Fabian Cancellara sparks helmet debate on Twitter, says all cyclists should wear one

Trek Factory Racing rider shocked by number of bare-headed riders — in the Netherlands

by Simon_MacMichael   August 14, 2014  

Fabian Cancellara riding bike without helmet (licensed CC BY SA 3.0 on Wikimedia Commons by Jeremy Jannick)

Fabian Cancellara has this morning sparked a revival on Twitter of the eternal helmet debate, after saying that all cyclists should wear the headgear – his comments prompted by the sight of bare-headed people riding bikes in the Netherlands, where he is currently taking part in the Eneco Tour.

The Trek Factory Racing rider tweeted:

 

 

Shortly afterwards, he added:

 

 

The fact Cancellara was tweeting about the Netherlands, which together with Denmark has the highest levels of cycling in Europe but one of the best safety records, did not escape attention:

 

 

 

 

Some also pointed out that everyday cycling is an entirely different proposition from racing, where helmets have been compulsory since 2003 – although the speeds that racers travel at means that the velocity of any impact would in all likelihood be well above the maximum stipulated under EU standards for cycle helmets.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While Cancellara’s original posts were widely retweeted and favourited, that doesn’t necessarily mean that Twitter users doing that were endorsing his views.

One person who lives in the town where Cancellara noticed the lack of helmets happened to be visiting the rider’s home country, Switzerland, and said:

 

 

Not everyone took exception to Cancellara’s stance. One Twitter user said:

 

 

Another added:

 

 

Finally, this tweet sums up an opinion shared by many:

 

 

109 user comments

Latest 30 commentsNewest firstBest ratedAll

In fifty five years of cycling - including several spells as a ''pushie'' in London - I have never worn a helmet and I have never been dislodged from my saddle by either motorist, careless pedestrian or exponent of equestrianism; even the dreaded diesel slick has failed to discombobulate. I filter shamelessly, ride fast, obey traffic signals and follow the highway code but here's the thing...I keep my eyes open and my wits about me.
I anticipate that my smugness will be rewarded with an appropriate level of pain, if not permanent injury, commensurate with the opprobrium of the be-helmeted. Worried Worried

3wheelsgood's picture

posted by 3wheelsgood [15 posts]
15th August 2014 - 11:05

36 Likes

Don't worry, Wesselwookie, - it's just the drugs talking..... Laughing

3wheelsgood's picture

posted by 3wheelsgood [15 posts]
15th August 2014 - 11:11

26 Likes

tmz wrote:
The last serious crash I had, I hit the asphalt head first, I was going about 20mph. Glad I was wearing a helmet, don't really see the disadvantage of wearing one. I think it helped me this time.

They're dorky and uncomfortable, and if they're only saving me from gravel rash and other minor injuries, and had to use one every day to do so when I've not hit my head in several years and several crashes, I'd say the cure is worse than the disease.

But if your valuation of obviously subjective things like comfort is different, that's fine. Smile

Just don't lie and say you know it saved your life, because you don't. And respect the fact that other people's opinion of things like "how dorky they are" is just as valid as yours.

Sorry but bollocks are the two sides as bad as each other - the helmet evangelists commit those sins (dodgy claims, refusing to admit some things are subjective) far more often than "helmet sceptics".

posted by nuclear coffee [163 posts]
15th August 2014 - 12:30

33 Likes

3wheelsgood wrote:
In fifty five years of cycling - including several spells as a ''pushie'' in London - I have never worn a helmet and I have never been dislodged from my saddle by either motorist, careless pedestrian or exponent of equestrianism; even the dreaded diesel slick has failed to discombobulate. I filter shamelessly, ride fast, obey traffic signals and follow the highway code but here's the thing...I keep my eyes open and my wits about me.
I anticipate that my smugness will be rewarded with an appropriate level of pain, if not permanent injury, commensurate with the opprobrium of the be-helmeted. Worried Worried

Same experience here although slightly fewer years in the saddle. How hard is it to *not* fall off a bicycle? Answer ... not very.

I've always found 'cycling without falling off' quite an easy thing to do. It's something I learned as a young boy whilst riding to school and back.

Of course that was 20 years before helmets appeared in the shops so the false promise of 'protection' from PPE wasn't an option. The only protection available was your own alertness and skills.

