SINGAPORE - Bicycle helmets are good, so wear them. But they do not protect you 100 per cent.
Experienced cyclists say that while wearing a bicycle helmet will go a long way towards protecting a rider in the event of a fall, it does not necessarily mean that he or she will always escape injuries.
A lot depends on the force of impact and the angle of the fall, said Mr Suhaimi Haji Said, 47, president of the Singapore Cycling Federation.
"It also depends on the point of first contact," he added.
The point of first contact is the part of the body which hits the ground first and this is invariably the area where the force of impact is concentrated on.
"If your body breaks the fall, cyclists will normally get a broken collarbone or a (broken) rib," said Mr Suhaimi.
"If the head hits the ground, it's worse as the body will put pressure on the head."
Emergency physician Charles Johnson, 46, said: "When the impact of the fall is directly on the head, the brain is still accelerating.
"Every bit of energy from the deceleration force is then transferred to the brain, which hits the inner skull.
"The helmet is unable to adequately dissipate the force and this results in primary brain injury."
Dr Johnson added that although helmets offer protection, they do not prevent head injuries.
He explained: "The brain is one of the most sensitive organs prone to deceleration injuries. In high-speed accidents, often the primary cause of mortality is head injury."
Other factors that determine the severity of an injury are speed, momentum and experience.
Their comments came in the wake of a fatal crash at the OCBC Cycle Singapore 2014 event on Sunday.
A participant, Mr Chia Wee Kiak, 24, a full-time national serviceman, fell and suffered severe head injuries.
He was in the intensive care unit of the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) and died on April 2.
On the question of helmet safety, Mr Suhaimi cited the crash in the 2011 Giro d'Italia where a seasoned Belgian professional, who was travelling at high speed at a downhill stretch of the annual bicycle race, crashed and died.
He said: "In major cycling events, cyclists can go up to speeds of 60kmh and more."
Not all helmets are made to withstand crashes at such high speeds.
Mr Michael Castle, 39, manager of bicycle shop Bikeplus, said: "Very few helmets in the market are tested and proven to offer good protection.
"Normally, people buy the cheaper helmets because it's more affordable, but professional cyclists will usually get the more expensive ones which are tested and offer better protection to cyclists."
Different helmets are made of different materials that withstand varying impact.
Mr Suhaimi said: "Helmets that can give you better impact resistance will protect you from falls at higher speed."
Despite their limitations, cyclists should always wear proper helmets.
This is despite the fact that cycling helmets are not mandatory on Singapore roads unless the cyclist is on a power-assisted bicycle.
Mr Muhammad Azhar, 23, marketing and events manager with bike shop Treknology Bikes 3, said: "It is an absolute need and requirement to have a helmet on at all times while cycling.
"The helmet protects the most vital organ of the body."
Mr Suhaimi agrees. He owns a $400 helmet and has bought similar ones for his two sons.
"Safety is paramount. Whatever the cost, I have to pay for it," he insisted.
Mr Suhaimi said it is also important that cyclists ride within their limits and be aware of their surroundings.
Mr Azhar added: "If you feel like you cannot keep up with the rest, always keep left and ride at your own pace. There is always another day to train and race."
Cyclists should also understand proper cycling etiquette, such as slower cyclists on the left and faster cyclists on the right.
This article was published on April 3 in The New Paper.
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