Fule face helmet - review

In my MUni accident a week or two back, I fell forwards and down a short slope and landed chin first on a rock. I thought I’d broken my jaw, but hadn’t. I needed 7 stitches in my chin, and I needed a tooth to be rebuilt. The rock was undamaged, which is just as well as it was National Park property.

Time to consider a full face helmet? I ride hundreds of miles a year, most of it cross country or light MUni. I’m more of a mud plugger than a rock hopper. So far, I have never hit the ground with my helmet! However, a broken jaw would have put me out of action for a very long time, causing difficulties with a range of activities from eating to drinking, and including wearing a motorcycle helmet or fencing mask, or playing harmonica. I now know how easiliy it could happen to me.

So, someone in this forum suggested a Switchblade helmet. I did look on the internet, but I prefer to see and touch before I buy, so I went to my local shop, Super Cycles, in Nottingham.

They had about 4 models of full face helmet in, including the Switchblade - and what a lovely helmet it is: light, elegant, stylish, well ventilated… and, in my opinion, totally unsuited for unicycling.

My injury was almost exactly on the jaw line, on the underside of the chin. I fell forwards and did a swallow dive, with no opportunity to roll. My chest hit the floor and my head whipped forward, and the bottom of my jaw hit the rock. I imagine that such an accident would be fairly rare on a mountainbike or BMX. I could be wrong, but my limited experience of bicycle accidents suggests that you either fall sideways and roll, or you go over the handlebars, in which case you land in a tangled mess, but not usually with a full face-plant. A workmate who rides serious downhill mountain bike broadly agrees.

The Switchblade, like most of the other helmets on display, has a lightweight, high chin guard which would protect your chin very well indeed if you fell and rolled. However, the line of the chinguard is so high that the bottom of your chin is almost exposed to an upward blow. (Think of being ‘uppercut’ by a rock. That’s more or less what happened to me.) Also, the chinguard projects quite a long way, which gives it a fair amount of leverage. Try as I might, I could not adjust the Switchblade (or most of the other helmets) to meet both of the following criteria:

  1. Comfortable enough to wear for an extended period.
  2. Secure enough not to ride up and expose the bottom of the jaw in the event of an ‘uppercut’.

No good at all. Beautiful, elegant, useless - not unlike myself.

I bought an Odyssey Apache 2. The website is www.odysseybmx.com although I can’t find the exact helmet on there. The site shows the Odyssey Apache 3 which is broadly the same.

The helmet is quite heavy, being made of 4 layers of hand laid fibreglass. It has six vents, but is less well ventilated than a typical road helmet. It has a quick release buckle, but any adjustment of the tension is by laboriously pulling the webbing through the bcukle, unlike my ‘road’ helmet which can be adjusted 2 ways whilst on the move.

On the head, it feels almost like a motorbike helmet. It’s a bit heavy, but feels solid and reasuring. The chin guard feels like it will take a good whack, and the whole helmet feels secure. There is a peak which can be removed. In place, the peak may serve to give additional facial protection in the event of a face plant, and it will deflect twigs, leaves and so on if you’re riding though the woods.

I’ve just done a ride of around 8-10 miles on the 28 on a cold windy night. I was glad of the additional warmth of the full face helmet, so that probably means it will be hot on a summer’s day ride.

I hope never to test the helmet’s impact-resisting properties. However, I’m reasonably satisfied that it is a good buy and will be suitable for downhill MUni or high speed Coker runs. I dare say there are plenty of similar helmets available. Just two things I’d like to stress:

  1. If your riding puts you at risk of this type of fall, consider the implications of a broken jaw. A full face helmet doesn’t look as silly as a line of stitches on your chin - I know, because I’ve tried both.

  2. If you decide to buy one, check how it will protect you against a blow to the underside of the jaw. Don’t just assume that light weight, style and high price guarantee the best helmet. They are all made for bicyclists, and we have subtly different accidents.

I will still wear a ‘normal’ helmet on more moderate rides.

I read your account of that accident and it sounded pretty nasty; I know from experience how it feels to UPD and, for a second, believe that you’ve broken something.

I was wondering if you’d got any tips, other than wearing a full face helmet for avoiding this kind of jaw injury.

Tonight I was out on my 29-er and had about 3 UPDs, all of which I walked out of with no problems, however, I know that I can’t assume all UPDs will be so straightforward.

If I undestand your description correctly the problem wasn’t that your face hit the ground, but that your chest did and this caused a whiplash effect leading to your jaw hitting?

Have you any idea what prevented your arms from taking the impact?

Also, do you reckon that the fact that you were doing a drop was a prime factor, or could this have occurred just from riding forwards?

It would be exaggerating to call it a proper drop. Imagine a short slope down, with a step of about 8 inches down, then a short slope down. I went over the step and as I hit the bottom slope I catapulted forwards.

