Wrap Up – Better Safety for Bicycle Helmets
As follow-up on bicycle helmets and safety after talking with several manufacturers at Interbike 2017, here are a few highlights of what I saw and learned.
“What do customers want in a bicycle safety helmet?” Ask this question of the manufacturers and they will tell you sleek design, aerodynamics, colors, air flow and other things. We like these things too, but interestingly, “Safety” was not in the list of the manufacturers I asked.
Ask the question “What is your company doing to increase safety in bicycle helmets?“, most give a rather perplexed look. After giving themselves a few seconds to compose, they all mentioned passing safety standards, and adding MIPS. Most of them dodged further questions on this line.
These 2 questions and the respective answers were eye-opening. They shouldn’t be, but the reactions I got to the second question particularly shows that “safety” is not an important part of the discussion. Yet, it’s the main point of putting the helmet on in the first place. It seems the distractions of style have moved the conversation away from that main point. Why can’t we have both increasing safety AND great style? Of course we can, we just need to focus on it.
More about MIPS
MIPS was a prominent feature in nearly all the helmet displays at Interbike. Both MIPS, and all the marketing to support it. I don’t wish to belabor the point, but I did have some very interesting conversations.
On asking, nearly all said how great it was, but again on asking, nearly all agreed there is no data to demonstrate it or prove it. Goes to show the value of a great advertising campaign. If you say it enough people eventually begin to believe it even if there is nothing to substantiate it. This is certainly the case with MIPS. To me this is a very scary situation when our safety is concerned.
As I spoke with some of the manufacturers, I gave an example of where having MIPS can actually cause greater injury, and the surprised looks were priceless. Of course, I am not the expert and I have no more data than MIPS. It’s just funny that they have not thought it through.
As a side note, it occurred to me that the perfect implementation of MIPS is on the outside of the helmet, rather than on the inside. If it were the outer most layer, it would do exactly what they say it should. It would also be completely independent of the impact protection layers of the bicycle helmets. This sounds to me like an invention in the making. Something to think about.
In other news, there was a lot of mention of the Virginia Tech Studies on Football Helmets and how that rating system is fundamentally changing how they are being made. (Search it out and read about it. It’s good stuff.) A few of the manufacturers I spoke with had high hopes that this kind of thing can happen in the bicycle world too. I agree! Unfortunately only 6D said they are willing to jump in full throttle. Others seem like they are waiting for a push into it. Turns out that a lot of the 6D technology and improvements come from learning from football and motorcycle helmets anyway.
I also had a great conversation with Smith. We talked about Koroyd and how they are looking at many different variations for optimization. I am impressed by the story of experimenting their way into the current configurations, and also where they see opportunities. They too come from a background of various helmet applications — mostly snow.
Smith also shared some of their vision for the future. I hope they can do it. (I’m not at liberty to share that. Sorry.) Yet, I mention it because the only folks that were willing to even share the fact that they have a vision for improving safety were Smith and 6D. Oh, and another small Startup group that was showing something they hope to one day produce. I wish them the best of luck.
Please understand these comments about company vision are simply from conversations at the show. I did not talk with the executives of all these companies, and many of the big players are not represented. Take the comments with a grain of salt. I’m sure there is a lot more happening in the engineering departments than I was able to get wind of.
Final Thoughts on Safety for Bicycle Helmets
So, going back to Part 1, this study was started by simply wondering “What is the safest bicycle helmet?” We learned that it’s not just the helmet design or even the technology, but also how we use the things we have. A typical helmet is less safe by wearing it improperly or by adding things to the exterior. Something that makes perfect sense, but I had never really thought about it. Then there’s the legal garbage that has stifled the pursuit of better safety in bicycle helmets. (We won’t go into that again.)
Our search became a lot more involved as various technologies were explored (see Part 2). Now, it’s the end of the practical study. We’re certainly not experts, but we’re learning a ton. Of course, if someone wants to hire Synthesis to assist in developing more and safer technologies we are open to that. However, for now, this is sufficient for bicycle helmets.
In my mind, 6D and Smith are the 2 front runners in pursuing safety. They present Safety as part of the story in their company branding, and they have the right attitude. — They believe we can do more, rather than just designing to some arbitrary testing standard. Congratulations to these two companies. I hope they can lead a stagnant industry on to doing great things for cyclists everywhere. New technology exists, I’m sure of it. Let’s embrace the vision.
Please feel free to continue this conversation by leaving comments below, or by writing to us directly. Just put “Bicycle Helmets” in the subject.