Visor problems and some good experience
Shattered Bicycle Helmet Visor?
Cut by a Visor Edge?
Summary: This page was intended to document two problems with bicycle helmets that are not addressed by any current U.S. standard: shattering on impact and cuts from visor edges. A third and partially related problem with visors is snagging. Visors must detach readily from a helmet in an impact to prevent them from jerking the rider's neck. A fourth is blocking vision. There is no visor test in most standards. In fact, we have received few reports over the years since we put the page up, and one glowing report of a visor saving a face. As recumbents have become more popular, visors may become more important.
Over the years we have heard isolated reports of helmet visors shattering on impact. In one case the rider spent over an hour on an operating table while surgeons picked shards of the visor out of her face. There was an incident report filed with CPSC in 1998 by the mother of a rider whose face was injured severely in a crash, in her opinion by a shard from the shattered helmet visor.
In August of 2007 we received this report: "I recently had a crash where the visor of my Trek Helmet hit the pavement and broke. The larger piece sliced a cut from my forehead to my eyelid requiring fifteen stitches. I will need additional surgery to conceal the scar a little bit. I would never have thought a visor could cause that much of an injury."
Cuts from Visor Edges
In August, 2000, we had a report from a cyclist whose visor had cut him in a crash. When he hit on the front, the visor was shoved under his face and cut him between the nose and lip, requiring seven stitches. In June, 2007 we received another report from a parent whose 4-year old child required 9 stiches to a 1 1/2 inch long slice to his head between his eyes (see below).
Another problem with visors is attaching them too securely, preventing them from flipping off in an impact. The visor that does not readily detach, or is not made of flimsy material, can jerk the rider's neck. Evidence of that happening will be considerably less clear than the indications when a visor shatters. On the other hand, wind might get under a visor on a fast downhill and flip it off.
Cuts, shattering and failure to detach can be addressed with additions to current bicycle helmet standards. The Australian standard already has a test for the detachment parameter.
BHSI has been advocating for years the addition of a similar test to the ASTM standard, and needs more info from the field on this known problem.
In 2009 we received a report (below) from a rider whose visor bent under as she skidded forward, head down on the pavement and saved her face from injury.
We are beginning to hear from recumbent riders that visors are more important in the recumbent position, where the head is more upright. 'Bent riders report that some visors lift the front of the helmet up when there is a headwind or at higher speeds. And they are looking for a tinted but see-through design.
If you have information on a visor problems of any kind that caused an injury, please file a report with CPSC,
and we would also appreciate it if you could send us an email. We are also interested in good experience, either in crashes or just daily use.
We have been pressing ASTM to develop a test for visor shattering and visor detaching force, and will use your input to push manufacturers to make better visors and test them to make sure they will not injure the rider in a crash.
There are, of course, visors that will not shatter. Some are made of stiff foam, for example. Others are made of very flexible foam. They can be useful. If your helmet did not come with one, you might be able to make one yourself. At least one rider emailed us that he makes his own from table place mats, or the cheap foam visors you find at the beach. He mounts them with self-stick hook and loop fasteners and will never have a shattering problem.
Here are the emails received so far. Note the long periods between messages indicating that shattering is not a frequent occurrence:
Posted June 26, 2009
I happened across this page, and wanted to suggest the alternative of wearing a baseball or cycling cap under a helmet in place of a visor. They are more adjustable, keep sun and wind out of your eyes better (in my experience) than plastic visors , and won't shatter. I was in a road accident last year, which involved sliding across the pavement on my helmet and face. Fortunately, the bill of my cap (which I still wear) flipped down as I slid, shielding part of my face. I had pretty deep road rash starting where the cap ended, but the covered parts were unscratched. I wasn't wearing a cap with accident protection in mind, but I'm glad to have made that 'discovery'.
Posted January 10, 2009
Several years ago I was getting back into cycling and bought a new bike and helmet, a Giro Mojave. I was practicing for my very first bike race and did a header over the handlebar after braking too much. While I was traveling over the asphalt i had tucked my chin to my chest and the visor on the helmet scraped across the rough surface. When I finally stopped my forward movement my friend came running and checked me out. I had bloody elbows and knees but my face was unmarked because the visor took the brunt of the trauma. No marks on the face, no broken teeth, no road rash. I still have the helmet but no longer wear it, it is a reminder of what could have happened. I have since purchased a newer Giro Xen, with a visor, and have been fortunate to not have been injured on the several accidents I have had since then.