As far as I can tell, the exact sequence of impacts was this - and it was more or less symmetrical as I went straight forwards:

  1. Hands hit the floor, protected by wristguards.
  2. Some of the shock transmitted up my arms cusing some shoulder pain later.
  3. Chest hit the floor mor or less flat.
  4. Head, which had been pulled back, whipped forwards and chin hit the rock.

The rock in question was standing proud of the ground by an inch or two, which didn’t help.

I have had only one similar UPD, and that was on the Coker at high speed on the flat. On that occasion, I slid down the road on my belly,and managed to keep my chin off the floor.

Tips for avoiding it? Er… buy a tricycle.

UPDs can happen very suddenly. Usually they are no problem. 9 times out of ten I land on my feet, although occasionally I fall after a step or two. However, UPDs when riding down a hill can be frightening - especially if one of your short term objectives is to avoid trashing your legs on the pedals.

I will use the Fule face helmet when this type of UPD seems likely: hard MUni, or high speed Cokering.

Full face helmets sound like overkill to me, the chances of hitting your chin as you did seems very slim to me, breaking a wrist or leg seems like it would be much more common and its still low.

The rare upd is allways out there, but a bulky downhill/bmx full face helmet seems like it would be more of a nucence and cause more upd’s to me than anything else. Your accadent was bad and could have been much worse, but I dont think that its more a bad roll of the dice of life than anything else. I mean you could have been sprinting arround the same speed and tripped and had the same injury.

Speedy Recoveries

Probably learning to tuck and roll is the best way to avoid that type of impact injury during a hard UPD (crash). Martial arts training might give you the reflexes to tuck and roll instead of a belly flop and an excavation of the trail with the chin or face.

Watching people like Kris Holm crash or bail is a lesson in agility. His reflexes and agility is one reason he hasn’t been hurt doing what he does.

Me, I’m a belly flopper. I don’t have the agile reflexes or the tuck and roll instinct. I’m an injury waiting to happen. I do need to learn to tuck and roll and how to properly fall. I’ve never had any martial arts training or anything similar and it shows.

It’s probably a good idea for the folks wanting to ride very aggressively to get some martial arts training in the proper way to fall. And it’s probably better to get that training when you’re young and the reflexes are more trainable, rather than when you’re older and the reflexes are more set in their ways.

or just buy a full-face helmet

That’s okay if you don’t think full-face helmets have a negative side.

Personally, I think the most dangerous thing for a rider is to be tired or dehydrated, as I’ve had all my worst crashes when tired. If a full-face makes it more tiring to ride or makes me overheat more, then I’d not wear one.

The trick with rolling, is that you don’t need to roll head over heels, you can roll sideways or any which way. You just need to not slam straight down. Having a camelbak or other rucksack is particularly good for this as you roll onto your camelbak and don’t hurt your back.


But in doing that, you might damage your camelbak!
The real trick is to only ride in deep snow, or to not ride at all and spend all your time watching unicycle videos and posting on this site. I wouldn’t recommend any of this.

I have a limited amount of martial arts traing, having done Judo many years ago. I also dance, unicycle and fence so I reckon my general coordination and reflexes are pretty good for a 41 year old.

However, the rolling thing only works if you can dissipate the energy of the fall by rolling, and if you can be sure that you won’t roll onto something worse. So if you fall exactly forwards, as I have done twice, then the roll will have to be forwards, although Iwould normally tuck one shoulder rather than doing a classic ‘forward roll’.

Rolling forwards down a hill may not be the best answer, and rolling over and hitting the next rock might be a very bad answer.

Be that as it may, the protection is there for when the technique fails, not for when it succeeds.

My strategy for avoiding injuries is as follows, in this order:

  1. Ride within my capabilities most of the time.
  2. Be selective about when I push the limits - taking into account surrounding obstacles and hazards which might exacerbate the consequences of a fall.
  3. Compensate for a temporary increase in risk by adjusting my speed and stance as appropriate.
  4. Run or roll out of a fall.
  5. Rely on protection such as a helmet or wristguards.

On the occasion in question:

  1. No!
  2. Not well enough.
  3. Not nearly well enough!
  4. No realistic opportunity.
  5. Wristguards DID help; a full face helmet would have helped.

I’m not a safety fascist, but I do think it’s fair to share my experience because some of you may have made a decision about what you wear without fully appreciating the risk. I’m not a safety nerd, either. Arnold the Aardvark (Alan) will remember our first MUni ride together, where I wore no padding, gloves, or helmet, and wore a sleeveless vest and tried to keep up with him.

I have now ridden a grand total of about 8 miles on a 28 with 110 mm cranks, in the dark, in about a force 6 gusting 7, wearing the Fule face helmet. I did not find that it introduced any new risks or hazards to the procedure. Dehydration, I’ll grant you, could be a problem in the heat… but NOTHING makes you sweat more than a full Camelbak… except thinking you’ve broken a bone and you’re a long way from help.