I'm completely mystified by these helmet-evangelists who apparently keep crashing and falling off their bicycles. Why don't they simply watch the road ahead, as I do, and modulate their speed according to the conditions?

I'm starting to wonder if there might be a business opportunity here for experienced cyclists. How many of you helmet-evangelists would be interested in attending an instructional course entitled "How to cycle without falling off"?

It would be one-on-one and take 15-20 minutes. The course will cover all the tricky things like 'going downhill', 'door zones' and 'road junctions' and how to negotiate them safely ... without falling off your bicycle.

posted by Joeinpoole [260 posts]
15th August 2014 - 13:36

29 Likes

Joeinpoole wrote:
I've always found 'cycling without falling off' quite an easy thing to do.

You ain't trying hard enough then boiy.... Wink

fukawitribe's picture

posted by fukawitribe [422 posts]
15th August 2014 - 13:41

29 Likes

fukawitribe wrote:
Joeinpoole wrote:
I've always found 'cycling without falling off' quite an easy thing to do.

You ain't drinking enough then boiy.... Wink

Edited this for accuracy.

posted by farrell [1457 posts]
15th August 2014 - 13:44

23 Likes

Quince wrote:
One odd thing I've noticed is that people seem to either view helmets as holy life-saving miracles, or as UTTERLY worthless bits of foam.

Would a third option not be simply be to treat them in the same way we treat shinpads, or similar?

You've done it now, there's no sense or context allowed in helmet 'debates'!

BTW, yes, exactly.

I'm kind of happy to wear mine when MTBing, but not for utility cycling. I *expect* to knock into something during the former by headbutting a branch or whatever.

posted by jacknorell [386 posts]
15th August 2014 - 14:07

27 Likes

fukawitribe wrote:
Joeinpoole wrote:
I've always found 'cycling without falling off' quite an easy thing to do.

You ain't trying hard enough then boiy.... Wink

I've always assumed that a detour via A&E would actually *slow* my progress to my destination.

posted by Joeinpoole [260 posts]
15th August 2014 - 14:13

23 Likes

Joeinpoole wrote:
fukawitribe wrote:
Joeinpoole wrote:
I've always found 'cycling without falling off' quite an easy thing to do.

You ain't trying hard enough then boiy.... Wink

I've always assumed that a detour via A&E would actually *slow* my progress to my destination.

Who said anything about a destination ?

fukawitribe's picture

posted by fukawitribe [422 posts]
15th August 2014 - 14:17

16 Likes

I recall 20 years ago attempting to ride back home from the pub, in the dark, with no lights on through the unlit Fog Lane Park, Manchester.

I went into a massive pothole and went over my handlebars, cutting my hands and forearms (but fortunately my newly bought Levi's survived with no markings).

I was wearing a helmet, but it was completely scratch free as I had miraculously avoided hitting it on the ground. I attribute this miracle to the consumption of 5 pints of beer before setting off. Beer saved my life.

posted by Chris James [187 posts]
15th August 2014 - 15:36

30 Likes

On balance the statistical evidence (at a population level) and the engineering (design parameters and standards of a bike helmet) suggest that in an accident involving enough force to be seriously life threatening a cycle helmet is of no benefit. It may be that the helmet protects from more minor injuries in lower force accidents. Most "evidence" counter to this is just wrong/flawed research/deliberate bad science. Most opinion counter to this is confirmation bias from normal humans who don't understand statistical analysis and the relevant engineering/physics and want simple solutions whether right or wrong.

Compulsion to prevent minor injury and compulsion to save lives are different things and the evidence says that life saving isn't an outcome of helmet compulsion.

I wear a helmet mostly, I want to avoid minor injury in a fall or topple. I don't expect it to make a difference when hit by a truck or hitting a lamp post at 40mph. I don't want to be unable to ride just because I forgot my helmet. I've no problem with helmet promotion - it might save a few minor injuries with little downside. Like the poster above said "consider them like shin-pads". Those who want to move from promotion to compulsion can shove off because compulsion to wear non lifesaving shin-pads is proper silly.

posted by Wrongfoot [32 posts]
15th August 2014 - 19:13

18 Likes

It's a big old debate and one that'll go round for years no doubt.
Helmets have saved a number of my mates from head injuries...myself included...so I'd endorse them.
When my kids were little (and even now) I'd not be a hypocrite and wear one as an example to them. Makes perfect sense to me!
In fact I jokingly told my neighbour off for not wearing one and she went back to her house to put it on!
It's not gonna stop a car. It's not gonna make me bulletproof but it'll stop minor accidents becoming more serious head injuries.
Use your head and wear a helmet!

