Bicycle helmets do an outstanding job of keeping our skulls intact in a major crash. But they do almost nothing to prevent concussions and other significant brain injuries—and the very government agency created to protect us is part of the problem. The time has come to demand something safer.
BY BRUCE BARCOTT
PHOTOGRAPHY BY JONATHAN SPRAGUE
About a year ago my 14-year-old daughter needed a new bicycle helmet. Her skull and level of sophistication had both outgrown her old pink flowery one. We paid a visit to the local bike shop. On a far wall our options were stacked five high and 10 wide: multivented Specialized models, slick red and black designs by Giro, brightly colored versions manufactured by Bell. There seemed to be little rhyme or reason to the prices, which ranged from $40 to $120.
“Do any of these provide better protection than the others?” I asked the guy working the floor. “Does price reflect safety?” I trust the guy working the floor. Over the years he’s sold me tubes, tires, lube, shoes, gloves. He knows his merchandise. “Not really,” he said. “They all pass the same certification test.” The difference, he told us, is in style, fit, comfort, and ventilation.
That struck me as odd. We live in an age of near-comical product differentiation. You can buy cough syrup in 14 formulas, coffee in dozens of permutations. Yet when it comes to bike helmets, I later learned, we’re all wearing decorative versions of the same Model T: a thick foam liner (actually expanded polystyrene, or EPS) attached to a thin plastic outer shell. The basic setup hasn’t changed much since the first one was sold in 1975.
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