduction benefit. Reasonable minds can differ. Maybe the benefit of dual-shell designs like Super MIPS and 6D justifies the added size and mass. Maybe MIPS alone works.

But just throwing up your hands and saying, "they're bickering, there's no data, so you should ignore everything but fit" is very bad advice.

Reply

oldmanbike
+2 Evil_bumpkin Kos Andrew Major The Chez Timer Cam McRae
OldManBike  - April 4, 2019, 9:46 a.m.

There are still plenty of helmets on the market that do literally nothing to reduce concussion risk. All they're designed to do is to keep you from fracturing your skull in a massive impact. They're not trying to protect you from concussions.

On the other hand, there are helmets out now from companies like Kali and Leatt who have a multi-year track record of demonstrated commitment to concussion safety. They're the innovators who've been relentlessly pushing the industry forward while the big players preferred to milk MIPS for as long as they could instead.

"Ignore the technology, buy whatever fits" might have been clever advice 5 years ago. Not any more.

niels@nsmb.com
+4 4Runner1 kiwizak Timer Mammal
Niels  - April 4, 2019, 11:01 a.m.

I think the main point Dave is trying to make is that many helmets, even those with one of these new technologies (that may or may not help in some situations), don't fit many people's heads properly because they only come in a small number of sizes, each of which is supposed to cover a wide range of head shapes, and instead relying on the retention system for 'fit'. Therefore it seems logical to prioritize finding a helmet that actually fits your head properly because a helmet that doesn't stay on your head when you hit the ground certainly won't protect you, no matter what advanced technologies it uses.

oldmanbike
+1 Nouseforaname
OldManBike  - April 4, 2019, 11:17 a.m.

Niels, what he actually said was that if you choose a helmet purely based on fit, without worrying about safety features, you'll be far better off. And I said that's lazy and irresponsible advice that will increase rider concussions.

If you think that a perfectly fitting pre-MIPS TLD A1 will do a better job of reducing concussion risk than a properly sized Kali Interceptor, Kali Maya 2.0, Leatt DBX 2.0 or 3.0, or other modern designs, that's your right. Pointing out that it's bad advice and explaining why is mine. Football helmets seem fairly fucking snug and that doesn't seem to have solved their concussion problem exactly.

mammal
+4 4Runner1 kiwizak Timer Niels
Mammal  - April 4, 2019, 12:21 p.m.

OMB, it depends how you interpret the message. I agree with Niels' interpretation.

"I'm convinced that the best thing you can do is buy a helmet that fits your head, is comfortable, and stays firmly in place. By doing that you're going to be far better off than worrying about the latest advancements in helmet science arguments."

If you add a "just" in between "than worrying", it's crystal clear. I don't think Dave is saying it's complete bullshit, I think he's pointing out the weak point in system, and encouraging where the focus should be.

cam@nsmb.com
+4 Samuel McMain kiwizak AJ Barlas Timer
Cam McRae  - April 4, 2019, 12:22 p.m.

You do realize OldManBike that using quotes suggests you are communicating Dave's words verbatim but he didn't actually say the things you are quoting. 

Dave did not say "Ignore the technology, buy whatever fits," or "they're bickering, there's no data, so you should ignore everything but fit" nor did he say, 'if you choose a helmet purely based on fit, without worrying about safety features you'll be far better off.' (my quotes not yours on that last one). He was not comparing a perfectly fitting Kali helmet with a perfectly fitting Troy Lee as you are suggesting either. 

He also didn't say that if there is a helmet with modern safety features that fits your head you should avoid buying it, which is what you are suggesting. Rather he said that buying a helmet without a bunch of safety features that fits makes more sense than buying one with gizmos that doesn't. 

You did however say "that's lazy and irresponsible advice that will increase rider concussions" without any evidence or science to back that up, so you're playing in the same kiddy pool it seems. Dave's intuition says that bad fit and new technology is worse than good fit and bad technology. Are you suggesting that's not true? If so I'd love to hear you back that up. 

If your argument is solid you don't need to misrepresent what Dave is saying to defend it. And you are doing that. You are welcome to continue doing it as well, but it doesn't help your credibility.

oldmanbike
0 Evil_bumpkin Cam McRae Niels 4Runner1 kiwizak Timer
OldManBike  - April 4, 2019, 1:25 p.m.