Philly Applause

philly's picture

posted by philly [16 posts]
15th August 2014 - 19:47

12 Likes

Everyone needs a helmet. Where else would you put your helmet camera? Wink

posted by Matt eaton [395 posts]
15th August 2014 - 20:54

21 Likes

Previously I poked fun at those who advocated for helmets because their friend crashed while wearing one and so, of course, it must have saved them! However, I had never considered Philly's amazing experience that helmets had saved not just one mate, but a number of mates from head injuries. While one vague friend can easily be dismissed as an anecdote, Philly's "number of mates" have a clear statistical power that can not possibly be discounted.

Bravo to Philly for doing his bit to save heads. His neighbour would have cycled off to a certain death had not her eagle-eyed neighbour Phil spotted her and quickly run from his spot by his curtains and out the door to remind her that she'd forgotten her helmet.

I'm sure he also tells all his mates in the pub about the dangers of drinking without a helmet - alcohol being responsible for *far* more head injuries in our society than cycling. If it saves one head, a beer helmet surely is worth it? And Phil isn't the type of guy to be illogically singling out cyclists, oh no.

Go on, dashing Phil, you hero.

posted by Paul J [623 posts]
15th August 2014 - 21:08

20 Likes

has anyone from the 'helmet saved my life' brigade considered possibly learning how to ride a bike without falling off? it's not difficult, really it isn't - start slow, maybe with an adult to steady you or stablisers on the back wheel then gradually go quicker and as you gain in confidence and you'll be riding round without falling off or crashing into things in no time at all.

Until you've learned to do something as easy as ride a bike properly and safely you rather lack the authority to lecture others on road safety don't you think?

Northernbike's picture

posted by Northernbike [142 posts]
15th August 2014 - 21:08

20 Likes

Cycling helmets are not fit for purpose - the EU standard is only to test for a stationary fall, which isn't a realistic simulation. The industry response to this should be to improve their function, not their form. Functioning helmets would move the debate from whether they are effective to whether they are prudent.

posted by tomturcan [31 posts]
15th August 2014 - 21:11

14 Likes

tomturcan: Quite. The EN1078:1997 standard is pretty pathetic. The Snell standard is a bit better. It's interesting to note that *no* helmet makers make safety claims in their marketing. They seem to be able to find improvements in aerodynamics, or weight, or style, etc., to trumpet, but never any improvements in safety. Kind of strange that, for a safety device, no?

posted by Paul J [623 posts]
15th August 2014 - 21:15

21 Likes

Northernbike wrote:
has anyone from the 'helmet saved my life' brigade considered possibly learning how to ride a bike without falling off? it's not difficult, really it isn't

Sir - alas that particular bit of sanctimonious sniping has already been done a bit further up the thread. Do keep up please.

fukawitribe's picture

posted by fukawitribe [422 posts]
15th August 2014 - 21:21

15 Likes

Cancellara is entitled to his view and to express it, even if I or you don't agree with it.

And, equally, we're entitled to disagree with him and say so.

That's democracy, isn't it?

But just because you or I may disagree, it doesn't justify responding with abusive language.

posted by Kadenz [43 posts]
15th August 2014 - 21:34

19 Likes

Paul J wrote:
tomturcan: Quite. The EN1078:1997 standard is pretty pathetic. The Snell standard is a bit better. It's interesting to note that *no* helmet makers make safety claims in their marketing. They seem to be able to find improvements in aerodynamics, or weight, or style, etc., to trumpet, but never any improvements in safety. Kind of strange that, for a safety device, no?

Well.... Kask make quite a thing of safety about their helmets in general, but then they come from a different direction and history to most helmet manufacturers. That aside I have to agree with you that it is certainly strange, bloody ridiculous really, that it is not front and centre in many claims.

fukawitribe's picture

posted by fukawitribe [422 posts]
15th August 2014 - 21:37

21 Likes

nuclear coffee wrote:

Normally, I'd be charging for that information, since it took labour to acquire.

