Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Cycling and helmets

Helmets discussions bring out the worst in people. You can find people saying things like "Maybe he (the cyclist) doesn’t want to waste good money on his useless brain!" when discussing the most innocuous video of cycling. Helmet advocates get quite upset even at helmets that are worn but not tight enough. They bring all sorts of arguments to the table.
Kitsap Color Classic 007
My own helmet use has been spotty. While discussing this issue with some friends I remembered that when I lived in Munich I didn't wear a helmet. In fact I don't think I wore a cycling helmet at all until 2000 even though I have been cycling regularly since 1975. After I bought my first helmets in Oregon when I moved back to the US I wore it 90% of the time. Though I refuse to wear a helmet while doing maintenance on my bike and test riding it in a parking lot or around my block.

Even when rock climbing I haven't been 100% on helmet use. I used my helmet mostly when climbing longer trad climbs or even three pitch trad climbs but for sport climbing I often didn't wear a helmet. In fact when climbing I often found I bumped my head quite a bit more when wearing the helmet.
Smith Rock 2000

I have to admit that though I do wear my helmet regularly now, if I didn't have too, I probably wouldn't. It is very convenient not to have to carry this ungainly artifact. And I like to use my bikes for getting around, not just for events, charity rides and racing. And the arguments you often hear about how little you value your brain are easily disarmed when you realize the person talking to you isn't wearing a helmet while engaged in the dangerous activity of going down stairs, crossing the street, or driving their car. All of which have higher fatality rates then cycling measured as deaths/hour of activity.


Brad Niemeyer said...

I wear a helmet 100% of the time. As a dad, husband of a nurse case manager, and head crash survivor... I really think its a crucial piece of equipment. Back in the eighties when heavy, hot and bulky skidlids and bell helmets were available, I went without. The euro pros went sans helmet so I followed their lead. But as the helmets got better, I jumped on that train. Racing is dangerous and race car drivers are protected by helmets and all sorts of protective gear. Since I came at cycling from a racing perspective, I found the helmet to be a "no brainer" ;-)

RedorBlack said...

I also wear my helmet... most of the time. But I also know the odds of a fatal head injury are lower for a cyclist (especially one that isn't drunk or a minor) than a motorist, a pedestrian, or even someone getting off their couch. I know a styrofoam helmet isn't going to do squat to save my life when a car hits me that is doing 45mph. Also highly unlikely for me to suffer a fall off my recumbent trike that would result in a significant head injury.

Just depends on how much freedom to enjoy your life vs. how much nanny state you are willing to tolerate. If safety was really the issue... we'd recall ALL the cars on the road, they kill 35K people a year.

Duncan Watson said...

Luckily for me, I will soon have a mango sport velomobile. This will make it a lot easier to stuff the helmet inside the machine when I want to go into the store or get a cup of coffee (well tea, since I don't drink coffee).