See.Safe.Smart: When biking: Protect your melon

May is National Bike Month and it’s a great time to get your bike out of storage and enjoy the beautiful weather in Minnesota this time of year. It’s also a great time to talk about this month’s SEE.SAFE. SMART. safety campaign message, which is “Protect Your Melon.” When heading out on your bicycle, it’s important to ride safely, and just as important to protect your head by wearing a bike helmet.

Every year, we still see too many people riding in New Ulm without a helmet. No matter what your age or skill level on a bike, that’s a risky move. While bike helmets have changed immensely in the past few years, the importance of wearing them has not.

Consider these eye-opening statistics from the Federal Highway Administration:

Each year almost 400,000 children age 14 and under are treated in emergency rooms for bicycle-related injuries.

Universal bicycle helmet use by children ages 4 to 15 would prevent 39,000 to 45,000 head injuries, and 18,000 to 55,000 scalp and face injuries annually.

Bicycle helmets are 85 to 88 percent effective in mitigating head and brain injuries, making the use of helmets the single most effective way to reduce head injuries and fatalities resulting from bicycle crashes.

Despite the fact that 70 to 80 percent of all fatal bicycle crashes involve head injuries, only 18 percent of all bicyclists wear bicycle helmets.

Nationally, bicyclists age 14 and under are at five times greater risk for injury than older cyclists.

Bike helmets used to be heavy, hot and never fit well. Today’s helmets protect you better, have become lighter, fit better, and are more comfortable than ever before. With acknowledgement to our friends at HaveFunBiking.com, the following is a brief look at what to consider when buying a bicycle helmet.

Impact protection: To be sold legally in the U.S., any bicycle helmet must pass four universal tests from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (three related to impact and one related to roll off). Each of these four tests are completed in cold, warm, hot and wet conditions. The varying conditions ensure that the helmet will still do its job regardless of the environment.

Additional protection against rotational forces: Some helmet manufacturers are also incorporating testing that exceeds what is legally required. These helmets feature what is called MIPS (multi-directional impact protection system), which helps the helmet protect against both impact and rotational forces. The theory is that while experiencing a sudden bicycle dismount, you could experience rotational forces. Any sudden stop to these rotational forces (for example, hitting the ground) could stop your body, but allow your momentum to continue, rotating your brain and causing damage. MIPS helmets isolate the outer shell of a helmet from the inner portion. This isolation allows the outer shell to absorb rotational forces during impact. Most helmet brands now offer products with MIPS and without.

Comfort: The biggest concern in purchasing a new bicycle helmet is comfort. You’re more likely to wear one if it’s comfortable, so be sure and test out different brands to find one that feels right. It should feel snug around your head without any lateral movement, and you should not feel any individual points of pressure.

Retention: Different helmets will have different ways of being retained on your head. Some low-cost models use a one-size-fits-all retention device, which works a lot like the dial sizing on a hard hat. More expensive models typically have multiple sizes and retention devices that can be adjusted for diameter and height. These size-specific helmets are usually more comfortable. In all cases, the helmets’ pads and retention device are designed to absorb and manage perspiration, keeping you more comfortable.

Ventilation: There is significant variation among bicycle helmets in terms of how well they provide ventilation to help keep you cool. Generally, the more ventilated a helmet is, the more expensive it is. That’s because creating larger vents and better ventilation while still maintaining impact protection requires a more complicated production method. However, helmet manufacturers are continuing to bring the costs down for high ventilation, so If you are replacing a four-year-old helmet, chances are your new one will allow more airflow.

Weight: A helmet’s weight is also important for overall comfort. While the most comfortable models are often the lightest, this lessens their durability. It is not uncommon for commuters and casual riders to pick heavier helmets with hard plastic covers over lightweight versions made of mostly foam. The added weight of a hard plastic shell helps protect the helmet from impact. It’s important to understand that that shell doesn’t make the helmet any safer, but it will be more durable when knocking around the trunk of your car, or hanging off your backpack while in transit.

Lifespan: All bicycle helmets have a production date on the inside. Pay attention to that date, because most manufacturers recommend you replace the helmet every three to five years after production. With time, the padding and foam inside a helmet can degrade, leaving it unable to adequately absorb impacts.

“Once you’ve picked the best fitting model, visit www.havefunbiking.com and search “helmet” for an article that offers tips and photos to help you adjust your fit. Happy biking!”

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