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Helmets cramp my Style - part n+1

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Helmets cramp my Style - part n+1

Old 09-09-10, 03:33 PM
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unterhausen
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Helmets cramp my Style - part n+1

We had to lock the last iteration of this thread because the discussion devolved to personal insults. It seems necessary to have this conversation, so I'm starting a new thread for it. You can argue as strenuously as you want, but insults are not allowed and anyone guilty of insults may find their posting privileges here to be adversely affected. If you find yourself typing one of the the words "idiot" or "stupid," you might want to reconsider hitting the submit button. I can assure you, some post in this thread will raise your blood pressure unless you have the patience of a saint. Be forewarned.
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Old 09-09-10, 04:45 PM
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And I stuck this thread.
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Old 09-10-10, 01:19 AM
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Good. I'm glad to see there is a recognition that this is an important topic and that people do want to discuss it. And there are some persuasive points to be made on both sides of the argument. I'm going to start - re-start - the ball rolling by linking to the wikipedia article on the subject. Wikipedia is not an authoritative source, but this is a useful article that covers a fair bit of the ground and contains links to sources that are authoritative.

And I should also re-state my own position. I own one of the more expensive models of cycling helmet. I never wear it unless I am taking part in an event in which helmets are mandatory. I do not race, I do not do stunts, I am not a downhill mountainbiker (in fact I am rarely any sort of mountainbiker) and in my judgement, the risks I run while cycling are so small that a helmet - irrespective of its effectiveness - is not necessary.

Those who promote helmets say this is foolish, that accidents can happen anywhere, that I should wear a helmet as a precaution. Leaving aside the question of whether helmets are effective, this is a reasonable point. However, it would be no less reasonable were it asked of pedestrians, or of those walking down stairs in their home or office building. In the UK the number of fatalities among cyclists per mile travelled is about the same as it is for pedestrians. I ride much further than I walk, so I am more likely to get killed while cycling than walking. But this does not mean that cycling is more dangerous than walking - they are equally dangerous, it's just I do more of one than the other. And it never occurs to me to carry a helmet so that I can don it while crossing the street, so why should I worry about it when just riding along? And even though I cycle a great deal, my odds are still excellent. Again in the UK, which is where I live, there is only one cyclist fatality per two million miles of cycling.

This is at the heart of my disagreement with those who insist on helmet use. Their message is that cycling is inherently dangerous, and should be practised only when wearing protective gear. Cycling is no more inherently dangerous than other everyday activities, and much more beneficial than most. The referenced wikipedia article contains a link to a British Medical Association article that estimates the health benefits of cycling to outweigh the risks by 20:1. Yet the message we send about it is that it is dangerous and if you do it you might die. This discourages cycling, and this really does make it more dangerous for those cyclists that remain. In those parts of the world where cyclists are very numerous, injury rates per mile travelled tend to be lower. In the Netherlands, where cyclists are everywhere and almost nobody wears a helmet, cyclists suffer fewer head injuries than in the US or UK, for example.

Cycling is good for you. If you exercise reasonable care and learn how to ride a bike in traffic, you are unlikely to come to any harm, with or without a helmet. If you wish to wear a helmet that is fine, but it would be sensible to ask yourself what you expect from it. If it is to spare you some superficial damage in the unlikely event that you fall off and the still more unlikely event that in doing so you hit your head, go to it. If you expect it to offer meaningful protection in the event that you are hit by a fast-moving motor vehicle, you're likely to be disappointed.

Last edited by chasm54; 09-10-10 at 01:24 AM.
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Old 09-10-10, 06:37 AM
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Woot, n+1! What's the next one going to be labeled when this one gets locked?
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Old 09-10-10, 06:41 AM
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But if you don't wear a helmet when you go over the handlebars, the number of cyclists will be n-1.
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Old 09-10-10, 08:26 AM
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helmets

Any statistics purporting to show a similar head injury potential, per mile, for cyclists and pedestrians are suspect. One, we don't have good mileage data on those two groups. Two, most pedestrian fatalities that involve simple falls are of very elderly people.

This is in contrast to injuries from falls from bicycles, which by definition are of younger people, and are at a faster speed than walking.

I personally know of two people who were saved serious head injuries in bicycle accidents by their helmets, and I am pretty sure I was saved from a concussion in a fall I had.

Certainly helmets aren't going to help in some kinds of accidents, but they help in quite a few.

If you want to run the risk of being helmet-less, don't kid yourself that it's actually as safe. It is an additional risk to run.
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Old 09-10-10, 09:36 AM
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Originally Posted by Raleighroader1 View Post
I personally know of two people who were saved serious head injuries in bicycle accidents by their helmets, and I am pretty sure I was saved from a concussion in a fall I had.

