Bicycle Helmets in the NYT

In the Health section of the New York Times, columnist Lesley Alderman makes the case for bicycle helmets. From the article:

Whether you ride on hectic city streets or bucolic back roads, helmets are essential armor. Bicycle helmets have been shown to reduce the risk of head injuries by up to 88 percent and facial injuries by 65 percent, according to a Cochrane Database Systemic Review published in 2000. Bike riders who play against those odds do not fare well in accidents. More than 90 percent of the 714 bicyclists killed in 2008 were not wearing helmets, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Read the full article

This is bound to be controversial. I still feel this is a subject that’s worth discussing; let’s see if we can keep it rational and amicable.

Do you wear a bicycle helmet?

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84 Responses to “Bicycle Helmets in the NYT”

  • paul says:

    To wear or not wear a helmet and to vocalize about it would fall into the category of famous last words: Nah, I don’t need a helmet. Helmet’s are for sissies. I will wear one when I’m on my mountain bike, because trails will throw you to the earth with centrifugal force and a road bike will too, just, it seems to me, not as likely. Riding a bike is high and wearing a lid can be a buzz kill. Unfortunate choice of words?

  • Tal Danzig says:

    Wearing a bike helmet is like wearing a seatbelt in a car. There’s never a good reason not to, and there are plenty of reasons why you should wear it. I personally know several people who would have had serious head injuries had they not been wearing helmets, and in two of these cases impact speed was pretty low and occurred on bike paths/routes, so I don’t think slow riding is a valid argument.

    Yes, they aren’t the most comfortable or fashionable pieces of equipment, though both areas have seen many improvements over the last couple of decades. Fashion conscious riders can choose a Nutcase like helmet to match their bike and/or wardrobe, and riders optimizing for comfort can choose from many well ventilated, light weight helmets with a variety of fit systems.

    In my opinion, if a helmet is what keeps you from riding a bike, you shouldn’t be riding a bike. It’s an essential piece of safety equipment. Would you advocate people ride at night without proper illumination? A bicycle is a road vehicle that encounters many hazards both environment and human, and a helmet is only safety that keeps our heads from serious impact and injury. It is by no means a fail safe device, but neither is any safety mechanism be it helmet, seatbelt, airbag, etc.

  • Saddle Up says:

    Our store is larger than what would be the norm for a bike shop. We do over 5 million $$ annually in sales. The reason I mention this is because we are responsible for putting a lot of carbon fibre bikes and carbon fibre fork equipped bikes on the road. In the three years I’ve been at the store the amount of carbon fibre component failures we’ve seen is exactly 0.

    In that same period of time we’ve seen on average 4-6 people a year come into the store with a helmet that is cracked because of a crash they experienced. They claim that they are either able to walk or are alive today because they were wearing the broken helmet they now need to replace.

    I think regular readers of this blog will understand the point I’m trying to make. The fear mongers need to redirect their efforts. I don’t go anywhere on my bikes without my helmet. Helmet use is mandatory for bicycle riders under 18 years old where I live think it should be mandatory for all bicycle riders just like it is for motorcycle riders.I

  • Erik Sandblom says:

    I’m puzzled why an article in the British Medical Journal in March 2006 hasn’t settled this discussion. The author, Dorothy Robinson, shows how increased helmet-wearing in conjunction with helmet laws didn’t result in cyclists faring better than other road users in regard to head injury. In other words, the helmet laws did as much for pedestrians as for cyclists.

    British Medical Journal March 2006: No clear evidence from countries that have enforced the wearing of helmets (the article is also available here)

    Wikipedia also has material on bicycle helmets and on risk compensation. Another good resource is http://www.cyclehelmets.org

  • Teddy says:

    I agree with Tal Danzig. Riding in the city of Los Angeles, I often encounter many bicyclists who opt out of wearing a helmet because of the style factor. As for me though, I enjoy biking and would like to continue biking for a long as I can. My bike takes me to school, to work, basically everywhere I want and need to be, therefore it’s really important that I take my personal safety into account. Until people become as aware of the presence of bicyclists as they are say in Amsterdam, I feel that it is an unreasonable risk to take to not wear a helmet in your daily commute. For me, I will always wear a helmet, regardless of the circumstance.

  • Velo libre says:

    First the helmet then a flashy yellow belt then a rider license then a bike plate.

    Don’t do this, don’t go there…

    Some can’t stop to put rules and constraints in every single bit of others’ life. Kind of sad people.

  • Mike S. says:

    The problem isn’t bicyclists not wearing helmets, it’s those rolling WMDs and their crazed operators that are the problem. A helmet does little good when one of those veers behind you and hits you at twice the speed limit.

    Oh, and the ‘Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’ is a not-so-obvious front group for auto insurance companies. Of course they’d put the onus of safety on those icky bicyclists and not on their lead-footed easily-distracted customers (can’t cut into profits to save people’s lives, now!)

    Obligatory Yehuda Moon comic: http://www.yehudamoon.com/index.php?date=2008-07-09

  • Justin Lee Miller says:

    I choose not to wear a helmet in Chicago. I know I am in the minority in this forum and in many others. I own a helmet and I wear it in some places, but I don’t think it’s necessary in Chicago if you’re an experienced cyclist. Having biked in most of America’s cities, contrary to popular belief, Chicago drivers are now aware of cyclists and are generally polite.

    Americans are afraid of their own shadows. They live in fear of being robbed by a black man, bombed by a Muslim, and having their kids kidnapped by rampant child-molesters. Turn off the evening news and go out and live! In the end, trans fats will take the lives of a majority of Americans nestled safely in their suburban-SUV-McMansion cocoons.

    I never wear a helmet in Europe, never in Brooklyn or Chicago, but usually in other cities in America where drivers aren’t used to seeing bikes on the road. The notion that it’s either/or is childish.

    Promoting the idea that cycling is a dangerous activity will just mean fewer Americans cycling.

  • Megan says:

    I stopped biking when it became overwhelmingly obvious that helmets are a necessary piece of safety equipment (high school classmate died because he wasn’t wearing one).
    8 years later and I am biking daily and ALWAYS wear my helmet. Glad to find a Nutcase helmet that matches my personality and commuter style bike.

  • townmouse says:

    Good luck keeping it rational and amicable (although so far, so good, from the comments to date).

    I personally don’t wear one, and never have whether riding in town or in the country, except on the sole occasion when I went mountain biking (or when I’m with someone else’s kids and their parent asks me to). It’s not a style thing, it’s not a laziness thing, it’s simply that I don’t feel, looking at the riding I do, that I’m at any greater risk on my bike than on my feet – I’ve fallen more often running than cycling in the last 20 years, despite spending far more time cycling than running. I would never try and persuade anyone not to wear one, or laugh at them for doing so. I just wish people who choose to wear helmets themselves would do me the same courtesy.

