Standard Specification for Bicycle Helmets – ASTM F1447-18

Father tightening red ASTM F1447-18 bicycle helmet on happy son's head.

Helmets provide anywhere from a 66% to 88% reduction in the risk of head, brain, and severe brain injury for all ages of bicyclists. Clearly, they’re effective, but the reliability of these protective devices isn’t inherent. Instead, safety is instilled into the products through adequate assurance. For this purpose, ASTM F1447-18: Standard Specification for Helmets Used in Recreational Bicycling or Roller Skating offers guidance.

The benefits of being hardheaded are debatable, except in the literal sense. Ounce for ounce, bone is stronger than steel. In principle, a cubic inch of bone can bear a load of 19,000 lbs. (8,626 kg) or greater. This makes it four times as strong as concrete. Of course, the actual capability for bone to withstand such loads is heavily dependent on how quickly force is delivered. It’s not really something you should want to chance—certainly not in the case of the cranium.

Unfortunately, when bicycles first emerged in the 1860s, safety was hardly a concern. The old-timey high wheel bicycles became popular, and, due to their precarious center of gravity, even simple incidents could result in a fatal tumble to the ground. By the 1800s, cyclists had realized that something needed to be done.

However, hazard mitigation in the Nineteenth Century was remarkably inadequate. In the Gilded Age, there were no helmet products tested in accordance with ASTM F1447-18. Instead, cyclists chose pith helmets, otherwise known as safari helmets, to create a barrier between the person’s skull and the hard ground below. As you can imagine, these didn’t work too well.

Boy pretending to be on a safari with binoculars in grass and wearing vintage pith helmet.
Pith Helmet

Ineffective bicycle helmets might seem like ancient history to some, but, in truth, helmets weren’t all that great until the later part of the Twentieth Century. The first modern helmet for cyclists was invented by Bell Auto Parts in 1975. This model consisted of a hard plastic shell padded with a foam-like material, and, while it is considered the first viable helmet, another ten years passed for the market to filter out a heap of defective products.

The reasoning for the helmet market’s calibration: standards. The development of standard specifications and guidelines helped to provide all manufacturers with top knowledge and helped to drive the industry in a positive direction. Of course, assuring the safety of products that can literally save lives is never something that should lose steam. Therefore, ASTM F1447-18 is reviewed periodically.

It is noted in the beginning of the ASTM F1447-18 document that it “recognizes the desirability of lightweight construction and ventilation; however, it is a performance standard and is not intended to restrict design.” Therefore, it covers performance guidelines for helmets manufactured for use by recreational bicyclists or roller skaters.

ASTM F1447-18 outlines provisions for headforms, anvils and impact velocities, marking the test line, the laboratory environment, impact site, impacting schedule, peak acceleration, retention system testing, and labeling.

All testing of ASTM F1447-18 should be in accordance with ASTM F1446-20: Standard Test Methods for Equipment and Procedures Used in Evaluating the Performance Characteristics of Protective Headgear unless otherwise noted.

ASTM F1447-18: Standard Specification for Helmets Used in Recreational Bicycling or Roller Skating is available on the ANSI Webstore.

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