Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Bicycle helmets - How do you wear yours?

Wearing a helmet is a personal preference, some people can't cycle with one, some people can’t cycle without one. It’s like smoking – a choice which carries social taboo. I on the other hand have a marmite attitude to the helmet wearing world with a strange tendency to sport a helmet on weekdays but to go solo on weekends. After analysing the reasons for this habit, I can only link my weekday helmet wearing as a means of conforming to the regimented, strict, dull connotations that the working week embodies.  You might say that during my daily commute I am your very own cycling metaphor for working 9-5...What a great achievement!

Weekends are for letting my hair down, they are for fun and frivolity and helmets are not for fun and frivolity. It is clear that I have an inconsistent habit which ignores the main reasoning as to why people wear helmets, SAFETY.

Well, after a little swotting up  about whether helmets are actually effective at protecting your head in accidents, I have chosen to believe the following argument-
  •  You have a '14% greater chance of getting into an accident with a helmet on' Norwegian Transport Økonomisk Institut (TØI).
  • Pedestrians have higher risk of injury than people on bicycles do
These are bold statements and I am clearly in the camp of #wearyourhairfreewithpride. The points above are quoted by Mikael Colville-Anderson in his engaging presentation, 'Why we shouldn't bike with a helmet':

The gist of the presentation is that the culture of fear we live in has created a bubble wrap society. Fear is lucrative and companies can make money off of fear, which is where the bike helmet comes in. Creating the notion that cycling is dangerous is ideal for companies to make money selling safety gear. There are studies which show that car drivers give less room when overtaking cyclists with helmets than without because of the assumption that a cyclist wearing a helmet is confident and protected from cars. Colville-Anderson makes the clear point that it is more dangerous to drive in a car than to cycle, and so on, so on...

So if I believe Colville-Anderson's argument then why else do I squash my gorgeous locks into a helmet during the week? Here are the helpmychaincameoff alternative reasons as to why I wear a helmet:
  • Keeps my hair dry in the pouring rain 
  • The peak keeps the wind and sun out from my eyes
  • My work colleagues, friends and family frown at me and give me snarly looks if I don't put one on. They don't know the anti - HELMET TRUTH!
In conclusion, it seems that I only wear a helmet as a sort of weather protecter and to satisfy my loved ones. As a result of this, I have come up with two things to get around that. #1 Buy ear muffs/nice hat, #2. Lie to my loved ones and tell them my helmet is in my bag/strapped to bike. SORTED!

And then maybe I should wear one of these instead? What do you think?

Source: regenkapje Flickr

What's your helmet habit? Do you wear a helmet?


Yuriy Akopov said...

I personally wear helmet, but I'm strongly against making them mandatory.

Gav Coverley said...

The picture at the top of the page...is that your own? The helmet of the left is well swish. I'd consider abandoning my cycle caps for a lid like that.

Good read too. I hadn't heard the Norwegian Transport Institute stat before - that one's going in the arsenal.

Jemma said...

Thanks Gav, it is indeed my helmet! It's made by a dutch company called Yakkay. I have had comments ' Where's your horse' yelled out of white vans though!!

Gav Coverley said...

Haha, as a rule I try not to listen to what white van man says. I would've launched into the Bon Jovi lyric "on a steeeeel horse I riiiide!" and left him confused and beaten.

You'll know for next time.

anniebikes said...

I wear a helmet and while I've read and heard all the pros and cons and agree that fear is a great motivator/seller, I will continue to wear one. I've fallen a few times, and yes, hit my head! And one time it was in India, far from medical facilities. So for that reason alone I will personally wear a bucket on my head.

Will K said...

I always wear a helmet. It's actually a little funny - I ride a folding bike that I keep in my car (I drive/ride to work, so this makes sense). One day on the way home from work, I had put my bike in the trunk, and started driving home. And I had forgotten to take my helmet off. When I was stopped at lights, people kept giving me these strange looks, but I couldn't figure out why until finally I caught a glimpse of myself in the rear view mirror...

Jemma said...

@Will K, that is such a funny story!!

Colin said...

I don't wear one and never will. Anything they might protect against can be avoided. Anything life-threatening is so far beyond their design strength that they're as likely to do harm as good.

And cycling isn't dangerous enough to warrant head protection - just as walking isn't.

Yuriy Akopov said...

The main problem with helmets is that they turn cycling into a special activity you need to be prepared to, i.e. to have a proper gear beside your bike itself. That's actually the recent transformation happened to the cycling image - what used once to be a cheaper and simpler way of getting around the city, became a serious business with many concerns. You're now required to care about many things, buy special clothes, special helmet, expensive bike etc.

This is a big issue indeed. But apart from that, there is hardly anything wrong with wearing a helmet. It won't do much if you get run over, but in a situation when you're just knocked off and fall on the tarmac, it's quite useful. It won't save your life probably but can save your nose - still a good bargain if you ask me.

Richard Burton said...

I was one of the first people where I live to wear one, but then someone suggested that I should check the facts, so I did, and now I don't wear a helmet.

