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Bike Talk: To Helmet Or Not To Helmet?

Every now and then I like to add a little controversial subject to the blog. I can't be all pretty pictures and x's and o's, I'm a real person here with real thoughts and I like to talk about real stuff! Since I've been back from Paris I've developed a new habit of not wearing a helmet when riding my bike and it feels liberating, kind of like not wearing underwear. I'm going commando! Well, not really but it feels great to not wear a helmet. When a bike partner was like "dude, where's your helmet?", all I could say is, "I don't feel like wearing it." They were surprised and said "You came back braver." Not sure I feel braver, but it's true guys, I stopped feeling all freaked out about everything because riding a bike in Paris was not dangerous... but the law here doesn't tell you that because it's your fault for not wearing a helmet and having a hemorrhage since that car hit you, despite who's at fault. 

I think helmets are great, they do save lives, children should absolutely wear them. I think they are completely necessary depending on what type of cycling you are participating in and depending were you're going, or type of commute you have, you probably should wear one considering the awful laws that punish cyclist and not drivers depending on where you live. There's a lot of controversy over helmets where some countries absolutely detest the helmet and some countries make it a law for you to wear one.

In my recent experiences in riding in paris, I noticed that I rarely saw a cyclist wearing a helmet unless they were training or bike messaging. I asked my French roommate about the French's view on traffic laws and cycling and they told me that the french detest helmets because bikes are not dangerous, the fact that there are so many cars on the streets makes the roads unsafe for cyclist and pedestrians. Great point! I mentioned before that people don't really respect vehicle rights in Paris, although they drive like lunatics, because the driver will be heavily punished for injuring a cyclist or pedestrian, so a driver lives in greater fear of punishment from the law. You see, it's the opposite here, sort of, and that's seriously intellectually disabled in my opinion because there's a complete giant protective shell over one person where there isn't on another. You don't have to be a genius or have experience in a terrible accident to see that one does more harm than the other? Or do you?! More people die from fatal car accidents everyday, more than they do on a bicycle, but this isn't just common sense or genius, it's a proven fact.

My point in all this is that the helmet is not the problem, it's the laws that don't protect the cyclist and place them in fear of the law and vehicles. I think fear is an unhealthy way to run a country but that's just how some countries like to operate and suck the power from the people right? 

I've avoided this topic for a long time because of the psychotic neurons and emotions it stirs in people and the divisions it creates in the cycling community. i mean, people go batshit crazy over this topic! Calling each other this and that and judging them when they don't know anything about the author's life or experiences with the topic, what kind of society does that? And i'm not trying to provoke arguments here either, I'd rather have you say nothing if this starts to make your blood boil or eye twitch, quit stressing, and take a mental health day. I'm just practicing a basic freedom on MY blog ya'll. Like i'm practicing the choice to not wear a helmet just so I can go pick up cat food and pie ingredients 5 mins away from home at the nearest Trader Joe's. I'm not saying that I'm not going to ever wear a helmet again, although I would like to, I'm just choosing my helmet battles a little more wisely.

15 comments

Sara Bell said...

Ooh, you're so brave!
You know, I never wear a helmet when I'm just cruising around in our little parking lot, and sometimes not even on a "mountain biking" trip if we're not going far... but any time I ride along the street I wear one. For one thing, Arizona doesn't seem to be as bike-friendly as a lot of places so the drivers don't pay as much attention, but for another, I just feel safer in it.
But really, it's just like making the decision not to wear a seat belt... you'll probably be fine, but there's a slight chance something could happen and you would have had that much more protection.
That's my thought on the subject.

Allison said...

I love this! I rarely wear my helmet (usually when riding home from the bar or in the dark) so it's nice to see someone else that feels liberated by going "commando"!

calitexican said...

i hate helmets too! but i wear them depending on the situation. riding 100 miles in one day? yes. but rarely to get eggs and stuff from the market. :) yes, you are brave to start the convo. <3 xoxo

naturallycyclingmanchester said...

