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Andrei Kivilev (Cofidis) died after suffering a fractured skull in a crash in Stage 2 of Paris-Nice. The Kazakh turned professional with Festina in 1998. He rode for Ag2r in 2000 and then transferred to Cofidis in 2001.

During his five-year career, Kivilev won two races: Stage 5 of the 2001 Dauphine Libere and the 2001 Route du Sud. Perhaps his greatest achievement was his fourth place finish in the 2001 Tour de France.

In addition, Kivilev finished third in the 2002 Route du Sud, fourth in that year's Clasica San Sebastian and Paris-Nice, and fifth in the 2001 and 2002 Dauphine Libere.

From: Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute


What's the best helmet to buy?
Consumer Reports published a helmet article in 2002 showing good test results for Giro Gila, Trek Vapor (at $40 rated as a Best Buy), Giro Torrent and Specialized Enduro Comp. (Giro says their Transit is the same helmet as the Torrent without a visor.)

Consumer Reports can't test everything on the market, so they did not cover most of the other brands. We think you can do just as well by finding a helmet that fits you well, is round and smooth on the outside, and has a sticker inside certifying that it meets the CPSC standard.

We have a description of what we consider to be the ideal helmet, and a long piece on Helmets for the Current Season if you want more info.


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 by: Bill Oetinger  4/1/2003

Put Your Hat On!

I had a different column planned for this month, but it will have to wait awhile. The death of Andrei Kivilev in the Paris-Nice stage race in March has caused me to reflect on the use of helmets, or their non-use, in this sad instance. In case you don't follow bike racing, Kivilev crashed when he and another rider got their handlebars tangled. He went over the bars and landed hard on his head. Surgeons tried to save him for several hours, but he died the following morning of head injuries. He was not wearing a helmet. The doctors who worked on him seem quite confident that he would be alive today if he had been wearing a helmet.

Andrei Kivilev, of Kazahkstan, was 29 years old. He was an excellent all-around talent, well liked and respected in the pro peloton. He is perhaps best known for having given Lance Armstrong a very good battle in the 2001 Tour de France before finally finishing fourth overall. He is survived by his wife Natalia and his six-month old son Leonardo.

Kivilev's death, and the assertion that a helmet would probably have saved his life, have reignited the long-simmering debate about whether helmets should be mandatory in bike racing, or at least in UCI events. A dozen years ago, authorities attempted to make helmet use the rule, but the riders staged a sit-down strike at the start of a stage of the Tour de France, and the officials backed down. Since then, voluntary helmet use has grown among pro racers, but many still will not wear them, claiming they are too hot or too heavy and therefore compromise their performance. Never mind that if everyone wore them, any real or theoretical disadvantage from wearing a helmet would be shared by all, so no one would be compromised relative to the rest of the field.

Some riders endorse the use of helmets. Massimiliano Lelli (Cofidis): "If he (Kivilev) had had his helmet on, I'm sure that nothing would have happened," Lelli told La Gazzetta dello Sport. "It's too bad he rarely used his helmet. I think it's incredible that helmets aren't obligatory." But others disagree. Emmanuel Magnien (Brioches La Boulangere): "I know I risk smashing my head, but I just don't feel myself when I wear it. If I put it on, it's because I'm already thinking about a possible fall, and that makes me feel unsafe in itself."

I have to say, that is one circular bit of logic: "the helmet makes me think about crashing, so therefore it makes me feel unsafe, so therefore that makes me unsafe." Whew! That is the definition of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Listen, Emmanuel: give your helmet a chance. It won't take you long to get used to it, and then you'll pretty much forget you have it on.

Laurent Fignon with a "hair-net" and glasses

Former French champion Laurent Fignon could be counted on for a quote on this issue: "In 1991 I was on the first line in the protest when the UCI wanted to make the helmet mandatory in pro racing. They have to leave the freedom of choice. A helmet might have helped Kivilev, but what happens when you fall sideways onto your face? Andrei is not the first victim and will unfortunately not be the last, with or without helmet. Unless you make it a full face helmet, like in F1, or wrap up a rider completely in a similar way. It is a dangerous profession. But what can you say about the guys in Paris-Dakar, or boxing, in which men of fifty are completely ga-ga because of the punches they took. Kivilev was very unlucky not being able to react, it is fate, he was very unlucky. But please stop the discussion about the helmet."