  • Meghan says:

    In an echo of the poster from chicago, I must say that as a rider in San Francisco, I seldom wear a helmet. The streets I ride generally have bike paths and the auto traffic is both slow and aware of bicyclists on the street. I feel safe. I moved here from Los Angeles 2 years ago, where I also was a bicycle commuter. I would NEVER go anywhere without my helmet. Even on streets with bicycle lanes (I’m thinking of sunset, though streets like hyperion were better) the auto traffic was obviously the first priority and though I never have had an incident in either place, I felt in danger there. If the situation warrants it, I wear a helmet. I realize I probably should anyways, much as I realize I should drink as much red wine as I do and I should floss my teeth more, but it doesn’t seem imperative and alas, I do no not.

  • Tali says:

    As as been stated earlier in the thread, encouraging people to ware lids doesn’t actually seem to keep cyclists significantly safer.

    We should be taking our cycling safety inspiration from nations like the Netherlands, that have actually succeeded in keeping cycling safe and POPULAR (27% mode share), not from failures like Australia (1-2% mode share).

    Want to keep cyclists safe, work on reducing the chance they’re going to be hit by thousands of lbs of metal travelling at speed.

  • Xtra says:

    I can’t help but think of that recent video posted on ecovelo of the bike riders in Europe. No helmets. Not a single one. If these riders where having accidents and experiencing serious head injuries or death I’m sure more people in Europe would be wearing helmets.

  • ksteinhoff says:

    I’ve posted this info before, but it’s still valid. I don’t think a magic foam hat will protect you from EVERYTHING. I’d rather ride in a manner that keeps me from NEEDING a helmet. Helmets and parachutes are a lot alike: you don’t need them unless something has gone really wrong, but it’s nice to have them when you DO need them.

    Here’s an account of a crash where my riding partner did an endo on a perfectly straight, perfectly smooth trail out in the middle of nowhere. She and I didn’t normally wear helmets on this trail because we were more afraid of heat stroke than head injury. She fractured her skull in five places and is still unable to work or ride a bike more than three years later.

    http://www.palmbeachbiketours.com/do-bike-helmets-really-save-your-life/

    Here’s a remarkably upbeat interview I did with her three years after her life-altering accident:

    http://www.palmbeachbiketours.com/do-bike-helmets-really-save-your-life/

    Wear one, don’t wear one, that’s your choice. I won’t browbeat you if you ride helmetless with me, but I WILL share Mary’s story with you and I WILL wear my helmet.

  • Dweendaddy says:

    The 3 F rule: I generally wear a helmet when riding fixed, particularly fast, or in a forest. Slow and upright (most of my riding) I don’t always wear a helmet. I never wear a helmet when running or driving, but I bet if I were hit by a car while doing either of those, it would reduce my chance of head injury.

  • 2whls3spds says:

    The majority of people killed in automobile accidents die from head injuries, and automotive accidents kill around 42,000 people a year…just sayin’

    FWIW I have seen the results of two cyclists that were killed, one was wearing a helmet and one was not, neither one died of head injuries.

    Aaron

  • Daniel M says:

    I was born in Copenhagen, Denmark, but moved to California as a toddler. As has been mentioned by other posters about The Netherlands, the streets there are FULL of bicyclists, (in many but not all cases on separated bike lanes) and almost NOBODY wears a helmet. Now, the Danes are one of the most rational cultures on the planet (except for their high rate of smoking – we’re ahead of Europe on that one), so if bicycle head injuries were rampant, I feel pretty confident that helmets would be more widely adopted.

    So – some factors that make riding there different from riding here, at least for me: slow speeds, due partly to a near complete absence of hills; heavy, upright bicycles which make it incredibly unlikely for one to go over the bars; a saturation level of bicyclists that makes it impossible for motorists to feel self-righteous or superior.

    In Northern California where I live, I frequently find myself bombing down hills over 30 mph; if I crash I’ll be lucky not to be injured even if I am wearing a helmet. However, for a relaxed, level cruise on a bike path or lightly traveled streets, I really have trouble telling anybody that they MUST wear a helmet. I have fallen off a bike, over the bars, numerous times while mountain biking (haven’t had a wreck on pavement since my teens, knock on wood) and I have NEVER so much as scraped my head on the ground or anything else. I think skiing taught me how to fall gracefully, and in all of those MTB falls my gloves proved much more important than my helmet, which I was of course wearing.

    Bottom line: of course you are safer wearing a helmet than not, but I fully support the right of anyone NOT to wear one if they choose. If you plan on riding on flat ground at speeds less than 15mph and you think that a helmet is absolutely essential, then you might consider wearing one every time you leave the house. Maybe even at home. Slip and fall injuries happen all the time, especially in the bathroom.

    Shower helmets, anyone?

  • Tali says:

    In response to ksteinhoff:

    Your story about Mary’s accident is certainly alarming and sad, and it does not surprise me that you choose to wear a helmet at all times after such an experience.

    However, in implying that cyclists need to wear helmets on smooth paths away from motorised traffic, you set the risk trigger for helmet use so low that to be consistent you would need to advocate helmets for motorists and their passengers or for all persons under the influence of alcohol, etc.

    The only person I know who has suffered a life changing brain injury suffered it as a result of a car crash.

    We do the act of bicycling, away from motor vehicles, a disservice if we go around implying that it is more dangerous than a lot of other activities that are routinely done unhelmeted.

  • Brent says:

    Bicycle helmet science seems to be all over the map, while the anecdotal evidence usually points at its benefits.

    My own anecdotal story goes a bit the opposite way, albeit involving skiing rather than cycling. I found myself seeing stars after a low-speed skiing fall a couple of years ago. I’m pretty well convinced that if I gone bare-headed, I wouldn’t have hit my head on the (hard packed) snow — either the weight of the helmet, or the size of it, drug my head down. I wasn’t able to control it.

    Too, I was surprised that I suffered any problems at all. I thought the helmet was supposed to prevent or mitigate concussions, but I spent a few hours with a low-grade headache. My friends say that helmet-less it might have been worse; I’m not so sure.

  • Lee Trampleasure says:

    I started riding back in the day when bike helmets were bands of leather strapped to your head.

    I started wearing a helmet religiously when I realized it wasn’t a question of how good a bicyclist I am, but how bad a driver the person in the car is. Most bicyclists can attest that the world is full of bad drivers who don’t see us (or other cars, for that matter).

    Now when I go out of the house without my helmet and get a couple houses away, I realize that my head feels funny and go back and get my helmet. I don’t find my helmet uncomfortable.

    Would I suggest a helmet law for bicycles? No. Would I suggest everyone wear one? Yes.

  • CedarWood says:

    I read somewhere that motorists’ chief complaints of cyclists are lack of visibility, breaking traffic laws, and recklessness, real or perceived.

    There are few cyclists in my area and helmets are optional. Since most motorists associate helmets with bicycle safety, I wear my helmet most of the time. Whether I’m actually safer with the helmet or not is unimportant to me.

    I also wear a high-viz vest and obey every traffic law necessary in an effort to show motorists that cyclists are courteous, law-abiding citizens just like most other people.

    If I was ever in an accident, it would probably be caused by a car, and the helmet would likely be useless for preventing most of my injuries. Nevertheless, I want someone to be able to say that I was wearing my helmet and high-viz vest, thus hopefully removing some of the automatic blame usually placed on cyclists.

