Bicycle Helmets



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In a comment on another post, loyal reader Ren asked why Mel and I don’t wear helmets when we ride our bicycles. The cycling community is heavily divided on the issue of helmet use. Generally, this is an unproductive debate, and I stay away from discussing helmet use as much as possible. But people ask me often enough why I’m not wearing one that I’ll take Ren’s bait and try to clearly state my stance on bike helmets:

I’m not anti-helmet. I don’t have any problems with people who wear helmets. I’ve never tried to convince anyone not to wear a helmet. I own a helmet. I even wear a helmet once in a while.

I believe in wearing safety equipment appropriate for the activity, and some types of cycling are inherently more dangerous than others. Cycling in heavy or high-speed traffic, mountain riding, or competitive cycling would probably all convince me to wear a helmet. But I don’t consider my typical riding habits to be a risky activity. It’s not extreme or high-paced, and I don’t feel the need for safety equipment.

Plus, like Dottie, I love the feeling of the wind blowing through my hair, and wearing a helmet would rob me of this beautiful pleasure.

Yes, I know that people die while riding bicycles. Yes, I’ve heard the stories of strange accidents on recreational trails that may have been prevented with a helmet. No, I don’t dispute studies that show that cyclists wearing helmets are less likely to die from head trauma than cyclists without helmets. No, I don’t think I’m invincible. Yes, I’ve been hit by a car before. Yes, I realize that nasty accidents can happen when you least expect them to – even when you’re being extremely careful.

Still, I don’t feel compelled to wear a helmet when I’m riding slowly on recreational trails with very limited interaction with cars.

Some of you are thinking, “That’s stupid. You’re gonna risk splattering your brains because you want to feel wind in your hair???”

Yes. I hardly consider it a greater risk than not wearing a helmet while riding in a car. I know many of you will disagree with me, which is fine.

I’m following the Danish model of cycling, where everyone rides a bike, nobody wears a helmet, and nobody considers cycling a risky activity.

So how about you? Do you wear a helmet?

22 comments to Bicycle Helmets

  • Joe

    I hate to do this, but…straight from the Wikipedia article on bicycling helmets:

    "Six times as many pedestrians as cyclists are killed by motor traffic, yet travel surveys show annual mileage walked is only five times that cycled; a mile of walking must be more "dangerous" than a mile of cycling…" The proportion of cyclist injuries which are head injuries is essentially the same as the proportion for pedestrians at 30.0 % vs. 30.1 %"

    So, I think you are well within bounds to not wear a helmet. I choose to wear one most of the time, but you're right, the wind in your hair is like a drug!

  • Joe

    Also, I love reading about the studies where most people would be better off not wearing a helmet because they don't know how to right-size it for their head…which can make the situation more dangerous than going helmet-less.

    Anyways, there are many layers, no definitive evidence either way…I say live and let live.

  • e

    I wear one, mostly because I feel kind of naked without it and it just seems silly not to, considering how much I worry. The couple of times I've forgotten, I felt really dumb because I'm usually dressed cute and then I'm just like one of those hipsters who cares more about how they look than being safe, which is not my scene. Also, I like biking fast and on streets with heavy traffic.

    That said, I've come to a point where I don't get on a high horse about others needing to wear a helmet – there's enough evidence out there to support whatever option one chooses.

  • Anonymous

    I've flipped over the handlebars on one occasion that I remember. I was wearing a helmet. I landed on my forehead, but was no worse for wear.

    As I remember it, I was going VERY slow, and the guy in front of me put on his brakes (also on a bike) and I had to brake hard to avoid hitting him. I braked too hard.

  • I wear one every. single. time. My kids do too. To me it's just not worth the risk. That being said, I'm not going to point my finger at you and say "Look Ian, Brother Collins isn't wearing his helmet. I guess he doesn't mind if his brains get splattered all over the street," or something like that. At least, not loud enough for you to hear me. 🙂

  • I'm totally with you. My wife and I have this debate because I refuse to own a helmet.

    If you're going to wear a helmet while riding your bike, why not wear a helmet while driving your car?

  • I wear a helmet every time I ride, but I think part of it is out of childhood guilt. My parents made me wear a helmet (which I think parents should do), and the ONE TIME I didn't wear one while riding at a friend's house, I flipped over the handlebars and faceplanted into gravel (ow). Even though I didn't have a head injury, I immediately thought "Oh no! Mom was right!"

