By John Marsh, Editor & Publisher

It may be the first thing I heard on one of my first group rides: It’s not a question of if you will crash, but when.

I now call it The First Rule of Crashes.

And it’s a maxim that I’ve seen realized numerous times over the years in my own local group, the Domestiques. Thankfully, only one of those crashes involved a car, and we’ve all lived to ride another day.

The Banality of Roadie Wrecks

What all of the Domestiques’ crashes illustrate is the banality of roadie wrecks – they occur for just about every possible reason, and most often are not the fault of the rider.

I witnessed one friend hit an invisible sheen of thin mud left behind by a water-and-sewer crew on a 90-degree curve. His tires simply lost all traction and washed out, leaving him to go down and skid along on his side – including, barely, the side of his face.

Another buddy hit the far lip of an inadequately filled pothole and sprawled onto the sidewalk adjacent to the road.

Yet another friend – a powerhouse of a guy – snapped off a pedal at the axle mid-stroke and slid into the opposite lane of the two-lane road. Thank goodness there was no traffic at the time.

And another Domestique rolled up onto the trunk of a car that stopped abruptly, in the roadway, even though it was signaling to turn into a parking lot.

And then there was me, a couple of times.

Several years ago, I was riding on a dedicated bike path when a 10-year-old boy walking a dog darted off the sidewalk directly into my path. I managed to avoid both the boy and the dog, but the leash snagged my head tube, and I hit the pavement all along my right side.

I ended up with a deep thigh bruise, a scraped-up knee, elbow and top of the shoulder, and a separated shoulder. Only when I finally sat up and took off my helmet did I realize that my head had also hit the ground – hard enough to split the helmet completely through at the temple. I remain amazed that I did not even have a headache from that impact.

I can say the same thing about the crash I had almost a year ago, when I rolled over a wide white stripe in a fast curve just starting a short descent. I'm now convinced that even though it was a dry day, a car's air conditioner or some other source added moisture to that white stripe – as my tires washed out instantly, sending me sprawling backward and to the left, hard into the pavement. I fractured my clavicle into five pieces, and smashed up my helmet – but not my head.

Helmets 'Just Doing Their Job'

In all the crashes just described, helmets did their job – whether it was dispersing the force of a full-on impact with the pavement or keeping (most of) a face an inch off the road as a head skidded along, or dissipating the force of a backward slam into the road, with nothing to break the fall but the shoulder that preceded it. Without the helmet, each crash could have been far worse.

My first bad crash happened before the advent of MIPS technology, but I was wearing a MIPS helmet last April when I went down.

WHAT IS MIPS?

Modern (non-MIPS) bike helmets are wonderful pieces of technology in terms of their impact resistance. They are designed – and tested – to help prevent skull fractures and other major blunt-force trauma. They are not, however, designed to mitigate the forces that can cause a concussion.

A Swedish company called Multi-directional Impact Protection System (MIPS) patented the slip plane concept (what it calls a low-friction layer), using two layers in the helmet (the MIPS “liner”) to help mitigate the rotational force of an impact, which can result in a concussion or other brain injury. Here’s how the company itself describes the technology:

“In a helmet with MIPS Brain Protection System the shell and the liner are separated by a low friction layer. When a helmet with MIPS Brain Protection System is subjected to an angled impact, the low friction layer allows the helmet to slide relative to the head.”

MIPS.Graphic.WEB

Click to read MIPS and Sliding Resistance of Bicycle Helmets from helmets.org. Click to read more from MIPS at http://www.mipshelmet.com/ 

While I cannot say for sure that the helmet definitively kept me from suffering major head injury, and that the MIPS technology was an added benefit, I walked away without any head trauma.

I can only judge the impact to have been quite hard, as it was objectively forceful enough to devastate my collarbone. And my buddy who was fairly close behind me and witnessed the crash said my head bounced on the pavement. I certainly would have suffered at a minimum a contusion and abrasions to my head, if not worse.

Personal Experience is All the Proof I Need

I've reached the point in my cycling life – after my own crashes, and those of friends – where I don't need "definitive" proof of the helmet's responsibility in the outcome. (I keep hearing arguments that MIPS technology has never been proven in government testing – which, by the way, does not exist for such technology. Helmets are still tested mostly for blunt force protection.) But, really, personal experience is all the proof I need.

If it gives me a shot at protecting myself, and it takes the brunt of an impact that obviously would have hurt my head to any degree – I'm a proponent.

A helmet is insurance, and why not insure your head to the extent of the available technology?


John Marsh is the editor and publisher of RBR Newsletter and RoadBikeRider.com. A rider of "less than podium" talent, he sees himself as RBR's Ringmaster, guiding the real talent (RBR's great coaches, contributors and authors) in bringing our readers consistently useful, informative, entertaining info that helps make them better road cyclists. That's what we're all about here—always have been, always will be. Click to read John's full bio.

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