Nowhere with a helmet law or massive rise in helmet wearing due to propaganda campaigns can show any reduction in risk to cyclists, only a reduction in cyclists. There are thousands of "helmet saved my life" stories, but they are mostly based on what a completely unqualified medic or policeman said - witness the James Cracknell video last year.

Check out cyclehelmets.org for a few facts.

Yuriy Akopov said...

Helmet can't do no difference at all. I mean, imagine you hit your head accidentally against the kitchen cupboard door - with or without an ordinary knit hat, what would your prefer? It's obviously a bit easier with a hat, and a proper helmet is much better.

Question is if this difference is serious enough to sacrifice the freedom as you become used to wearing a helmet and eventually become afraid of leaving without it. But if you are aware of that and control yourself, why not being a bit safer?

John Romeo Alpha said...

I'm all for choice and free-flowing lovely hair. I choose to always wear a helmet when riding. The evidence is not extremely compelling on either side, so my choice is to err on the side of caution. Chatting with ER doctors about bicycle helmets is helpful, while perhaps not completely objective, they highly recommend wearing one. From a Marketing perspective, the Denmark perspective is strong, but I use other influences beyond marketing and fashion to make safety decisions for myself and my family.

Richard Burton said...


All the reliable evidence shows that either helmets make no difference or they make it worse: the largest investigation into cycle helmets showed a positive correlation between helmet wearing and risk of death.

It's not a question of freedom, it's a question of whether helmets do what all the helmet proponents tell you that they do, and the most reliable evidence says that they don't. Cycle helmet wearing is not associated with reduced risk, rather the opposite. Check out cyclehelmets.org for a few facts.

Yuriy Akopov said...

Sorry, Richard, I just tried to hit my head against the wall twice, with or without my helmet. I might be biased, but I felt the difference clearly.

I agree though that in critical situation with much greater force applied result might be different. Luckily, a serious accident is less likely to happen than a "casual" journey over a handlebar.

Richard Burton said...


I can't help thinkin that you're somewhat confused: you're all for free choice and free-flowing hair, but you wear a helmet. I have to ask: have you actually checked out the facts about helmets? Nowhere with a helmet law or massive rise in helmet wearing because of propoganda campaigns can show any reduction in risk to cyclists, rather the opposite in fact.

Chatting with ER doctors isn't helptul, it's totally misleading, and they are anything but objective. Do they see the thousands of obese people who die early because some doctor told them that cycling was dangerous? Given that regular cyclists live longer, and suffer less from all forms of illness, not cycling would appear to be more dangerous than cycling. Try telling your ER doctor friends!

Milo said...

Similar to you - I wear one for the commute to/from work Mon-Fri. Don't wear one at the weekend, nor do I wear high-viz at weekends (though probably would if cycling after dark).

Love that helmet on the left!

Andrew said...

Cycling home with my eleven year old daughter from school one day recently I noticed a car went by me the adult male cyclists without a pause or change of gear. My daughter who was about thirty meters ahead went along happily. Driver noticed the little girl and slowed and dropped speed and a gear or two and was far more cautious passing her " just in case". I can well believe that study.

Simon said...

Richard Burton, perhaps you should look to other sources than cyclehelmets.org. The British Medical Association in 2010: http://tinyurl.com/84653b7
"Best evidence supports the use of cycle helmets. They have been shown to reduce the risk of head injury and its severity should it occur. This does not apply to fatal crashes but in such instances the force of impact is considered to be so significant that most protection would fail."

I Speak Bike said...

Riding on the streets of London every day, wearing a helmet has definitely saved me from serious injury on a few occasions. I always wear one. In fact, I have quite a collection. You wouldn't wear the same pair of shoes everyday would you?


Yuriy Akopov said...


Vocus Dwabe said...

"Riding on the streets of London every day, wearing a helmet has definitely saved me from serious injury on a few occasions."

How would you know that? Do you have a collection of crunched helmets? If you keep getting yourself into risk-of-serious-injury situations, then perhaps your mode of cycling needs attention rather than your headgear. When I last looked the Boris Bikes - nearly always ridden helmetless - had clocked up six million journeys with less than a hundred injuries serious enough to require medical attention: none of them to the head.

"I just tried to hit my head against the wall twice, with or without my helmet."

There's a much easier remedy for that: just stop hitting your head against the wall.

I came off my bike last week (patch of glazed ice) and the helmet I wasn't wearing didn't save my life in the potentially fatal blow to the head I didn't receive because my head never came within eighteen inches of the tarmac.

Oh, and they make you look utterly foolish as well. Seen last week coming to work: woman cyclist with red helmet perched straps dangling on top of bobble hat like a glacé cherry on top of a cupcake. At moments like that you realise the things are really a good-luck charm.

Yuriy Akopov said...

2Vocus: If you're so confident and aware of your own future you should definitely try National Lottery.

Just to clarify, I'm not telling everyone must wear a helmet - in fact, my opinion is quite the opposite for the reasons stated above.

I'm only telling that if you wear a helmet, you're probably safer. Is that what you're trying to argue? As far as I understood, you insist that helmet puts you in a bigger danger - and that doesn't mean indirect causes like drivers leaving less space to "protected" cyclists, but literally, to fall in a helmet is much worse than with a bare head.