Whatever. I've said my bit. If you found my use of quotation marks confusing, please accept my apologies.

smcmain
0
Samuel McMain  - April 5, 2019, 11:03 a.m.

So, here's this taken from this. It's a study done on the recent Bontrager helmet. Seems legit, but here are the disclosure and acknowledgments sections. That being said, the research is interesting to read and pertinent to this conversation. It would seem, and this is my interpretation, that there is some empirical evidence that specific designs under specific conditions do decrease the likelihood of brain trauma.

I think MIPS has done similar studies in-house, as do other companies. I'm no science person though, so I don't know what constitutes "trust-worthy" published research vs. "paid-for BS" published research. 

"Disclosure

Some of the authors (MB, SMM) are co-inventors of CELL technology described in this manuscript, have filed patents, and have a financial interest in the company that owns this technology. These authors (MB, SMM) are founders and co-directors of the Legacy Biomechanics Laboratory. Several of the authors (EB, AR, ST, SMM, MB) are affiliated with the Legacy Health System, which was a partial funder of this research. None of the authors received any money or in-kind contribution for this work.

Acknowledgments

This research was supported by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) under Award Number SB1NS074734. Additional support was provided by the Research Foundation of the Legacy Health System."

Also, I generally do base part of my helmet-buying process on the tech it has, but the determining factor is the fit. Usually, I don't seem any harm in getting a helmet with tech because I can't seem how it would have a negative effect in a crash. But, I agree that fit is more important than tech, and that should be the final "yay" or "put's-back-on-display-rack" in helmet purchases.

syncro
+4 4Runner1 kiwizak AJ Barlas Timer
Mark  - April 4, 2019, 6:11 p.m.

A proper fit is the #1 factor in whether a helmet will do it's job.  This has been know for years in the motorcycle world where helmets are far more important. A helmet that's too large will flop around and not do it's job in a crash and the size adjuster at the rear should not be used to compensate for a poor fitting helmet. Proper fit comes down to size and shape and it's important to get not only the right size, but one that's shaped right for your own head.

Reply

the-chez
-1 cyclotoine
The Chez  - April 4, 2019, 9:19 a.m.

Okay, I laughed so hard because when I first started mtb you were a dork if you put a white foam thing on your head to look like a q-tip. Countless wrecks later I finally decided I was gonna splurge and get a Hammerhead(mtb has a STEEP learning curve!). That brings me to the era Dave discusses where it was "two straps will save your brain" territory. I recall getting my first Spesh helmet and being amazed with the "fit" because I didn't spend every 2 minutes adjusting those damned straps! And Uncle Piss-Pants who suddenly divulges the secrets of the universe? Priceless!

It stinks that companies make claims and just because they have two scientists who are vested in their creation people will believe that it's gospel. The history of helmets is rather new in this world and especially this sport. We've taken from the moto and skate worlds and tried to adapt them to our needs. Also, we just don't understand enough about the brain to know how to effectively design the ideal helmet. I'm surrounded by neuroscience researchers and they're still struggling to understand brain impulses! So, because we don't even understand how the brain works, how can we make an optimized product for each sport? Shy of just hanging your bike on the wall and admiring it there's no good way still to protect our most valuable asset.

I agree with Dave that helmet design has come a ways but there's still an understanding of the brain and how it is affected and we're still waiting for technology to help with that one. I do also agree with AJ's point about variables and hair is definitely one of them. It's like a MIPS under a MIPS under a MIPS because the skin on your scalp moves as well. There are probably too many variables to account for in this game but I suppose all we can do is support the companies so that their research gets supported? It's tough to show a real solution to this one. Good article though!

Reply

cooperquinn
+3 Cam McRae Carmel The Chez
Cooper Quinn  - April 4, 2019, 9:29 a.m.

"No two crashes are the same and no two people are the same, so the risk of concussion is a near-impossible claim to make. However, rotational motion itself can be measured objectively, so that is the metric MIPS can actually report and address."

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McNamara_fallacy

Reply

the-chez
-1 cyclotoine
The Chez  - April 4, 2019, 9:43 a.m.

The rotational motion can be measured, yes, but until we understand what impact that really has on the brain (including other variables from other planes at specified angles) we won't be able to quantify it. I'm all for making things more safe and a hunk of styrofoam is better than no helmet but claiming these devices will save necks and brains is a reach.