  • David says:

    Frankly, I’m amazed that this is controversial at all. I’m not talking about helmet laws, just the value of wearing a helmet at all. If you want to go unprotected, I’m not in favor of the state telling you that you can’t. However, what possible down-side is there to wearing the helmet? They’re not expensive, they don’t hinder visibility, they weigh next to nothing, and the ventilation is great. I don’t buy that they do no good. Perhaps they don’t save a lot of lives but they undoubtedly prevent a lot of concussions, lacerations, and contusions. To those who choose not to wear a helmet, let me ask this: if the laws didn’t require you to put your kid in a helmet, would you anyway? If so, how come?

  • Alan says:

    @David

    I think there are a few things at play here. One is simple vanity, which I think is underlying at least some of the arguments. Another is that there’s evidence that suggests helmet use discourages bicycle use, which in turn increases the risk of various diseases related to a sedentary lifestyle. Then there’s the argument that helmets send the message that bicycling is a dangerous activity, again, with the end result of less bicycle use.

    Alan

  • Doug R. says:

    Two years ago I was riding my motorcycle and was hit from behind by a motorist, I was thrown through a rear windshield of a car in front of me! My motorcycle helmet “SAVED” my life period!

    I don’t care if you choose to wear a helmet or not, I know the results of wearing one and for me they work! Live your life as you choose, but consequences are often final! Your call!

  • Ron says:

    18 months ago today, I was struck by a car while crossing an intersection. I won’t go into great detail here except to say that while the crash was legally the fault of a driver running a red light, more attention on my part would have likely prevented my being hit.

    In my case, a helmet protected me from serious injury. However, more attentive riding on my part would have offered even more protection.

    I agree with Ken: It’s better to ride in a manner that doesn’t warrant helmet use, and it’s good to wear one just in case it’s necessary.

  • AJ says:

    Don’t make adult helmet use mandatory, by law. However, there is absolutely no excuse whatsoever for not wearing helmet at all times while cycling; other than vanity, ego, and/or selfishness. To believe that wearing a helmet somehow increases one’s risk for injury is incredible.

    aj

  • Supp Suppinger says:

    If You crash, it depends, whether You just fall off the bike, or crash against a car. If You fall off the bike or crash against another cyclist, the one with the hlemet has a better chance to not damage his brain so massively. If You crash against a car, You will probably get killed, no helmet is going to help YOu. In this case the helmet is worthless, as well as the seat belt in a car is probably wortless if You crash again another car each going with 70 MPH! The only difference is You die “safely”, the final result is the same.

    Read “The Cochrane Collaboration and bicycle helmets” by W.J. Curnow, a scientific essay about helmet use which can be found here: http://www.cycle-helmets.com

    There are also a few scientific studies out there, for example here : http://policy.rutgers.edu/faculty/pucher/irresistible.pdf
    which proof, that the more people are cycling in a city, the safer it gets.
    More cyclists in a city=less accidents and less fatalities.

    Each year pedestrians get hit by car as well. No one would suggest pedestrians to wear a helmet. Shure, it would make walking safer. But as You can see on those two examples above, the reason for fatalities or crashs are very often not pedestrians or cyclists, but cars. So this is the thing which has to get changed. Take a look at the Nethterlands, where the majority of cyclists does not wear helmets. Cycling in no other country on the world is as safe, as there. Why? The cities and the country are extreme bike friendly, the whole environment is built around cyclists and for cyclists(=humans), not for cars. You have to change the environment, the infrastructure first, if You want to make cycling safer!

    Changing the environment can be for example to change the law:
    I can think of a few near misses with cars and me on the bike, where the driver was talking on his cell phone, while riding the car. Although this is forbidden in Austria, car drivers are still doing it, instead using a headset for their phone calls. It distracts their attention massively! This is why it is forbidden. Driving around a ton of metal and talking on the phone is like running around in the city with a loaded and unlocked gun. So raise the fine for talking on the phone in a car to let´s say 5.000 USD or more. No one is no longer going to do it!

    Do not understand me wrong, I am for safety and safe cycling, but everyone should make this his own decision, whether or not to take a helmet. It´s absolutely clear, that there are much more effectice ways to make cycling safer, than using helmets in a biker unfriendly environment. First thing should be, to improve the environment, make it more bikefriendly, inform or educate car drivers, change the law, establish speed limits, build bike lanes, etc etc

  • Supp Suppinger says:

    Take a look at http://www.sharetheroad.ca/
    “At 10 am on Friday, May 14, 2010, a goup of six cyclists was struck by a vehicle on Highway 112 in the village of Rougemont, Quebec.”

    No helmet would have helped them.

    There are many other things which have to be changed first, to make cycling safer.
    Helmets make if safer only on a very low level. A real safe environment has to be demanded by the people, cyclists, politics, traffic planners, etc etc.

  • Mark says:

    I always wear a helmet. It doesn’t bother me at all, and I don’t mind if it looks a little odd or gives me helmet hair. I figure, a helmet might mess up my hair, but a concussion will mess up my brain.

  • Tali says:

    If people validate someones freedom to bicycle without a helmet, but in the same breath essentially call them crazy for exercising that freedom, then the freedom isn’t particularly meaningful. Pretty soon we’ll be photoshopping helmets onto the heads of unhelmeted cyclists in pictures… Oh wait…

    Western society has been badgering cyclists to do more to protect themselves for decades. It isn’t working. Cycling isn’t getting safer, and apart from a few exceptions, utility cycling isn’t getting more popular.

    And since the thread seems to be degenerating into the “Wear one or you might be sorry line”, I think I’ll drop it.

  • Alan says:

    Utility bicycling has certainly increased in recent years, and there is also some evidence that bicycling in the U.S. is getting safer, though I’d say that’s still an open question.

    Anecdotally, I get the impression that many non-bicyclists perceive bicycling to be much more dangerous than it actually is, regardless of the helmet question. I suspect the following stats would surprise many people:

    http://www.ecovelo.info/2009/05/04/contrary-to-popular-belief/

    Alan

  • Brent says:

    @David:

    For me, Alan’s point that helmet promotion makes cycling seem dangerous is the meat of the matter. I’d ultimately like to see cycling become a widespread transportation mode here in Los Angeles, but it’s a hard(er) sell when many people think cycling, in and of itself, is dangerous. I don’t think it’s necessarily dangerous, not by a long shot, although its capacity for speed may up the risk factor. (Still, it’s one of those ironies that more Tour de France participants have been killed by cars than by cycling — Wikipedia has the details.) That said, you can find statistics showing whatever safety level you want to prove, high or low, including another Wikipedia nugget that puts head injuries for pedestrians at exactly the same level as that for cyclists. Go figure.

  • AdamM says:

    @ Doug R.
    The comparison between motorcycle and bicycle helmets is essentially meaningless, as they are entirely different devices designed to provide quite different levels of protection.

