The Inconsistent Skid-Lid

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.”

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Posted in Bike Culture
4 comments on “The Inconsistent Skid-Lid
  1. David Huntsman says:

    Absolutely spot-on.

  2. That’s my usual response as well. I have had a couple of people get really aggresive even if I use your broken record respnse, and with them I suggested we talk about it sometime, and that they could get all the scientific pro-helmet evidence they could muster and we could look at it together.
    So far, no-one has taken me up on the offer.

  3. I guess another complication in the UK is that subset of drivers who put you at risk to show just how irresponsible they think you are (they’re punishment passers, largely).

    Incidentally, ime, all but the most expensive, highly vented helmets make your head warmer – good in autumn & winter, less so if we get a summer šŸ™‚

  4. Amoeba says:

    I have worn helmets in the past but do not currently wear one. I might wear one that gave more protection and that was comfortable. I would definitely wear one if it prevented me from being hit by cars or from being doored.

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