The objective was to evaluate the relationship between helmet damage and head injuries in helmeted bicyclists in a sub-study of a large case-control study of bicycle injuries and helmet effectiveness. The setting consisted of seven hospital emergency departments in Seattle, WA. Hospitalized patients and medical examiners cases were included. The participants in the study were helmeted bicyclists who suffered a head injury or who damaged or hit their helmet in a crash. The Snell Memorial Foundation laboratory evaluated the helmets, blinded to crash circumstance and injury diagnosis. Damage was scored on a five-point scale (0 = none to 4 = destroyed). The damage location for each helmet was coded into regions (six longitudinal and three latitudinal) and mapped onto a three-dimensional CAD (computer-aided design) model of a helmet. The same procedure was also followed for injury location, which was mapped onto a three-dimensional ISO (International Organization for Standardization) headform for visualization of head-injury distribution. 785 helmeted subjects met the criteria for inclusion in the sub-study, and 527 helmets were purchased and evaluated (67%). 316 (60%) of the helmets had no or minimal damage, and 209 (39.7%) had significant damage (score 2, 3 or 4). Helmet types were 49.7% hard shell, 34.2% thin shell and 16.1% no shell. The risk of head and brain injury increased if the helmet was destroyed: OR = 5.3 (95% CI 2.9, 9.9) and OR = 11.2 (95% CI 3.5, 37.9), respectively. A high proportion of helmet impacts were along the front edge of the helmet, with a preponderance of head injuries in the same region. The large number of impacts to the front rim of the helmet, combined with the substantial number of riders with injuries to the forehead, indicate that some helmets, because of poor fit or wearing style, expose the forehead to injury. In addition, the data indicate that for a small proportion of injuries, the energy to the helmet may exceed design limits.