Bike Helmet v. Skater Helmet?
May 31, 2011 12:18 PM   Subscribe

Do skater helmets provide better protection for bike riders than vented bike helmets?

I see a lot of bike riders wearing skater-type helmets (e.g. Bell Faction helmets). They look hotter than vented bike helmet. (E.g. Giro Prolight.)

But do they provide better protection in a crash?

Also, is a $200 bike helmet better than a $40 helmet? I'd buy a fancy helmet if I thought it made me safer, but not to save myself 40g weight.
posted by musofire to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (9 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
You may see people misusing helmets instead of buying two, or you may be seeing dual-use helmets.

Helmets designed to meet one of the prevailing standards (in the US, the minimum is the CPSC's) will for all practical purposes perform similarly. The vented helmets compensate by using different or thicker materials, but should not perform noticeably differently.

You probably don't get more protection for $200, but you do get more style or brand-name bragging rights -- and often, less weight to lug.

As far as saving yourself weight, if it doesn't matter to you, it doesn't matter to you. There are those for whom it matters, so save those helmets for them.
posted by dhartung at 12:23 PM on May 31, 2011

I see a lot of people who don't wear bike helmets correctly, even when they have the helmet properly fastened. That is, the helmet sits back on their head and does not cover (and will not provide protection for) the front section of their noggin. This is a lot more difficult to do with a skate type helmet, which sits closer to the head and is shaped in a way that makes it harder to wear it back on the head.

(This is, of course, not the helmet’s fault, but it does mean that people wearing skater helmets may be better protected than those wearing poorly fitted bike helmets.)
posted by OmieWise at 12:30 PM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

I own a Prolight, even though I'm no pro by any stretch.* No, it's not any safer. At least, it better not be, because that would mean that it's heavier than it can be and still conform to safety standards. That's the name of the game in race helmets-- as light as possible while still holding up in a crash to a certain criterion.

* I know this isn't relevant to your question, but I actually found it to be one of the most comfortable helmets I tried, even though a lot of people don't like it. And it doesn't save 40g; it's half the weight of most road helmets, and a third of the weight of that Bell Faction. It may not sound like much, but it's weight that's only supported by one's neck which really adds up over the course of a 6-8 hour ride, especially when one's spine, like mine, isn't the sturdiest thing in the world.
posted by supercres at 12:36 PM on May 31, 2011

Skate helmets tend to be capable of taking more than one impact (because skaters, um, fall a lot), while bike helmets can only take one significant impact. However, the bike helmet test impact is a higher velocity situation, I beleive. Skate helmets and bike helmets have different requirements, though there are some helmets that fulfill multiple standards.

check out this CPSC Publication for more details.

I have destroyed three bike helmets over the years. Each protected me fine(i.e. I would be dead or a vegetable now), though the cost ran from less than 40 bucks to north of 100.
posted by rockindata at 12:40 PM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

Usually with expensive bike helmets you're paying for looks, weight, and ventilation. I don't think they are any safer.
posted by ghharr at 12:50 PM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

There are a lot of problems with helmets

I'm a commuter cyclist who wears a skater helmet because it fits snugly to my head and is round thus protecting my neck in a crash as well as the fact that it will last multiple impacts. Bike helmets are designed to do well in two types of crashes, where you hit an object head on and launch directly into it or when you fall backwards off of your bike onto the back of your head. These two scenarios are very realistic if you are biking down hill in some woods or racing, but in my extensive experience getting develostrated in city riding, not my top concerns. I much prefer something that will not rip my neck around as I rag doll physics my way through glancing blows when shit goes down, will continue protecting me when I hit the next object as well as when I'm down and in the street, and won't catch force on exposed points. Really, it depends on the types of riding you do and the types of crashes you could get into, generally I recommend a cheap standard helmet rated for cycling, but especially for beginners starting on the sidewalk, there is no excuse for demanding they get a helmet designed for a 20mph crash strait into a brick wall when they're going to get hit from the side.

Whats more I really love mine specifically, it is shaped like a brass bowl* and looks like Mambrino's Helmet. So I get to feel like Don Quixote as I ride my skinny hungry lookin' stallion around town.

It does get really hot during the summer though and I'm thinking of switching back temporarily sometime in the next month.

*(this but without the snowboarding padding)
posted by Blasdelb at 1:39 PM on May 31, 2011 [3 favorites]

A bike shop geek friend of mine showed me both side to side to offer his explaination. If you just look at the two styles closely, you can see the structural differences and what they are intended to do.

The skater helmet offers a more or less equal amount of padding all the way around your head. It makes sense for a fall where you might be tumbling, and the only impact is between you and the ground at a low speed and the impact with the ground only happens once.

The bicycle style helmet is basically an arch constructed over the top of your head, at its widest around the brim. The arch aspect of it defends more against crushing types of impact, and the thick brim areas are for impacts at higher speed--the helmet will face impact an inch before your head does, and it's designed to crush when the impact happens.

I don't know if that's true, but it does make sense intuitively if you compare them. I would never bike in urban traffic with a skater helmet.

Oh and ditto proper fit and adjustment--I rarely, rarely see other cyclists with helmets adjusted correctly. The best way to learn is to meet some people who have suffered serious head injuries. It will teach you very quickly.
posted by quarterframer at 3:13 PM on May 31, 2011

Many/most of the "skater style" helmets I've seen around these parts are chosen purely for aesthetics (and many of the popular brands are rated for and marketed to cyclists). Especially among the non-sporty cycling set.

I don't think there's any safety benefit, though I suppose some small difference might exist for purely coincidental reasons.

Also, my understanding is that any bike helmet is going to be useless to protect you if you're hit by a car going more than about 30mph. Rendering any "I would never bike in urban traffic..." arguments meaningless. At that point you might as well say "I would never wear a bike helmet, wtf would be the point?"
posted by Sara C. at 4:50 PM on May 31, 2011

A local bike shop, Blackstone Bicyles, is run by a guy who races mountain bikes. I took one of my kids in there and he fitted him for a skater-style helmet. He prefers them for kids because they're built to take mroe hits; they provide better side protection than a helmet that primarily covers the forehead and top of the skull; and their superior style means kids are less likely to resist them. He convinced me, and now my 6-y.o. son runs to get his helmet.

Now I want a cool helmet...
posted by wenestvedt at 7:00 AM on June 1, 2011

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