Certainly helmets aren't going to help in some kinds of accidents, but they help in quite a few.

If you want to run the risk of being helmet-less, don't kid yourself that it's actually as safe. It is an additional risk to run.
Similarly, wearing an ASTM-1952 or DOT motorsports helmet will help prevent injuries to the face, which can also cause concussions (the type that I sustained in 1999).

Foregoing this added protection in favor of a regular bike helmet is an additional risk to run.

So why are people on this thread so quick to decide for others that a regular bicycle helmet is the "correct" level of protection? Maybe I need more. Maybe I need less.



Also: Everyone claims to have either has had brain damage prevented by a helmet, or knows someone that has. But I can't remember ever seeing ANYONE in a helmet prior to 1990. No one. Zero.

So to everyone making these claims, I have to ask... did you wear a helmet prior to 1990, and if not, how much brain damage occurred as a result?
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Old 09-10-10, 09:49 AM
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Wow. It's back, and a sticky too!

For a while there, I thought it wasn't going to be revived. I revived parts 2 & 3, but thought I'd leave it after part 3 shut down to see what would happen.

I also think it's a conversation that needs to be had as the helmet issue looms large in advocacy, and a more complete understanding about what it can and cannot do is important.

Emotion often rides high on the topic and I entered (and briefly left) the original thread based on insults. There's a difference between calling an argument idiotic and an individual idiotic and they are often so tightly wrapped up together, that there can be problems. I think this characteristic is overly represented in this debate.

Still, I think there's an awful lot of misinformation on helmets out there and this thread may be the place to get a better understanding of the issues involved. It's good to see this back on the board.
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Old 09-10-10, 10:09 AM
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Originally Posted by Raleighroader1 View Post
Any statistics purporting to show a similar head injury potential, per mile, for cyclists and pedestrians are suspect. One, we don't have good mileage data on those two groups. Two, most pedestrian fatalities that involve simple falls are of very elderly people.
But most pedestrian fatalities aren't from simple falls. And neither are most cycling fatalities.

I personally know of two people who were saved serious head injuries in bicycle accidents by their helmets, and I am pretty sure I was saved from a concussion in a fall I had.
Anecdote is ubiquitous and always suspect. I don't doubt that you believe what you say to be true, but many of the people who say "my helmet saved me" must be mistaken. If they were not, increased helmet use would have had a statistically significant impact on the number of deaths or serious head injuries to cyclists, and that does not appear to be the case. Ghettocruiser is right about that.

Certainly helmets aren't going to help in some kinds of accidents, but they help in quite a few.
Quite possibly. But serious injury is rare, with or without a helmet.

If you want to run the risk of being helmet-less, don't kid yourself that it's actually as safe. It is an additional risk to run.
This is not certain. There is some suggestion that helmets worsen some accidents by causing rotational injury that would not otherwise have occurred. And some - not much, I accept - that helmets induce risk-compensatory behaviour on the part of both cyclists and - much more important - drivers. But even if it is an additional risk, that risk is small.

And it is interesting to me that no helmet proponent ever deals with my central point, which is that cycling is pretty safe and the benefits outweigh the risks by a mile. If everyone cycled fifty miles a week, say, I am prepared to bet (and the previously-referenced BMA analysis would back me up) that the incidence of premature death would fall. The number of heart attacks and strokes would drop by far, far more than the number of accident victims would rise. So as a matter of public health policy, shouldn't we promoting the benefits of cycling rather than allowing the debate to be dominated by those with an exaggerated fear of an unlikely eventuality?
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Old 09-10-10, 10:09 AM
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Originally Posted by Raleighroader1 View Post
... I personally know of two people who were saved serious head injuries in bicycle accidents by their helmets, and I am pretty sure I was saved from a concussion in a fall I had...
... and here is where emotion creeps in.

People often say they were involved in, or knew somebody who was involved in, some kind of incident in which a either a helmet saved them, or were hurt while not wearing a helmet. This makes it personal. It isn't very objective or precise but it means something to someone.

The trouble is, people are seriously injured while wearing helmets and that is often ignored or discounted, as are cyclists without helmets involved in serious crashes getting up without head injuries.

I think it's best if we step back and look at the big picture. The opposite of what often happens when someone is going over a recent fall. I guess it's a hard thing to think that cyclists live longer, not shorter lives after you've just had a scary brush with injury.

One of the problems with this particular statement is that, as discussed on the previous version of the thread, helmets cannot prevent concussion, yet a claim of being saved from one is made. That claim may be representative of the other claim, that the others were saved from serious head injury. Someone may feel that is true, but they just don't know that it is. It's the emotion talking.