Reply

cooperquinn
+1 Ac
Cooper Quinn  - April 4, 2019, 9:58 a.m.

That's my point?

Reply

cyclotoine
0
cyclotoine  - April 4, 2019, 11:23 a.m.

What point are you trying to make here besides slapping Dave on the back? We have to understand the brain fully before it's worthwhile to push helmet technology forward? Uncle Dave's articles are usually fun but this one is pretty weak. 

Everything is better than it was 20 years ago, that is how progress and evolution works. Our understanding of neuroscience is progressing just as our understanding of the mechanisms the cause TBIs is progressing. We understand now, what we didn't before that the slapping of our brain against the inside of our skull can cause a TBI and if we add a slip plane we can allow the whole head to keep rotating on impact and thus minimize the force with which our grey matter smashes into our skull. If MIPS is another slip plane after scalp and hair, all the better. These companies are testing and there are independent testers and they are all trying to make better tests and improve their products. How can you not be on board with safety advancements? It's like saying "Well we know this drug is having an adverse effect on people health but until we understand why we should keep giving it to them". 

I don't think any helmet manufacturer is making a claim that "these devices will save necks and brains", they are saying "we believe that we have developed a product that improves outcomes of by reducing the trauma sustained in an impact". 

It is possible MIPS does not significantly reduce trauma, but everyone is working towards better tests to determine that. Recall that we learn by failing far more than from succeeding and that we make better products by making the best one we know how and then constantly looking for improvements.

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cooperquinn
0
Cooper Quinn  - April 4, 2019, 11:41 a.m.

"Everything is better than it was 20 years ago" - yep. Agreed. Totally. Helmets are way better, and way more comfortable. 

And, we understand more about concussion, TBI, and CTE than we used to. Absolutely. 

But that doesn't mean the statements like, "MIPS’ position on evaluating the possibility of a concussion resulting from a crash is that it is a highly variable event and unique to the individual impact and rider physiology. However, rotational motion itself can be measured objectively, so that is the metric MIPS can actually report and address," aren't textbook McNamara Fallacy. 

"I don't think any helmet manufacturer is making a claim that "these devices will save necks and brains", I'd disagree, based on this from Wavecel....  

> SLIP helmets significantly reduced the probability of sustaining AIS 2 brain injury compared to CONTROL helmets in all impact scenarios, with reductions ranging from 32% to 91%. CELL helmets significantly reduced P (AIS 2) compared to CONTROL helmets in all impact scenarios, with reductions ranging from 81% to 98%.

Reply

cyclotoine
0
cyclotoine  - April 5, 2019, 9:16 a.m.

They did say "reduced probability" and not "will save your brain". I'm sure it is an incredibly difficult decision for these companies to decide what language to use. On the one hand, they don't want to be overly technical causing the average reader glazes over, but they also don't want to make bold claims they can't back up with data from testing. 

Perhaps they should have said, "modeled AIS 2 brain injury".

Reply

cam@nsmb.com
+1 Cooper Quinn
Cam McRae  - April 4, 2019, 11:59 a.m.

I guess you didn't click the link. 

"The McNamara fallacy (also known as quantitative fallacy[1]), named for Robert McNamara, the United States Secretary of Defense from 1961 to 1968, involves making a decision based solely on quantitative observations (or metrics) and ignoring all others. The reason given is often that these other observations cannot be proven."

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Timer
0
Timer  - April 5, 2019, 12:08 a.m.

So what are you suggesting instead? Should they do what Trek is doing, make some shit up and claim that your brand of helmets makes their wearer immune to concussion?

Reply

redbarn
+12 Ac Pete Roggeman JVP AJ Barlas cxfahrer LWK upandown IslandLife Mammal Cam McRae Cooper Quinn Niels
redbarn  - April 4, 2019, 11:02 a.m.

From a guy who smashes 1000's of helmets each year, this is good. Fit matters.

And you other guys: Some of the new tech works better at absorbing energy before it gets to your head/brain, the current standards are inadequate (crap) and smart folks are pushing for better. 

Keep questioning this, keep questioning the brands, keep pushing. It helps us make better shit.

Reply

cooperquinn
+6 4Runner1 Ac Tremeer023 IslandLife redbarn Mammal
Cooper Quinn  - April 4, 2019, 11:24 a.m.

