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Bike Talk: A Commentary On The Helmet Debate.

Before I start this commentary on the massive debate on helmets, I just want to say that I find it difficult to see how the cycling internet community will misread and tear each other to pieces over this subject. Some of the most exciting people that I had mad love for made we weep with disappointment because of the way they have handled the topic. I know the internet is a public place for people to share information but I personally don't find it a place to hold a debate of any type. There needs to be a sense of internet etiquette when handling topics as such and well... etiquette isn't what I see being handed on tabloids, forums, blogs, and twitter. I understand people have their personal stories and data to share on the subject but I think the debate of the bicycle helmet is bigger than we think it is.

I found some interesting articles on the helmet debate after I wrote the last post, I won't list any to protect them. Although, I did see unnecessary bashing and name calling, I believe "helmet haters" was a title? There was one that said "wearing a helmet is the responsible adult thing to do, shmh!" I even saw some debates being held on twitter, crazy. I wont mention any names but I wish we all could just sit down in the park, throw back some beers and talk about our problems with the helmet debate and hug-it-out.

For many of us who choose not to wear helmets, we accept that people aren't going to like us, will misunderstand us, and calls us all sorts of names like "HELMET HATERZ!" I accept that but from what I read based on these responses, I find that the concept of not wearing a helmet is too big and hard for people to understand. I know I don't live in a country were bicycle friendliness is a top priority in our planning policies but perhaps not wearing a helmet for one's own sense of comfort is a progressive way of thinking that doesn't measure up when it comes to safety. Yes, it's about your freedom to choose but we just don't live in the same countries or have the same policies to protect cyclists.

I don't think that this debate will end until people start to realize that the energy we spend on worrying about our safety on the road needs to be taken away from the helmet debate and geared towards organizing, writing letters to our city and state demanding laws that protect cyclists on the road, helmet wearing or not. Continuing the debate is like adding more fuel to a fire when it's done online. It does nothing positive for the cycling community. I'm just one of those lucky people to happen live in a city that takes its cycling community very serious when it comes to urban planning and bicycle infrastructure. Going to a meeting every now and then puts things into perspective for me when dealing with so many issues of community and road safety as there is a lot more involved than just wearing a helmet.

I consider myself to be aware of these experiences and I encourage you to inform yourself of your rights as a cyclist and get involved with your community or bike coalition. Many countries have a long way to go towards bike friendliness and it doesn't start at a helmet.

7 comments

Mike Gordon said...

Wow. Some intense emoting there. Thanks for posting this. That doesn't mean I endorse everything citygirlrides wrote. But I know what she's trying to say, and I concur. So yes, while it is tempting and even a bit addictive, arguing about helmet attitudes probably does those of us interested in making cycling the core of an alternative transportation and city planning concept should probably resist, and let the slings and arrows of those who haven't got that memo pass us by.

'Xander Labayen said...

I totally understand whats going on, and the problem with the helmet debate over social media is that it lacks the physicality of having a table, chair and coffee or beer in front of a real face while having a discussion.

context gets all messed up in virtual land, and assumptions are easily made via email and 140 characters.

if we all had the chance to sit down over coffee and discuss helmets we'd realize that regardless of what side of the debate you ride on that we all have good intentions towards each other.

I appreciate your post!

Cheers..

Veronica said...

until the law in australia made it compulsory for bike riding people to wear a helmet, i never really heard much on the topic. but now that we are made to wear a helmet, there is endless talk about having our right to choose taken away. put simply these days, whether you like it or not here, caught without a helmet you are fined. it happened to me. in fact the police woman chased me down. she left her random breath testing duties and wrote out that fine with sheer delight. i enjoyed your post. is it not compulsory to wear helmets where you live?

karmapics said...

There are several points on this debate.
First off I have no problem with people who choose not to wear helmets. I'm not going to judge those who don't either. I didn't start wearing a helmet until a few yrs ago anyway.

