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Cycling and the Non-Controversy of Wearing a Helmet… or Not.

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A small businessman in the United Kingdom recently, according to reports, banned his bicycle delivery people from wearing helmets whilst they ride, citing data that, if used falsely (and ignorantly), shows an increase in injuries with helmet use. The notion goes, people ride bikes more safely when they don’t have a helmet to rely on to protect their melon in the event of a spill. If we leave the argument right there, that business owner has a point, but that’s where the “ignorance” shows up to the party. This discussion is never that simple.

I ride my bike in a manner that is inherently more dangerous than anyone out for a little spin around the block. I rode solo, and mainly on back, dirt roads for a couple of years and could have legitimately justified not wearing a helmet but nowadays most of my mileage is with friends. We all wear helmets because we’re riding so close together at high rates of speed:

Let’s say, for argument’s sake, helmets were banned citing that same data. In that last photo in particular, we’ve got a bunch of hammers. We were cruising downhill at around 30-ish miles per hour or 45 feet per second. I have enough fun, even if helmets weren’t available, I would ride the same way. I’d risk it, as would most of my friends. In that case, you’d see catastrophic injuries from bicycle accidents skyrocket. Then the politicians, being what they are, would move to restrict how people are allowed to ride bikes; no more group riding. Politicians do stupid shit like that every day – restrict freedoms based on flawed data and the implementation of poorly thought out policy. Oh Canada!

That’s only a second third of that discussion, though. Here’s the final third: a very good friend of mine went for a 40-mile ride and didn’t bother taking a sip of water the whole ride. It wasn’t particularly hot out. It was mild, in the mid-70s (23-ish C). Two miles from home he passed out while riding. His helmet split when his head hit the curb, but he suffered no brain injury whatsoever. None. Without his helmet we’d have been attending his funeral. Another friend, riding in a group, stopped his bike with his face when another rider’s chain snapped in half in front of him. He grabbed a handful of brakes and went over the bar. He was in the hospital for a week. Without a helmet? Funeral. No doubt about it. Another friend who likes to ride mountain bikes and has crashed twice a year for the last three… well, let’s just say he’s not very good at mountain biking (though he’s since sold his bike and sticks to the road, now). Every one resulted in a busted helmet. He had one concussion but no other head-related trauma (he did have a bunch of scrapes, a couple of broken ribs, etc., etc.). Without his helmet(s)? Funeral. I was out for a leisurely ride with my daughters. My daughter fell when she went off the side of the asphalt and tried to bring the bike back onto the road too shallow. I fell right behind her rather than run her over with my bike. I was a quarter of an inch away from the asphalt with my melon and I wasn’t wearing a helmet. I bought one each that day – for my whole family. Another friend was hit from behind by a car. He’s alive because he was wearing a helmet. Still more friends would have suffered similar fates.

Folks, there are data out there that, if used improperly, can justify not wearing a helmet. The question is, are you willing to bet your life on it that the data isn’t manipulated? Not me. I’ve got one of the best helmets on the market because I know better than manipulated statistics. My own experience is good enough – add to that the half-dozen funerals I haven’t had to attend, and I’m good, thank you very much.

To put a bow on this, I do not advocate for mandatory helmet use. I say to each their own and compulsory helmet use is compulsorily stupid. I don’t get into mandates because in the USA, Canada, most of Europe, etc., etc. the job of politicians isn’t to protect my life. Their job is to protect my freedom.

Funny how they’ve lost their way and met with problems, innit?


11 Comments

  1. unironedman says:

    Ah the old helmet debate. Startling how many reasonably intelligent cyclists are willing to insist that being run over by a 40 tonne truck is the ONLY possibly incident they will have whilst out cycling. As you rightly point out, there are many ways to get injured on (and off) a bike, and a lid can really make all the difference. But you just can’t argue with stupid…

  2. The Omil says:

    The theory used was that accidents are mainly due to going over the handlebars – and that wasn’t possible on the cargo bikes they were using. That doesn’t make it a jot less stupid, in my opinion. I’m with you – the idea that a helmet makes a rider less careful is crazy. I have realised that wearing a helmet won’t stop ‘bad things’ like road rash or a broken collar bone … so why would wearing a helmet make me less careful?

    • bgddyjim says:

      Exactly. I know a few of my friends weren’t “over the bar” accidents, though. They were “falling over and banging the melon on the ground” types.

  3. The Omil says:

    To be exact, the argument was that most head injuries were caused by going over the handlebars – but, for me, that doesn’t change the position one jot.

  4. capejohn says:

    Any rider worth his salt knows when to wear a helmet and when it’s OK not to wear one.

  5. biking2work says:

    A lot of the evidence for no helmets is from countries where there is no segregated cycle ways, ie sharing the road. IF I were to ride a bike in the Netherlands, I probably wouldn’t go for the brain bucket but here in the UK, why wouldn’t I? Excuse the pun but it’s a “no brainer” 🤭

    • bgddyjim says:

      Ooh, here’s a good one to ponder: at what point does a helmet wearing cyclist intersect with the quadruple-vexed person who’s too afraid to stop wearing a mask?

      Oh 💩.

      • biking2work says:

        The choice is simple for me. I owe my freedom of choice to my grandfather who lost his mind navigating planes to drop bombs on facist convoys in the Mediterranean, not some politician who wants to hold on to power. I’ll stop wearing masks when it isn’t rampant at work to avoid passing it on to the vulnerable if/when I have it and I don’t know about it.

      • bgddyjim says:

        Check out what’s going on in Canada, brother. All it takes is the right infantile politician to dictate some pretty heinous stuff. Australia, too. Sprinkle in a little New Zealand just for fun… and we haven’t even poked Russia, yet. But that debacle is mostly our fault for electing a nitwit.

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