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Home » Cycling » Did you know there’s a movement out there suggesting AGAINST wearing a cycling helmet?

Did you know there’s a movement out there suggesting AGAINST wearing a cycling helmet?

March 2014
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I stumbled into a hotbed of controversy.  Imagine that, eh?  At People for Bikes, they’ve got a post up with several suggested do’s and don’ts when it comes to cycling…  Some have merit and others are just plain silly.  Like this one:

DON’T dress for the Tour de France. No matter how happy you are to toodle along on your bike, new riders will always be certain that they are holding up your ride. Ditching the team kit in lieu of shorts and tennis shoes goes a long way in making new riders feel comfortable.

Now that’s some damn silly advice right there.  I’m going to make myself uncomfortable so a noob can be comfortable?  Not in this lifetime dopey.  I did my time as a noob and I’m not going back there for anyone.  Shorts and tennis shoes, you’ve gotta be kidding.  I can see leaving the matching kit in the drawer for the club ride, but cargo shorts and platform pedals on my Venge (or even the Hardrock for that matter)?  The day will never come.

Here’s another disagreeable suggestion:

DON’T use the word “easy.” While it’s natural to try to alleviate a new rider’s apprehension by assuring them: “Don’t worry, it’s easy,” you’re inadvertently causing problems. If the rider succeeds, you’ve devalued the accomplishment. If they don’t, you’ve created a sense of failure. Instead, relate the obstacle at hand to other obstacles the rider has encountered.

Folks, I don’t know how to say this nicely so I’m not going to – and believe me, compared to what I could write on this one, my response to the first item was tame.  If you’re that bad off, that I can’t use the work “easy” in a sentence for fear one might go all ugly in the head with it, I wouldn’t want to ride with you anyway.  I need that headache like I need a hit in the head. A person not completing a ride would feel a “sense of failure” whether or not I use the word “easy” in describing it. What I dislike here is the whole notion that I should walk on egg shells. No thank you. If you’re such a delicate flower that someone can’t use the word “easy” without crushing you, you’ve got bigger issues to fix before you think about getting on that bike!

The rest is pretty tame – or is that lame?  Yes, indeed it’s lame, but that’s not the point…  In the comments section there’s a crazy dope trying to suggest that wearing a helmet does nothing to protect the melon.  Seriously.  It gets better though, he quotes a site that he thinks shows this, here.  I’ll cut right to the idiocy:

This paper presents a mathematical model for comparing the possible benefits of fewer head injuries as a result of helmet laws with the negative effects of less exercise due to fewer people cycling. It notes that the amount by which helmet laws reduce injuries and cycling is controversial. However, the author does not present any new data with regard to these factors or the health benefits of cycling. Instead, widely cited estimates are used as inputs to the model to arrive at the net implied benefit.

For those who’s eyes glazed over while reading that, I provided the emphasis on the important parts.  It’s a quack mathematical study using estimates.  In other words, the study is bullshit.  The important thing here, is if you run into one of these “no helmet” kooks, you know how they get their information – it’s wrong right from the start.

Now, I could cite real studies case-controlled studies but they all show that wearing a brain bucket is safer…  All of them.  (Fair warning, that link is safe for work in Sweden but not the US)  Why bother?

Folks, this is specifically why we wear helmets every #*$*%&ing time we ride a bike without exception:

Warning:  This is graphic.  The photo is of a friend of a friend of mine.

No Helmet

Now, you’re an idiot if you think a helmet wouldn’t have prevented much of that carnage.  Case closed.

UPDATE: I left a few things open that I should clarify, especially for any politicians who might stumble across this post. First, helmet laws are stupid. Go balance a budget or something and stop taking yourself so seriously. Politicians are pretty low on the food chain for a reason, you know. I am all for personal choice and to tell you the truth, I’m LESS likely to wear a helmet if it’s a law. Call me a rebel.

That said, my girls and my wife don’t need a dad or husband who requires three daily diaper changes and a bib to catch drool – so I wear a melon protector each and every time I ride. Better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it.


17 Comments

  1. brettday says:

    Unbelievable. How in the world could they honestly think that not wearing a helmet is okay? I just don’t understand their logic at all. I would never ride without one. I lost a good friend of mine back in England because of a head trauma injury, and I hope I do not lose any more because of bad advice from these so called ‘experts’. Great article.

  2. AndrewGills says:

    I’m in the non-compulsory helmet school of thought but with qualifications. I believe helmets should be compulsory when cycling on roads rated at 60kph or higher in countries like Australia where the car rules.

    But I believe that in residential areas (50kph or less) and on shared pathways, helmets should be optional. And here’s why:
    – cyclists riding to the shop or with their children in these areas are often cycling at a slower pace than most people run
    – compulsory helmet laws make cycling seem inherently more dangerous than other activities, such as rugby and surfing, where the sport really isn’t
    – helmets don’t save you when they are worn the way most Australians (for example) wear them (i.e. backwards, too loose, without covers)
    – the wearing of helmets often makes people feel like they can take more risks so they are more likely to do stupid things.

    I am going cycle touring in Europe in 2015 and will NOT be wearing a helmet in countries where it is not compulsory.

    But then, I believe in a society based on responsibility and self-management, not one based on rights and being looked after. Nanny States don’t work – we just dumb the whole society and rules down for the few people who have no common sense (creating more people with even less common sense).