    I always wear a helmet because I now live in Australia and I can’t be bothered getting into an argument with a police officer who wants to fine me because I’m not wearing one. Having said that Australian drivers are, on average, some of the worst I’ve come across as a cyclist so I’d probably wear one on the road all the time anyway.

    The most disappointing thing about that article is it quotes helmet protection figures that have been discredited and shown to be grossly flawed in their derivation. There is little evidence one way or another as to the efficacy of protection provided by bicycle helmets. What there is, is a larger body of evidence that compulsory wearing of helmets results in significantly greater harm to the general public through a reduction in levels of physical activity. From a public policy perspective that should be enough to mean that no law should be passed making helmet wearing compulsory.

    The decision as to whether someone chooses to wear a helmet is then up to them and a personal assessment of their circumstances. Which is as it should be. After all, people are free to choose to smoke cigarettes or overeat or drive drunk, each of which is a far larger health and/or safety problem that results in a much larger drain on public expenditure than bicycle injuries. Which is why I can’t figure out why bicycle helmet wearing becomes such an emotive issue.

  • Bike Intelligencer says:

    I wear my helmet when I’m driving (sometimes), when I’m working on the roof and climbing an extension ladder, because statistics show most people in severe accidents who die do so from head injuries. (Yes I get lots of laughs.)

    That said, I wonder if the styro helmets of today are really that safe. To me, the statistical anomaly showing equal deaths between helmet and non-helmet may say more about helmet construction and safety than about the issue of whether a helmet should be worn.

    And the statistics never seem to really be scientifically rigorous. Most, probably all, pedestrians killed by cars aren’t wearing helmets either. Would helmets have saved them?

    Helmet stats seem inevitably flawed because there’s no control group when there’s no bike helmets built to, say, motorcycle helmet specs.

  • L says:

    I really can’t understand the angst on this topic. I wear a helmet. It’s cheap, sensible, and smart. Know why I wear it? 6 concussions, that’s why. Each time I get a concussion it’s worse then the time before. It’s harder to concentrate, my vision isn’t the same, and it takes longer for the fatigue and dizzy spells to go away. Biking, like riding horses, puts you going someplace at a higher rate of speed then walking. When, not if, the accident finally occurs if you hit your head you’re going to sustain some form of injury. I have to say though that for those who say you can’t hurt yourself going slow are ill informed or just plain lucky. I sprained my pelvis and suffered the latest concussion walking 3 ft across the living room. I hate to think what will happen when I finally fall off my bike. The last concussion I had while wearing a helmet ruined the helmet. I couldn’t move as I lay on the ground and had a moderate concussion. I hate to think what would have happened without a helmet. Btw, I’m not an adrenaline junkie and wasn’t doing anything real crazy. Just unlucky. Believe me that you don’t want concussions.

  • Bart says:

    I think the main problem with the helmet debate is that it oversimplifies the discussion on how to make the roads safer.

    The biggest safety hazard for bikers is infrastructure and cars and helmets cannot help with that.

    However, putting so much emphasis on helmets distracts everyone from talking about how to make the roads safer for everyone.

  • John in Roseburg says:

    There have been two deaths in our community involving low speed falls from bikes by un-helmeted riders in recent years. My own life was probably saved in a horrific Mtn bike crash on rocks. My daughter crashed right behind me on one ride and broke a brand new helmet, was disoriented for a few minutes by was ultimately OK. Thus, logic compels me to wear helmet when I ride.

  • Sarah says:

    I’m torn about the helmet thing so I won’t weigh in there–I have one; sometimes I wear it, sometimes I don’t. But here are my questions–1. why are helmets so expensive–$50 or $60 for a piece of well-designed styrofoam? I’ve paid less for some of my favorite bikes. And 2. why are they so ugly? I’m female, have a fairly non-sporty aesthetic and I have to admit, the sheer hideousness of the helmet is so depressing. If I didn’t think it’d make me look like a pretentious prat, I’d wear my old black velvet horse-back riding helmet. Why has no one focused their design and techno energies of creating a few more stylish options? (and yes–I like the nutcase ones but their a bit young and skateboard-y for me).

  • Phil Barns says:

    I wear a helmet every time I go on the road. I have had three helmets broken: once when a motorist drove illegally through a junction and hit me, once when I hit the side of a van which pulled out in front of me and stopped to turn right- I was skidding at 25mph* by the time I contacted the van, hit it hard enough to disable the driver’s door, and once when a pedestrian stepped out in front of me without looking. Each time the helmet saved my head. That said, I live close to the Kennet and Avon Canal, which has miles of flat towpath, and once on the towpath I choose to take the helmet off, because a) I’m not in traffic, b) I’m out to enjoy the experience so I’m going slowly and c) it’s easy to see a good distance ahead to anticipate any awkward bits, especially when b) applies.
    * I was freewheeling down a 1 in 10 gradient hill, not pedalling furiously.

  • RDW says:

    I suffered a mild stroke a few years ago and because of that I may value what’s left of my brain more than other people. I wear a helmet when I ride, at least most of the time. On the other hand I understand those who choose not to and hope they always have that choice.

  • AJ says:

    OK, I’d would like to hear from those who suffered head trauma from not wearing a bicycle helmet, and advocate not wearing one today.

    Any takers?

    aj

  • Don says:

    It seems that there are two issues here: Whether well-meaning cyclists can persuade non-wearers of the wisdom/prudence of helmet use, and whether helmet use ought to be mandatory. When I listen to the arguments against, they are often libertarian in nature, focusing on the right of the individual to make such decisions. In such cases, even cost-to-society counter-arguments tend to fall on deaf ears. The discussion becomes passionate to the extent people feel responsible for the safety and welfare of others or focused on civil liberties. It is a mature argument to have, and the uniquely aggressive situations American cyclists confront, coupled with an infrastructure often hostile to cycling, may make this a uniquely American argument akin to seatbelt laws or even concealed-weapon laws. I don’t think it will ever end, but some of us will keep bringing it up regardless, and such apparent bullheadedness is motivated by love.
    Direct experience can make such pleas more emphatic. I once witnessed a college student riding without a helmet on a level brick path as a light snow began to fall, an idyllic scene. He was in the most docile of environments and was riding sensibly. In other words, he was fine, until he wasn’t. His wheels flew out form under him, his head hit the ground, and immediately went into a seizure, foaming at the mouth, etc. Bystanders got him the help he needed, and he survived okay. He was lucky. We are all lucky. But, I would argue, the more we look out for each other, the more “lucky” we become.

  • beth h says:

    How to live with a helmet:

    1. Helmet hair IS a drag. To reduce it, go for a shorter hairstyle (with bangs) and wear a bandana, do-rag or thin cycling cap under your helmet. (Carry a comb with you if you need to freshen up your look when you arrive at your destination.) OR, try to have a job where a traditionally “professional” appearance isn’t a requirement.

    2. Remember that your helmet straps will collect dirt and oils from your skin, then run that stuff back on your face over the long-haul, causing zits along your cheek and jawline (and you thought you’d outgrown those!). Solution? Wash your helmet straps with warm soapy water (I use either Ivory soap or Pine Tar soap). Rinse straps well with hot water and let air-dry overnight. I do this once a month during the warm weather months, and maybe every other month in the winter.

