I’m not a big fan of cycle helmets. But I also recognise that wearing one may sometimes be beneficial. Here’s my pro- and con- lists:
On The Plus Side
- Might prevent head injury from a low speed fall or impact
- Keeps my head warm when it’s cold – once the vents fill with snow
- Some shyster lawyer may take my not having been wearing one as an opening to plea contributory negligence in the case of his client’s 4×4 running me over (no, really). If I wear one, they can’t do this.
- It gives me somewhere to park my shades
- You’re allowed to take part in races ONLY if you wear a helmet. (My last race was almost three years ago.)On The Minus Side
- Might cause head / neck injury in a higher speed fall
- I get hot and sweaty in the summer
- Wearing a helmet seems to affect drivers behaviour around me – they drive closer
- It may encourage more risky riding from me – the sort of risk compensation drivers do when they feel safe because of the seatbelts, airbags and crumple zones
- I look like a dork. Actually I have no problem with that (I have a degree in engineering after all…), but as part of my job is to get other people cycling, this isn’t an example they may want to follow.
- It makes cycling appear dangerous. Again – this is sort of relevant to my job. No matter how actually safe it is, seeing someone wearing a helmet says, “You. Might. (WILL). Die. Doing. This.”
So surprisingly enough, I sometimes wear a helmet… and sometimes I don’t:
I wear a helmet when…
- It’s icy. You know it’s icy, so you ride slowly and carefully. But black ice has a habit of jumping out when you’re at your slowest and most careful. It’s got me several times.
- I’m on a bike with skinny high-pressure tyres and in town. These bikes are more sensitive to catching the edge of a manhole cover or pothole, and given their head-down-bum-up position, I’m less visible to other traffic too – driver’s actions are more likely to have me take evasive action and end up on those potholes & manhole covers.
- If I’m riding in a large group, and someone is not completely unlikely to ride their bike across my front wheel.
I don’t wear a helmet when…
- It’s just a pootle around town / out with family. It feels safe and I act safe
- n.b. if Daughter is riding with me, she no-more has to wear a helmet than if we were walking down the street.
- If she’s out playing with friends on her bike, she wears a lid: Kids learn through play and through pushing the boundaries of what physics will let them do.
- If I’m riding a bike, dressed smartly. This’ll be a Very Sensible Bike, which I’ll be riding very sensibly. It has big wheels and laughs at potholes etc.
- Shopping trips – again, this’ll be done on a Sensible Bike
So there you have it – completely muddled, but with some sort of logic underneath it all. I suppose that reflects that the for / against helmets is probably quite a nuanced argument, unless you’re ABSOLUTELY on one side or other of the debate, in which case it becomes a Matter of Faith. Just like stoning adulterers, or knowing the Earth is 6,017 years old.
The question that used to throw me was when someone asked / told me something along the lines of…
“I saw a cyclist who WASN’T WEARING a helmet the other day. What do you think of that?”
or… “Yeah, but you HAVE to wear a helmet to be safe, right?”
or… “Oooh, but YOU DO wear a helmet, don’t you. It’s so dangerous without one…”
or… “I read about that CYCLIST who was run over by that LORRY and she DIED. She wasn’t wearing a helmet either.”
I used to try to explain the details and nuances of cycling Vs. not cycling – y’know, the the whole “Not cycling is 20x less safe than cycling is – even allowing for the other risk factors” thing, or the “You’ll live two years longer” one.
The thing is, people don’t listen to these, and I get the impression that all they want when they mention the helmet is to get into a discussion about how right they are in their point of view – whatever that happens to be. So now I just put on the broken record that says,
“You can wear a helmet if you want.”