On Helmets

I rarely wear a bike helmet when I ride.  It’s funny, that simple statement would ostracize me from just about every cyclist out there.  I didn’t own a helmet until about 2004 when I bought one at a Salvation Army store.  I purchased a newer one a few years ago for the occasional tour where they are required.

My feelings about helmets are conflicted, I’m not exactly against them, yet I have strong feelings about them and I choose not to wear one unless they are required then I do so without any complaint.  The facts are that helmets make you a little tiny bit safer, but studies contradict each other.  I’ve always believed you can prove or disprove anything you want with the right study, and the helmet/anti-helmet crowd have been doing that for a long while now.

The fact is the safest place to ride a bike is the Netherlands and they have the lowest amount of helmet use.  How about this one, there is not one single case where you can say for sure a helmet saved someone life, yet there are 6 cases where kids were strangled by helmet straps.

The fact is that riding a bike is far safer then driving a car or even walking down the sidewalk.  We don’t wear helmets in the car, but we should.  We should probably have helmets surgically grafted to our heads, we’d be safer.  Safety first!

I didn’t wear a helmet in the past because I didn’t have one, plus I thought they looked stupid, I still think they look stupid, but I don’t worry much about how I look; I’m a fat guy in lycra.  I don’t wear a helmet now for the same reason that I don’t play the lottery.  I just don’t feel like I’m in danger when I’m riding my bike.  Sure I could get hit by a car, but I doubt that 300 grams of foam are really going to make a difference.

When I was a kid I would sometimes get angry rants from other riders about not wearing a helmet, now days I get asked about it.  Some people assume there is some health reason why I don’t, they just don’t understand why someone would choose not to.  They probably don’t think twice about it when a helmet-less homeless guy rides by on an old bike with milk crates duct taped on for storage.  Kind of hypocritical when that guy probably logs more miles a year then most of us real riders.

I think helmets have gone a long way to discourage cycling. Many non cyclists I’ve talked too seem to think that anytime I ride I’m rolling the dice, taking my life into my hands.  Helmets have only reinforced the idea that cycling is a dangerous activity.  There are many people who would like to ride but feel like the risks outweigh the benefit, of course research shows the benefits to far outweigh the risks.

Despite all this the last thing I want to do is discourage anyone who wants to wear a helmet from doing so.  I just want to explain why someone would choose not to.  To me its a personal decision that everyone should make themselves, not a choice for misguided local and state representatives.  Nor should it be a matter of peer pressure where people feel forced into doing something they don’t want just to fit in.  On organized rides and tours where the organizers are taking on liability there is no question in my mind of wearing a helmet.  Its their event and their rules, I’m just along for the ride.


About Matt Gholson

Cycling, school teaching, husband.
This entry was posted in lifestyle, Rants and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to On Helmets

  1. I rode 107 miles last week without a helmet because I’d forgotten to put it on. I felt naked and less safe. I don’t think a helmet would protect me if a car hit me, but if I fell down, I might avoid living in a nursing home pissing on myself with that 300 grams of foam. Driving IS dangerous, and if I didn’t do it for a living, I probably wouldn’t. I don’t have any issues with lidless cyclists, as long as they agree to never let their choices put them or their families on the public dole. Ditto for smokers, drinkers (who drive), and casual drug users. Here’s a link to a case from Australia where there is a helmet law and some who fight it… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZriJe1CO7-k

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