Is that really your point?

Vocus Dwabe said...

54 years cycling, Yuriy, during which I've fallen off eight or nine times - on two occasions badly enough to break bones - but never came anywhere near hitting my head (because human beings have pretty well-developed reflexes for keeping their head off the ground).

If I cycled daily in London rush-hour traffic I'd probably wear one: they don't offer much protection against a 40-tonner, but they might help in a fall where you've lots of nice granite kerb-edges and street-furniture posts to crack your skull against. Likewise if I rode a fast, light head-down road bike I'd be inclined to wear one, because your chances of diving over the handelbars are quite high. But for suburban and rural cycling on a heavy, slow utility bike they're a waste of time. The most likely accident there is being hit at 60mph by an SUV bowling along a winding country lane while the driver texts with one hand and steers with the other. In those circumstances you're probably going to die of multiple injuries helmet or no helmet.

An aunt of mine was probably the last British civilian to carry a gas mask round with her, which she did from 1939 up until about 1958 when the case fell to pieces and the Ministry of Supply wouldn't give her another one. When people mentioned it to her she would say "You can't be too careful..." And of course, she had a point: in the event of a gas attack she'd have been laughing.

Yuriy Akopov said...

Oh, sorry then, I though you were a cyclehelmets.org.uk fan like Richard.

Your point is perfectly valid, cycling doesn't require wearing a helmet, especially in smaller cities with less traffic and thus less non-controllable dangers.

Vocus Dwabe said...

The following link might interest you, Yuriy, since it represents about the nearest we can get to a controlled experiment short of digging up Dr. Mengele to arrange one. It's a compilation of security-camera footage taken beside an ice-covered stretch of cycle path at Lelystad in Holland last winter. Thirty-four cyclists in succession take a tumble - and not one of them hits their head: not even the poor woman at 0:34 who lands flat on her back. With Dutch-type bikes you can't fall off forwards, only sideways.


The cyclist Mary Bowers who set off the current "Times" campaign was wearing a helmet and doing all the right things. And a fat lot of good it did her.

Anonymous said...

For me it's really simple;

I imagine that I (through my own fault of carelessness or through the incompetence of a motorist) come off the bike and my head hits the ground what would that feel like without a helmet on? Then imagine what it would feel like with a helmet on?

As for the above comment, the flaw in your experiment is that they're called dutch bikes for a reason ie. a high proportion of bikes in Holland are of that type, whereas in the UK there's more mountain bikes/road racer type or the hybrid type bikes, because dutch bikes aren't suited to hills. It's like using data on London taxis related to New York cabs (ie. just not relevant).

As for Mary Bower's helmet use not doing her any good, it might mean that she is in a coma (and hopefully eventually recover) and not wasn't killed.

bell helmets said...

Interesting statistic that more likely to be in an accident if wearing a helmet - must evoke some form of feeling you can ride stupidly or take more risks.....

Unknown said...

To me, it just seems insane not to wear a helmet, much as it would daft to not wear seat belts in a car.

The law says you have to wear a seat belt, it doesn't enforce cycling helmets, though personally I think it should. As you say, at the moment its a personal choice.

It just seems an unnecessary risk to take. A bit who like cyclists who jump red lights to save a few seconds.

Good luck all the same. I just hope you don't end up smashing your head against a van that left-hooked you, like one did to me about a year ago.


Anonymous said...

Yuriy Akopov said...

"I'm only telling that if you wear a helmet, you're probably safer."

And you keep saying that despite the evidence showing exactly the opposite. All the reliable research clearly shows that cycle helmets have no beneficial effect on the safety of cyclists, and in fact, the largest ever project found a positive relationship between helmet wearing and risk of death. All the unreliable research (proven so on peer review) done by biased researchers, shows massive benefits.

You can chose which you believe, but if it's the second, perhaps you're a member of the flat earth society.

Richard Burton

Anonymous said...

Unknown said...

"To me, it just seems insane not to wear a helmet, much as it would daft to not wear seat belts in a car."

But since all the reliable evidence shows that cycle helmets don't make any difference at best, why do you consider it insane not to wear one? Surely it is the sane people who have analysed the risks and benefits, not the people who have swallowed hook line and sinker the helmet propaganda?

You might be surprised at the real effect of seat belt laws too. Try reading "Risk" by John Adams.

Richard Burton

Yuriy Akopov said...

Richard, just read what I've written again.

Certainly helmet won't save you if you get run over by an HGV, but brutal death is luckily not the only accident that may happen to a cyclist.

If you fall from your bike in a park or bump into a van suddenly turned left right in front of you it can make a great difference.

Once again, ask someone to hit your head with and without a helmet.

If you're going to say it's unlikely for a cyclist to hit their head against anything in minor accidents, and major accidents result in death anyway, then please don't bother answering. This is not an argument.

Dee said...

Wearing a bicycle helmet saved my life this morning as I smashed head-first into a gravel road.

I will always wear a bike helmet while cycling. Choosing fashion over safety seems silly to me. The choice is clear.

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