Protecting Your Brain

Helmet Standards

Helmets are tested to ensure they meet certain criteria in order to provide protection. Organizations that are involved in setting standards, for helmets sold in Canada include:

  • Canadian Standards Association (CSA)
  • United States Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC)
  • American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM)
  • National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE)
  • SNELL Memorial Foundation (SNELL)
  • European Committee for Standardization (CEN)

Helmets that don't bear one or more of these certification stickers should not be used for biking. Retail stores in Canada can only legally sell a helmet if it bears certification to at least one of these standards. 

Helmet Use and Fit

In Alberta, all children under the age of 18 are required to wear a properly fitting bike helmet at all times while riding their own bike or on or attached to an adult's bike (including in bike trailers). All participants, regardless of age, are required to wear a helmet during Safer Cycling Calgary courses. You will not be allowed to ride in a course if you forget your helmet, if it's broken, doesn't fit you properly or isn't meant for bicycling. Exemptions for religious headwear apply, though many types of headwear can accommodate a helmet: a helmet that doesn't fit or isn't worn properly (for example on top of a turban or tipped way back to fit a kippah) will not protect your brain and is useless.

The government of Manitoba, together with CAN-BIKE Instructors, made this fun video explaining how to tell if a helmet is the right one for cycling and how to make it fit you: https://youtu.be/b6r3f7M_XOY 

Helmet Type and Risky Behaviour

kids bikingThere are many different looking helmets, but only a few types: there's helmets that are only meant for biking, or only meant for winter sports (skiing/snowboarding, ice skating, tobogganing) and some that are meant for more than one "summer" activity (skateboarding, inline skating, biking). Any helmet - even the wrong kind - is better than no helmet if you hit your head, but please check your helmet to make sure it's the right kind for biking. Another reminder: only bicycle or multi-sport (summer) helmets are permitted in courses.
 
Some studies have found evidence that wearing a helmet increases risk-taking behaviour, like riding faster or closer to autos, and that motorists seem to give cyclists without helmets more space. Overall, cycling is a low-risk activity, even accounting for the "extra" risk of wearing a helmet. But accidents do happen, and all people make mistakes: you don't want to find yourself seriously injured or killed because something happened and you hit your head. 
 
A word of caution: kids' helmets with moulded plastic things sticking to the shell, like the Raskulls or Crazy Safety brand helmets, may not be the best choice. Yes, they're cute. Yes, kids will want to wear them. Yes, they will protect against impacts, but they may contribute to facial and/or neck injuries. Bike helmets are lab tested on a stationary mount with a weight dropped from the top: this is not a real-world crash and in the real world, helmets are going to impact and likely slide on the ground: a helmet that doesn't have a smooth surface, without protrusions, may not slide or may impact on one of the projections and force the body to twist or bend. This could result in a child's face being forced to slide along the ground or their neck twisted in some manner.
Tail Wags

Helmets are so... blah

Find your helmet boring or uninteresting? Consider covering it with a Tail Wags Helmet Cover! Available in nearly 40 designs, made in Canada and guaranteed to fit over any kind of sport helmet, there's a Tail Wags cover for nearly every personality. We recommend lycra covers for biking as the fleece ones will trap some heat (not enough to cause overheating but you'll probably sweat more). Unfortunately, Tail Wags has stopped making new covers, so what's left in stock is all there will ever be. If you don't find anything you like, look for other sources (if you're crafty, you could make your own). 

    

  • Zebra 1
    Zebra 1

    Melissa is known for the zebra cover

  • Zebra 2
    Zebra 2

    Yes, Melissa wears the zebra when not working

  • Zebra and Panda
    Zebra and Panda

    A work & play weekend in Canmore for Melissa and Sasha

  • Panda
    Panda

    Sasha's panda got a little muddy in Canmore

Why bother?

Reasons commonly given for why cyclists don't wear a helmet include discomfort, messing up the hair, just riding a short distance, belief that motorists give less space, wearing a helmet makes one take more risks or they're just plain ugly. Much of this is true, but when it comes to your brain, why risk it? A very experienced cyclist, who rode east to west and the reverse across North America wrote in one of his books about a conversation he had regarding helmets that went something like this: friend: "I don't wear a helmet, why do you bother?" Joe (the very experienced cyclist): "if you don't think your brain is worth $35, then neither do I." How much value does your brain have? 

broken helmetWould you think differently if you'd had a bad experience? Could you learn from other people's bad experiences? Men typically take greater risks, but it was a bike park feature meant for beginners. He'd ridden from Calgary to Banff on the highway, gone mountain biking many times and spent countless hours on the bike: a beginner jump was literally no big deal. The image on the right shows his helmet after he made a mistake, on the first run of the day. Imagine if he'd had no helmet? A quick image search for "broken bicycle helmet" will show many more, worse than this. Depending on source and reporting method, it is estimated that anywhere from 40-90% of cycling fatalities could be prevented by helmet use. If death doesn't scare you, what about epilepsy, Alzheimer's disease, osteoporosis, paralysis, loss of speech, impaired balance, or constant headaches? A helmet can't prevent all brain injuries, but it can reduce the severity of many of them. I'll defer to Joe's wisdom: if you don't think your brain is worth the cost of a helmet, that's your choice, but I like my brain more than I like having that money in my bank account.             

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