    3. Ignore the warnings about how applying stickers will compromise the integrity of your helmet. Those warnings are the height of covering one’s corporate butt. A little reflective tape goes a long way in heightening visibility and won’t hurt your helmet.

    4. If it’s been more than five years since your last helmet purchase, consider replacement, even if you’ve never had an accident; stryofoam IS affected by UV rays from riding in sun-exposed areas. (If you live in the southern half of the US, maybe check your helmet every two to three years instead of five.)

    5. Helmet covers DO keep your head warmer and drier in the winter, and work better than plugging the vent holes with duct tape.

    6. Helmets have to fit properly all year round. If you insist on wearing a thick fuzzy ski cap in the winter, consider buying a second helmet in a slightly larger size that fits over the hat and use it during the coldest part of the year (note: remove the pom-pom from the cap). OR consider thinner layers for your head that fit better under your normal helmet; ear bands and skullcaps come in a variety of fabrics and weights to meet most needs.

    7. If you buy a new helmet make sure it is adjusted properly BEFORE you leave the store. It should fit horizontally and not tilt back away from your forehead. Straps should be snug enough to hold the helmet in place without restricting your ability to talk or take in fluids (there’s a fine line here). Finally, the salesperson should show you how to readjust your straps as they become looser over time so your helmet fit will continue to be secure. (Obviously, you will find this kind of help at your Local Independent Bike Shop rather than at a department store.)

  • Richard says:

    I pretty much always wear a helmet, because I’d rather be safe than sorry. I recognize that the data are murky on how much protective value they provide. Most who note this come down firmly on the anti-helmet side of the equation. (And yes, I do say “anti-helmet” rather than “anti-helmet law,” because regardless of what they say, they are indeed anti-helmet. Just look at virtually any post on Copenhagenize, where the author begins frothing at the mouth with any mention of helmets, for an example.) But as a scientist, I recognize that murky data could easily mean that helmets do provide significant protection.

    I’ve read the studies on both sides. What’s remarkable to me is that many who oppose helmets argue that only one study (Thompson, Thompson, and Rivara) demonstrates helmet effectiveness, and that there are problems with the study (they usually call it “discredited,” which is a stretch). They then cite the Australia study which noted a decline in cycling after a helmet law went into effect, and they call this definitive. But of course, that study only accounted for a limited region in Australia, and over a short period at that—hardly definitive. And they also cite Walker’s study that indicates that wearing a helmet is more dangerous, as cars and trucks tend to pass helmeted riders more closely. But this study is intensely flawed: only one investigator, who knew what he was trying to measure, conducted the study. (A better way to measure this effect would be to enroll lots of cyclists in the study, randomize them into helmeted and non-helmeted groups, and tell them that the study is attempting to measure anything but how closely cars are passing, then compare the results.) And the part with the wig is just ridiculous: perhaps drivers gave the wigged cyclist more room not because they thought it was a woman, but because they wanted to give what they perceived as a crazy person a wider berth!

    In any event, the only thing that’s clear is that nothing is clear. We need more studies both on the efficacy of helmets and the effects of helmet-use on cycling. While helmets may reduce cycling on those of us who grew up without them, what about for children today, where they’ve become completely normalized? My son simply won’t get on his bike without his helmet–it’s an integral part of cycling for him, and that’s just how it is. And how he rolls.

  • Herzog says:

    There is no scientific consensus about the benefits of helmets.

    I think that’s a point worth repeating. Within minutes, I could cite 20 scholarly articles demonstrating the benefits of helmets and 20 scholarly articles questioning their efficacy.

    I don’t have anything against helmets in theory, but I find it alarming when discussions are premised on the idea that helmets provide clear safety benefits.

  • Herzog says:

    Richard,

    TTR (1989) *has* been discredited. The authors themselves conceded that the results were wrong. But your point is well-taken: there are numerous, scholarly articles that demonstrate the positive effects of helmets.

    I personally think TTR (1989) is most useful as a kind of litmus test: if someone cites it with a straight face, it means that they have no familiarity with the relevant scientific literature.

  • Brent says:

    @Don:

    Libertarian ideals aside, I don’t think the usual motorcycle helmet arguments apply directly to cycling. The motorcycle argument usually weighs the cost to society (medical care costs, loss of productivity) against the cost to riders (loss of freedom, cost of compliance). But bicycles have at least two characteristics that change this equation dramatically: 1) they are slower, and 2) they require pedaling. The lower speed means that severe injuries are rare, and deaths even rarer. Cycling is an eminently safe activity, both in practice and on the statistics. Pedaling, for its part, means exercise, and exercise improves health. When cyclists talk about the cost to society of mandating helmets, they usually speak in terms unfamiliar to motorcycle helmet advocates — they speak about the cost to public health by the loss of participants when helmets are mandated (e.g., in Australia). In other words, they flip the helmet argument, uh, on its head.

  • Richard says:

    @ Herzog: Not to be argumentative, but that’s precisely the point I’m trying to make above. There’s no clear consensus that they help, but there’s also no clear consensus that they hurt, either. And yet virtually everyone who notes that there’s no consensus argues that this means that helmets don’t help.

  • Erik Sandblom says:

    Bicycling is not only a healthy and safe activity. It is also more special than other forms of excercise, because it can be done on the way to work. Other forms of excercise generally need to be scheduled separately in your free time. As the article below demonstrates, this point is missed surprisingly often, by people who should know better.

    In-line skating is suggested as an alternate activity. I’d say skating is less than half as fast as cycling, about 7-10 km/h. You may as well jog.

    BikeBiz: Cochrane researcher admits lid law may decrease bike use
    A Cochrane researcher has admitted helmet laws may make people, especially children, give up cycling. But that’s OK, says a Canadian paedatrician, “they may take up in-line skating [instead].”

  • A Bike Commuter says:

    I really *love* the helmet discussions. Here are some of the thoughts comments posted above:

    @ Tal (5/23 9:48a) – Helmets are NOT like seatbelts. Seatbelts are proven to reduce the severity of inuries in an accident. If you are so confident about the protective powers of the Magic Foam Hat I suggest you consider standing in front of a car travelling at 30mph. Helmet or not you are going to suffer injuries.

    @ Mike S (5/23 10:31a) – Cars ARE the problem. Most debates about helmets end up pitting cyclist against cyclist. The real issue is that drivers are allowed to hit/maim/kill cyclists and suffer almost no legal consequences. I’m sorry, but saying ‘I just didn’t see her’ doesn’t cut it.

    @ Ksteinhoff (5/23 11:24a) – Magic Foam Hat. Wear it and it’s magic powers shall protect ye ;-)

    @ AJ (5/24 5:25a) – Nice diversion. More importantly, at what speed do you think a Magic Foam Hat loses it’s effectiveness? 20mph? 30mph? I think the actual data show that above 12mph a MFH is generally ineffective against head trauma. There are also additional complications related to rotational neck injuries. Again, the problem is generally one of cars, not cyclists.