Thanks for working to saving our lives! (I mean, literally.)

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IslandLife
0
IslandLife  - April 4, 2019, 2:14 p.m.

7 days ago I crashed hard pre-riding for the Bear Mountain Enduro. Pro-tip: if you're riding a trail you're familiar with and come across obvious signs of significant trail work that may have altered the path of said trail, don't be an idiot and assume the trail goes where it used to and continue at full speed. Instead roll more slowly through the new section first like a normal sane human.

Anyway, after flying off the trail at full speed... going full OTB, I hit my head, hard, on the ground, on some rocks and I think maybe a tree... or two, bushes, dirt, sticks etc... it's all a blur now. The forced dirt massage ripped one side of the visor from my helmet (pulled the bolt straight through the shell) and pushed it into my face cutting my nose (was wearing riding glasses, not goggles... I may wear goggles for racing in the future), and put a big dent in the top/side of the helmet.

I had to sit down at the side of the trail for a good 10 or 15 minutes, collect myself, check for damage and just generally chill out and breath....

After I determined I was all good, I cut the day short and headed home. I seemed to suffer no ill effects and actually finished my pre-ride the next day... I felt great after the shock from the crash had worn off with nothing but a few scratches and soreness.

I was wearing a Bell Super 3R MIPS with the chinbar attached. Seemed as if the chinbar did it's job as well because there was a big dirt streak over the mouth area, not sure how hard the impact was to this area though.

Interestingly... I'm not sure if MIPS is supposed to do this or not, but it does seem as if the system sacrificed itself. It definitely "spun" or allowed the helmet to spin on my head (for the record, I do have hair). It spun so much it seemed to have gone beyond where I thought it could. In the end it was stuck far beyond it's normal position. It moved so much it was now partially blocking many of the vents, yet was still firmly attached to the helmet.  I could sort of push it back, but it seemed compromised and didn't want to go back to it's original position.

Brought it into my shop and was happy to learn Bell offered a 30% discount on crash replacements. Bonus, the chin bar was deemed fine and so I only needed to replace the shell.

So a total anecdotal opinion and crash event, but it seemed to me that the helmet more than did it's job and it looks like MIPS may have worked? I was protected, suffered no injuries to my head (except for the nose scratch) and I seemed to walk away without any kind of significant concussion. Would a different helmet have done worse? Better? Who knows... all I can say is that I was able to ride the next day and race on Sunday.

And yes, the helmet does fit me well... I only need to use 3 to 5 clicks of the doohickey to make it snug or tight.

Reply

paul-lindsay
+2 JVP Timer
Paul Lindsay  - April 4, 2019, 3:04 p.m.

Good work Dave, needed said.  I read a thing years ago written by a Shoei race technician demonstrating the importance of fit and how force is transfered across a gap, it was roughly:

"Stand up straight, with your lower arm perpendicular to your body.  Make a fist and walk to a wall and once your fist is against the wall, punch as hard as you can.  Now take a small step back and repeat.  That's why you need a helmet to fit."

IMHO the plastic adjusters at the back of helmets are only there to keep costs down, you can buy a basic motorcycle helmet in 5 sizes, yet most cycle helmets are only available in a couple of sizes.  Top end motorcycle helmets use multiple shell and lining sizes, cheap ones use one shell and 5+ linings on one shell, for the same sort of money as a mid market cycle helmet.

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JVP
+1 Timer
JVP  - April 5, 2019, 10:32 a.m.

My thoughts exactly, and your quote demonstrates it perfectly. 

I have a bit of an odd shaped head. Narrow and tall. It's hard to find a helmet that fits well, so I try on tons before I buy. I always worry about those gappy sides on a poor fitting helmet smacking my head hard in a crash. I also assume the test dummies for certification are the perfect 50th percentile shape, and totally irrelevant to me. 

I totally agree with Dave here.  I first find a great fitting helmet, then I find advanced tech that doesn't reek of bovine manure.  Dual density foams make a lot of sense to me. 

I suspect those who vehemently disagree with this article have very normal shaped heads.

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kos
0
Kos  - April 4, 2019, 9:50 p.m.

The safest helmet technology on my overcrowded, two-way trails is choosing the most visible color, to (slightly) reduce the chance of a head on collision!

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syncro
+1 Kos
Mark  - April 4, 2019, 9:54 p.m.

