Spoke Talk: When to wear full-face helmets
At this point in the 21st century, people generally understand that helmets are a good idea. Road riding, commuting, cross-country and downhill mountain biking are all cycling activities that can have significant impacts on your head if you take a tumble. Helmet technology continues to evolve, and every year, manufacturers are designing safer helmets.
If you are a rider who uses lift-accessed bike parks, you likely have a full-face helmet. When paired with a neck brace device, such as a Leatt, you have significantly more head and neck protection than afforded by your normal helmet. But, should this protection be reserved only for park riding?
In the bike park, I will be riding at higher speeds over rocky sections and off jumps and wooden features, thanks to directional, bike-specific trail designations. But sometimes, I ride up the mountain on my cross-country bike for a Sunshine Loop and end on Creekside — which also happens to be a trail one can quickly descend with rocks, jump features and bridges. Suddenly, my half-shell helmet makes me feel exposed and vulnerable. I certainly will not be riding uphill in a full-face helmet; this quickly causes a Darth-Vader-sits-in-a-sauna effect. What to do?
Following are a few suggestions.
- Assess your riding style and speed in relation to the trail type. If you are descending a technical trail after a long cross-country ride, take it a bit more slowly. If you are not wearing all your bike park gear, do not ride it as you would a bike park trail. Also, multi-use trails mean] slower speeds.
- Wear your helmet all the time. Period. It may be hot on your climb, but you could catch a root and crash just as easily going uphill as down. It may not be a high-speed crash, but if your head hits a rock, your head has just hit a rock.
- Opt for more protection. If you will be riding technical terrain or at high speeds, a full-face helmet will offer significantly more protection. There are Enduro-style helmets on the market that are lightweight and include a detachable chinbar. These helmets allow you to ride up the mountain comfortably, then attach the full-face component for the descent. Not a bad invention.
- If you have crashed or have dents in your helmet, or if you’ve had your helmet for more than two or three years, it is time for a new one. The foam and other materials lose their integrity through time, even if the helmet has never left the box.
With the rise of concussions and concussion research, the importance of protecting your head is becoming more apparent. Take this as a reminder to assess your riding skills with respect to the terrain and make the best decision for the longevity of your brain.
Kelly Northcutt is a member of Routt County Riders. Routt County Riders is the local source for grassroots advocacy and information for all types of cycling. Find the group at facebook.com/rcriders or routtcountyriders.org, or email email@example.com.
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