Bicycling safety: new bike helmet rating system from IIHS


man and woman riding bikes, wearing bike helmets

Remember learning to ride a bike? That sense of freedom, of speed, of the world suddenly opening up for you to explore with your pedaling feet? It’s a childhood milestone that most of us remember fondly, and with good reason: bicycles are just about the most efficient means of transportation we humans have yet devised. Two slim wheels attached to a tubular frame and driven by a clever set of gears that turn our churning legs into a brisk means of locomotion, bicycles are fun to ride, good exercise, great for the environment, and easy on the budget. Choosing to commute by bicycle instead of by car can save you money while burning calories. Brightly colored body-hugging Spandex bike shorts are, of course, optional. (Thank goodness.)

If you are new to commuting by bike, you’ll want to do your homework first. Will you be biking before sunup or after sundown? You’ll need lights and reflective clothing. Is your area hilly or flat? This could determine how your bike should be geared. What are the road conditions you’ll encounter? Are there dedicated bike lanes? Will you need to traverse uneven, unpaved terrain? That will affect which tires you choose for your bike. Will you be using your bike for shopping? Maybe panniers and a basket makes sense for you.

Bikes are simple machines, but they can and do break down. Do you know how to perform basic bicycle maintenance, like adjusting the seat, oiling the chain, inflating the tires, and setting the right height of the handlebars? Most of these questions are best answered by the expert at your local bike shop. He or she can walk you through all these decisions and get you on the bike that’s right for you and your commuting and recreational needs.

New bike helmet rating system

One of the first big decisions you’ll have to make regards safety equipment; specifically, choosing a bike helmet. Recent advances in materials technology and safety studies have led to a profusion of bicycle helmet styles and choices. New bicycle helmets are made of lightweight woven polymers designed with padding to absorb impact from all angles. They vary significantly in price, and cost isn’t necessarily the best predictor of performance.

To that end, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) in conjunction with the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) and Virginia Tech have created a ranking system to allow bicyclists to see for themselves which helmet is best for them. According to David Zuby, the chief research officer at IIHS:

“As more people choose the bicycle as a mode of transportation, better helmet design is one of the tools that can be used to address the increasing number of cycling injuries.”

While there are federal standards that all bicycle helmets sold in the US must meet, the new standards advance the field by offering a closer analysis of more realistic accident data, gathered by researchers with experience testing other forms of protective headgear, such as hockey, football, and soccer equipment.

Steve Rowson, associate professor of biomedical engineering and mechanics and director of the Virginia Tech Helmet Labs says:

“Our goal with these ratings is to give cyclists an evidence-based tool for making informed decisions about how to reduce their risk of injury. We also hope manufacturers will use the information to make improvements.”

Their research found important differences in the levels of protection offered by “urban” and “road” -style helmets. They also found that helmets incorporating a Multi-Directional Impact Protection System (MIPS) (which works by reducing friction inside the helmet, alleviating the rotational forces that cause concussion in many common bike accidents) were safer than models lacking the MIPS system.

The team tested 30 popular bicycle helmets to start with and plans to add many more to their rankings, including helmets intended for off-road (BMX) biking. Check out their methodology and see their list of bike helmet ratings.

So strap on your shiny new helmet and get to pedaling! Just, please, not on the sidewalk. Some of us are still walking.

 

If it’s May, it must be National Bicycle Month! Is your bike road ready?


bicycle month

There are a few sure signs of spring – the swallows return to Capistrano, the trees begin to bud, and you see more bicycles on the road. To kick off the season, May is National Bike Month – time to get your bike tuned up so you can participate in Bike to School Day on May 10, Bike to Work Week from May 15-19 and Bike to Work Day on May 19!

And as part of our spring ritual, we like to gather some good resources for everything you need to know to have bike ship-shape and road-ready for the good weather ahead.

Popular Mechanics offers a handy pictorial guide to 9 things to do to check your bicycle for spring.

Check out our prior post on ensuring you get the right fit on bike helmets — particularly important for kid riders. We sourced some excellent guides to get you up to speed on bike helmet safety.

Don’t let your season be ruined by theft. Check out our posts on protecting your bicycle from bike thieves and get the scoop on what you need to know about insurance for your bike to protect your investment.