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danielshiels
+2 Paul Lindsay Mammal
danielshiels  - April 4, 2019, 11:52 p.m.

There's a really good (sponsored) downtimepodcast with Brad Waldron from kali that came out last week. Unless he's a great bullshitter they really care about protection and both lab testing and inspecting helmets damaged in real world crashes. I kind of assume the rest of the specialist protection brands do similar levels of testing so even though there is not much empirical evidence it's pretty reassuring to know manufacturers aren't just testing to pass ce etc and calling it good.

It didn't seem like Dave was saying go on ebay and buy a well fitting '90s helmet and you'll be better off than with an ill fitting modern helmet and given we're mostly all buying new helmets it is the course of wisdom to buy the best fit possible given all new helmets are benefiting from a hugely competitive marketplace and are probably going to be better than they ever have been.

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pete@nsmb.com
+1 Mammal
Pete Roggeman  - April 5, 2019, 1:47 p.m.

Like most complex subjects, this can't be boiled down into one opinion vs another, nor can someone get up to speed instantly on it. No one here (certainly not Dave) is suggesting that tech advancements are NOT useful, or are not advancing helmet safety. No one is suggesting that the people designing, testing, and marketing helmets are interested only in money, or that they don't care about making better helmets for the right reasons. However, what he is pointing out is that it's still conjecture. Research is being done, but that doesn't mean anything is being proven scientifically. And I think that based on some of the dissenting comments above, there's still work to be done in educating people about what we collectively KNOW, what we THINK, and what we HOPE to be true.

But just remember this: there is huge money involved in helmet sales. Go through any piece of research and follow the money - it usually leads back to someone who has a vested interest. This is not like testing rev cycles on a BB. It's far, far more lucrative - and important, of course.

Where things get murky - and this is where only a little bit of knowledge becomes dangerous and causes people to get upset - is that the list of things we don't know about brains and how helmets protects them is far, far longer than the list of things we do know. Dave's conclusions are not lazy in the least, and if you really know about all the dissenting opinions and disagreement, you'd know that, too.

Do helmet companies do the research, test their products, and put the one on the market that they conclude does the best job? Yes, we can assume in most cases, that they do. Yes, they all want to exceed minimum standards in testing. But what if I were to tell you that there are very few cases where people from different companies can agree on the best way to test ANYTHING - including simple things like stems and bars? Those products shouldn't be controversial in a case like this, right? And yet most companies will tell you that they test to meet and exceed CE norms (or whichever governing body is geographically relevant) because they have to, but usually develop their own tests that they feel do a better job of replicating real world use.

continued...

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pete@nsmb.com
+1 Mammal
Pete Roggeman  - April 5, 2019, 1:47 p.m.

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So, it's not even easy for bars. For helmets, way more complicated, no certainty whatsoever, and there isn't a lot of independent testing going on, so if you're going to point to research or science, be aware - none of it is (so far) conclusive. Pick your favourite brand, indicate their research and BAM! you're smack in the middle of their bias, and you can no longer say 'but, science!' because right now, unless other, independent, bodies are able to back up company x's claim that one piece of technology or another does this or that - then it's all one-sided. It's stuff a manufacturer can claim in marketing copy, and they may have proven it internally, and believe it wholeheartedly, but that doesn't make it fact from a scientific perspective.

Let's say an independent body DOES do the tests, and does recreate someone's results. Great, now you can start to point towards the beginning of repeatable scientific results. Still, can you get everyone to agree that the test methodology is sound? Let's say you can (and that is very, very unlikely right now). You're still not done. Maybe you've proved a helmet does one thing or another, but if you're foolish enough to try to quantify that with respect to preventing concussions, the BS detector is now ringing so loud, you shouldn't be able to think.

Bontrager's tech may be as good as they say it is, but they haven't proven it, and neither has anyone else. Making claims about concussion prevention as part of their mktg copy was naïve at best, disingenous or misleading at worst.

No one said 'don't buy MIPS', or don't trust Kali or Leatt or Bontrager. If one of those helmets fits you well, and you find their claims plausible, then good for you - no one thinks that's a bad purchase. What needs to be clear, though, are that these companies are all working hard and - we think and hope - making helmets and our sport safer. But the truth is we still just don't know. Not with 100% certainty. But we do know they fit better, and that's important, too. And that's what Uncle Dave was pointing out.

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