The style of turban worn can greatly affect the impact of a head injury amongst Sikh cyclists, and while not always "as effective" as a bike helmet, it can offer "superior" protection in some cases too, a study has shown.
Motivated by the lack of research on the safety of Sikh cyclists and how their turbans can mitigate head injuries in case of an accident or a collision, a team of scientists from Imperial College London and the Sikh Scientists Network have published a paper in the Annals of Biomedical Engineering, studying the effects of a turban in detail.
A turban is a traditional headwear, often worn by people from many regions in Asia, including the Indian subcontinent and even the Middle East, but it is most commonly seen as an essential piece of clothing amongst the male followers of the Sikh religion.
Sikhs are, therefore, exempt from wearing helmets when riding motorbikes in several countries where it is a legal requirement, including the UK. Even in Australia, where helmets are mandatory for cyclists, four of the six states, namely Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia, allow Sikhs to ride a cycle without a helmet.
To test their effectiveness, the researchers wrapped five different styles of turbans, distinguished by two wrapping styles and two different fabrics with size variation, on to the heads of crash test dummies and subjected them to cycling-style crashes, comparing the findings of injury risk with conventional cycle helmets and with bare heads.
They found that turbans greatly reduced the risk of skull fractures in areas covered with a thick layer of fabric, compared to bare heads. However, the chief factor affecting the risk of head injury was the style of the turban.
For impacts to the front of the head, the 10-foot (three metres) long Dastaar turban style reduced impact force by 23 per cent compared with the worst-performing turban style. For impacts to the side of the head, the 32-foot (9.7 metres) Dumalla turban style performed the best, with a 59 per cent reduction in the force.
They also found that although the risk of skull fractures and brain injuries was higher with all turbans than conventional bicycle helmets, the risk might be reduced by placing energy absorbing materials between the layers of the fabric, or reducing the friction between the layers of fabric.
The team concluded: "Overall, while helmets generally offer better performance than turbans, certain turbans displayed comparable or even superior performance in one or more injury metrics."
Dr Gurpreet Singh, from the Sikh Scientists Network and Imperial College’s Department of Materials, said: "Our findings show that simple Sikh turbans have the potential to mitigate head impacts.
"This provides important evidence that we hope will point the wider scientific community to invest in the best headgear fabrics to absorb shock, which indeed will open commercial markets to people from all walks of life that deal with concussions and head impacts."
Ruth Purdie OBE, Chief Executive of The Road Safety Trust, which funded the research, said: "Cyclists are classed as vulnerable road users, and therefore it is important to think about different ways to improve their safety.
"The findings of this study could really support Sikh cyclists and help reduce their risks of head injury."
Adwitiya joined road.cc in 2023 as a news writer after graduating with a masters in journalism from Cardiff University. His dissertation focused on active travel, which soon threw him into the deep end of covering everything related to the two-wheeled tool, and now cycling is as big a part of his life as guitars and football. He has previously covered local and national politics for Voice Wales, and also likes to writes about science, tech and the environment, if he can find the time. Living right next to the Taff trail in the Welsh capital, you can find him trying to tackle the brutal climbs in the valleys.