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Old 09-10-10, 10:47 AM
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I think another reason to keep this thread alive to avoid mandatory helmet laws.

Many of these laws are passed on ignorance and sometimes this ignorance comes from cycling organizations in the jurisdictions where the laws are passed.

I remember watching a Vancouver, Washington city council meeting video debating their then proposed helmet law and was amazed by how ill informed not only the council was, but the representative of the local cycling organization.

I looked up the Hansard when the BC government passed it's law and saw the only justification for the law was people died from head injuries on bikes and the singular study mentioned (Seattles infamous TRT promo piece) said wearing helmets would prevent them. I talked to an MLA who was active in the legislation and he said no one read the report, they took it on faith that if the BCMA said is was legitimate, it must be. I talked to the BCMA rep and he said he knew all deaths were caused by MVAs and not a single subject in the "study" involved a MVA. He also said Australia never experienced a reduction of cyclists following it's law and that Amsterdams hospitals are filled with cyclists with head injuries.

I asked a couple of maritime provinces cycling advocacy organizations what they knew of the issue and both admitted although they supported the legislation, they knew almost nothing about the issue outside of that they assumed the legislation would reduce injury to cyclists.

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Old 09-10-10, 11:39 AM
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Originally Posted by mikeshoup View Post
Woot, n+1! What's the next one going to be labeled when this one gets locked?
trying to decide if it should be e^n or (n+4)!
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Old 09-10-10, 11:53 AM
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d/dn (2e^2n) ?
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Old 09-10-10, 03:47 PM
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Research and science are great, but anecdotes are fun, too, so I thought I should contribute a couple.

On one of the routes that I used to ride regularly, there was a lamppost with a traffic light control box bolted to it right at head height. On two occasions, I came around the post from the opposite side, didn't see the box, and ran headfirst into it, fast enough to take me right off the back of the bike. The first time, I realized that I needed to pay more attention to known hazards on my route, and the second time REALLY emphasized that point.

Going home from a concert at 2:30 AM, I was distracted enough to fail to realize that a 5" high curb was not a painted line on the pavement. I found out when I tried to merge across it, and had the bike taken from under me. Normally, I am able to manage this sort of fall without incident or injury, but this time I was taken completely by surprise, and did not keep my head off the pavement.

In both of these cases, I was wearing my usual headgear - a fedora or a cowboy hat. Both of these instances made me think seriously about that choice. After careful thought and vigilant monitoring of any repercussions (mild headache for an hour or so in the first case, and a cut above the eyebrow from my glasses in the second), I realized several things. Among them: 1.My head can take some abuse. 2.If I had been wearing a helmet in these instances, I would have needed to purchase a replacement helmet. 3.If I had been wearing a helmet in these instances, and had subsequently spent the money on a replacement, I would certainly have felt the need to tell people about how the cost was worth it because of the injuries that the damaged helmets had prevented - I might have even sworn that I owed them my life.

I have hit my head, hard, in various situations, and have even been knocked unconcious for a brief time, though never as a result of a fall from a bike. Based on my personal experience, I wear a helmet when working pulling pipe out of a well, when riding in a large, officially sanctioned bike ride, and possibly in a few other circumstances. I do not expect to be able to protect myself completely from hitting my head as I move through a world with many hard surfaces, but I am not too worried about that, and I am confident that my daily life is low risk enough that I do not need protective gear on a daily basis. If only the local law enforcement agencies had some respect for that judgement, life would be a bit easier.
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Old 09-10-10, 07:46 PM
  #15  
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If we have to redo this thread again, the next issuance will be version n_2^n-n_1^n=Ω

Now, Admittedly, I am a sample of 1, but I crashed and am reasonably sure my helmet kept me alive by absorbing and attenuating the impact sufficiently to avoid deadly issues. The impact was a repeated impact on my right temple area. My helmet was basically destroyed, and I definitely had my bell rung by the hit.......I also broke my right collarbone and tore the heck out of my right leg and arm. I did have a concussion, but without the helmet, I likely would have had a serious skull fracture, as well as a much worse concussion. Are they bulletproof? No, but they do reduce the chances of some types of injury being deadly or debilitating. Should you be forced to wear one? I would say no, it's your choice.......I choose to wear one, personally, but hey, it's your one and only brain inside your one and only skull.
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Old 09-10-10, 08:28 PM
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I saw a sidewalk cyclist pass a car that was making a right turn by zipping through the crosswalk. The cyclist had a helmet on, and looked at me like I was insane not to, or perhaps to be riding on the street. There's room for criticism, in that a lot of people don't really learn safety on the bike, but do wear hats; it can seem like the hat is being used as a crutch or a magic band-aid. Unfortunately, some advocates carry this argument too far, and imply that people give up all their skill on the bike when they put a hat on. It's not a one-or-the-other choice.