Posted June 8, 2007
My 4-year old child sustained 9 stiches to a 1 1/2 inch long slice to his head between his eyes. It was a minor crash with a severe injury. The visor on his Giro helmet sliced his head wide open. This product, if not already, should be recalled. Why should children have to suffer potentially life threatening injuries from a defective product. What if we were on a bike ride far from help, he would have died with the amount of blood loss he sustained from his injury!
Posted December 9, 2003
Just a quick note to inform you that Giro visors "can" cause injury. Not as indicated in the instruction manual. "Whilst the visors themselves do not offer impact protection, they do not influence the safety performance of the helmet".
If it wasn't for the visor I would have this injury!!!!!!
What caused the injury was a minor "face first" impact to the ground after being flipped over my handle bars. The impact forced the visor to detach from the helmet on the left side and with the peak of the visor slicing a nice chunk of skin of my nose.
My helmet is about two years old so hopefully more recent models do not have the potential to cause injury, if not - it might be a good Idea to look into it more.
I have already sent this to Giro, not expecting a reply but within minutes I got one - "Sorry I am out of the office until the 16th".....
I recently was involved in a solo mountain bike accident in which there was a frontal impact to my helmet. The crash caused the visor to snap off my Bell helmet. It is not clear whether the visor was pushed into my face or my sunglasses caused severe lacerations which required plastic surgery to repair. Both visor and sunglasses were lying on the trail after impact, but the nature of the lacerations would appear to point towards the visor. Having gone through this experience, I would not want anyone else to have a similar situation. Therefore, I am considering a new helmet that does not incorporate a visor and sunglasses which have full frames and are not of the "blade" type design.
I was in an accident on July 13, 2000 where I was riding down a trail at Caesar's Creek and I hit a root. As a result I was thrown from my bike and landed on the top ( front part) of my head. The visor broke off of my helment on one side causing it to be under my face when I landed. It cut my face between my nose and my upper lip. I had to get seven stiches. The
helment I was wearing was a Giro Ventura.
I can say for certain that shattering visors are a potential safety concern. First, let me give you some background. My son, who is currently 11 years old, has been racing motocross (motorcycle) since he was 5 years old. Two years ago, he was lacerated during a crash by his shattered motorcycle helmet visor. The cut went through the left eyebrow, continuing down around the corner of, and very close to his left eye. The cut required 10 stitches to close.
Here are the similarities I have found in full face "youth size" motorcycle helmets vs. full-face bicycle helmets. First, you cannot get a Snell approval in a "youth-size" motorcycle helmet, and the construction quality is certainly less than "Adult" helmets. Youth motorcycle helmets are very close in construction to high end full face bicycle helmets. To me, visors on motorcycle and bicycle helmets look and feel identical in construction and style, and probably are.
The helmet my son was wearing when he went over-the-bars and took a frontal impact on the helmet was an "MSR". MSR stands for "Malcolm Smith Racing", and is readily available at most motorcycle shops. I don't know who the ultimate manufacturer is, but it resembled a KBC. Malcolm Smith Racing was very helpful when I contacted them to ask "why did my son's safety equipment injured him"? Ultimately, their explanation made perfect sense. We are giving up safety for cool looks. Yes, the new style visors are made of stiff (which means brittle) plastic so that the fancy paint will stay adhered to the visor. If the visor was soft and pliable, the paint would flex and chip off. So, it's the mighty dollar at work...but I think there must be some middle ground where both concerns can be met.
Posted March 11, 2005
From a recumbent rider with a laid-back position whose front fairing channels wind up under his visor--not a common occurrance
One of the things that has bothered me about visors (ridden on a reclined recumbent bicycle) is that they act like wind dams. On fast descents, or windy days you can actually feel the front portion of the helmet lifting (or at least wanting to). I suspect that on folks with poorly fitting helmets that can cause the helmet to actually rotate more or less rearward exposing the forehead.
Another recumbent rider wrote to remind us that visors are more important for recumbent riders because of their laid back position. Although head position, not body position, is the important variable, here, if you ride with your head back looking down your nose he could be right.
