Force children to wear helmets and many parents will decide cycling is a dangerous activity, best left well alone. Strap the kids into a "safe" car instead. Those children allowed to cycle could be bought cheap, ill-fitting lids from supermarkets: these may meet British Standards but not the far more stringent Snell and Australian standards. Children wearing such ill-fitting helmets would be street-legal but, in effect, just as unprotected as lid-free children. And, a new study has found that helmets can impact on concentration levels...

Cheap, sloppy-fitting, lo-vent helmets cause more harm than good?

A study by Northumbria University, presented at last week’s annual conference of the British Psychological Society at Imperial College, London, found that wearing helmets led to significant attentional impairments and slower reaction times for cricket players.

The findings were reported by Dr Nick Neave, Dr Mark Moss and John Emmett of the School of Psychology and Sports Science at Northumbria University.

The researchers looked at the physical and mental demands of batting and making ‘runs’ over eight overs, whilst wearing a helmet and when not, in a group of experienced teenage cricketers. Using a sensitive computerised test battery they found measurable impairments in vigilance, alertness and reaction times, when wearing a helmet. The volunteers however did not feel subjectively any hotter, more tired or thirstier in the two conditions.

Dr Nick Neave said: “Our research has shown that wearing a helmet whilst batting may indeed affect those cognitive skills essential for successful batting performance, just as many cricketers suspected.

"We do however stress that improved safety when wearing a helmet far outweighs the small negative effects of wearing one.”

But, you have been thinking since the start of this article, what has cricket got to do with cycling? Dr Neave believes his helmet findings apply to other sports too:

“Correct and rapid decision making is essential for a batsman at the crease and our research could have significance not just for cricket but for other mentally demanding sports where participants have to wear head protection."

Of course, cricket helmets are solid lumps, not like streamlined, lightweight, airy cycle helmets.

Top and mid-range cycle helmets from quality helmet manufacturers feature lots of vents and extra safety features. They also exceed stringent helmet standards, such as ANSI and Snell. Cheap helmets do not. Even when supermarkets stock better quality helmets, expert fitting is not available, leading to potentially unsafe wearing.

Buying cheap helmets mail-order – for instance from the the BHIT website – can also lead to problems because of the lack of fitting by an expert.

Cheap helmets can be uncomfortable to wear because of poor quality design and lack of ventilation ports.

Brand helmet manufacturers spend millions of dollars perfecting optimum ventiliation.

Richard Hemington, MD of Specialized UK said:

“Ventilation for the rider is also a key consideration and the Specialized range includes specific designs for the different cycling disciplines and can even increase ventilation. For example the S1 has been designed expressly for road cyclists so it is extremely light and well ventilated as the riders are travelling at speeds when wearing them. Alternatively, for mountain bike enthusiasts the Telluride and Chamonix are designed for ventilation for slower speeds.”

“The Northumbria University research is interesting to hear but we at Specialized believe we have the correct balance between safety and ventilation in our helmet range. By using the latest technology, the experience of our sponsored cyclists and our innovative designs the helmets give customers excellent ventilation without compromising their safety.”

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