Driver Helmets & Cycle Helmets. Now I Understand.

Cycling safety is a pretty emotive issue. If you want to start a bun fight though, you’ve got to use the H-word:

Helmet

People say that helmets are just another part of the Culture of Fear that’s used to dissuade people off their bikes, and into nice, safe cars. Others point out that if you fall off your bike and bang your head, it’s going to hurt. In fact, it could even injure you quite seriously.

And both sides in this debate will try to blind you with a whole lot of statistics – theirs being derived from carefully constructed experiments, while any contrary statistics were either made up by Bad People, or derived from experiments so poorly designed that only Bad People would want to believe their results.

Anyway . . . over at Copenhagenize.com , their very much in the culture of fear camp when it comes down to helmets. And for quite a while, I’ve shared this view – for the type of cycling that most of us could do as a part of just every-day getting around and doing our stuff, helmets are pretty much irrelevant. I even maintained this point of view when Wife fell off her bike and broke her arm this summer.

But I may be about to shift my position. You see, it all comes down to fairness and balance on the roads. When motorists (who are also a group subject to head injuries) start wearing helmets, then maybe people on bikes should too. But I’m not referring to nerd-specific helmets like this one:

Oh, no, indeed not. I mean the sort of helmets that reflect the real scale of risk involved in driving a car.

And yesterday I saw my first proper motorist helmet in use . No, really, I did. A car just like this sensible little runabout drove past our house just as I opened the curtains:

As you can see, the Ariel Atom is the perfect vehicle for town driving. Small and nimble, it delivers an impressive 22mpg, and has room on the passenger seat for a bouquet of flowers, a small case of beer, or maybe even a small (suitably restrained) dog. The car I saw was even more sensible than the one seen in the above picture though, and featured several innovative luggage shelves to the front and rear – just like seen here:

OK – enough silliness. I did see an Ariel Atom drive past the house, the driver was wearing a full-face helmet, and it did have the full race-kit of spoilers and skirts fitted. It was basically a full-on racing car, with a pair of number plates and some lights added to make it road-legal.

Maybe, just maybe, it’s a good idea to wear a helmet when driving this sort of car (if nothing else, it’ll keep the flies out of your face – it has no windscreen). But does that make it a sensible idea to wear a helmet (even a nerd-specific one) when driving in general?

And what about cycling? Are there cases where it’s probably a good idea to wear a helmet?

Are there times when wearing a helmet seems to be the sensible option?

Are there situations where wearing a helmet seems to be just the thing for the mess you’ve got yourself into?

Yep – you betcha! If you’re riding the two-wheeled equivalent of the Ariel Atom, and pushing it (and your fellow riders) right to the limit, then you probably will have the odd spill, slide down the road, and chance to improve your gravel tatoos. I include myself in this – I do enjoy racing and training, and do sometimes go out in public wearing Lycra.

But there’s the other sort of cycling that most of us could do most days instead of driving.

The sort of cycling where you really don’t need any special clothes.

The sort of cycling that you don’t have to be young and fit to enjoy (thou’ll you’ll be fitter than the drivers of the cars you overtake!)

Is it really sensible or even beneficial to wear a helmet for this sort of cycling? No more so than it’s sensible to drive a racing car on the public roads.

Posted in Bike Culture, helmet, Photographs, Ranting, Road Safety
0 comments on “Driver Helmets & Cycle Helmets. Now I Understand.
  1. Fritz says:

    Some of the people I know who tut-tut the loudest about helmet wear are precisely the folks who think of cycling only as a competitive activity.

  2. I think that if I was riding a commuter bike in a city/town that really supported that bike around causally mentality, I would feel fine without a helmet. But in our U.S. cities without bike lanes where you are fighting to be seen and have an inch of space, I will not go without a helmet even for the shortest or most casual ride.

  3. Karl On Sea says:

    Good observation. So the question has to be re-framed to “How can we create an environment where riding a bike is normal, and wearing a helmet is what you do for ‘extreme’ sports?”

    If you come up with a good answer to that one, let me know!

  4. efranlje says:

    Having recently had a helmet protect me from a not so bad tumble during a casual (non-spandex) ride, I’m pretty much a believer in them now for just about every situation. I was about 50 yards from my house and waved at my neighbor who had just come out of her driveway. Was distracted, hit a bad patch of road and down I went. Minor scrapes (get worse walking through the woods) but with the way I fell my head did “bounce” on the pavement.

    I’m not a helmet zealot, but for me wearing one prevents the off chance of a good head bump.

  5. dr2chase says:

    I think drivers need to wear Nomex Underpants, too. Can’t be too careful, what with all that fuel nearby.

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