Bike Helmet: The case for wearing one


My wife noted this morning that it was 3 years ago today that I came off my bike and knocked my head.

That’s really downplaying the seriousness of the accident – I’m lucky I wasn’t killed or turned into a paraplegic/quadriplegic.

To paint the picture – I have decent bike equipment. I really like mountain bike riding and I was on a not 6 month old Specialized Stumpjumper FSR dual suspension bike, wearing full riding gear and with about 10 other, experienced riders. We were riding at the You Yangs mountain bike park doing the single track near the summit, which really isn’t as technical a course as some of the other sections. This is probably what undid me, the lack of “concentration” as I went over a (what turns out to be) smallish jump and totally screwed up the timing of the landing and turn in to the following corner. What resulted was a flip and slide down the hill with my bike coming down on top of me.

The guys say I was still cleated in, but had chain marks on my cheek. Go figure. I was knocked out for about 3 to 4 minutes, suffered severe lacerations to my shoulder and almost tore my ear off. All at around 15 km/hr. Not real fast. I was wearing a helmet.

I ended up in hospital for 2 days, having plastic surgery and being put on some pretty heavy duty antibiotics and pain killers. I looked like Mr Bump for a few weeks afterwards, with people giving me sideways glances when we were out, because I looked like I had been beaten up.

The effect psychologically is still with me. I was retelling this to a work colleague this morning and marveling at how it was “3 years”. It seems like yesterday to me. The fact I had a 5 month old son at the time impacted me even further about the folly of being selfish in my pursuits.

So – I was wearing a Specialized Decibel helmet, about 12 months old. It was a good helmet. It saved my life.

I wrote to Specialized in California to thank them for their technological research and endeavour – they wrote back asking if they could have the helmet to X-ray and examine. They wanted to learn the outcome of the helmets damage by the speed, impact and type of injuries I sustained. I happily sent it to them and when I tried on the Specialized 2D, the replacement, I mentioned to the shop that it didn’t have the same “fit” as the previous Decibel had. Specialized, by way of thanks actually organised for a partial credit towards my new helmet, which I put towards a Bell Sweep R.

I highly recommend Specialized helmets. I also recommend Bell helmets, which is what I have now. I recommend any helmet that has come from a manufacturer who has spent REAL money on research, real world testing and properly designing these brain buckets for their intended use. Limar, Met, Giro all fall into this category. Spend the money. Don’t skimp. Get a helmet that “fits” your head properly. Get it fitted if you don’t know how to wear it.

Also a note: if you have had a stack on your helmet and I mean one where your head was ringing and you thought “cripes, that was lucky”, even if the helmet doesn’t look like its damaged – destroy it and throw it out. Snip the head straps and split the helmet, so that it can’t be used. Invisible splits and fractures in the foam may be present compromising the quality and shell integrity. Helmets are designed to deform, absorbing impact. I’ve seen enough crashes and wrecks from my days at Subaru to understand the importance of crumple zones. Helmets work the same way.

Absolutely, unequivocally, no doubt about it: A proper helmet saved my life.