Being that Mikael/Copenhagenize is the unofficial 'face' of the anti-helmet campaign according to another blog, he makes convincing arguments against the compulsory-helmet LAWS.
And that is where I totally agree. No one should be forced to wear helmets, or anything else for that matter, by cash-strapped governments for the sake of revenue disguised as 'caring.'

It's not only a tax wrapped in legislation, but it allows motorists to actually escape culpability in the event of an accident with a non-helmet-wearing bicyclist.

That said, where Mikael keeps forgetting to make clear in his posts is that he's not anti-helmet, just anti-helmet legislation.

Only when pressed does he admit to not being against helmet-wearing, but in his posts he is aggressively anti-helmet to the point of being grossly irresponsible, by saying 'bicylcing is perfectly safe, no helmet necessary.'

Unfortunately, outside of his beloved and enviable bike-centric country, bicycling can be dangerous (as evidenced here in NYC numerous times) and helmets have proven to save your head from infinitely more serious damage.

The USA is a completely different animal than Amsterdam and Copenhagen in terms of biking, because in the US, automobile drivers have a very distinct sense of entitlement about 'their' roadways. Here, bikes are only toys of inconvenience and are treated as such.

If I had a nickel for every driver that ever yelled at me to 'Get on the sidewalk where you belong' I could retire in luxury.


I am also an auto driver as well, and would love nothing more than to see automobiles taxed instead, and eliminating the subsidies for the oil industry that encourage automobile driving. The USA pays substantially less for gasoline than other countries due to these subsidies, which goes a long way towards discouraging smaller cars and bicycle use.

Here in NYC alone there are many SIMPLE driving laws that go entirely unenforced, such as headlights in the rain and signaling for a turn.(!) Imagine the revenue stream to ticket those vehicles as aggressively as bikes have been recently.

That's the sad state of biking in the USA but fortunately things are slowly changing.

What REALLY needs to change in this country is EDUCATION. Auto drivers need to be reminded that bikes and peds have the right of way, and SO DO BICYCLISTS AND PEDESTRIANS. Anyone who has ever seen a literal sea of humanity in midtown walking against a red light, or peds who have had an irresponsible bicyclist WHIZ by them within literally inches at 25 MPH need to be re-educated to have respect for the rest of humanity to avoid this kind of hostility and generalizations.

citygirlrides said...

@veronica, in california we are not required by law to wear one but if a cyclist is hit and killed they get blamed for not wearing a helmet. it's completely ridiculous.

@karmapic, i agree with you on how america needs a good lesson. in your last sentence on peds and bicyclist having the right of way, i had an experience watching a sea of parisians walk into red lights and cars stopping for them all to pass through, it was a shocking sight but i fell in love with it.

Dave Feucht said...

In Amsterdam, there are basically no stop signs, and quite few traffic signals in general. They will have just a zebra crosswalk painted across a 4 lane road with a tram going down the middle (so a quite large road), and cyclists riding in the cycle path at the right of the road or pedestrians walking on the sidewalk will just cut left across the crosswalk, and everyone stops for them like they were expecting it (because they were). Here, it's like any time someone not in a car is in the street, it's a shock - OMG, there's a *person* in the street !

One other big thing about Amsterdam, is that the top speed of car traffic in most of the city on the normal surface roads is about 15mph, so they actually *can* stop suddenly if need be, or just simply slow down to let someone pass in front of them.

Honestly, people there drive like people ride bicycles (probably no surprise, since everyone does both) - nobody ever stops, they just drive at a moderate speed, paying attention to what's going on around them, slow down if they need to, to let someone cross the road in front of them, and then speed back up once the person/people are out of the way. It's a bit unnerving until you realize that everyone is looking out for everyone else, and it's really efficient, because all the traffic keeps moving, it's not constant stop and go. If you're on a bike riding with two-way bike traffic, and you need to turn left, you just signal and go, and the oncoming people just go around you the other way, nobody stops and waits, because if you just move at a moderate speed, you can mingle like that.

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