Muddymoles mountain biking in the Surrey Hills and Mole Valley

Maybe it’s a bad idea to stick stuff on your crash helmet?

Posted by Matt | January 7, 2014 | 7 comments so far

Blood spots on the snow

For a long time now this thought has been nagging at me and recent events have served only to bring it to the front of my mind.

I’m talking about sticking stuff on our crash helmets, more particularly the kind of appendages riders sport to capture their escapades in glorious technicolor. It’s possible you might end up seeing the wrong kind of colour entirely.

In recent years more and more mountain bike riders, skiers and sports enthusiasts have had the luxury – via GoPro, Sony, Muvi and others – to mount high definition movie cameras to their crash helmets and record their activities. Not only that, but many of us fix high power lights on to our helmets to up the ante and take our sports into the wilds at night. The problem is, I’m not sure the helmet manufacturers design and test their helmets to be safe with that kind of mount involved.

Most crash helmets consist primarily of air, with lots of vents and the space between them filled with expanded polystyrene (sort of air in a honeycomb lattice). There’s nothing wrong with that, in fact they are designed to specific safety standards. The key point is that in the unfortunate event of the helmet being asked to do it’s job, the force of the impact is supposed to spread across the helmet, rather than let the force penetrate into the skull at any particular point. Quite often the helmet breaks in the process but the user’s head hopefully does not.

Now think of what could happen with a relatively hard, relatively large lump fixed securely to one point on the helmet. It seems to me that a blow on that spot could end up with the helmet behaving completely counter to what the helmet manufacturer intends, with the force being channeled directly – and disastrously – into the user’s head.

Not only that, but the protrusion of the camera/light mount may also serve as a snag to the head and neck in the event of a heavy impact which could also have negative consequences.

These thoughts were brought to mind most recently on hearing that Michael Schumacher was wearing a camera mounted to his helmet when he crashed on that ski slope on Meribel with what was reported to be a piledriver kind of vertical impact.

I hasten to add that I’m not suggesting the helmet manufacturer or the camera manufacturer are in any way negligent, in fact without any helmet he would reportedly have been killed outright. I’m just saying that it’s possible that in general a combination of the helmet and camera in a particular way may make head injuries worse than they might otherwise be, and that we’ve not given enough attention to what we are putting on our heads.

I’m a bit hypocritical here. I ride off-road at night and put a light on my crash helmet. I’ve been known to snag it on low branches and there’s always the chance of a crash. I could also be conflating things I know little about.

But perhaps it’s time for manufacturers to review how these things are mounted, perhaps with some method that allows them to shear off in glancing impacts or spread the impact load, or for helmet and camera/light manufacturers to develop some kind of standard to mitigate some of these issues? At the very least it’s an area that could do with some research to see just how great the risk might be.

Personally, if I find myself trying to film my activities in the future I’d rather see the camera fitted to my bike or somewhere on my body other than my head.


About the author

Matt is one of the founding Molefathers of the Muddymoles, and is the designer and main administrator of the website.

Having ridden a 2007 Orange Five for many years then a 2016 YT Industries Jeffsy 29er, he now rocks a Bird Aether 9 and a Pace RC-627.

An early On-One Inbred still lurks in the back of the stable as a reminder of how things have moved on. You can even find him on road bikes - currently a 2019 Cannondale Topstone 105 SE, a much-used 2011 Specialized Secteur and very niche belt drive Trek District 1.

If you've ever wondered how we got into mountain biking and how the MuddyMoles started, well wonder no more.

There are 7 comments on ‘Maybe it’s a bad idea to stick stuff on your crash helmet?’

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  1. stevend says:

    It is something I am aware of. Part of the reason for mounting the Contour sideways on top (when using it as a helmet cam) is so that it does not catch on branches and reduces the chance for it to cause an ‘unnatural’ motion to the helmet whether on the bike or off. Just as well as I seem to have a higher tendency to fall of when wearing it. 🙁

    More recently I bought a new helmet light; although my older V2 is more powerful and may seem like the better choice as a helmet light it kind of makes me look like a dalek and has caught overhanging stuff. So a couple of months ago I bought a Lumen 800 from MTB Batteries, it is tiny, low profile and yet still still provides 800 (real) lumen. Now with the V2 on the bars I have a very good setup and feel safer on night rides due to both better vision and the lower profile of the Lumen800.

  2. Andrew AKAK says:

    I think you are right Matt but in general the helmet accessories are probably weaker and more likely to break first. If you delve too deep helmets are a minefield anyway – the standards they are designed to meet have no bearing on rider safety so you have to trust that the manufacturer has made a product well despite the standard tests.

    Ideally i’d have a side mounted light as i’m already scraping the branches.

  3. Matt says:

    Yes I agree with you both regarding the problem of snagging branches and the possibility of a shearing action causing the mount or light to break away. I’ve also switched to an Exposure mount with this in mind.

    But the wider point is that helmet mounts might act as a focus for the forces in direct impacts, so that rather than dissipating the impact energy across the helmet it is actually focussed into the helmet and head, with potentially disastrous results. It would be similar to the way a stiletto heel will damage a floor, when a heavier person in a normal shoe will not.

  4. Gordo says:

    This is something I’ve been thinking about recently – and then quietly ignoring. A googleabout seems to be strangely quiet about this. (maybe my googlefu is low today). The results of my research seems to show the concern is more about people doing riskier stuff to get good footage….

  5. jonesy says:

    As Matt rightly says, the thing a helmet needs to do is dissipate the force of the impact over the widest possible area. The better the lid, the more the force should be spread.
    It makes sense to me, that if you focus the force on a smaller area, the ability of the lid to protect will be reduced.
    I’ve never put so much as a sticker on a helmet, and never leave them in sunlight or cold etc!

    The said, the reality, I’m afraid, is that no helmet will ever fully protect you in the event of a severe impact.
    If the impact is hard enough to crack a helmet, your in trouble…no matter what.

    When I crashed a few months ago, I hit the side of my head on a large tree root, and the lid (a quality Uvex) split right up one side and the inner foam structure collapsed completely (as it should do). The crash was enough to knock me out and leave me with a very severe concussion. I then had dull pain/numbness on the opposite side of my head for weeks after, where (from what I have read) my brain shifted and hit my skull. Not pleasant…

    I had several big head impacts over a the years I was racing motorbikes, with similar consequences, and that was wearing £500+ Arai lids.

    I think the best thing is to avoid crashing 🙂

  6. ray k says:

    I agree try not to crashbut im interested in young ladies walking on my head with stillelloes!

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