Pro bono, to crack a helmet in two you'd need to create at least 0.01 +/-0.005 square metres of crack (on mine anyway), you'd need about 200 +/- 100J. Really of course you're not going to create the one crack, and I haven't taken into account the covering, so 200J is highly unlikely to cause a major failure. Since unlike you I'm not actually trying to prove anything about helmets themselves, for any more I will have to charge. Given that unlike you I'm not trying to prove anything about helmets themselves, it's pretty shameful that I've done the work and you haven't.

You could have shown some evidence you did some work and didn't pluck numbers out of thin air.

What physical formulas are you using here?
What application of force (to the helmet) is performing 200J of work?

For a materials scientist you seem to have grossly simplified the problem.

For instance, a surgeons scalpel applied to the foam would require far much less force than a hammer to break it. (less work, joules).

A different experiment might try to laterally shear it, that has its own unique set of parameters.

You seem to have your materials science mixed up with collision physics. A full helmet doesn't lend itself to materials analysis i.e. they wouldn't work out the tensile strength of "expanded polycarbonate" (your original question) by stress testing a helmet.

You've provided unexplained answers to a problem which hasn't even been defined.

And it's still irrelevant because the foam is there to cushion the impact - it's supposed to give! (crack/compress)

posted by HarryCallahan [9 posts]
16th August 2014 - 3:19

11 Likes

Matt eaton wrote:
Everyone needs a helmet. Where else would you put your helmet camera? Wink

Yeah, strap on a lump that stabs you in the head if you crash.

Or put it on your handlebars.

posted by a.jumper [700 posts]
16th August 2014 - 8:29

12 Likes

Happy to wake up andò find some pretty funny comments on this post, mixing up all kind of cycling, "philosophers" and "scientists".
Commuting and road cycling have wide different security needs. Especially on commuting this is about the place and your behaviour. If you are pedaling always off the roads and walking speed then all the protection you need is a rain coat. If you share the car's domain then you better to wear a helmet.
On a road cycling talk I personally consider gloves, glasses, helmet and under helmet the minimum protection pack, so I think all this is needed, not the helmet only. Wearing it I feel and I am protect against many dangerous things, like like the stuff that vehicle tires can project against me (happen once I had no glasses, luckily ended up in a three days black eye only), or any other flying things like insects. Also protect me against trees branch, and let me feel safe while riding at 60 km/h on a descent.
So my choice is to take the minimum actions to back home to my family safe, you are free to continue to show off about materials phisics and philosophy about men freedom of choice.

posted by edoardo3 [4 posts]
16th August 2014 - 10:34

10 Likes

a.jumper wrote:
Matt eaton wrote:
Everyone needs a helmet. Where else would you put your helmet camera? Wink

Yeah, strap on a lump that stabs you in the head if you crash.

Or put it on your handlebars.

Was there just the teeeeeenyist sense of humour failure there ? Smile

fukawitribe's picture

posted by fukawitribe [422 posts]
16th August 2014 - 12:25

6 Likes

In April I hit a stone wall descending at 40mph after getting into a speed wobble and slid 25 yards to a halt. Broken shoulder blade, collarbone, 6 ribs, dislocated shoulder and a broken/ground away Giro helmet. I can remember the impact and sliding down the tarmac with my helmet grinding.
I am thankful I was wearing it.

This said, I didn't wear a helmet on my first ride after the accident (almost 4 months later and still unable to ride a road bike) on my hybrid because it was a gentle pace to test things out.

I will always wear a helmet on a road bike where I am riding at speed but will continue to ride in a cap on my hybrid when going to the shops or similar.

posted by Chrisc [141 posts]
16th August 2014 - 13:09

7 Likes

Well, lots of fors & againsts posted. Personally, I find helmets hot in summer, heavy, put pressure on the neck, not as warm as a beanie on a cold winter morning (ok, I'm not in Antarctica but even Central London in dead of winter can be cold on the bonce when you have no hair on your head...), extra item to take/wear/think about etc. etc. Also remembering the years cycling in my youth when helmets were unknown (I think).