Some folks believe that helmets are impotent. For anyone in this group, I've always wondered what sort of evidence would get you to believe otherwise?

Finally, I'm curious how many people who are against helmet laws are also against seatbelt laws?
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Old 09-10-10, 08:42 PM
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I had a friend at work who was wanting to ride his bike into work and asked me for some advice.

He had a limited amount of money to spend and wanted to prioritize his purchases. He said a helmet was the first purchase, lights his second priority. When I mentioned maybe lights were a better choice for the initial purchase, he scoffed at the advice and went ahead and bought his helmet.

He did buy a light next, but it was only one and it was a rear blinky. Even after I explained he had a rear reflector and most potential collisions will come from in front and not from the rear so maybe a front light would be better, he discounted that advice too.

He did learn about riding on the wrong side of the road. After I told him the problems with it, he did it anyway and came to me soon after telling me about a motorist that almost hit him in the exact way I described how it could happen.

Not long after he bought his helmet the clip that holds the chin strap broke. He ended up tying his chin strap in a knot to keep his helmet on.

What's my point? The average Joe thinks a helmet is the top priority in safety. The other stuff doesn't matter nearly as much. I think that's not very good.

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Old 09-10-10, 08:47 PM
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Originally Posted by Seattle Forrest View Post
...Some folks believe that helmets are impotent. For anyone in this group, I've always wondered what sort of evidence would get you to believe otherwise?
I don't think helmets are impotent for the purpose they were intended for. I do think they are when used in situations beyond their capabilities.

Originally Posted by Seattle Forrest View Post
Finally, I'm curious how many people who are against helmet laws are also against seatbelt laws?
Seat belts are different than helmets. They are built and work in a different way and have a different efficacy.

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Old 09-10-10, 09:47 PM
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Originally Posted by Tom Stormcrowe View Post
Now, Admittedly, I am a sample of 1, but I crashed and am reasonably sure my helmet kept me alive by absorbing and attenuating the impact sufficiently to avoid deadly issues. The impact was a repeated impact on my right temple area.
Tom, sorry if I'm bringing up some bad memories, but I'm a little curious about the details of your crash (apologies if you've discussed them previously, but I didn't find it). Just wondering if you remember what you hit on the ground with your temple.

The temple area is certainly particularly vulnerable and a part of the skull that is relatively easy to damage. However it's also fairly well protected in most impacts unless one happens to be unfortunate enough to hit a protrusion right in that spot. If I fall on the ground on my side my shoulder will take most of the impact and my head will rotate around and impact with the side of my skull well above the temple area - and in a spot where the skull is much stronger. Only if there happens to be a rock, curbstone, or other projection just above where my shoulder impacts would I have a direct impact on the temple area. (And of course the same is true if hit by a small projectile, such as a baseball, which is why batting helmets are designed with special emphasis on the temple area.) The temple area is recessed slightly and in a position of the skull that is unlikely to take the brunt of an impact in typical falls which helps to make up for its relative vulnerability.

But if I put on a helmet, the extra inch or two that it sticks out from the temple area makes it much easier for there to be an impact there even in a fall on flat ground. If I lie on my side on the floor while wearing a helmet and let my head rest on its side it'll be resting on the temple area whereas without the helmet I'd need to rotate my head significantly farther to the side and it'd be resting farther up on the skull. It would seem that the presence of the helmet can convert an impact that would have been concentrated on the strong upper part of the skull into one that's concentrated on the temple area.
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Old 09-11-10, 02:47 AM
  #20  
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Originally Posted by Seattle Forrest View Post
I saw a sidewalk cyclist pass a car that was making a right turn by zipping through the crosswalk. The cyclist had a helmet on, and looked at me like I was insane not to, or perhaps to be riding on the street. There's room for criticism, in that a lot of people don't really learn safety on the bike, but do wear hats; it can seem like the hat is being used as a crutch or a magic band-aid. Unfortunately, some advocates carry this argument too far, and imply that people give up all their skill on the bike when they put a hat on. It's not a one-or-the-other choice.
No, it absolutely isn't. But the most serious injuries, up to and including death, to road cyclists tend to involve collisions with motor vehicles. The best way to reduce the (already quite small) numbers of those injuries is to reduce the number of collisions, and there are many things that cyclists can do to minimise them; even in heavy traffic and even when it would be the driver who was at fault. Visibility, riding defensively, being aware of and responding to potential hazards before they become manifest, decent bike-handling skills etc. In terms of protection against brain damage I'd put a helmet below all of these things.

