There's the kid that says "first" on every post, another kid that calls that kid an idiot for caring about such things, some general bickering, an odd intelligent comment or two, and then someone generally makes a comment about how the rider should be wearing a helmet. And not to say that too isn't an intelligent comment, but the subject of helmets—who should be wearing them, and what helmets to wear—is a touchy one these days. And after experiencing Vinne Mannino's fall at Simple Session this year (more on that below), I figured it was an appropriate time to ask go-to-guy at Bell Helmets, Allan Cooke, a variety of questions about their widely-used and appreciated Segment helmet and some general questions on helmets in BMX. So, read on as this product feature turned interview has a lot of good information to ponder…
First off, let’s go through the basics: What is a bike certified helmet?
There are a few types of certifications, the first is the most known and that is CPSC Certification. For a helmet to be sold in the US as a "Bicycle Helmet" at a "Bicycle Shop" it must have the government regulated CPSC Certification, this certification takes into account the fact that the helmet will be used on the road where cars, motorcycles and other bicycle traffic is an issue. The basics of this test is that the brain cannot withstand over 300g's from a three meter drop directly to the head, the helmet has to pass impacts on different shaped anvils and to different locations on the helmet before it can hold a CPSC Cert.
There are similar certifications like this for other countries. Europe, and Australia both have similar certifications, but the tests the helmets have to withstand vary slightly. In many cases a helmet that passes in the US may not pass in Australia or a helmet that passes in Europe may not pass in the US.
There is also a standard called ASTM, they have certifications that are a lot more specific. ASTM has certifications that deal with a whole array of things not just having to do with helmets; they are more looking to give the consumer a gauge of what the product they are looking to buy has been built for. For example, they study the differences between what type of forces would be generated between a BMX crash and a Mountain Bike DH crash, through their studies they determine what the average force generated is and set the standard based on that. ASTM BMX standards do not take into account on road crashes therefor cannot be sold "By Law" as a helmet that can be used on the road.
The BELL Segment helmet passes the U.S. CPSC, ASTM BMX, AUS (Australia) and CE (Europe) safety standards.
What’s inadequate about a soft-foam “skate” helmet?
Ha, what is actually adequate? The answer is nothing…except that if you're under 18 you won't get a ticket for riding without a helmet. That's all you will really get from a non-certified soft foam helmet.
Before answering your question, I have to make a small correction: skate even has standards, some of which are more strict than BMX. It is a miss conception that a soft foam helmet is a skate helmet, the reality is that it's not really for anything and passes no certification what so ever. The warning label on one of these soft foam helmets reads, "This helmet provides minimal padding against impacts to the head and does not meet any established safety standards." Seriously. And if that's not enough, in the owner's manual it reads, "This helmet is not intended for any other sport." But nowhere in the owner's manual does it specifies what sport the helmet is made for?? So, with that said, I think it's a safe way to go if you just simply think of it like this: if you are on a bike, wear a bike helmet. It's really no different than when you get on a motorcycle you wear a motorcycle helmet, you don't wear skate, bike, or horse jumping helmets on a motorcycle. Helmets are built pretty damn sport specific and the best thing is just to wear the helmet for the sport that you are doing.
How does the segment different from other hard foam helmets?
The biggest issue with hard foam helmets is comfort. The standard helmet form is a generalization of what the human head is. The sizes of helmets are determined by the circumference of the head and the head is almost like a fingerprint in the way that all of ours different and unique. If you are a 57cm head, you wear a medium helmet. But there are endless shapes a 57cm head comes in, the soft padding in the helmet is designed to deal with these differences in head shape but in trying to keep the helmet as small and as low on the head as possible there isn't much room for margin. What happens is some head shapes you will get "hot spots," this is where the hard foam is directly in contact with the head and creates discomfort.
The Segment is built in a way so that the helmet can flex and form to almost any head shape much like the soft foam non cert helmets do but without sacrificing any safety. The EPS Hard Foam liner is broken up into nine pieces with a gap between each piece that allows the outer ABS Shell flex.
Does a full face offer more protection from brain injuries than a “half-face” helmet?
There is really no way to generalize a question like that; in the end it all depends on the specific crash. What a full face will for sure help with is saving your teeth, nose, jaw, cheek bones etc. What I do know is that if you are going to land on your face, a certified helmet will give you a better chance at getting up than a non-certified helmet. I have seen some pretty bad hits to the face with and without certified helmets, and the damage to the face was similar, but the injuries to the brain were drastically different. This is not an official stance or a standard, just my personal experience.
What sort of testing do helmets go through?
