New independent test ranks bicycle helmet safety

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Bicycle helmet manufacturers are currently restricted from being able to claim exactly how safe their helmets actually are; they’re only allowed to state that they “meet or exceed” government-mandated minimum safety requirements. However, a new independent test developed by Virginia Tech university and the US-based Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) aims to change all of that, in hopes that safety-minded consumers will finally be able to make purchasing decisions based on measured protection levels, not just ancillary features such as weight, ventilation, aerodynamics, and aesthetics. IIHS already conducts its own testing for automobiles, and is considered to the best gold standard for crash safety in the United States.

Virginia Tech says its test protocol is more rigorous than what is typically used for federal certifications, and is based on its background testing protective helmets for other contact sports, such as football, hockey, and soccer. Those certifications are currently based only on reducing the risk of skull fracture, not soft-tissue damage such as concussions and other traumatic brain injuries. Virginia Tech also claims that its testing uses more realistic scenarios, including non-perpendicular impact angles and impacts concentrated more at the sides and lower rims of the helmets.

Taking all of that into account, Virginia Tech then applied star ratings based on the measured impact forces. The first 30 helmets to be included in the test comprised a range of prices and styles, but only four earned the top five-star rating: the Bontrager Ballista MIPS, the Louis Garneau Raid MIPS, the Bell Stratus MIPS, and the Specialized Chamonix MIPS. Two only managed a two-star rating, while the rest fell into the three-star or four-star categories.

Virginia Tech and IIHS says this is only the initial batch of testing, and more helmet models will be tested — and rated — soon.

Helmet ratings

Five-star (Best Available):
Bell Stratus MIPS
Bontrager Ballista MIPS
Louis Garneau Raid MIPS
Specialized Chamonix MIPS

Four-star (Very Good):
Bell Draft MIPS
Bontrager Quantum MIPS
Giro Foray MIPS
Giro Savant
Giro Synthe
Giro Sutton MIPS
Louis Garneau Le Tour II
POC Octal
Scott ARX Plus MIPS
Smith Overtake
Specialized Evade II
Specialized Prevail II

Three-star (Good):
Bell Division
Bell Reflex
Bern Brentwood
Electra Helmet
Bontrager Solstice
Giro Revel
Kali City
Nutcase Street
Schwinn Flash
Schwinn Thrasher
Specialized Centro
Triple 8 Dual Certified MIPS

Two-star (Adequate):
Lazer Genesis
Bern Watts

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