Home Forums Climbing Talk Bike Helmets

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  • #8242 Reply
    Muzza
    Guest

    Can bicycle helmets be substituted for dedicated climbing helmets for general sport climbing at beginner level.

    #8243 Reply
    David Wyndham
    Member

    It depends on the exact model of helmet and what you want it to protect you from. It’s probably best to understand the design principles behind a climbing helmet, then you can look at your own bike helmet and decide how closely it fits this.

    #1, Hard shell. A hard shell on a climbing helmet helps to protect against inadvertently bashing your head against the rock, or falling debris hitting you. Mostly this has a very small force, so there is no need to soften it, and if there was no hard shell it would damage the foam meaning you would need to replace the helmet prematurely.

    #2, Foam, or suspension webbing. The foam inside a climbing helmet helps to cushion the fall in a large force situation, such as swinging back into the wall after a fall, or a large rock / slab of ice hitting you square on the head. Same principle as a bike helmet here, so this is the case where they are similar. The other similarity is once this foam has absorbed a hit and been compressed it needs to be retired and a new helmet bought. Suspension webbing (such as in a Petzl Ecrin Roc) works similarly. It doesn’t absorb as much force, but is a bit more forgiving on the replacement side of things.

    #3, small ventilation holes, mostly on the side. The ventilation holes on a climbing helmet are designed to allow ventilation, but at the same time stop falling debris passing through the helmet and hitting you on the head. Thus they are mostly on the side. Contrast this to a bike helmet where the design of the ventilation is meant to allow as much air as possible to pass over your head. I was once told that the difference between cheap helmets and expensive ones are that the R&D to make a helmet shell as small as possible, but still pass statutory tests, gets increasingly more expensive the lighter you get. Thus your $200 helmet _only just_ passes the government testing, but is cool when you have a lot of air passing through those huge holes on top.

    #4, headlamp clips. Not an essential design part, but a nice convenience for those times you misjudge daylight hours. Climbing helmets have clips to keep your headlamp band in place, cycling helmets do not.

    Those are the most important points.

    One more anecdote. I have a friend that once told me he thought $200 for a cycling pressure suit (full torso armour) was expensive until he crashed his bike, wrecked his shoulder, and ended up with way more than $200 of medical bills for an injury that said pressure suit was designed specifically to prevent.

    #8244 Reply
    Muzza
    Member

    Thanks for the comprehensive response David – much appreciated.

    #8245 Reply
    Dicko
    Member

    Holy frikkin moley Dave. Sorry mate, but a bicycle helmet is not, under any circumstances a substitute for a climbing helmet. Put it this way, you can strap a huggies nappy to you head and perch a beef kebab on top, and if a rock happens to twat you on the head it may or may not lessen the impact. The benefit of this is that you can eat the kebab while you wait for the ambulance.

    Really, if you are sport climbing on a well used crag you shouldn’t have too much worries not using a helmet, a bike helmet would just get in the way (I ride 6okm a day, and own both types of helmets by the way). If you’re really, really worried you can borrow my climbing helmet. In the long term, you are best to wear a helmet all the time, in the same way you should always use a condom, know what I mean?? It depends on circumstance! If you’re climbing at the chos pile they call churchmans, with a hundred plebs scrabbling around above you,or you’ve got 200ft of sea cliff above you, then put the hard shell on and stay away from the base of the cliff. If you are the only person at Darlington, or are stretching before flinging yourself at Raindogs, then probably no need.

    Bur one thing is for sure, if you’re gonna wear one at all, wear a proper one, don’t dick about (i think to be fair Dave made this point at the end)

    #8246 Reply
    David Wyndham
    Member

    Dicko,

    I never said that I thought a bike helmet was a substitute for a climbing helmet. Heck, I used to own 6 different helmets for different sports (climbing, paddling, cycling, motorcycling).

    I think with everything involved in climbing information is important, rather than just telling people new to the sport what not to do. There is a lot of misinformation around, especially online, so I thought a good explanation of the design points was more helpful.

    To understand how useful any protection is you need to know what you are trying to protect against. This goes for helmets, as well as placing trad gear, static vs dynamic belay, placement of bouldering mats etc. For protecting against choss falling off Churchmans a bike helmet is not likely to be useful. To protect against bashing your head against the rock when your feet slip out from under you on a slippery Mt Cuthbert, a bike helmet will probably perform quite well, as this is similar to what they were designed to protect. But it then needs to be thrown in the bin, so not really a substitute for a hard shell climbing helmet in this case either.

    #8247 Reply
    LUTR
    Member

    When climbing in the quaries strap something to the top of your head. Especially when belaying. For larger projectiles all helmets are useless and only quick reflexes will save you.

    #8248 Reply
    Gareth
    Member

    Visually compare a bike helmet with a rock climbing one. You will immediately see that a rock climbing helmet affords greater protection, especially around the sides and back of your head. Working in a climbing environment, I see many people standing with their feet inside their lead rope, this is very dangerous and a risk of rear head impact, especially when outdoors, where the chances are you are climbing something more vertical than what you may indoors. A RC helmet (the thin plastic cover and styrofoam lining style) is designed to absorb impact by splitting/shattering. I have personally seen this in action (at Mt Arapilles), when a well known climber with over 30 years experience, who had just started wearing a lid very recent to the incident fell 2-3m off the end of his abseil a couple of metres to the side of me. He landed on his feet, fell backwards stricking the rear of his head. At the low point on the back of his brand new helmet, he obtained a brand new hole that looked like someone had hit it with a ballpane hammer. If it were a bike helmet he probably would of ended up seriously injured or worse). It did what it was supposed to and is designed for, protect for that (single) incident/impact.

    Once it has dispelled any sort of blow, it must be discarded.

    The number of ventilation holes on a bike helmet also increases the possibility of falling rock (or plant material)poking through and actually getting to the head. A climbing helmet (a good one), will have mesh over it’s ventillation holes.

    Then theres the hard shell….but thats another story… 🙂

    Climb safely

    #8249 Reply
    LUTR
    Member

    Climbing Helmets are great. Bike helmets are many times better than nothing. Many climbers wear nothing. do not disparage those wearing bike helmets.

    #8250 Reply
    Muzza
    Member

    Interesting comments. The reason I originally asked the question was that I sometimes go outdoor climbing with a mate who has all the appropriate gear. I’m a student who must decide on allocating budget between eating, drinking, paying rent etc, etc. Spending $100 or so on a climbing helmet that I will use occasionally is a big deal, so as always I’m looking at what I can get away with and what is just foolish. I take safety very seriously and of course if I had the money and went outdoor climbing regularly, a climbing helmet would certainly move up the priority ladder. In the meantime, and from what I’ve read here, my bike helmet will probably suffice for the time being, albeit not perfect.

    #8251 Reply
    Gareth
    Member

    I would suggest many climbing injuries and fatalities are cuased through that sort of decision (just ask Todd Skinner). However climbing is a dangerous activity and we all undertake and accept the risks we put ourselves in front of. A bike helmet is no more a better option than a fish bowl for going into space IMO (well, a slight exaggersation). As a concerned bystander, come see me between 9 and 5 at Rockface and I can arrange an additional 35% off discount on our already discounted BD Tracers thats a one time offer at just $65 for a quality soft shell climbing helmet. (offer goes to the first 5 people who see me personally and mention this thread)

    If not, take care and safe climbing.

    #8252 Reply
    Todd
    Member

    What about a safety helmet? Like the types used at construction and mine sites?

    Seems to me that would be better than a bike helmet for protection against falling debris. Though it might be worse than a bike helmet for impact protection from slamming headfirst into the wall.

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