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Hello, Helmet.

August 4, 2010

{This is me riding to campus. This is me riding around campus.}

Ahhhh…the helmet question. After religion, abortion, or the right to bear arms, this is the fourth most hotly debated issue on the internet. I may just have made that up but it sure feels like it when reading the posts and comments on so many of the bike blogs I follow. Inevitably, someone comments on the wearing of/not wearing of a bike helmet and the crowds go up in flames; you should wear a helmet, it’s useless to wear a helmet; how dare you not; how dare you tell me to…and so the comments go.

When I first posted pictures of myself with my bike on academichic, I received many such comments asking me about my helmet. When my husband and I spent a day cycling around Munich and I posted about it, we were asked “where are your bike helmets?!?”. Another reader noted, “I quit riding my bike at a early age because I hated wearing a helmet and I would get harassed if I didn’t. And here you are getting comments to the same affect!” A seventy-year-old reader chimed in saying that he’d been riding a bike for over sixty years and did not wear a helmet.

“This past weekend we took our first little holiday as a family of four” writes Henry of Bakfiets en Meer. “We loaded the kids into their safety certified car seats in a rental Renault and headed south. Despite the documented danger of driving automobiles we chose not to wear helmets.”

As I began riding a bike on a daily basis, I asked myself where I stand on this vast continuum of opinions. I know where my husband stands on this – he firmly believes that a helmet will protect my head in case of an accident and he insists that I wear one. I, in turn, insist he wears one. I like to keep things even like that.

I know one thing; I feel dorky with my helmet on. I often hear the Mario Brothers soundtrack running through my head and have the suspicion that I look a little too much like the Mushroom character when I wear my Nutcase. But is looking dorky reason enough not to wear one?

I’m also not concerned about my cycling ability; I trust that I can keep upright on a bike. Rather, I distrust the drivers who are not very used to cyclists in the town I call home. A friend of ours has recently been hit by a car while he was cycling (he’s ok now) and I’ve had a few close calls that resulted in a save only because I ride with the full awareness that drivers may not look for me or respect me as a presence on the road. I wear a helmet because of those drivers who feel compelled to yell ‘instructions’ out their rolled down car windows at you. Thus, when I’m just riding around campus, between buildings and pedestrians and where there are no cars in sight, I usually let my hair down and enjoy the breeze around my helmet-less head.



I don’t want to investigate statistics on the pros and cons of wearing a helmet and I don’t abide by an all-or-nothing rule. I most often wear a helmet but sometimes decide – according to context – that it isn’t necessary. I will force my husband to wear his dorky helmet as long as he forces me to wear mine, but I won’t comment on anyone’s blog interrogating them as to the whereabouts of their protective gear. Just like I won’t be asking my colleagues whether they’ve brushed their teeth this morning or remembered to put the seat down.

Some things an adult should just be able to decide for himself.

19 Comments leave one →
  1. Janni permalink
    August 4, 2010 14:18

    Du siehst doch nett aus mit dem Helm – er steht Dir wirklich prima!

    Kein Mensch zweifelt mehr daran, dass man sich im Auto anschnallen muss – warum diskutiert man da über die Notwendigkeit, beim Radfahren einen Helm zu tragen?! Wer mit 20 Meilen / 30 Stundenkilometern aus rund 6 Fuss Höhe mit dem Kopf auf Betonboden fallen kann, weil irgendein Autofahrer den Radfahrer als Verkehrsteilnehmer nicht ernst genommen hat, sollte über das Thema “Wachkoma” einmal nachdenken…

    • August 4, 2010 14:42

      Janni, da hast du wirklich Recht. Aber ich fand dass so viel Wenigere in Deutschland einen Helm trugen als hier. Und das sieht man auch wenn man sich Seiten wie “Cycle Chic” (http://www.copenhagencyclechic.com/)

      oder “Copenhagenize” (http://www.copenhagenize.com/) anschaut. Und hier wird auch oft gefragt, warum man einen Helm tragen sollte wenn die Europäer es ja nie tun und sie fahren ja Rad seit Jahrhunderte.

      Ich fands ganz interessant, dass du jetzt als Für-Sprecherin ankammst. :)

      • Janni permalink
        August 4, 2010 18:34

        Meines Wissens gibt es in keinem europäischen Land eine Helmpflicht für Radfahrer. Daher ist es auch in Europa eine Frage der persönlichen Gesundheitsvorsorge, ob man einen Helm trägt.

        Bei vielen Rad-Veranstaltungen in Deutschland ist jedoch die Benutzung eines Helms Pflicht für Teilnehmer – das ist bei RAGBRAI doch auch so?

        Ich kenne zu viele Unfälle mit Radfahrern – mein Mann arbeitet im Krankenhaus – und setze daher immer einen Helm auf. Meine Kinder fahren auch NUR mit Helm!

  2. August 4, 2010 15:00

    I completely agree with you – adults should be able to decide things like that for themselves. I personally hate wearing a helmet, since it’s so hot in the summer and like you, I also feel like a dork, but it’s those “instructions” yelled from windows that compel me to wear it just in case it happens to prove useful one day :)

    With that being said, while I won’t argue with someone about their choices to wear/not wear a helmet, I do support helmet laws just as I support seat belt laws. I work in healthcare and see all too many people who could have possibly avoided much pain and suffering had they been wearing seat belts or helmets, etc. And I think in the U.S. specifically, we have to be realistic in that many do not have health insurance, therefore if they choose not to wear seat belts or helmets which might prevent injury, they are not the only ones who bear the costs. I’m definitely not saying that a helmet or even a seat belt will ALWAYS prevent injury or death, but I simply think it’s a good idea as a preventive measure.

