It’s Bike Month in Spokane. Do you know where your helmet is?
If you’re pretty sure it’s either in the garage or under your ski boots – but not entirely sure because you haven’t seen it since you flew over the handlebars eight years ago – it might be time to get a new one before you get back in the saddle.
In Spokane, all bicyclists are required by law to wear helmets. A similar Spokane County ordinance applies to children ages 3 to 15. And wearing a bike helmet can reduce the risk of a head injury by 85 percent, according to the National Highway Traffic Administration.
But strapping any old wedge of foam to your head won’t necessarily prevent injury in a collision or crash, cyclist and safety advocates say: Proper sizing and fit are key, as may be trading in your old one for a fresh model every few years – and especially after it’s been in an accident.
“Helmets do have a useful life,” said Geoff Forshag, who owns Two Wheel Transit, a bike shop in downtown Spokane. “Once you start using them in the elements, that life starts ticking down like a timer.”
A helmet’s liner is made of foam designed to slow the acceleration of your head against the rock, tree or road it comes up against in an accident. It should “crush like a crumple zone at the front of a car,” Forshag said.
Over time the foam loses pliability, he said, and rigid foam won’t work as well to absorb energy from the crash.
Consumer Reports says helmets should be replaced every five years, or sooner if the manufacturer recommends it.
Any helmet that’s been in a crash also should be replaced, safety advocates urge – even if there’s no visible damage to the helmet. If you crashed, hit your head and suffered no injury, the helmet did its job. And helmets are designed for one-time use.
“They give up their life for you,” Forshag said.
Erika Prins, co-coordinator of Spokane Bikes – the group behind this month’s Bike to Work Week and other Bike Month events – said she’s “had my brain saved by a helmet” when she got hit by a car on Northwest Boulevard.
“My helmet got cracked, so one could assume that my head would have been cracked as well,” Prins said.
She suffered bruises but no serious injuries. The car that hit her wasn’t moving fast, she said: “It doesn’t take much to take a spill, and you don’t have to be going very fast (to get injured). You just have to hit your head.”