Cyclists need more awareness about headgear and safety according to new research

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Cyclists can
be unaware of the safety limitations of protective headgear, leading to riskier
behaviour that could mean they ignore the seriousness of even ‘minor’

The marketing
of cycling helmets also needs to clearly reflect how much protection they give,
according to research led by the University of Northampton (UON).

UON Lecturer
in Health Sciences Dr Jack Hardwicke (himself a former competitive road
cyclist) led the research in collaboration with the University of Central
Lancashire (UCLan).

competitive cyclists from across the globe were surveyed about their knowledge
of headgear use, how and when they used protective headgear, and their
perceptions of sports-related concussion (SRC) and medical-care-seeking

cycling headgear does not prevent concussion, but it can reduce the severity of
traumatic head injury following a collision.

Although most
of the surveyed cyclists reported they would seek medical help if their
headgear cracked after a high impact collision (262), many said they would not
if their helmet was only scuffed (191) or their headgear had not touched the
floor (181).

Only 20.5% of
the cyclists correctly reported that a bicycle helmet does not fully protect
against concussion.

This lack of
knowledge amongst cyclists can lead to an increase in riskier behaviours. The
research found greater risk taking is more prevalent amongst the over 50’s and
mountain bikers, although this could be linked to headgear not being more
routinely mandated in previous years or those cyclists already engaging in more
‘thrill-seeking’ behaviour, respectively.

Another reason
for this outlook could be related to the marketing of protective headgear.
Headgear design follows research in which it is required to withstand impacts
in a laboratory environment. But this does not necessarily reflect ‘real world’
collisions or the complexity of concussive injuries.

Of the
findings, Jack said: “Cycling – whether for recreation or competition – is an
increasingly popular activity across the world. There are around 150,000 active
members registered with British Cycling, and it’s great to see that number
appears to be increasing.

concussion has been a concern within other sports – such as Rugby and American
Football – for some time now, understandably so. But as our research
shows, cyclists may be lulled into a false sense of security about their safety
from sports-related-concussion because of their perceptions of injury and by
the very fact that many are wearing headgear marketed as giving them protection
from concussion.

“Coupled with
a tendency within the sport to ‘brush off’ injuries and with many more of us
‘getting back on our bikes’, there is a need to make sure those who enjoy
cycling do so as safely as possible.

conclusions are not that cycling headgear doesn’t afford protection, but that
more independent research underpinning new technologies marketed for reducing
concussion is needed.”

“We hope that
future research generated by our findings will also compel leading figures
within the cycling sphere to ‘up gear’ about head safety and help promote to
cyclists the need to adopt a more cautionary approach when a crash occurs.”

Dr Howard
Hurst, Senior Lecturer in Sport, Exercise and Nutritional Sciences at UCLan,
added: “While there’s no doubting headgear can reduce the severity of head
trauma, users should be educated on the limitations of such technologies.
Headgear test standards currently only simulate impacts up to around 22 km/h.
While this may meet the needs of most recreational riders and commuters, it is
questionable whether they afford the same level of protection at the higher
speeds typical of cycle racing.

while current research and test standards may demonstrate how effect headgear
are in reducing impact forces, they cannot predict the psychological and
cognitive trauma associated with concussion.”