    @ Herzog (5/24 8:31a) – Perhaps too polite to say it, but the plural of ‘anecdotes’ is not ‘data’.

    @ Richard (5/24 8:57a) – Since we should all ascribe to the ‘better safe than sorry’ approach you advocate I’m certain you will also advocate for wearing Magic Foam Hats in the bathroom, while navigating stairs and, of course, for all car drivers. Because statistically all of those activities are more dangerous than cycling and we *know* there is no clear consensus Magic Foam Hats hurt. Big brother approved this message.

    If wearing a Magic Foam Hat were the panacea that the trial attorneys and fear mongers would have you believe then how is it that most Europeans eschew helmets? Anyone who answers ‘there are more cyclists so motorists are more aware’ or ‘the cycling infrastructure is better’ inherently recognizes that CARS are the problem, not BIKES. And if you think neither statement is true then I really have to question why Magic Foam Hats are thought only to be effective on this side of the Atlantic (and Australia also).

  • Erik Sandblom says:

    Richard, “There’s no clear consensus that they help”. Is that not reason enough for authorities and cycling organizations to stop promoting helmets?

    “but there’s also no clear consensus that they hurt, either.” To be precise, some argue that helmets do not inhibit cycling while others (like me) note that helmet laws coincide with dips in cycling. But the discussion we should be having is, how can cycling increase and thereby reduce congestion and obesity? Helmets clearly do not help achieving these goals.

  • Brent says:

    @Erik:

    Inline skating is an instructive parallel. As it happens, most recreational skaters I see don’t wear helmets, nor is there any societal expectation. By contrast, most inline racers do wear them, even when training by alone. The difference perhaps can be explained in terms of perceived danger: racers go quite fast, while recreational skaters meander. (I averaged over 17 MPH (~27 kph) in one race of marathon length, and was nowhere near the leaders, who finished in under an hour.) Ironically, though, when I talk about skating, I almost never get asked about helmets, while it’s among the first questions with cycling. My theory for now: inline skating, done on two feet and upright, looks more like a “safe” pedestrian activity; cycling, on two wheels and sitting, looks more like a “dangerous” motorcycling activity.

  • RDW says:

    Alan, your a brave man to have started a helmet thread. I think the thread in Advocacy and Safety at bikeforums.net was over 300 posts last time I looked. Pretty good discussion so far…

  • Lovely Bicycle! says:

    I do not wear a helmet when cycling. After thoroughly reviewing the available statistical evidence, I do not believe that wearing one will make me safer than not wearing one – possibly the opposite. Erik Sandblom, Herzog, and others, have already summarised the point of view I subscribe to.

    It upsets me when journalists quote statistics that have been discredited but prove their point and leave out statistics that refute their point. This is irresponsible. It has been impossible to have this debate in the media without sensationalising it and getting emotions involved.

  • Herzog says:

    @Richard:

    You’re exactly right.

    The problem is that it’s hard to “prove” a negative. In other words, suppose that helmets DO NOT prevent serious head injuries. Considering how strongly their use is correlated with confounding factors (perhaps, most importantly, safety-consciousness) it would be very hard to prove this.

  • Tal Danzig says:

    First of all, anyone who sees bike helmets as some kind on panacea that protects cyclists against all all and any injury is delusional, but it’s pretty obvious that they do provide some measure of protection. Also, cars are not “THE” problem, they are just one of the hazards encountered by cyclists. Others include road hazards, pedestrians, other cyclists (try riding at night in my neighbourhood and count up the cyclists with no lights, and dark clothing riding inattentively,

    I’ve been riding bikes since I was a little kid, and aside from one incident when I was maybe 6 or 7 I’ve never fallen off a bike and hit my head. I’m a comfortable, skilled rider, and I ride in everything from downtown traffic, to country highways and fast downhill road rides. I’d never consider doing any of these rides without at least a minimum of protection: my helmet. In a crash situation, I’d still likely as not have to deal with road rash, cuts, scrapes, perhaps even broken bones, but head injury and brain damage is something I NEVER want to experience. Anything that can mitigate this risk is a valuable tool in my book.

    As for the riding slow argument, I don’t buy it either. RIding a bike is not like walking down the street. The conditions and hazards are different, the mechanics of the activity are different. By the way, the “all the cool kids in Europe” argument strikes more of group think and peer pressure than valid reasoning. I’ve heard similar arguments in the motoring world suggesting that seat belts, airbags, ABS, etc. all combine to enhance the feeling of safety and thus bad driving habits. Seat belts and airbags don’t get drivers playing destruction derby on the road.

    Helmets don’t supplant driver education or other safe cycling habits, as far as driver interaction, my personal experience is that drivers are a lot more respectful of a fully kitted out, visible, well lit and helmeted cyclist than the seeming “risk taker” running reds on her brakeless fixie.

    From my perspective a helmet is just one part of my safety kit. It’s there just in case it’s needed to prevent or even minimize brain injury, or just an uncomfortable knock on the head. It’s doesn’t stop me from watching for cars at intersections or riding safely, nor do I have any illusions that it would save me from any/all injury.

  • DJ says:

    I’m with Justin Lee Miller. I ride in Boston, sometimes I wear a helmet sometimes I don’t. It’s a personal choice.

    I do question this study. I don’t see how my bike helmet could reduce the risk of facial injuries by 65%. My helmet doesn’t cover any part of my face and I’ve never seen anyone in Boston riding with a full face helmet. That one just doesn’t add up.

  • Don says:

    @Brent:
    I see your point. I guess the harder a cost to society is to quantify, the easier it is to ignore it altogether. It is easy for me to give up on this kind of discussion: Too much gamesmanship such as you describe, not enough seeking of middle ground. So I shrug and say, “It’s a free country,” and try to feel better by riding my bike. :>)

  • Herzog says:

    @Tal Danzig:

    I understand your point of view. But I’m curious. You state that a helmet provides a “minimum of protection” and you suggest that it “mitigates the risk” of “head injury and brain damage.” I’m not going to question these statements here, but I am curious about the basis from which you derived this belief.

    Also, if you have time, please elaborate on your criticism of the “riding slow” argument. I would like to hear more of your thoughts about it. My impression is that in cycling, as in motoring, walking/running, skiing, rollerblading, snowboarding, motorcycling, speed IS a critical factor in the severity of a crash.

  • Herzog says:

    EDIT: I should add aviation too.

  • Fortis says:

    There are many who wear a helmet because society says they should. There are others that choose to, that is based on 3 things:

    A) A helmet makes the activity safer when in an accident
    B) The activity is a dangerous
    C) [B] is dangerous enough to make the use of [A] outweigh the drawbacks of using [A]

    Some think that A,B,C are all true for bicycling. I do not agree that B and C are true, thus I do not wear a helmet while bicycling, A is true in my opinion.

    I also think that B and C are not true for walking. B is very much true for driving or riding in a car, but C is not true. However, when racing motorcycles, all 3 are true, so I wear a helmet then (along with an armored jacket, full armored boots, armored gloves, and a back protector).

