I was on the USCF (before USAC) board of directors back in the 80’s. One board meeting, out of the blue, the CEO at the time, Dave Prouty, said that the organization was going to cease to exist because he couldn’t obtain insurance because our members didn’t have proper head protection. We were presented with really no option other than passing a hard helmet rule.
I wasn’t for it at all. Back then, you pretty much had to wear either a Bell V1 Pro or a German track helmet. Both were heavy and ugly. But, the way it was presented, there wasn’t going to be any bike racing without making it mandatory for all amateur riders to wear them.
I was riding for Levis at the time and Bell was eager to get into PRO cycling, so they sponsored us. Man, were those helmets huge and cumbersome. I’d been racing in a hairnet helmet so long that the Bell helmet felt like a brick on my head.
Anyway, pretty early in the season, we were at a circuit race in Castle Rock, Colorado and it started storming. Pretty soon it was hailing pretty good size hail. I just kept looking towards the ground and I could hear the ice popping off my helmet. I was thinking at the time that the helmet was much better for situations like this, than a hairnet.
In the Coor’s Classic and Professional races, we didn’t have to wear a helmet at all, and I usually didn’t. It took a while for the rest of the World to pass their helmet rules. There was a time that you didn’t have to wear your helmet when you were climbing, so in the Tour, etc., guys would take their helmets off when going uphill, and hang them on their handlebars or give them to their team cars.
Eventually, Jim Gentes came up with the idea for styrofoam helmets, Giro, and they got way lighter and more usable. And UCI made it mandatory for all riders to wear them all the time.
The weird twist to the story is the during the 2nd day of the board of director’s meeting, after we had already passed the hard helmet rule, a discussion came up on budget. I asked Dave Prouty how much money that we going to save with our new rule and he said that he hadn’t talked to any insurers about it, but was pretty sure that it was going to save us a bunch of money. So, he pretty much just made up the extinction of bike racing insurance story. I’m not sure what the reason for him to be so adamant about hard helmets, but I guess it worked out in the long run.