BALTIMORE — There is little debate that bike helmets save lives. Government data shows that three quarters of all fatal bicycle crashes involve head trauma, and that helmets are up to 88 percent effective in mitigating head and brain injuries. But, while Americans are coming around to the use of helmets, experts are sounding the alarm about a frightening helmet con that could leave you and your family headed for disaster. Counterfeit bike helmets.
Clint Mattacola, head of Helmet R&D for Specialized Bicycle Components, showed us how authentic and counterfeit helmets can look almost identical on the outside. But, he says, looks can be deceiving. What’s the big deal? Mattacola performed an impact test for us, required by law for all bicycle helmet certifications, which shows what happens when the helmet hits a solid surface head-on in a crash.
The authentic helmet passed. It suffers a couple cracks, but the energy of the impact is absorbed by the helmet as it’s supposed to.
As for the counterfeit? Mattacola says, “You can see how the counterfeit cleaves apart and has a catastrophic failure,” leaving your head basically unprotected.
This is such a big issue Andrew Love, head of Brand Security and Investigations at Specialized, spends his days conquering counterfeiters. He says, “93 or 94 percent of the counterfeits will come out of China and Hong Kong. That's where they're coming from, but that's not necessarily, as a consumer you will experience them. You might see them on ebay and the person might say they're in illinois, or that person might say they're in Spain.”
Love says he regularly finds counterfeits from several brands on major digital marketplaces. He says online companies and the Federal government are doing what they can.
Alexx Khu, The Director of the Intellectual Property Rights Center, part of Homeland Security, tells us the Feds made “146 seizures of counterfeit sporting goods, which presented a clear safety hazard” in the last fiscal year. And, that includes helmets.
And in the trial of a Kentucky man arrested for peddling knock-off helmets, experts testified that consumers wearing one of the counterfeits who suffered a crash similar to that of impact testing “...might suffer a fractured skull, brain damage, or death.”
Love says, “What I find so amazing is the counterfeiters spend so much energy making a product that looks just like ours. I mean, stunning attention to detail and paint and look but none of the safety features.”
How can you spot a counterfeit?. All legit helmets contain a Consumer Product Safety Commission sticker as proof of passing Federal safety standards.
Sizing charts should be American.
And price matters. A high-end bike helmet can run $100 to over $300. If you see a deal too good to be true, Love says buyer beware. “This is safety equipment; you don't want to bottom fish for price...They might look good to get past the sale moment, but they won't do their job-- protect your brain. And that kind of matters,” he says.
While not all third party online items are counterfeits, the experts we talked to said the only way you can ensure an authentic helmet is to buy from a manufacturer website or an authorized bike shop.
Khu tells us if consumers believe they have purchased a counterfeit, don’t use it! Contact the marketplace or retailer where it was purchased immediately and then report your purchase to the Intellectual Property Rights Center at either IPRCenterOutreach@ice.dhs.gov or 1-866-DHS-2-ICE.
We also reached out to several other bike helmet manufacturers to see how they are handling the counterfeit issue, but did not get any responses.