    When people ask me why I don’t wear a helmet while cycling, I simply respond “For the exact same reason you don’t while walking or driving”. It sounds cheeky, but it’s totally true.

  • AdamM says:

    @Tal Danzig:
    “cyclists with no lights, and dark clothing riding inattentively”

    Yep, cars are not THE problem, they are simply part of a wider picture. All too often I hear this line being trotted out by cyclists who (based on my observation) pay no attention to other road users and do little to manage their own safety.

    I am certain that if the amount of effort that was put into the helmet debate and helmet advertising etc was directed towards a ‘hey buddy, get some decent lights, don’t wear dark clothes at night, pay attention to your surroundings’ campaign you’d see a much greater improvement in cycle safety because all of these factors contribute to reducing the likelihood of an incident, as opposed to helmets which only work AFTER a collision has occurred (and only then in a subset of collisions).

    I also suspect that more widespread bicycle training for adults would be the single most effective measure that could be implemented. Riding on the roads with traffic is a skill and a skill can be learned. Trial and error is rarely the most effective teacher, yet that is how most cyclists learn to ride in traffic. As an example, ‘don’t ride on the left side of lorries stopped at traffic lights’ (right side in America/mainland Europe) is a simple idea that is obvious to an experienced cyclist, yet newer cyclists not understanding or aware of this simple idea resulted in almost double digit fatalities in London last year alone.

    As I tried to note above, I am strongly anti helmet compulsion because of the wider consideration of public health factors. A compulsory helmet law is just bad law. Beyond that I believe each rider should be free to choose whether to wear a helmet or not according to their particular circumstances. But riders have a responsibility to educate themselves about the environment they operate in…

  • Opus the Poet says:

    OK I should start this by saying I wear a full-face BMX helmet every time I ride. There is a reason for that that I shall get to shortly.

    Second I should say that I have read the CPSC standard and followed the engineering discussion of it and the standard protects against brain injury at an impact speed of 12.5 MPH. That is about the speed your head would hit the curb should you be unable to unclip at a standstill and fall over. At impact speeds above 20 MPH the liner is essentially used up and only protects against abrasions if it remains intact.

    Now as to why I wear a BMX helmet with a chin bar, in 2001 I was hit by a person trying to kill me with a pickup truck. I suffered serious injuries including broken bones and head trauma, but one of the most uncomfortable injuries was when I landed face first after being thrown 12-16 feet into the air which caused a large flap of skin on my face to become detached and droop over my right eye which had to be sewed back up. During the healing process it felt like an entire ant farm had been transplanted under my face. I mean it itched like crazy! During my 13 day hospital stay that was the most annoying thing I had to deal with excepting changing the dressing on my skin graft which felt like they were ripping the front of my leg off but stopped hurting as soon as the new dressing was in place. So, I wear a full-face helmet with a chin bar because I don’t like getting my face smeared on the road.

  • beth h says:

    The facts as I see them are, in no particular order:

    1. Cars, and the way we’ve allowed our elected officials to legislate in their favor, are the PRIMARY problem here. If everyone had to slow down and travel at no more than 20 mph — regardless of vehicle — there’d probably be fewer traumatic head injuries.

    2. Helmet laws put all the responsibility for bicyclists’ safety on the bicyclist, and let car drivers pretty much off the hook. Evidence? How many news reports of bicyclist injury or death include whether the bicyclist was wearing a helmet or not? (And my own unscientific example of “misplaced responsibility creep”? Proposals for bike riders’ licensure and insurance, which are gaining a little foothold incar-centric transportation circles.)

    3. I wear a helmet because nine times out of ten I’m probably safer than without one.

  • Saddle Up says:

    Here is an easy test you can conduct yourself.

    Put on a bicycle helmet, bend yourself over at the waist, walk at a fairly good pace head first into a concrete wall. Next try it again without wearing the helmet. Share your results with the rest of us.

  • Carl in San Angelo says:

    AJ said “there is absolutely no excuse whatsoever for not wearing helmet at all times while cycling; other than vanity, ego, and/or selfishness.” Those are strong words my friend, and I feel like I should try to answer them. Not to pick on you specifically, but because you stated so succinctly what many have hinted at.

    You could also say there’s no excuse for not wearing padded shorts and spandex. No excuse for not wearing tweed, or leopard print capri pants and a cashmere sweater. What does that really mean?

    Wearing a helmet makes a bold fashion statement. It says that the wearer believes that cycling is a risky activity and that a helmet can reduce that risk. It says that the wearer believes that the anecdotes of friends and personal experience are compelling enough to take extra measures to be safe, and presumably anyone who doesn’t wear the uniform is a vain, selfish egotist.

    I don’t wear a helmet for the same reason I don’t wear spandex or capri pants – I don’t feel they accurately reflect my perception of the world. I don’t think cycling is any riskier than many other activities that I do, I don’t need special clothing to ride a bike, and I don’t care how hip they might be, I don’t like ‘em.

    Wear what you want, but like the song says, “I’m not giving in an inch to fear”. I’m not going to hide in bed because someone tells a scary story. And I’m not going to wear a piece of styrofoam on my head just because some insurance company tells me it will make me safer.

  • Neighbourtease says:

    I wore a helmet until I did my own research about helmet safety. I personally have felt safer without my helmet because I feel I am better able to see what’s around me and I’m more comfortable. My experience has also been that cars treat me better when they see me as a person not an object and I’ve noticed that they are far more likely to look me in the eye when I am not wearing a helmet.

    I definitely agree with Velouria that this is not an argument that plays out in the press in a remotely rational or reasonable way. It’s frustrating that only one side of the “science” is represented in newspaper articles. The default setting of all discussions is that helmets are safe and cyclists are at fault for not wearing them. This is irrational and wrong-headed as there simply isn’t definitive research and in fact there is a lot of contrary research.

    That being said, probably the thing I feel most strongly about is that everyone make his or her own decision. Do not like the public scold vibe of the helmet debate.

    It’s really great that this discussion has been reasonable.

  • Herzog says:

    @Saddle Up

    *Sigh* I feel compelled to respond but I’m not sure how. If you were looking for the most pithy way to insult the intelligence of the participants in this discussion and to show your own ignorance about the mechanics of brain injury, you’ve succeeded impressively.

  • D'Arcy says:

    As Supp pointed out, you don’t see pedestrians wearing helmets even though they get hit by cars. In our city last year, proportionately more pedestrians (and car drivers) were killed than cyclists. That’s a disturbing fact. In my mind it would indicate that there are a lot of very poor drivers out there who are so focussed on saving a minute or two in travel time that they don’t even see a cyclist or pedestrian near them.

    In most European cities, automobile acts clearly put the onus on the driver not to hit a cyclist. In other words, if you run into a bike, it’s your fault. You’re driving a huge machine that can be lethal so it’s your responsibility to drive it safely. Until our authorities start leaning towards this enlightened approach, I think I’ll keep wearing my helmut.

