What’s in a Helmet?

March 11, 2014

What’s in a helmet, really?

pith rider

Earliest bicycle helmets were made from pith – a swamp plant – and covered in fabric. Then came the leather era. Modern helmets favor impact-absorbing polystyrene. Photo: Ebay

You can hardly talk about helmets without talking about helmet controversy. But we’re going to try – today, anyway. Helmets for bicycling and other activities such as skating and snowsports come in two basic types. The Nutcase-style helmet is a hard plastic shell with an expanded polystyrene (EPS) liner. The other type of helmet is typically geared to performance cycling, and generally has the same EPS lining, but many more vents and what is called in-mold construction to fuse inner and outer layers. Both these types of helmets evolved from designs from Bell and Mountain Safety Research, two companies pioneering EPS helmets in the 1970s.

Bicycle helmet technology hasn’t radically changed in the decades since then, for a number of reasons, chief amongst them the fact that bicycle helmet standards haven’t advanced that much. That said, lots of smaller improvements have made helmets more comfortable and even fun to wear. Nutcase can take credit for innovations such as the spin dial that helps a helmet fit better, faster; the magnetic buckle that is easy to close with one hand and eliminates pesky clasp pinches; and last but not least, the wackiest, most colorful helmet graphics on the planet.