Some folks believe that helmets are impotent. For anyone in this group, I've always wondered what sort of evidence would get you to believe otherwise?
I don't know anyone who thinks they're impotent. I, and other critics, think they are a lot less potent than most people assume. As for evidence, more realistic testing to much higher standards would help. Ironically, of course, enforcing that would persuade the "safety at all costs" brigade that cycling without a motorcycle helmet shouldn't be permitted, and that would pretty much kill cycling altogether. The most important thing to get people to understand is that cycling, done right, is actually very safe.

Finally, I'm curious how many people who are against helmet laws are also against seatbelt laws?
I wear a seatbelt. They work, and they in no way interfere with my driving. However I would not make them mandatory. I'd also be interested to read, though have not yet bothered to look for, any research on risk compensation among motorists. Cars feel pretty safe these days. I wonder if that encourages people to drive less carefully and whether that has a much more negative impact on the safety of cyclists and pedestrians than on that of the drivers themselves?
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Old 09-11-10, 05:54 AM
  #21  
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Originally Posted by closetbiker View Post
What's my point? The average Joe thinks a helmet is the top priority in safety. The other stuff doesn't matter nearly as much. I think that's not very good.
+1
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Old 09-11-10, 06:11 AM
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Originally Posted by Seattle Forrest View Post
Some folks believe that helmets are impotent. For anyone in this group, I've always wondered what sort of evidence would get you to believe otherwise?

Finally, I'm curious how many people who are against helmet laws are also against seatbelt laws?
I think that part of the problem is people simply talking past each other. In large, the argument has been that helmets are far less important than is commonly believed.

MHLs are not recommended because they result in less cycling which potentially offsets any health/safety gains. Moreover, the risk reduction from seat belts is much larger -- and empirically observable in aggregate data! -- than the risk reduction from cycling helmets.
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Old 09-11-10, 08:04 AM
  #23  
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Further, the cost discrepancy between seatbelts and helmets is huge. A helmet can cost 10% the price of a bike. For the equivalent, wouldn't that put the cost of seatbelts at about $2000 per?
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Old 09-11-10, 08:50 AM
  #24  
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I just think it's unfortunate that people have been sold a bill of goods about bike helmets that is incorrect. and when you point out that it may be incorrect in certain ways, some people get really defensive about it, almost like it's a personal insult. and then..... the insults start flying, with words like stupid, Darwin, organ donor and gene Pool being prominent favorites.
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Old 09-11-10, 04:50 PM
  #25  
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I actually hit the ground multiple times. The worst helmet damage was the temple area. I had the bike go out from under me in a tangled up crash in a paceline and I hit at may angles. It's all a bit hazy, frankly. I also left my upper incisors embedded in a set of carbon fiber handlebars on another riders bike and damaged the roots sufficiently on both my upper and lower jaw that I woumnd up needing all the teeth pulled.


It was a NASTY crash. My neurologist assures me I'm only alive because of the helmet. The helmet partially operates on the same principale as a crumple zone on a carf. The foam lining compresses and attenuates the impact.

Originally Posted by prathmann View Post
Tom, sorry if I'm bringing up some bad memories, but I'm a little curious about the details of your crash (apologies if you've discussed them previously, but I didn't find it). Just wondering if you remember what you hit on the ground with your temple.

The temple area is certainly particularly vulnerable and a part of the skull that is relatively easy to damage. However it's also fairly well protected in most impacts unless one happens to be unfortunate enough to hit a protrusion right in that spot. If I fall on the ground on my side my shoulder will take most of the impact and my head will rotate around and impact with the side of my skull well above the temple area - and in a spot where the skull is much stronger. Only if there happens to be a rock, curbstone, or other projection just above where my shoulder impacts would I have a direct impact on the temple area. (And of course the same is true if hit by a small projectile, such as a baseball, which is why batting helmets are designed with special emphasis on the temple area.) The temple area is recessed slightly and in a position of the skull that is unlikely to take the brunt of an impact in typical falls which helps to make up for its relative vulnerability.

But if I put on a helmet, the extra inch or two that it sticks out from the temple area makes it much easier for there to be an impact there even in a fall on flat ground. If I lie on my side on the floor while wearing a helmet and let my head rest on its side it'll be resting on the temple area whereas without the helmet I'd need to rotate my head significantly farther to the side and it'd be resting farther up on the skull. It would seem that the presence of the helmet can convert an impact that would have been concentrated on the strong upper part of the skull into one that's concentrated on the temple area.
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