    Yes, head injuries can occur while cycling. But the Dutch cycle everywhere all the time and you don’t hear of mass numbers of head injuries in that country.

    (Caveat – if you ride to race or do stunts, then I think a helmet is part of the kit. My views are based on cycling at cruising / touring / riding to the shops for your milk pace)

    • bgddyjim says:

      Oh, I hear you brother, I think the fact the State gets involved is repugnant. Laws mandating helmets is worse, politicians have gotten too bit for their britches.

      That said, I wear a helmet every time I’m on a bike. Not because it’s a law, but because my kids need a dad with a functioning melon. I went for a 4 mile ride with my wife and kids when I as still a noob… I was doing the bring up the rear, watch the family thing when all of a sudden my daughter dropped down right in front of me (went over the edge of the asphalt and tried to cut too shallow coming back). I was headed straight for her helmeted head though so I went down instead – that fast, bam… My head missed the pavement by less than an inch. Now, I was a noob “cyclist” but a very fine bike rider (could jump, ride wheelies, ride no-handed etc.).

      And I was an inch away from what could have been a life of diapers and drooling on myself.

      I’m for anyone making their own decisions and maybe my mistake was following too close to my baby on her bike, fair enough… I had my reasons for doing that though and I wouldn’t have changed a thing. Point is, there was NOTHING I could have done. I’ve worn a helmet, every single time I’ve ridden a bike since. Chances are I’ll never need it.

      I’d rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it.

    • bgddyjim says:

      My cruising for milk pace is 23-25 mph. 😉

      The store is 2 miles from my house. Might as well get a workout out of it.

  3. This is a great post, my friend. Your first two points are summed up with “everybody gets a trophy” because we don’t anyone not to feel like a winner. Moms standing on the sidelines saying that the score is “fun to fun” because we don’t keep score. How ridiculous!
    Oh, and I especially like the part about politicians. 🙂

  4. bounced my head off a car and the pavement spilt my helmet in half, who knows what would of happened if i didn’t have one on, i used to no wear one when i was just going to grab coffee or meet a friend around the corner but now i always do, i have a helmet for each one of my bikes now

    • bgddyjim says:

      Brother, our stories are a dime a dozen. I don’t think you can find too many cyclists out there who don’t know someone who’s life is better because of wearing a helmet. I know three – and the one guy in the photo who wishes he had been wearing one. Glad you’re okay… That sounds nasty.

  5. zoeforman says:

    Crazy ! Helmets must be compulsory the world over on sealed roads & highways

  6. […] if you remember, just one week ago, I wrote the day would never come that I rode with platform pedals on my Venge.  Just one week ago.  Circumstances being what they […]

  7. MJ Ray says:

    Real studies? Anything that cites Thompson et al., 1989 without noting the flaws fails a laugh test. Isn’t it strange that the linked page doesn’t provide enough citation details that anyone could actually order the article from a library as a result, and the link to the summary is a dead link? If anyone would like to read the original material, it was in New England Journal of Medicine 1989 volume 320 number 21 pp1361-7.

    It’s also interesting that the “real studies” link mentions Ontario. I guess that page might not be updated any longer, because its latest citation is a 2001 paper and Ontario child helmet use had a surge in the late 1990s but fell back in the early 2000s and guess what? Child head injuries kept falling on a unchanged trend during both surge and fall. Actually, most of that page seems like just plain dodgy argument tactics, either attacking strawmen, attempting proof by assertion against evidence, or denying facts like helmet straps increase wind noise (there’s a whole range of products at http://www.cat-ears.com/ to combat it – or you could just replace the hard hat with a soft one that doesn’t have straps).

    And what’s with a reverence for “case control” studies? We use those for things like drug trials when we can’t do repeatable controlled experiments because we don’t have identical people available. But we could do repeatable experiments with cycle helmets like we do with crash-test-dummies in cars but almost no-one has done it and published the results: so far, they seem to have been limited to disembodied heads or torsos being launched at targets you’d rarely find in a real-world cycle collision.

    The benefits are unproven and some drawbacks are unproven (risk compensation and the effects of size/weight increase, for example), but some are proven (cost, hassle of carrying it off the bike, wind noise impeding hearing, …) so logically, why wear one? Just in case the benefits outweigh the drawbacks? Seems rather like a faith-based argument and sorry, but my religion isn’t “helmet”, so I’ll be cruising along wearing ordinary hats. I’ve learned the hard way (sliding along the road) that if I think I ought to wear a helmet for a ride, maybe I shouldn’t be doing that ride in that way.

    As for the picture: if one gory head injury is sufficient motivation to wear a helmet, you should wear one for driving motor vehicles and many other activities much more dangerous than riding a bike around gently.

    • bgddyjim says:

      The cat ears aren’t meant to reduce wind noise due to helmet straps… They mount to the helmet strap to disrupt the airflow over the ear to help one hear better – I have long sideburns for EXACTLY that same reason. My sideburns disrupt the airflow over my ears so I can hear cars before my friends. That you used cat ears in the manner you did says a lot.

    • bgddyjim says:

      I respect your right to be wrong, or misled (take your pick). Wear your cycling cap, I’ll keep my helmet.

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