Recently during my evening commute home, I was distracted by a cyclist wearing a bicycle helmet outfitted with crossbars, like something akin to a college hockey mask. And it wasn’t the first time.
A theme keeps popping up downtown and on the 606, and it presents a question that I’ve often thought about prior to my encounter with Mr. Blackhawk: Should cyclists and helmet manufacturers start engineering the type of gear that’s normally reserved for professional athletes?
We know that the NFL is facing a litany of scrutiny for things like CTE and long term brain damage. And because of it, companies that manufacture helmets have come up with tons of designs to curtail the kind of debilitating head trauma seen in sports like football and even soccer. They do so by incorporating science-based research into nearly every piece of new equipment, down to the fibers of the plastic.
Recently, the Seattle-based manufacturing company Vicis, co-founded by neurosurgeon Sam Browd, unveiled the ZERO1, a pliable, impact-absorbing helmet shell that cushions against violent collisions. Per the company, the helmet is based on the principle that “layers work together to slow impact forces.” Of three major helmet manufacturers, Vicis topped the popular helmets produced by companies like Riddell. A report from CBS Sports also cited Inc.com, which reported that 25 NFL teams have purchased the ZERO1 for this coming season.
People will be quick to point out that a football helmet and a cycling helmet are different. But I would argue that cycling helmets have, for many riders, acted more like an ornament rather than a protective piece of equipment. They may be sleek but they could be even more effective.
I often wonder what might happen if cyclists took the helmet issues as seriously as organizations like the NFL. What if cyclists began outfitting their helmets with facemasks, or mouth guards, or skull caps with layer-incorporated shells, helping to absorb the shock waves of violent impact? Would it make a difference?
I would even go as far as to argue that something as simplistic as a facemask would go a long way to prevent damage to the face and mouth, no less impactful than, say, a hit to the crown of the head. At the very least, you’re saving your teeth.
I look at the people commuting to work on their bikes every day—some of whom don’t wear helmets at all—and I think about the inherent danger of winding through busy streets, vulnerable to fast cars. Professional athletes seem to know that they’re vulnerable; many have taken proactive steps to change that. Cyclists should do so too.