|This ad for the "new" MSR helmet|
appeared in the Summer of 1974.
|An MSR helmet ad from 1978 promises|
a free replacement for a busted helmet
in exchange for the user's story.
When it comes to reducing the force of a head impact, it's been shown that stiff, crushable EPS is really the best material there is, and it is the basis of almost all modern helmets. The band of EPS in the MSR helmet probably provided decent protection from blows to the front, back, or sides of the helmet, though the suspension straps across the crown would not have been as good at reducing the force of impact on the top. I saw the results from a helmet test in the later '70s confirming that assessment. But the MSR helmet was sold right through the end of the decade and even into the early 80s with only minor changes. Through the 1970s their ads proclaimed "MSR helmets have saved over 60 heads. Let yours be the next one!" Over the years, the number of saved heads would grow, so by 1980, they were proclaiming 120 saved. Where did they get the numbers? The company had a policy, listed in their advertising, that they would replace a busted helmet, free of charge, in exchange for the broken helmet and the user's story. Clever, and effective.
|This is one of the earliest ads I could find for the original Bell|
bicycle helmet, in late 1974. Notice how they want to build
up anticipation with the line "Not For Sale . . . Yet!"
The Bell Biker may have been beaten to the market by the MSR, but it was a better helmet. Fully lined throughout with thicker EPS foam, and with more and larger vents, Bell really set the standard for head protection for the next 10 years. And while the MSR may have been marketed as a bicycle-specific helmet, it probably wasn't all that different from their mountaineering helmets, while the Bell was designed from scratch for cyclists. By the mid 1980s, most good bicycle helmets would follow at least the structure if not the look of the Bell. The Biker would evolve a little over the years, a Biker II was produced, and a more deluxe, updated version called the Tourlite (with a built-in tinted visor) would come out in the early 80s.
|From Bicycling magazine, early 1975 - now declaring that the|
Bell helmet was available for purchase.
|This ad for the Skid Lid II appeared in Bike World |
in late 1975. Being dubbed "Skid Lid II," I'd assume
there was a "Skid Lid I" but I couldn't find one earlier than this.
As helmet buyers became more aware of the helmet lab tests, and magazines started publishing the results of those tests, the ads for Skid Lids got downright defensive:
|From Bicycling, 3/79|
In 1979, Pro-tec entered the bicycle market with a helmet that seemed to have a lot in common with football helmets, minus the face mask. It was a full-coverage design that had a thick liner of a rebounding type of foam that would make it suitable for sustaining multiple minor impacts -- probably making it better suited to activities like skateboarding than cycling. Not surprisingly, a lot of skateboard helmets still have a design that is somewhat reminiscent of the Pro-tec, but made with stiffer EPS.
|Available in limited numbers as early as '77, the Bailen|
Bike Bucket first starts appearing in the national
bike magazines in 1979. This ad was from Bike World.
Ads for the Bailen Bike Bucket also started appearing '79. But the helmet was apparently available in limited quantities as early as 1977. I found mention of it (but no pictures) in the August '77 issue of Bike World. Created by Dr. Hal Bailen, a sports medicine specialist from Sausalito, California, the Bailen helmet was the result of his studies on bicycle head injuries in the earlier part of the decade. The Bike Bucket had a layer of EPS foam, and a unique suspension system that made it a one-size-fits-all proposition. Notably, it had absolutely no holes or vents, as Bailen felt that ventilation would come from air moving between the scalp and the suspended helmet liner -- that, and he believed the holes would weaken the helmet. The helmet was made and sold at least through the first half of the 1980s. I could find ads for a slightly updated version with a built-in visor as late as 1986.
|From Bicycling, Sept/Oct. 1983.|
|The Prime - circa 1980.|
|From Inside Cycling|
|This full-page ad for the Giro was from the|
Nov. '87 issue of Bicycling.
|I don't think this is the first ad for the Pro-tec|
Mirage - but it's a favorite of mine.
The solution to the other problem, that of the sliding resistance, came at the end of the decade in the form of an extra thin plastic shell. Not so much a "hard shell" as a "micro-shell." The first example I can find is the Bell Ovation. I found them listed in the Performance Bike catalogs from 1988. The first micro-shells were typically glued or taped to the EPS foam, but by 1990 or so, some helmet makers were molding the EPS directly into the micro-shell, making them stronger. Most modern helmets today are made in similar fashion.
With the craze for aerodynamics, which may be credited to Greg LeMond's 1989 Tour de France win wearing a teardrop-shaped Giro, helmets have gone more and more to wind-tunnel designs, with elongated shapes and wing-like fins. The result is that road riding helmets, especially, are supposed to look like they're going fast even when they're standing still. Granted, I love that a good helmet now weighs in the neighborhood of 9 ounces, or about half a pound -- but the look of most new helmets really leaves me cold. Not only that, but some sources show that helmets with ridges, points, and projections are not as effective as a smooth, rounded shape at protecting against neck injuries. It gets back to that "sliding resistance" issue. There's some info about that at the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute website.
I've heard from people who still ride wearing Bell Bikers from the 70s or early 80s. I don't actually recommend using helmets that old, because I believe that the claims of EPS foam degrading over time are more than just planned-obsolescence marketing cooked up to make us all buy new helmets. But looking back at them, I have a renewed appreciation for the simple shape of the old Biker. If the folks over at Bell (which is now owned by BRG Sports, the same company that also owns Giro) are reading this - how about recreating the Biker - in modern materials and methods, maybe with slightly larger vents? Traditional looks, but a lot lighter. It would probably be a hit -- at least with us retrogrouches.