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Why do we debate helmets?

Do you wear a helmet? Who cares? Lots of people. Some of them, friends and loved ones, may have a vested interest in your head and feel a helmet is a no-brainer; others will be more interested in promoting their view of how a cyclist should present him or herself to the world. And some just like a good argument.

Although I've got my own opinions about the H word, I'm not out to convert anyone. I want to know what you think about the helmet debate itself. This is, in short, a listening post. (Previously I set one up at the site of what may be the www's longest running helmet discussion.) Are you new to cycling and still making up your mind? Has anything you've read or heard moved you one way or the other? Are you a veteran, sick of the endless fascination with helmets whether or not you wear one – or do you occasionally find yourself drawn in?

If you like polls, there's a quick one here.

62 comments

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gdmor10 [87 posts] 4 years ago
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its not cycling without a helmet that is a problem it is hitting your head on the ground or a car.

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CXR94Di2 [2581 posts] 4 years ago
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In minor accidents fall etc then I can see the benefits to separate your head from the direct impact, BUT in major accidents with vehicles it's about as much use as a chocolate fireguard. I still wear one though  1

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CXR94Di2 [2581 posts] 4 years ago
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In minor accidents fall etc then I can see the benefits to separate your head from the direct impact, BUT in major accidents with vehicles it's about as much use as a chocolate fireguard. I still wear one though  1

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CXR94Di2 [2581 posts] 4 years ago
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In minor accidents fall etc then I can see the benefits to separate your head from the direct impact, BUT in major accidents with vehicles it's about as much use as a chocolate fireguard. I still wear one though  1

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KoenM [129 posts] 4 years ago
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We had this debate allready, i'm not going to comment anymore if anyone wants to have this debate, go here: http://road.cc/content/review/134947-sealskinz-belgian-cap#comments
About everything is said there.

My main point: if it would be only 1% chance that it can save u why don't wear one?! And no, u don't look cooler without one and u don't get faster!

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Bigfoz [178 posts] 4 years ago
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I use one, I have had 3 separate accidents where the helmet has saved skin and bone over the last 20 years. I understand they won't always help, but when the hardshell has been shaved down 5+mm on top of your hard, you realise sometimes they're worth it.

However, in an increasingly blinded justice system, the most important function is to ensure if anything did ever happen, my family would get the full compensation, and not have some muppet judge reduce it as I wasn't wearing one!

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LondonDynaslow [264 posts] 4 years ago
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Men should not be wearing helmets in church anyway; they count as hats.

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mrmo [2099 posts] 4 years ago
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The whole helmet debate is a very convenient distraction, it lets us get on with driving like idiots. Being honest many cyclists are drivers, and being really honest, how many drivers do not break the law and do things that are stupid? Often when there is a court case someone will say well what do you expect with a judge and jury composed of drivers? Or how about the comments from many who claim to be cyclists. but only ride a few times a year.

The debate has to move from THEM to ME. Could I improve MY driving. The whole debate needs from protecting them and allowing me to carry on being an idiot. To I need to change, I need to adapt my actions, if I make a mistake I need to understand why and make changes to prevent it happening again.

Does it really matter if a cyclist is wearing a helmet or not when they get hit by a car? Surely the question that needs to be asked, the question that doesn't get asked enough is what do we do to stop cars hitting cyclists?

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Quince [380 posts] 4 years ago
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A bigger issue is stabilisers. I know people who don't use stabilisers anymore. Or rather, I knew them. I killed them all because I hated them so much. Better off dead than sending an irresponsible message to the younger generation. They deserve everything they get coming TBH. Including me killing them.

I don't get it; stabilisers stop u falling off. People get hurt when they fall off. Why not use them!? And no, u don't look cooler without them, and u don't go much faster!

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KiwiMike [1421 posts] 4 years ago
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"Some of them, friends and loved ones, may have a vested interest in your head and feel a helmet is a no-brainer; others will be more interested in promoting their view of how a cyclist should present him or herself to the world"

You missed out a critical third group:

"Some want to see the peer-reviewed evidence that helmets make a difference, that they don't inadvertently cause harm through rotational injury, that they don't cause collisions through motorists applying risk compensation, and also to have it explained why in countries with helmet compliance at 95%, the number of cyclists halves whilst the danger for those remaining doubles*"

Include that group's description and I'll be less likely to look upon this as no more than clickbait  1

* http://www.cycle-helmets.com/imgs/nz-injuries-participation-per-cyclist.gif

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ribena [192 posts] 4 years ago
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For road use, there's 2 issues that need resolving.