    And while the evidence on helmets overall is admittedly mixed, a former roommate's life was saved by his helmet, so he never let me leave the house without one when I was living with him.

    Personally, I think wearing a helmet is a good idea, but your argument is one of the more rational ones I've heard versus, say, a friend who won't wear one because "they look dumb." I mean, that's not even possible because we ALL look cool if we're on a bike, right?

  • Ren

    Upon further reflection, I realized there was no defensive answer (in my mind) you could give and it was a personal choice, period. Which is why I later followed up my query with a comment that that you didn't owe me an explanation about your personal safety habits.

    Nice thing about getting older, some wisdom eventually creeps in and though I still don't keep my mouth shut as often as I should, I have the smarts to recognize it and say mea culpa.

  • @Joe – you're quoting wikipedia like it's authoritative? I'm sending some shame your way, buddy.

    @e – helmet or not, I still think you're a hipster.

    @Katie – whatever you say about me, don't let me catch you calling me "Brother Collins" again.

  • @Inspector Reuben – I can hear you and your wife talking about this tonight:

    Inspector Reuben: Hey Honey, come here & read this. See! This guy agrees with me. I don't have to wear a helmet!

    Wife: (reads post) Wait, that's the same guy that plays jenga with the bricks in his chimney, right? You're gonna trust that guy? We need to talk…

  • @Emily – That's a good point – everybody looks better on a bike.

    @Ren – no worries. It was a fair question.

  • Ha! Pretty close, but she didn't make the Jenga connection. I just labeled you a "Bicycle Expert"

  • Kate

    I have been very guilted into wearing a helmet by both my mom and my husband, but it wasn't until a friend got a terribly concussion after her brakes snapped and flew into a fence that I actually went out and got one. It's a bern, so it's actually pretty cute. But if my husband wasn't looking… I still really prefer not to wear one (I've also never flipped over my handle bars)

  • Clint

    I rock the helmet. Even tho I know if I'm run over by a car the helmet only products my noggin and won't prevent my entire body being squished.

    Also, you can't put cool stickers in your hair.

  • Interesting discussion… I wear a helmet mostly because it's the law, but also because my husband wasn't wearing a helmet 6 years back and received a major head injury which induced a coma and he doesn't remember a few months of his life after he woke up. He was in a small town and a truck didn't notice him. Even though I'd LOVE to feel the wind through my hair as I bike, keeping my head intact is more important.

  • @Kate – well if you choose not to wear one, I won't tell your husband.

    @Clint – Maybe you can start riding in an Iron Man suit.

    @Sassy Sarah – It's the law over there that you have to wear a helmet??? Is that a City Ordinance??

  • I wear a helmet every single time I ride. My brother was in an accident and would be dead or have a disability without it.

    But also, it is so selfish to not wear one, just like it is selfish to not wear a seat belt. If you are in an accident and receive a traumatic brain injury there is a good chance the Government will be paying for your medical bills, job training to work rolling silverware, social workers, and housing for the rest of your life. Your surgeries and hospitalizations will be paid for by the Great State of Minnesota long after your current insurance runs out.

    Additionally, I know that if I were somehow in the accident that either killed you or disabled you, even if it wasn't my fault, I would forever feel guilty and horrible. Even if the injury could have been prevented with you wearing a helmet.

    Finally, if my brother would have died in his accident, I would forever be saddened about his death, just like your family and friends would be saddened by yours. If you die because you aren't wearing a helmet, you're dead. Your family has to live on with the pain.

    Not wearing a helmet is an extremely selfish act.

  • @Kassie – fair enough. I'm glad your brother is ok.

  • Joe

    I know, for shame!

  • I wear a helmet for a couple of reasons: my riding involves hills, heavy traffic and often as not, rain. Plus, it's against the law not to wear a helmut, though have to admit that I consistently ignore most traffic. I live in a very p.c. city and would quickly tire of people yelling at me to wear a helmut. Must say, though, that when I occasionally forget a helmut (usually by leaving it on the bus), it feels really good–the old wind through the hair idea

  • Dottie

    God bless Yehuda Moon. He has a strip for everything I think or feel about bicycling 🙂

    Thank you for this well-reasoned and calm contribution to the helmet discussion.