It does not seem that long ago that the helmet was an optional item and of dubious benefit on the bike. 1980's pro racers wore a hairnet that did not do much really except look 'pro'. The first hardshell and high padding helmets were a step forward but were heavy and hot and so were a reluctant choice rather than an easy one. Next up was the Bell v1 pro - a groundbreaker for its time and interesting to look back on as the recognisable beginning of the evolution process to the modern helmet.
Looking to the current crop, it is extraordinary how much helmets have evolved and just how good the modern helmet is. The technology and research is sophisticated and makes a big difference. Thanks to our friends at POC and Kask we have learnt a great deal lately around what drives best practice and why some helmets lead the way.
While most bicycle helmet improvements in recent decades have focused on making helmets lighter, better ventilated and more comfortable, in 2008 Swedish neurosurgeon Hans Von Holst, along with mechanical engineer Peter Halldin, developed a new technology called MIPS (Multi-Directional Impact Protection System). MIPS offered something that previous helmets did not: a possibility of reducing concussions. As reported in Bicycling Magazine:
"Halldin [and] Von Holst noted that the head has a built-in protection system of sorts—a low-friction layer of cerebrospinal fluid between the brain and the skull. The fluid allows the brain to move a bit; it acts as an energy-absorbing system. Von Holst and Halldin hatched an idea: What if they mimicked that action within a helmet?
That wasn't their only insight. Since the 1950s the drop test has been based on a straight 90-degree impact. But… studies have shown that most bike falls result in an impact angle between 30 and 45 degrees. The Swedish team invented a test rig that examined drops at those more realistic angles.
By 2008, after years of sketching, testing, and prototyping, they had a working model. Their MIPS (Multi-Directional Impact Protection System) helmet contained a low-friction slip plate between the head and EPS liner. On impact, the helmet rotates independent of the MIPS liner, absorbing some rotational acceleration."
In 2012, Swedish company POC released the first MIPS system in a bike helmet geared toward mountain biking, in order to reduce concussion risk.
Other technologies are also on the way. One is AIM (Angular Impact Mitigation), which uses a honeycomb liner in place of EPS. The liner floats slightly within the helmet, allowing it to shift upon impact to help absorb rotational energy while the honeycomb cells also help absorb impact. A study published last year showed that compared to standard helmets, AIM helmets resulted in a 14 percent reduction in linear acceleration and a 34 percent reduction in rotational acceleration. Another new technology is the use of impact-absorbing liners made from vinyl nitrile (VN), which is tested to absorb multiple impacts (it's typically used in football and hockey helmets). So far this material is only found in certain snow-sports helmets and has yet to migrate to bicycle helmets.
So there is a lot of research and hard science behind the modern helmet. So do yourself a favour and wear one!
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