Great post Tina! I wear a helmet, but I like that I choose whether to wear one or not. I am opposed to a Government who may think to make helmet wearing compulsory. I know there are as much research saying helmets are useless as much saying helmets are good! I like to think that as a thinking person with a decent brain I can make my own choice. It makes me sad and angry when in our cycling community so many people waste their time telling each other "you're wrong, I am wright" on the helmet debate. Like you said we should channel our efforts in reducing car usage and most importantly make drivers accountable by law for injuring cyclists!

Great post, well balanced, challenging the status quo!

L x

xavierc said...

Here in Australia it's illegal not to wear a helmet. I had never really thought about it until I came across the "anti-helmet" argument a couple of years ago. I'm not passionate about the helmet either way. It being law here has probably made it that way because putting on my helmet before I get on my bike is as natural as putting on a seatbelt when I get in a car (seat belts are compulsory here too). For me, It's just one of those things you do because it's law and, quite frankly, not necessarily a negative thing to do.

If the law ever changed here I'm not sure what I'd do. I'd most likely still wear a helmet as I ride on the road a lot. Even if it be my right to ride on the road and the fault of a driver if I am in an accident, statistically, I'm more likely to survive if I'm wearing a helmet.

Just one more thing: while more people die in car accidents than on bicycles, it's hard to compare as the numbers of car drivers much outweigh that of cyclists - I guess that kind of figure would have to be worked out as a percentage.

Anyway, sorry about the long comment. I'll go over there now. Bye

kimharding said...

Personally I never wear a helmet, and I have never suffered a head injury. I rarely fall off, that said I go currently have a broken collar bone, but a helmet wouldn't have changed that and this is the first time I have suffer an injury which has kept my off the bike in over 40 years of cycling. Oh and I sold my last car in 1994, since then my bicycle has been my principal means of daily transport. The reality is cycling is no more dangerous than walking or running, and no one wears a walking helmet.

Dave Feucht said...

I think it's really encouraging to see more and more people actually starting to give this rational consideration, and while clearly this topic still raises hoards of trolls and incites strong emotions in many people, I think the more rational thought we give all the issues surrounding helmet promotion and regulation, the better.

The big issue not that you should or shouldn't wear a helmet, it's that all the hysteria around them has come to a place where now, in many places in the U.S., it's basically viewed as your fault if you get injured without one, because you didn't protect yourself well enough, and that's just victim blaming in some cases, and anti-wisdom in others (if you, for instance, crash and break you leg, go in to the hospital, and the doctor reprimands you for not wearing a helmet - such things happen).

A friend was telling me yesterday that a cyclist was killed in NYC recently, wearing a helmet, and few of the news stories on the incident mentioned the helmet, and those that did, it was just a blatant aside, to go unnoticed.

By focusing so much attention, importance and trust in helmets, we do everyone a disservice by giving a false sense of responsibility, and a false sense of security.

Of course, helmets offer some protection, and you should wear one in any case you feel it is appropriate, but you should also be informed and know what they are designed to protect you from, and think about your own situation and circumstances (on a per-trip basis, even), and judge whether you feel comfortable with or without one based on the situation.

What we don't need is a bunch of people running around in irrational fear, there is enough of that already.

Also, I really need to make it back to Paris one of these days.

TC said...

I am so, so pro-helmet that it's not even really up for discussion to me. I even wore a helmet riding a bike in my parent's driveway with my neice because I wanted her to know that being safe is important. To say that cars are dangerous and not bikes is besides the point for me. I've seen bicyclists biff it on trolly tracks and pot holes with no cars around, going over their handle bars and hitting their head. I've known more than a handful of people who have been hit by cars on the streets. Just because it hasn't happened to you yet, doesn't mean it can't. I'm worried that the "bike chic" movement is drawing people away from making smart choices with regards to their own saftey. I don't really worry about people that don't wear a helmet, because if they sustain an injury that could've been prevented by a helmet, it's really their own choice. But my life is too important to take chances with.

