Heads Up: Bike Helmets Protect The Brain

When it’s time for kids to hop on their bikes, bike helmets are a must.

And while most might think that a bike helmet protects against a bump on the head, according to Michael Macknin, M.D., of Cleveland Clinic Children’s, a bike helmet also serves to protect against serious brain injuries that can occur from a bicycle crash.

“There’s a tremendous potential for brain injury, particularly given the fact that you’re riding on a hard surface and a fall from 16 inches onto concrete would be the same as a fall from 10 feet onto pine bark,” said Dr. Macknin.

Dr. Macknin said research has shown that wearing a bike helmet can reduce the risk of suffering a serious head injury by nearly 70 percent.

He said if a person is traveling at 20 miles per hour on a bicycle, they’re actually moving as fast as they would be if they jumped out of the second story window of a home, enough to cause serious injury or death.

And it doesn’t matter how skilled of a rider a person is are –there is always the unexpected. Dr. Macknin said something as simple as a twig caught in a spoke can send a person tumbling

A bike helmet is designed to cushion the forces to the head by collapsing, so it gets squished when it gets in a crash.

Dr. Macknin said most bike helmets can last a decade or two as long as they haven’t been in a crash and the straps are still functional, but once a helmet has been involved in a crash, it needs to be replaced.

“If you’re in a significant crash with a bike helmet, you need a new bike helmet,” he said. “That’s different than motorcycle helmets and some of the skateboard helmets that are designed for multiple impacts. Bicycle helmets are designed for one crash and one crash only.”

When purchasing a bike helmet, Dr. Macknin said the most important thing to do is to make sure it fits properly. A light color is good because they are more visible. He said when it comes to shape – the rounder the better. Sharp points on the front or back are not helpful, because in the event of a fall or crash, the helmet should be able to roll.