Why Are Bike Helmets So Expensive?

Prior to the demise of cyclist Andrey Kivilev in Nice in 2003, the adorning of helmets was left to the whims of cyclists. But Andrey’s death shook the cycling world, leading the UCL to make it mandatory for cyclists to wear helmets.

Besides the helmet’s key functionality, which is to protect the rider from any head traumas that may occur due to impact; the design, shape, and material used in its manufacture highly influence its pricing.

Helmets come in a variety of materials, from hard polycarbonate plastic shells fitted with polystyrene foam liners to carbon fiber classified either as hard or soft/micro-shell. Here is some more information on why bike helmets are so expensive.

Bike Helmets Chronological Development 

The chronological development of helmets began with the Pith Helmets in the 1880s then came the Leather-covered padding (a ring of leather around the head and wool ring above it) which metamorphosed to longitudinal strips on the head termed as hairnets with the interior as a foam.

The search for a more protective helmet continued to no avail until Bell Auto parts Bell biker helmet hit the market in 1975. This was an adaptation of their mountain climbing helmet, which had an EPS foam, designed as a ring around the headband fitted with a suspension system attached to the shell with nylon straps. 

Developed with an energy management technique that was to offer an extra cushion in case of an impact. Their continuous development led to the creation of a helmet having full EPS liner and a hard Lexan shell–this development dominated for a decade with other manufacturers adopting the Bells technique.

Standardization Of Bike Helmets

Given the successful technique and material in helmet development, the strive for standardization began, sprung by Tom Balderston’s article on the best bike helmet on the market.  

After a series of testing on the performance index of the helmets on the market was conducted through the combined effort by Snell foundations, Dr. George Shively, and the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA).

And by 1984, the first standardized bike helmet was adopted, the American National Standards Institute, ANSI Z80.4. All the helmets that didn’t meet the stipulated criteria of having EPS foam liners with ABS or polycarbonate hard shells were swept away from the market.

Further mandatory standards were enacted by the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), which took effect in 1999. The eventual development of helmets by Bell led to the success witnessed today with an all EPS helmet to make them lighter. 

Giro Sports implemented the same technique, though used a thin lycra cloth instead of a shell to create an adult helmet that endeared the market. A reinforcement was, however, needed to make the EPS stronger upon impact, as it had disastrous results. 

This led to the introduction of thin but tough plastic to hold the foam together upon impact. Further innovation in molding the foam in a thin shell gave manufacturers the luxury to create more appealing designs. 

The designs led to the development of stylish and trendy fashionable helmets with ridges, squared-off lines, and rear projection in the late 90s.

Are Bike Helmets Effective?

A meta-analysis done in 2018 on the effects of helmets found out that it can reduce head injuries by 20% and serious head injuries by 55%. The study further found out that 83% of 6000 young cyclists suffered head injuries from tipping over from their cycle and hitting their heads on the ground.

Further study by the North Carolina Department of Transportation reiterated helmets reduce head injury risks by 85% and brain injury by 88%. This is a boost, given that at least one bicyclist is injured or dies every six hours.

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