Tests help create first safety ratings for bike helmets

NEW YORK — Bike helmets are not created equal. New testing from the Virginia Tech Helmet Lab and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety showed there’s a big difference in how much protection helmets provide.

For the first time, testing of bike helmets has helped create safety ratings for 30 different adult models.

“All bicycle helmets sold in the United States must pass government regulations but those tests are limited in what they evaluate,” said David Zuby with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

The test developed by Virginia Tech researchers used sensors to evaluate six commonly impacted locations on the helmets in a crash- at two different speeds- to determine concussion protection. Most of the helmets were rated three or four stars out of five-classified as good or very good. But four helmets made the cut as the best available.

Those five star helmets are: Bontrager Ballista MIPS, Garneau Raid MIPS, Bell Stratus MIPS and Specialized Chamonix MIPS.

All are equipped with MIPS, which stands for multi-directional impact protection system. It creates a protective low friction layer inside the helmet.

They range in price from $75 to $200.

“It’s a safety product and if you’re paying more money, you would expect that helmet to do better. That’s not what we saw,” explained Professor Steve Rowson from the Virginia Tech Helmet Lab.

Two helmets received the lowest rating- two stars, or adequate. They’re the Lazer Genesis and Bern Watts.

Some cyclists said they weren’t aware helmets varied in protection.

“I have always assumed that all bike helmets are equally safe, and I just picked one that was cheap enough and light enough that wouldn’t be hot in the summer.”

The researchers said the tests will help consumers make more informed choices as deadly bike crashes increase.

More than 800 cyclists were killed in crashes in 2016- the highest number since 1991.