Fignon was called "the professor" when he raced because he wore wire-rim spectacles, not because anyone ever suggested he was smart. This statement is one of the dumbest collections of nonsensical utterances one is likely to find in life, outside of politics, anyway. After allowing that a helmet might have helped Kivilev, he counters with an example of a situation in which a helmet might not work, and offers that as some sort of justification for not wearing helmets. Excuse me? Can you spell non sequitur? Sure, helmets won't prevent all head injuries. Most experts agree that a helmet would not have saved Fabio Casartelli when he crashed in the Tour. But just because they don't work in every case, does that mean we should never use them?

Then he refers to auto racing and boxing, where he claims that veterans of those sports are punchy from taking too many blows to the head. And this means what, Laurent? Help me out here... Are you suggesting that because one sport--the deplorable combat of professional boxing--allows its fighters to become dummies from getting biffed on the noodle repeatedly, that therefore it ought to be okay for bike racers to auger their skulls into the cobblestones? For the record, all amateur boxers do wear helmets, and great pains are taken to insure their safety. Only at the pro level does the old barbarism still persist, and it is truly a shameful situation. How the wrong of boxing can be construed to be a right for cycling escapes me.

As for auto racing, I'm not quite clear where he gets the notion that there are legions of punchy old race car drivers around. I follow auto racing carefully, and one does not hear about this problem. Regardless of that red herring, auto racers do die and suffer serious injuries in their sport, it is true. It is a very dangerous sport. But helmets and roll cages and five-point seat belt systems are mandatory in all forms of auto racing. Do you hear any race car drivers complaining that their rights have been violated--their freedoms abridged--because they are required to wear helmets? You do not.

Motorcycle racers are required to wear full face helmets, as are downhill mountain bike racers. Why not road racers? No one is suggesting full face helmets...just the lightweight, thin-shell helmets that will offer some minimal protection to the skull and brain.

Frankly, I think Fignon takes himself and his supposed freedom a bit too seriously. I have a feeling he may be prone to that peculiar gallic mindset where it is better to fail (or die) gloriously rather than win (or survive) by mundane, pragmatic means. I mean, look at his loss by 8 seconds to Greg Lemond in the 1989 Tour. He had the same access to aero bars and aerodynamic helmets as Greg did for that final time trial, but he scorned to use them. Think those technological advances were worth 8 seconds? Fignon claimed it was the pain from saddle sores that slowed him down. Hey, Laurent: that pain wasn't saddle sores. That was cranial rectosis.

M. Fignon talks about freedom of choice. Fine, noble words. Why don't we have Laurent explain this precious freedom to the young widow Natalia Kivilev? Perhaps he can tell little Leonardo that the father he will never know died a Free Man!

(A brief aside: I don't want to be too hard on the French here. I absolutely love them lately for standing up to the little cowboy, but there is a long and colorful history of magnificent French failures laid at the altar of panache. For further reading on the subject, try the Battle of Agincort, 1415; Pierre Levegh at Le Mans, 1952; Jean Vandervelde at the British Open, 1999; or Jacky "Dudu" Durand, any day of his career.)

And to be fair, it isn't just the French who can be obdurately obtuse about helmets. I once got into a heated discussion with a fellow on the subject, and he said, "I don't wear a helmet because I'm not planning on crashing!" Okaaaay... The statement was so patently, baldly moronic that my first response was something to the effect of refusing to have a battle of wits with an unarmed man. Of course no one plans on crashing, in the sense that no one goes out with the intention of crashing. But we do plan to protect ourselves in the unfortunate event that we do crash. (And we do in fact crash, on a fairly regular basis. Most of our crashes are more likely to result in road rash on our keesters than knots on our heads, but when that bad endo sends you head first into terra very firma, why not have a little protection around the eggshell cranium that houses your hard drive?)