Dave Feucht said...

TC: It's fine to be pro-helmet, and to wear one any time you get near a bike, as long as you understand that not everyone's situation is the same as yours, and to some (many), it is perfectly rational to not wear a helmet, completely apart from whether it is "chic" or not, and in fact it is not risking their life by riding without one (any more than it is risking their life leaving their home, or waking up in the morning, or eating at a restaurant).

That's the important thing here, is to not simply project your own situation and comfort level on everyone else (that goes for everyone - just because you live in a place where it's very safe to cycle doesn't mean it is everywhere).

cb said...

i never wear a bike in the city, i feel okay. i never go that fast, i trust myself while riding and i am a very cautious person while on my bike and i am VERY aware of my surrounds. but when it comes to the long bike rides tom and i go where we are going 17-20 miles per hour with no bike lane and we are sharing the road with cars that are going 40+ miles per hour, i wear my helmet and i never bitch about. i think in certain circumstances you have a right to wear a helmet or not. you have to judge what you think. at night i wear my helmet or when it rains. people for some reason are crazy when it rains and at night it is harder for people to see you. good judgement is everything and trusting yourself is too.

i agree about the law not giving two shits about cyclists. and it has a trickle down effect. if the people who make the laws don't protect us then while should drivers care about us. we experienced some horrible behavior this weekend from drivers, people honking, people getting WAY to close to us. it is the pod mentality just like anon people who leave nasty comments. they are save in their "pods" and can drive away from the scene and never have to see us again. they think if they didn't hit us then they gave us enough room. people are just selfish and they don't understand what it is like to be in other peoples shoes. if they did they would understand and they would give respect where it is needed. and i am truly passionate about it. i am actually gearing up to write a letter to bart! maybe we can talk about it on friday!

always a great topic!
xo,
cb

Should be in Bed, he's rambling said...

Hi, first time I've read your blog (thanks twitter). This is the most sensible & considered piece I've read on helmets & the angst the topic causes. I'll be back.

hellopa said...

I bought a helmet a few weeks ago, but I just can't get into wearing it. It's all excuses, but I don't know, I honestly just don't like wearing it.


I wear one when I am on my road bike and doing longer distances, I guess because I am going at a faster pace and up and down hills. When I am riding in the city (Philly) I am usually more aware of my surroundings and moving at a slower pace.

She Rides a Bike said...

Exactly! I'm an adult and am perfectly capable of figuring out when and if I need a helmet.

I think most people here are so used to being distracted by cell phones, food, applying makeup, reading magazines, yelling at kids, and watching YouTube on the mobile (all while driving) that they can't imagine that they should be held accountable for not seeing that cyclist. I'm one of the slow and cautious pedalers. I follow the rules of the road, use hand signals and try and make myself seen. I also drive and make an effort to look for children at play and cyclists. Why is that so hard? Driving is not the time to multi-task but so many drivers feel they have the right (if not obligation) with little thought to how they are impairing their ability to operate a vehicle safely.

jesse.anne.o said...

I am with TC. My personal comfort level is to wear one. I either directly know or am once removed from people who've bit it pretty hard while riding a helmet, which seemed to have saved them quite a bit of injury.

I do wish that everyone heard both sides of the argument and made a decision for themselves instead of what TC has mentioned -- the whole "helmets are ugly" thing. The sad thing is that I do think aesthetics is more of an issue than actually considering safety for a lot of people.

Dave Feucht said...

jesse.anne.o: the other side to that, is that a lot of people make a decision based on fear, without really looking at their situation and thinking about whether it's actually worth being afraid of.

Again, that's something each person has the right to make a decision about, and I think each person should really give it careful consideration. Extreme carelessness is harmful, but so is blind fearfulness, in different ways.

It would be good, I think, to do away with both extremes (of carelessness and fearfulness), and have people thinking rationally about the issue of safety in general as much as possible.

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