How Nine Ounces of Plastic Can Save Your Life
The plastic helmets worn by these bicycle racers provide critical protection in the event of a high-speed crash.
Image courtesy of www.morguefile.com.
What weighs 9 ounces and saves lives every day? A bicycle helmet of course. So how does a half-pound of hydrocarbons protect a crashing cranium from the ravages of the road? Bicycle helmets blend four kinds of plastic in a light, functional design that have protected my head in many crashes, including a near-fatal 50-mph downhill racing crash.
On May 9, 2007, I was moving between and around the other riders trying to be first to the bottom of Turkey Hill in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Near the bottom of the hill I touched wheels with another rider and flipped up then down to the road, landing on my right shoulder and forehead. In an instant I had 10 broken bones, but despite the high-speed crash, no broken bones in my skull.
The helmet worked exactly as it is designed to do. The expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam on the inside crushed. The smooth, slippery polycarbonate skin of the helmet slid rather than grabbing the road surface, and despite the violence of the impact and the half-dozen ventilation holes in the helmet, the nylon reinforcement in the foam and the nylon chin strap held that lifesaving 255 grams on my head.
Of course, I was quite a mess despite the helmet. I was MedEvaced from the scene of the accident and had emergency surgery to repair a smashed vertebra and some bad facial injuries. But my head had no worse injury than a concussion. Without a helmet or with an ill-fitting helmet, that could well have been my last ride ever. And one final cautionary note: helmets are good for exactly one crash. If you get the rubber side of the bike up, chances are your head hit the ground. The EPS foam in your helmet does not spring back when crushed. In the next crash it will have less shock-absorbing ability.
When you crash, throw the helmet away and buy a new one.