While I believe that visors should be designed for the correct detachment effort and impact resistance, let's not lose sight of the fact that collision avoidance is more important than collision survival.
That is, using a visor, especially on a recumbent bike, can prevent collisions by keeping the sun and headlights from oncoming cars, out of our eyes. A visor also helps to keep insects out of the cyclist's eyes, even if the rider is wearing glasses. Visors may also help in some small way to keep dust out too.
Given the choice of using a visor that is not shatter-resistant and using no visor, I'll chose to use the visor.
When standards for visor size are determined, recumbent riders should not be forgotten. We generally need our visor to be 1-2" longer than a diamond-frame rider would, due to our leaned-back position.
Received May, 2006 on paper
A Tucson cyclist sent us a detailed report of a crash he had caused by failing to see an overtaking Suburban (a large SUV) when he moved out to the left from a bike lane to make a left turn. He believes that the visor of his helmet blocked the Suburban from his vision. He replaced the helmet with the same model, but removed the visor immediately. He also replaced a new helmet mirror that he had not been able to use effectively, returning to a handlebar mirror.
Received October, 2009
For what it's worth, after years of removing visors from my helmets as a daily commuter on a standard ("DF" for Diamond Frame, or "wedgie"), I've rethought the value of visors as I've increasingly taken to a recumbent. My attraction to the recumbent is prompted by typical loss of mobility in my neck with aging (I'm now 70) combined with very little diminution in my desire to ride. The 'bent has limitations (squirrely steering on short wheelbase, less load-carrying ability, etc.) but the greater riding time more than makes up for them. However, as others have noted, the issue of sun in the eyes becomes more prominent with one's head tilted back, a low position relative to other vehicles on the road, and, in the current season, low sun-angles for increasing times in both in morning and afternoon. Even excellent sunglasses can't solve the problem, and I have reattached visors to my helmets using hook-and-loop for improved breakaway after cutting off the original locking tabs on the visors.
There are two trade-offs of importance. First, as others have mentioned, the visor tends to make the helmet lift off the forehead to some degree. Proper adjustment of the variable-fit bands in current helmets solves this to some degree, but visors could be better designed to prevent it, I think. The second problem is the opacity of the cheap visors supplied with today's helmets. Years ago the now-outdated Skid Lid came with a snap-on tinted polycarbonate visor that was molded approximately in the shape of a spherical section. Despite a lack of vents, this visor did not seem to induce lift and its near-transparency overcame the visual field reduction that current visors create. I would imagine that this material (and design), however superior to current visors, is unlikely to reappear, no doubt because of higher cost and a distinct lack of "cool". This is regrettable.
Posted January 2, 2012
We buy helmets to protect a small adult with a medical disorder resulting in frequent falls (not on a bike). She has worn helmets with visors for many years. The helmets only last a few months. The visors have saved her face from injury numerous times, simply from hitting the ground first and slowing the face-into-ground motion. They do eventually break, sometimes only after a few falls. This experience doesn't translate directly to that of higher speed falls from a bike, but we can attest that in some face down falls the visor definitely provides face protection.
A Do It Yourself Approach
Those who need a wide visor for sun protection might want to look at this Australian rider's solution. In the best tradition of innovative bicyclists who make their own gear, he has melded a wide brim Tilley-style hat with his helmet. If you try a similar modification of your helmet, be sure to limit the brim's ability to snap down in your face in a high wind and block your vision. It would most likely happen on a downhill, while you were traveling at high speed.
The Bottom Line
When we started this page we expected quite a few emails about visor problems. Over a period of years we have received very few. We believe that the problems with visors are evident, and are probably under-reported because most of the injuries are minor. We continue to hear about them from time to time, but despite the justified indignation of injured individuals there is no evidence we can see that there is a large epidemic of visor injuries. Improving hazardous designs is still necessary, and we are pursuing standards improvements to test visors.
In the meantime, as the recumbent rider above noted, avoiding a crash is your first priority rather than being safe from visor problems. If you are a rider who really needs a visor to see where you are going, using one is likely to be less hazardous than not being able to see well. But the Tucson cyclist's experience shows that there may be a down side to that as well if you permit the visor to mask part of your vision.
This page was updated or partially revised on: October 1, 2016.