    • August 4, 2010 16:21

      I don’t mean to get into an argument or anything, but you just said that you believe this is something a person should be able to choose for themselves, but you support laws requiring them? I’m confused.

      • August 4, 2010 16:54

        Sorry – I wasn’t very clear. I basically meant that regardless of laws, I’m fine with adults choosing whether they want to wear a helmet or not and just don’t see the point of all the conflict about helmet use on blogs. If they live in a state with a helmet law and choose not to wear one, thus paying a fine if ticketed, so be it. I’m supportive of the helmet law in my state and choose to wear one, but others do not and I’m fine with that.

      • August 4, 2010 16:59

        Ah, gotcha. Thanks for clarifying :)

  3. August 4, 2010 15:07

    Jetzt schreibe ich meinen Kommentar auch auf Deutsch, ist auch mal schoen!

    Ich trage immer einen Helm seit mein Freund eine Fahrradunfall hatte in dem er evtl sogar gestorben waere wenn er keine Helm augehabt haette. Als ich also Kind auf dem Land gewohnt hatte habe ich nie einen getragen, und jetzt im Park oder auf dem Fahrradweg auch nicht. Aber in der Stadt mit den ganzen Autos auf jeden Fall!

    Tut mir leid mit den ganzen ae’s und oe’s! Umlaute hab ich leider keine auf dem Keyboard.

  4. August 4, 2010 16:52

    I really just wish there was more rational discussion about helmets, their actual usefulness, and how to actually promote safety for cyclists. I think the Dutch Cyclist Union has it down. They say they prefer not to promote helmet use, instead they would rather make the streets safe enough that helmets are not perceived as necessary. And they’ve done it.

    I don’t personally care one way or another if any individual person decides to wear a helmet or not. It does provide some level of protection, and everyone has different circumstances, level of comfort etc. What really gets me is all the hysteria surrounding helmets. They are not a cure-all, in the bag safety solution for cyclists, yet often they are used as an excuse, both in terms of infrastructure and law, to do nothing about actual safety risks. A person hit by a car and injured is held liable for their injuries because they were not wearing a helmet, and that is just ridiculous.

    So, unlike a lot of people, I see helmet usage as an indicator of subjective safety. As a city planner, I would feel that if I saw the number of cyclists staying consistent or increasing, and helmet usage declining, it would be an indication that I was doing something really right in terms of making cycling safe in my city.

    So I would say, wear a helmet or not, but either way, don’t settle for that. Push your city, state and federal governments to take real concern for your safety and make an effort to make the place you live safe for *all* the people who live there.

    • August 6, 2010 21:09

      Dave – yes! Excellent points. A helmet is just a start and something a cyclist can do if he/she feels like it’s a step towards a safer commute. But it’s such a small step and so much more would come from looking at the larger picture – like the town’s infrastructure, the community’s attitudes towards cyclists, and the politics that govern these decisions.

      S.

  5. August 4, 2010 23:12

    i feel much like this about my helmet. often i wear it (always at night, always on very busy streets) but sometimes i don’t (like on a short commute to campus or downtown to get coffee).
    what can i say? i just love the feeling of wind in my hair…

  6. August 5, 2010 00:54

    I do not think helmets look dorky; in fact some recently designed ones are quite attractive. However, I believe that helmets not only will not protect you in the way many people assume they will, but that wearing one can potentially result in worse consequences than not wearing one. Therefore, I think helmets are unsafe and I do not wear one.

    This explains my point of view. And I would never comment on anybody else’s opinion on this issue. It is an individual choice. If people disagree with me, that is fine, as long as they are as respectful of my choice as I am of theirs.

  7. August 6, 2010 20:54

    Sounds like I’m like a lot of folks, short hop, no/few cars, low speeds, I tend not to wear my helmet. If I’m going to be bombing down hills at 30MPH I figure if I crash I’ll need all the help I can get so I wear my helmet.

  8. August 9, 2010 17:34

    I sometimes do not wear one, but trying to do so more often. I wore my new nutcase helmet everyday over the past week, and received a lot of positive comments. I think having a helmet that fits comfortably is a plus, and then of course, depending on wear you are riding is another factor to consider. Either way…safe riding!

  9. geekgirl99 permalink
    August 30, 2010 03:38

    I’m pretty surprised at the gist of these comments. Have y’all actually been in accidents where a helmet did not help, and so you decided not to wear it? I went on a cross-country ride where I saw a helmet save a friend’s life. His head hit the curb edge, and a giant bit was taken out of the helmet; it could have been his skull. I also saw several other accidents where helmets helped prevent injury. I understand that a helmet is not a magic bullet; nor am I arguing with the argument that cars might drive more aggressively around bikers with helmets; but I also 100% believe they save lives.

    • August 30, 2010 11:33

      Geekgirl99 – thanks for that comment. I’m becoming increasingly pro-helmet although I still think that it would be nice to do without. But I do think that the reality of the matter is that helmets protect you head, so no matter how dorky looking, they serve a grander purpose.

  10. September 19, 2010 05:04

    S, you’re so right. The rush to debate helmet laws online has swamped my blog after a simple post quoting another article. Yes, you do look dorky in your helmet, but it matches your basket beautifully. Keep up the good work, Richard

    http://richardtulloch.wordpress.com/2010/09/15/bike-helmets-an-on-again-off-again-argument/

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