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Protecting yourself from injury when you are cycling by Adrian Fairbank

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Protecting yourself from injury when you are cycling is of paramount importance.Of course you could die of a heart attack just lying in bed or get hit by a bus when you’re healthy and well. It would be such a shame when taking part in what should have been an exciting and pleasurable.

Within my relatively small circle of friends and acquaintances I’ve come across a significant injury and the tragedies of two deaths. To deal with the major disasters first  – the first catastrophic death occurred when Rider A is cycling without a helmet and climbing a hill which gets increasingly steep – 21% at worst


As the climb gets harder they start chewing on the handlebars and the front wheel lifts up. Losing balance they flip backwards and sideward, pivoting on the fulcrum of the back wheel with the rear brake locked. A single impact of the back of the head (occiput) to the road and one twitch and that was it.


Everyone at the scene did all they could both at the roadside and in the A and E department of the local hospital but they died of a catastrophic brain injury – from such a sudden and minor event.


The second event was again a head injury in Richmond Park. Cycling at 15mph AND wearing a helmet. A fall to the side and an impact to the temporal region (on the side of the head just beneath the helmet edge) and once again a catastrophic brain injury results.

A good quality helmet is vital and it really must be worn. A bit like wearing a seatbelt these days it feels alien to cycle without a helmet and I’m now one of those dads who make their children wear a helmet even though it’s really not cool – however it might save their lives. Like so many things the price of the helmet varies but what seems to be most important is that it protects your head from impact, is comfortable to wear so that you naturally want to put it on, and it fits so snugly that it doesn’t come off as you fall. Adjusting the internal fit and the chinstrap properly when you first get it saves so much anguish later.


Some ideas on helmets…


There are a wide range of helmets on offer and the choice is confusing, how do you decide? You want to maximize safety and comfort.


Top Tip


Some manufacturers offer a crash replacement scheme. You can get a cost price replacement if your helmet is damaged within the first couple of years purchase.

Most helmets are made from expanded polystyrene, with an outer polymer shell.

In a crash the polystyrene absorbs energy and compresses.


Beware though, after a crash, the outer casing can hide the compromised polystyrene. Always replace your helmet after a crash or impact, and check it regularly for wear and tear.


Key features



The helmet should have a European CE EN 1078 sticker.

This standard ensures the helmet has passed a number of tests – helmet construction, field of vision, shock absorbing properties, retention system properties, chin strap and fastening devices.  


In order to cycle in certain events it is often a requirement to have a helmet that adheres to this standard or an international equivalent.



A helmet must fit properly or it will not do the job it is designed for. Helmets are available in different sizes relating to the circumference of your head – don’t use a tape measure – try it on. You are going to be wearing the helmet a lot so it’s vital that it is comfortable. Try a variety of makes and models to see which is most comfortable and the best bike helmet for you, as they are often different shapes internally.


Some helmets are women specific and even feature a special gap to allow for a pony tail, such as Specialized’s Hair Port system.  However, most helmets are unisex and will fit both men and women.


Straps and fittings:

These are used to adjust the fit of the helmet to your specific head size. They are commonly adjusted by a click wheel or ratchet system. The best ones can be operated with a single hand, which is useful for making slight adjustments on the move. It should be possible to loosen the retention system on a helmet to allow for a thermal skull cap or cycling cap to be worn underneath. This is done for added warmth, and the peak of a cycling cap can be useful for deflecting rain from the eyes. If when you try on a helmet the retention system is on its limit, it is probably the wrong size for you.


Comfort and Padding:

Padding makes a helmet more comfortable but also helps to wick sweat away from your head. The better designs feature padding that can be removed for washing and replacement.



These are holes in the shell of the helmet. They have two functions – to reduce weight, and to add ventilation. Helmets with fewer or no vents are considerably warmer. This might not be obvious when you try one on in a shop, but becomes important when working up a sweat climbing a big hill in summer.



As weight decreases price increases. Lighter helmets are more comfortable because they don’t place any strain on your neck, but the main advantage to a lighter helmet is increasing your power to weight ratio. 50g however might not make much difference to most of us


Different Types of Helmet:



There are many kids helmets available.You shouldn’t have to spend a lot either to protect your children. Look for a CE sticker, but another good tip is to let the child pick the helmet, because if a helmet is deemed uncool or ugly, your child won’t wear it!


Don’t be tempted to get a size bigger in the hope they will grow into it, and watch out for them growing out of their current one, as a poorly fitting helmet will offer far less protection.My kids often found the straps on helmets really irritating, therefore look for some designs that feature foam padding to make the chin strap more comfortable.



These kinds of helmets range from £40-80 and a good starting place for those getting into cycling. They tend to be just as comfortable in terms of padding as more expensive helmets, but with a slightly heavier weight. A good example is the Giro Savant (£59.99). The Specialized Echelon II (£50) is another great option, although there are many more.


Road Performance Helmets:

These are often the lightest available, and seen on the professionals during races and especially the mountains.


Helmet vents can be useful for stowing glasses, when not being worn.


Time Trial Helmets:

Designed to be worn during time trials they are not permitted in UCI road races.

They are also a popular option for triathletes and track riders. These helmets often feature elongated or tear drop shapes. This will maximize aerodynamics and reduce drag. Venting is minimal, as the vents create drag and visors are common. However unless your christian name is Bradley, do not turn up to a sportive or Sunday ride in a time trial helmet.


Aero Road:

A popular yet new helmet is the aero road helmet. A cross between a traditional road helmet and a TT helmet. It is designed to be more aerodynamic than a standard helmet, but will be slightly heavier and warmer. The Giro Air Attack and Smith Overtake are good examples.



A cheaper alternative is to fit a cover to a standard road helmet, such as  the Lazer Z1 helmet – this can make you quite sweaty.

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