  • Erik Sandblom says:

    Herzog and Saddle Up, allow me to quote an anecdote from Bentguy from a previous helmet thread:

    I store my bike in a small room under the back porch. The door is low and I have hit my head on it several times. When this happens I usually swear, rub my noggin for a moment or two, then go about dealing with my bike. After a few of these I learned to duck just that little bit more. One day I hit my head on the exact same spot while wearing a helmet. I hurt my neck a bit but no sore noggin. When I took off my helmet I saw that the outer plastic shell was cracked and inside I saw that the polystyrene liner was spit. Did this helmet save my life? Or is it just a fragile piece of junk? And is it possible that I would never have hit my head at all had I not been wearing that helmet… which I have never replaced. Since I have unwittingly tried this experiment both helmeted and un-helmeted I would feel rather silly showing this lid around and claiming that this would have been my head had I not been wearing it.

  • Lee Trampleasure says:

    The problem with the helmet discussion is that people tend to hold such strong opinions about it that they don’t realize when what they are writing has already been said.

  • Sharper says:

    I’m arriving late to the party, but I’m concerned that I’m the only one that seems to have noticed that my sense of perception changes when I have a helmet on. My vision gets more myopic and forward-oriented, my hearing is slightly dampened, and I pay less attention overall to my surroundings.

    The change is subtle but noticeable enough to make me shirk the lid when I’m riding in town, where I prefer the preventive effects of a keen eye and sharp ears to the passive reaction of a helmet.

  • doug in seattle. says:

    Unfortunately, I can’t bring myself to read 70+ posts about helmets. I will say that my primary reason for wearing a helmet is to prevent people from telling me that I should be wearing a helmet.

    I always reply that safety is not getting hit in the first place, which has more to do with experience and skill rather than a foam hat. It’s too bad there is no way to dissuade anyone’s helmet mania.

  • Neighbourtease says:

    Sharper, I did allude to what you describe in my post above. I agree with you and that is part of why I don’t wear a helmet.

  • don in portland says:

    Almost 30 years ago I started wearing a helmet because they were required if you wanted ride in a sanctioned race. I got used to wearing one as a matter of habit.
    Twenty years ago I was hit from the rear by a car, witnesses said was traveling in excess of 55 MPH. The impact tossed me over the car, hitting the windshield, roof and lastly the pavement. One of the points of contact with the pavement was the front of my helmet. I was Life Flighted to the hospital. I don’t have any recall of any of the events of that day. I was in and out of consciousness for several days after. My wife was told by the attending emergency room doctors that there was no doubt that without a helmet and considering the rest of the injuries ( 3 crushed vertebra, broken nose and cheek bones, and literally hundreds of stitches) I had that I would have died or ended up a vegetable.
    I still wear a “foam hat” and whenever people ask why I wear a helmet I relate this incident and let them come their own conclusions.
    When I was hit I had been racing for over ten years and had been commuting about as long, consequently I would like to believe that my skill and experience was above that of the average cyclist. I strongly believe that no matter how skilled and experienced one is “s*** happens”.

  • Bart says:

    Wouldn’t you have been better off if that driver had been driving in a safer manner?

    I know helmets give a feeling of being in sole control of one’s safety, but safety is a team sport in reality.

  • Erik Sandblom says:

    Bart, I’m told the only safety device that really works is the speed bump. But since it requires car drivers to slow down, DOTs have to try every other imaginable device…

  • Frits B says:

    Does anybody here realize that all this talk about helmets is very parochial, and absolutely not relevant to those parts of the world where bicycles are used in great numbers just because they are an essential means of transport? I have seen Holland and Denmark mentioned as countries with a high percentage of cyclists, but rural France, just an example, is also full of bikes and nobody wears a helmet there – the utility cyclists, that is. Then there are Africa South of the Sahara, India, Thailand and its direct neighbours, Indonesia, China and Japan. Many millions of cyclists, most of them on roads and in traffic conditions that are abominal compared to those in the US. Do they wear helmets? No, of course not. Cycling essentially is safe, helmets are expensive, a luxury. Something people can do without. Bikes they cannot.

    There is also the historical component. Bike helmets are a relatively new phenomenon, no more than a few decades old. They probably follow in the course of safety helmets on building sites, reinforced shoes in steel works, protective clothing in chemical plants. All items unknown in many “underdeveloped” countries. It might well be that in say fifty years bike helmets are accepted throughout. Yet riding a bicycle is a lot less dangerous than working on a building site or in a chemical plant. It wasn’t dangerous 60, 70 years ago and it still isn’t. Lethal accidents will continue to happen, no helmet will save a life when cyclist meets truck. But if wearing a helmet makes the cyclist feel safe, so let him/her wear one.

    That said, I saw a German movie yesterday on TV in which the postman wore a bike helmet. The real ones don’t wear them, or at least I’ve never seen one with a helmet, so either the actor or his union insisted that he wore one for liability reasons, or we are quietly being brainwashed. There is also a story over on Copenhagenize.com on puncture repairs being banned in Denmark because sniffing glue may damage your health – it will if you do it all the time, but one or two punctures a day?

  • Tali says:

    I didn’t think I’d post again, but I just had this article brought to my attention. I think it illustrates beautifully why the argument between “Better safe than sorry.” and “Cycling isn’t that dangerous.” will never be settled:

    http://www.thisisderbyshire.co.uk/news/Helmet-saves-bus-collision-cyclist-way-school/article-2210789-detail/article.html

  • Don says:

    @Fritz B,

    I understand the issue to be not helmets as essential globally but the prudence of their use within car-favoring infrastructures such as ours where utility cycling is less expected and supported.

    But we’re talking about the United States, the land of misplaced priorities. If by parochial you mean self-serving and myopic in our public discussions, then yeah, guilty as charged, and the helmet thing is one of a million examples.

  • Stephen D. says:

    I was reminded of this subject this weekend, so I’m a little late adding my $0.02……

    We took a family trip to the Sacramento area this weekend and took the campus tour of UC Davis and drove around the surrounding area known for bicycle commuting.

    I would guess that less than 5% of the riders on campus wore helmets on the day we took the tour, and maybe less than 25% of the riders in the City of Davis were wearing helmets.

    I was surprised in light of how much emphasis and interest in bicycles there is in this area.

  • Alan says:

    @Stephen D.

    “…less than 25% of the riders in the City of Davis were wearing helmets. I was surprised in light of how much emphasis and interest in bicycles there is in this area.”

    It’s counter-intuitive, but typically, as bicycle ridership per capita increases, both helmet use and injury rates drop.

    Alan

  • Fred McCord says:

    Let’s put it this way: I’ve got a 7yo. daughter that I love more than ANYTHING, including my vanity. If a helmet is the thing that keeps her from having to spoon feed me meals because of some ridiculous head injury…GREAT! It’s a bargain I’ll keep.

  • Justin Lee Miller says:

    Article never mentions it as the most hotly debated issue in cycling advocacy. In that sense, it fails.

    It mentions Dallas as a city with mandatory helmet laws for people on bikes, but not for people on motorcycles going 70 mph on the freeway.

    There are lots of mandatory helmet laws for kids being passed around the country, and, you guessed it, cycling among youth is actually falling according to recent data.

    Thanks nanny state!

 
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