I'm not a big fan of governmental or institutional authorities constraining me with more and more rules and regulations, but I think I can live with this one, just as I can live with buckling the seat belt when I get into my car. There was a time when I didn't wear a seat belt, and a time when I didn't wear a cycling (or for that matter, a motorcycling) helmet. I loved the wind in my hair, and I was as enthralled as Laurent Fignon with the image of myself as a ruggedly independent rebel without a clue. No one was going to tell ME to wear a helmet! Wrong: I was henpecked into getting my first helmet by the wife of one of my cycling buddies, back in the late 80's. She just kept yammering at me about it until I couldn't take it anymore and bought myself the state-of-the-art helmet of the day: a yellow Bell V-1 Pro. Talk about a hardshell helmet! That was like wearing a melmac mixing bowl on my head. It was heavy and it didn't fit very well or stay where I put it.

Next came one of the early Giros: a styrofoam mushroom with a lycra cover. It looks pretty phred now, but it was way cool in the early 90's, and it did its job, as I can testify from personal experience. I crushed it in a front somersault over a dog. The helmet ended up heavily embossed with the texture of the pavement where I landed. I don't know if it saved my life, but I do know that the asphalt embossing would have been on my skull if it hadn't been on my helmet. (I have seen dozens of helmets that have given their little plastic lives to save their owners: smashed to bits or abraded away along one side...but the skulls inside them still intact. You want testimonials about the efficacy of helmets...talk to the owners of those battered chapeaus.)

I've cycled through a couple of other helmets since then, recently buying a new Giro, with all the latest advances in fit and ventilation. They have come a long way. At this point, once you get your various straps adjusted properly, you really do pretty much forget the helmet is on your head. It weighs next to nothing, doesn't shift around on your head, and vents well. I have never--at least not since the V-1 Pro--felt overheated because of wearing a helmet.

No doubt this column is preaching to the converted. All of you out there are already wearing helmets, right? You don't need to be convinced. But what about your spouse or your kids? What about your sometime-cyclist neighbor, who makes sure his kids wear their helmets, but then goes riding with them without one of his own? I speak from painful experience about the spouse and kids. I have had a heck of a time getting my wife to wear a helmet. (She only rides a few times a year these days, although she used to cycle-commute every day and might do so again someday.) She says the helmet messes up her hair. My response: not as much as having your head shaved for stitches or brain surgery.

My kids started refusing to wear their helmets when they were in high school, and they do not wear them now, as young adults. Their riding is of the student-going-to-class sort, for the most part, although my son uses his mountain bike to go fly fishing. I feel as if I failed in my job as father and cycling advocate when I failed to convince or coerce them to wear their helmets. I'm not sure what the moral of my failure is for the rest of you: please do a better job than I did of convincing your kids to wear their helmets. Get them habituated to it at a young age, and never let them slip away from the practice, regardless of what idiot peer pressure may be brought to bear on them. And make sure their helmets are properly adjusted to fit right. It drives me crazy to see the little kids riding around town with their helmets tilted way to the backs of their heads, with their entire foreheads exposed...or worse yet, riding around with the strap unbuckled.

Statistics tell us that kids, college students, and occasional (read: unskilled) riders have more accidents than recreational club riders. These people may feel they don't need a helmet because they're not racing or bombing down a mountain, but actually, they are at equal or greater risk than full-time, hardcore cyclists. They need helmets every bit as much as club riders and crit racers. So be an obnoxious pain in the ass: harrass your neighbor, hector your spouse, and browbeat your kids until all of them put their helmets on and keep them on. I don't know what we can do to convince the UCI to stop listening to the strident pulings of Laurent Fignon and his luddite, dimbulb buddies and finally do what they should have done a long time ago. Perhaps the loss of Andrei Kivelev will at last make them do the right thing.

Bill can be reached at srccride@sonic.net

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