Virginia Tech helmet study expands to include bike helmets

Rating system for bicycle helmets to be released in April

BLACKSBURG, Va – Researchers at Virginia Tech are taking a closer look at bicycle helmets and the protection they offer. The helmets are being rated, similar to football and hockey helmet studies the university has done in the past.

One of the differences with the new research is the number of bicycle helmets to choose from. When it comes to football and hockey helmets, there are a finite number of brands and helmet types available, but with bicycle helmets there are thousands of brands and options.

A search of for "bicycle helmet" brings up more than 10,000 choices, ranging in prices from less than $7 to helmets that are several hundred dollars.

Megan Bland, a graduate research assistant involved with the testing, said the helmets will be rated on a scale of one to five stars.

She said one of the reasons for the research is the growing number of people who ride bicycles in our area, including a lot of kids.

"We know that because so many more people ride bikes than the number that play those sports, there's actually more concussions from cycling than [football and hockey]," said Bland. "We were really curious to see. No one has done this same sort of thing for cycling, so how does this helmet compare to this helmet in terms of protection?"

It's nearly impossible to test every helmet so the goal is to test the ones that are widely available at stores or most popular online.

The study focuses on helmets for children who are just learning to ride as well as for some of the most experienced mountain bikers and every type of rider in-between.

Researchers say the angle of impact is different for cyclists than other sports. Instead of hitting straight on, a fall from a bicycle causes the head to hit the ground at an angle.

Researchers are focused on testing the way someone's head would actually hit the ground if they were to fall off their bike.

That's why they use a crooked platform where the helmet will hit at an angle.

"Nobody has really tested how does this helmet compare to this one for bicycle helmets, so we did some primary testing to see if we test a range of helmets on the market and a range of designs, how do they compare in performance," says Bland. "We found big differences, so that was good. It really confirmed our need to do this sort of testing."

That first round of research is expected to be released by April with more rounds released as they are complete.