Tons. The specifics of the tests are immense. One of the things that I never really thought of before working here at BELL was that fact that the helmets have to pass in extreme hot and cold temps, the properties of the foam change in the drastic temps and have to pass the same tests. There are roll off tests, this is to ensure that the helmet will stay on the head if there is an impact in an upward direction. The straps have to pass a test to make sure that they won't break or pull out from where they are mounted to the helmet, the buckle must pass tests as well…there's a lot that goes into it.
Sizes are X-Small (48-53cm), Small (51-56cm), Medium (54-59cm) and Large (58-63cm) and there 11 colors and styles, check out bellhelmets.com for pics of all the styles.
Anything new in the works from Bell?
We have some really cool new stuff in the works, new shapes and new technology that will change the game for sure. You will see it on the team guys by summer and we will launch it to the public in October at Texas Toast.
Here come the political questions… I had the idea to hit you up after Vinnie Mannino’s fall at Simple Session. His fall was bad and it was exasperated by overall confusion from the paramedics in the moment. After the fact, I shot a photo of his crushed Bell Segment helmet and it sparked a bit of a debate, particularly that someone in my position should be preaching helmet safety. I’ve long taken the stance that this is BMX and that there are no rules…and while I will take the time to educate in the proper context, I’m not going to tell anyone that they must do something. Being a rider first and now a proponent of helmets, how do you promote helmet use? Is there a right way and wrong way to do it?
I saw that coverage of Vinnie's crash on Insta and I thought it was awesome how you just put the info out there and didn't force a stance. It's tough, man. I just try to spread the knowledge that I have gained through my own experiences crashing with and without certified helmets and working for BELL. I have never felt comfortable, nor have I felt the need to "preach" my stance on helmet use. Every reason that a rider uses to not wear a helmet is one that I have also used myself. I understand what is going on in a rider's head and why they would choose not to wear a helmet or wear a non-certified helmet—the difference between where those riders are and where I am at today is what I now know. I just try to spread the knowledge as a matter of fact and not "if you don't wear this helmet this will happen to you." Shit like that is hard for a young athlete at the top of their game to hear and the fact is, it just isn't true. There are no guarantees; plenty of people have gone through their careers without wearing helmets or non-certified ones and are totally fine today. I have also seen it go the other way, and now I know that wearing a certified helmet will give you the best chance of getting up in a bad hit to the head, however that also is not a guarantee. Everything has a limit, no helmet is a guarantee that you will not get hurt but the level of protection they offer drastically varies between helmets.
Is there a wrong way or right way…who am I to decide that? Everyone needs to hear things in different ways, I just try to put the information out there that otherwise people wouldn't know and let them make the decision.
What’s your opinion on mandatory helmet rules in events? Obviously I’m more specifically referring to events like X Games where the biggest obstacle on the Street League course if four feet tall.
I totally back helmets being mandatory at televised competitions. That is where the most impressionable viewers are and, in an attempt to protect the growth and sustainability of our sport, we need to be responsible with how it is presented to the viewers. In reality what is it hurting by wearing a helmet?
When Mikey fell, everyone promoted helmet use. When Brett fell, everyone promoted bike certified helmet use. I hope it’ll never happen, but if someone falls using a certified helmet, what’s the next possible push?
I don't want that to happen either, but history tells me it will. Like I said before, there are absolutely no guarantees that you won't sustain a life altering injury while in a certified helmet, it's just the fact. Another fact is that when we did a direct comparison at half of the certification drop height the brain in the certified helmet had a 159 G's impact and the one in the non-certified helmet was 816 G's. I know that's the difference between getting up right away with maybe a headache and death.
We are working very hard to stay ahead of the next big crash and the engineers know that good enough is never good enough. BELL is the leader in all fronts as far as helmets go, literally every helmet out there is based on what BELL created over the last 60 years and I would be willing to bet that the next big thing in head protection will be coming from our team.
Overall, you’re legitimately saving lives. Vinnie fractured his face and his skull that day, but I believe that his helmet saved his life. How does that idea motivate you guys?
It's an amazingly rewarding feeling to know that what we are doing is helping guys get back up after a fall, or even the opportunity to get back on their bikes after going to the hospital. For me, it's huge. I'm friends with a lot of these guys or at least know them personally. I think that a really important thing to take away from Vinnie's crash is not just that the helmet played a part in him surviving, but that 100% of the credit needs to go to Vinnie for making the choice to wear a certified helmet. It was a really smart and simple thing that Vinnie did by choosing that helmet and it's a choice that we all have every time we get on our bikes. History and statistics alike prove that smart and simple decision could make all the difference in the end.