So far I've never had a real problem riding around London since getting a bike again in the 80s, either just out for a ride or as a bike courier, & never wearing a helmet. Unfortunately now, for me, this debate is affecting me going out on the bike - I don't want to ride a bike wearing a helmet but there's so much pressure from the must-wear-a-helmet-or-you'll-die-today brigade, from the law (daft judge's rulings) & from drivers (using lack of a helmet as an excuse for their bad driving) that I find myself thinking 'sod it, I'll just jump on a bus'...

posted by miken28v [1 posts]
16th August 2014 - 13:16

15 Likes

No point in arguing about it, For the everyday cyclist as long as it is personal choice whether you wear a helmet or not that's all that matters.

Rupert's picture

posted by Rupert [90 posts]
16th August 2014 - 13:35

8 Likes

A complicated, that one. Of course Cancellara is free to express his opinions, but he is also considered an "expert" with access to the mass-media, therefore an opinion maker. This makes the voice of contrarians even harder to be heard. His outrageous opinion should therefore be met with outrage. Australian cyclists are already paying the price for daft regulation. Fortunately, many replied to his blog with the necessary vigour. His next tweet will surely read: in Holland, no one wears helmets when cycling through town, and cycling accidents are the lowest worldwide. Why is that? Makes no sense to me.

The entropy of the universe increases constantly. Carpe diem.

posted by noether [55 posts]
16th August 2014 - 18:44

4 Likes

HarryCallahan wrote:
nuclear coffee wrote:

Normally, I'd be charging for that information, since it took labour to acquire.

Pro bono, to crack a helmet in two you'd need to create at least 0.01 +/-0.005 square metres of crack (on mine anyway), you'd need about 200 +/- 100J. Really of course you're not going to create the one crack, and I haven't taken into account the covering, so 200J is highly unlikely to cause a major failure. Since unlike you I'm not actually trying to prove anything about helmets themselves, for any more I will have to charge. Given that unlike you I'm not trying to prove anything about helmets themselves, it's pretty shameful that I've done the work and you haven't.

You could have shown some evidence you did some work and didn't pluck numbers out of thin air.

What physical formulas are you using here?
What application of force (to the helmet) is performing 200J of work?

For a materials scientist you seem to have grossly simplified the problem.

For instance, a surgeons scalpel applied to the foam would require far much less force than a hammer to break it. (less work, joules).

A different experiment might try to laterally shear it, that has its own unique set of parameters.

You seem to have your materials science mixed up with collision physics. A full helmet doesn't lend itself to materials analysis i.e. they wouldn't work out the tensile strength of "expanded polycarbonate" (your original question) by stress testing a helmet.

You've provided unexplained answers to a problem which hasn't even been defined.

And it's still irrelevant because the foam is there to cushion the impact - it's supposed to give! (crack/compress)

As previously stated, I do not spend my own time explaining formula, finding data and doing calculations for lazy and ungrateful people for free. Nothing I used was propietary, and my question was entirely well-defined, thank you very much, so if you can't answer it that is entirely down to the work I have done and you have not.

I suppose what remains is for me to call you a passive aggressive douche for asking a question with a clear implication ("where does the energy go?") without providing clearly relevant information (such as the amount of energy we might be talking about), and an ungrateful douche for your behaviour towards someone who has provided you with at least some of the relevant information.

posted by nuclear coffee [163 posts]
17th August 2014 - 23:21

3 Likes

Chrisc wrote:
In April I hit a stone wall descending at 40mph after getting into a speed wobble and slid 25 yards to a halt. Broken shoulder blade, collarbone, 6 ribs, dislocated shoulder and a broken/ground away Giro helmet. I can remember the impact and sliding down the tarmac with my helmet grinding.
I am thankful I was wearing it.

This said, I didn't wear a helmet on my first ride after the accident (almost 4 months later and still unable to ride a road bike) on my hybrid because it was a gentle pace to test things out.

I will always wear a helmet on a road bike where I am riding at speed but will continue to ride in a cap on my hybrid when going to the shops or similar.

I'm much the same. If I'm going out for the express purpose of riding my bike I'll put my lid on. Also at the BMX track or trails I always lid up (but not always at the skatepark or on street). If I'm going to the shops or similar I don't really want to have to carry an extra thing with me. It's already a point of pain to have to remove lights etc. and carry a heavy lock (which seems even heavier on the way home with a load of shopping).

posted by Matt eaton [395 posts]
18th August 2014 - 9:52

3 Likes