Wearing a helmet during mountain biking is an absolute no-brainer as far as we are concerned. A helmet protects your head from a fall and helps prevent (brain) injury. You’re stupid if you don’t wear a helmet. It’s as simple as that.
Afbeelding: Giro Xar Mountain Bicycle Cycling Helmets
Regardless of how good you are as a rider, you cannot control your environment. Everyone has at some time come across an unseen branch or hole in the trail, a dog crossing the road, a dear shooting across the trail or a car door suddenly being opened when you ride by on your way to the trailhead.
More than that, riding an MTB just equals fallingofff your bike once in a while. If you’ve never had a fall you’re not pushing hard enough ;-). Reason enough to always wear the helmet.
The main purpose of the helmet is to reduce the impact to your head. It does this mainly by absorbing the kinetic energy of the impact in the liner foam of the helmet. The outer shell also helps in protecting your head, but most of the work is being done by the liner.
Depending on the type of mountain biking you do and the terrain you ride, it can sometimes be wise to wear a full-face mask helmet. If you plan to head to a bike park, you should absolutely wear one of those.
Most helmets need to be replaced after a fall or a big bang to the helmet. Even though it may not appear to be damaged. Because of the impact, little hair cracks can appear on the helmet, so small you might not even see them. The shock absorbing potential of the plastic of the helmet does not work as it should. This makes it easier for the helmet to break, which means that your head is no longer protected for a second fall.
In addition to that, as mentioned before, the type of liner foam used in the helmet is crucial.
The most widely used material is EPS foam (Expanded Polystyrene), which is very good at effectively absorbing impact. As it does so the foam compresses and deforms, and remains deformed. The compression reduces the helmet’s ability to absorb the impact the next time you crash. In that case, having no possibility to absorb the impact in the foam, the energy of the impact would be directly transferred to your head.
With these types of helmets (often in lower price categories), a light impact may already mean that you need to throw the helmet away. There are also more durable, sometimes more expensive helmets, where the liner is not permanently deformed because they use materials such as Expanded Polypropylene (EPP) and Vinyl Nitrile (VN). These are multi-impact materials and as such more durable than EPS foams. It is very important to ask your salesman what foam with which properties are used in the helmet that you have in mind.
Now, most helmets are worn tight on your head. Focusing on offering maximal protection on linear impact to your head. Research has found that these types of helmets do not handle rotational forces in a fall well enough. What is interesting to consider is that when you fall, you are often (if not always) travelling at a certain speed. That means when your head hits the ground there is a linear impact but also oblique impact. The angle and the direction of impact are almost never perpendicular to the surface of your helmet. This rotation in a fall causes a lot of pressure on the brain and, in many cases, causes brain damage, often remains. Enter MIPS: A Multi-Directional Impact Protection System that attaches a thin plastic frame to the inside of the helmet. This frame is what actually holds your head. As a result, at impact, your head can rotate slightly in relation to the helmet itself. And this, in turn, absorbs a part of that rotational energy.
Buy an MTB helmet
Nowadays, there are a lot of quality, comfortable bike helmets on the market. You can even customize helmets to make the fit optimal which will provide even better protection. Note the following points when purchasing a helmet:
- Go to a specialty store with a large collection. There are different types of helmets on the market. In different colors, sizes, types and prices. Ask advice from the expert seller. Take time for this. The price of a helmet does not say everything about safety. All helmets meet the same safety criteria, but some will be better than others. Ask about the materials used.
- Do not buy a helmet online.
- Try on many different helmets. That way you can better find the perfect fit for you. The helmet should be comfortable regardless of the brand or the design.
- Buy a helmet made for mountain biking. With the helmet, there is always a leaflet indicating which sport and for what risk level it is intended.
- Buy a helmet that meets the highest quality standard in your country. Ask the seller about this. Helmets that meet these standards have been extensively tested and provide optimal protection.
- Consider buying a helmet in a bright color or with reflective strips. This makes you more visible in traffic to and from the trail.
- Buy a helmet with “in-mold” linings; in these cases the inner lining and the outer cast are cast and molded together. Do not buy any helmets with a separate inside and outside that are glued together.
- Beware of buying second hand helmets. They could be damaged without showing that they are. Only buy the helmet if you are sure that it has not been damaged by a fall, for example.
- Replace your helmet if it becomes ‘old’. A helmet does not last forever. For example, sweat and UV radiation wears the helmet and does not protect it anymore. After 3 to 5 years it will be time to replace your helmet. Take note of the following wear-and-tear signs: worn straps, worn or missing pads and compressed foam.
- Clean your helmet with a damp cloth. You can use some soap in cleaning your helmet.
Do not drop your helmet. It can break if you do. If you dropped it, make sure that the helmet is still alright.
- Do not attach additional attributes to your helmet. Sure you GoPro POV footage from your head can look cool, but it can catch on branches over your trail. If you do fall it can result in serious neck injuries. (Better to film from a chest harness anyway.)
- Do not store your helmet in a bag or box. Your perspiration does not evaporate well. Keep your helmet in a dry, cool place and out of the sun.