It’s also a good idea to brush up on bicycle safety – a 2014 report on biking fatalities shows the high risk groups and problems that can occur. Bike safety is important for everybody but particularly important for kids – check out these handy resources.

See our 2016 Bike Month tool kit post for links to bike clubs in New England and some helpful videos for prepping your bike for the season.

Bike helmets save lives: Learn how to get the right fit


Bicycle helmetConsumer Reports has a special August feature on the importance of bike helmets noting that, “More head injuries occur in biking than in any other sport—and bike helmets can save your life.” They cite data from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety: 60% of people who died in a bike accident in 2014 were not wearing a helmet. See our prior post on biking fatalities. The Consumer Reports article talk about some of the newer bicycle helmets and the protection they offer, along with ratings of 35 helmets.

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But it’s not just enough to get a helmet, to ensure maximum protection, it’s important to get the right bike helmet fit. Consumer Reports offers the following tips for finding the right bike helmet fit:

»The helmet must be level on your head.
»The front edge should be no more than an inch or so above your eyebrows.
»The strap should fit closely under your chin.
»Straps should meet just below your jaw and in front of your ears, forming a V under your earlobes.

A fabulous resource for everything bicycle-helmet related is Helmets.org, a non-profit consumer-funded helmet advocacy program of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association. It includes the latest research, innovations in helmet safety – pretty much anything you could ever want to know about helmets. They offer a great page on how to fit a bicycle helmet.  Below, we feature a short clip on how to fit and secure bike helmets for kids.

No state laws require adults to wear bicycle helmets, but many states have requirements for children – see your state bicycle helmet law. Even if there is no state law, you might also want to check local ordinances.

It’s Bike to Work Week – find New England resources


bike_month_web_900x900May is National Bike Month and this week – May 11 to 15 – is Bike to Work Week, culminating in Bike to Work Day, on Friday, May 15. Biking instead of driving is good for the environment and good for you, too! We’ve gathered some links to New England resources to find local events and resources.

Wear a helmet, follow the law – find your state laws – and get some smart cycling tips from the National Bike League.

Don’t forget to protect your investment – the Insurance Information Institute offers a rundown on Bicycle Safety and Insurance. They note that: “Bicycles are covered under the personal property section of standard homeowners and renters insurance policies. This coverage will reimburse you, minus your deductible, if your bike is stolen or damaged in a fire, hurricane or other disaster listed in your policy.”  But if you are a serious biker with very expensive, high-end bikes, you might want to talk to your agent about a rider to your policy to get additional coverage. To further protect your investment, consider registering your bike at the National Bike Registry.

New report on biking fatalities shows risk groups, problems


More and more bikers are taking to the roads. That’s good for many reasons: it’s an an environment-friendly transportation option, it’s economical and it offers health and cardio benefits to the rider.

There’s a flip side of the coin, though. According to a new report from the Governors’ Highway Safety Association, Spotlight on Highway Safety: Bicyclist Safety. The report notes that, “… yearly bicyclist deaths increased 16 percent between 2010 and 2012, while overall motor vehicle fatalities increased just one percent during the same time period.”

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The report also notes that some groups are at higher risk.

  • In 1975, adults represented only 21% of all fatalities; On 1974, adults repreent 74% of all fatalities.
  • Bicycle fatalities are increasingly an urban phenomenon, accounting for 69 percent of all bicycle fatalities in 2012, compared with 50 percent in 1975.
  • While bicyclists killed in motor vehicle crashes increased in 22 states between 2010 and 2012, six states – California, Florida, Illinois, New York, Michigan and Texas – represented 54 percent of all fatalities.

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In looking at prevention, these rather shocking stats from 2012 are significant:

  • Two-thirds or more of fatally injured bicyclists were not wearing helmets
  • 28% of riders age 16+ had blood alcohol concentrations of .08 percent or higher, compared with 33 percent of fatally injured passenger vehicle drivers.

Click for the full report and other tools

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Resources / Prior Posts
For National Bike Month, here’s the scoop on insurance

Protecting your bicycle from bike thieves

Bike Safety for Kids