1. Is the risk of a head injury whilst cycling on the roads significantly higher than for other activities for which we consider helmets unnecessary?

2. Do bicycle helmets significantly reduce that risk compared to any adverse effects? i.e. is there an overall reduction in risk.

Anecdotal accounts ("a helmet saved my life") or thought experiments ("imagine if someone hit your head with a hammer") do not help because they do not quantify the risks.

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Poptart242 [186 posts] 4 years ago
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I don't really know why people care so much... live and let live.

I wear a helmet because I might fall off at low speeds and whack the pavement. I understand that at high speeds I'll be in trouble.

Also, I think my helmet looks cool! It's a Catlike Whisper so it makes me feel like I'm Valverde  16

Others are free to make their own choices, and shouldn't be judged for them. More people on bikes please, regardless of how they're dressed.

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kitkat [495 posts] 4 years ago
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Quote:

Why do we debate helmets?

Because it's Click Bate...

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darrenleroy [326 posts] 4 years ago
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You definitely look cooler without one. I'll take the 99 per cent chance not wearing one will not affect me, and I'll have cool hair as well.

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jon86boi [18 posts] 4 years ago
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I've never hit my head on any of the (few) times I've crashed but will still wear a helmet. Any protection for my bonce is well received in my mind.

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Paul_C [583 posts] 4 years ago
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the only reason I'm wearing one ATM is that it's the only way I can mount some blinkies up top on my noggin... plus it helps keep my head dry and warm... when my trips are dry and there's plenty of light, the helmet stays in the cupboard... unless taking part in anything that mandates it be worn such as a club ride or sportive...

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massspike [138 posts] 4 years ago
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ribena wrote:

For road use, there's 2 issues that need resolving.

1. Is the risk of a head injury whilst cycling on the roads significantly higher than for other activities for which we consider helmets unnecessary?

2. Do bicycle helmets significantly reduce that risk compared to any adverse effects? i.e. is there an overall reduction in risk.

Anecdotal accounts ("a helmet saved my life") or thought experiments ("imagine if someone hit your head with a hammer") do not help because they do not quantify the risks.

Risk is calculated as the probability of an event multiplied by the expected damage from the event. Helmets reduce the damage (those pesky anecdotes you want to ignore) so they reduce the risk. Since this applies to all events, you can argue that helmets are the biggest single risk reducer.

As for #1: riding a bicycle relies on dynamic balance -- its natural state is to be on the ground -- so yes the probability of a cycling event (aka fall resulting in head trauma) is higher ergo the risk is higher (than walking, running, etc.)

#2 is too ridiculous for a response. Please provide some evidence that helmets increase the expected damage. (Note: this argument has been tried wrt motorcycle helmets with laughable results.)

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Bikebikebike [387 posts] 4 years ago
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A helmet isn't going to do anything in a crash that will cause serious injuries, e.g. when you're hit by a car.

It probably will help in less serious crashes e.g. when you fall off your bike after skidding on a manhole cover in the wet.

I'm not that worried about the second one. I am worried about the first. So the only reason I wear a helmet (which I usually do) is to carry my helmetcam, and to ensure that if I do get knocked off that there is no sharing of liability.

It may save you from a freak accident where a simple fall manages to kill you at vast odds. It's not going to help in a serious crash. Anyone who says differently is selling something (probably helmets).

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Kenbuterol [11 posts] 4 years ago
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What does dynamic balance mean? It's a tautology at best if used in a bio mechanical sense. Balance is an active process for cycling, running, walking and standing. A bit less for sitting in a moving car, but only a bit.

Not sure how this applies to risk related behaviours, or helmets.

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Bikebikebike [387 posts] 4 years ago
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ribena wrote:

Risk is calculated as the probability of an event multiplied by the expected damage from the event. Helmets reduce the damage (those pesky anecdotes you want to ignore) so they reduce the risk. Since this applies to all events, you can argue that helmets are the biggest single risk reducer.

Yes, but the amount by which it reduces the expected damage is negligible compared to the overall damage of a serious crash with a car. And it does nothing to reduce the probability of an event.

Unlike, say, providing proper separated cycling infrastructure, which doesn't reduce the expected damage at all, but massively reduces the probability of an event. The overall effect on the risk for this is much greater than for a helmet.

(Another minor point, it doesn't apply to all events, as it's not going to help you if snap your leg.)

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kcr [154 posts] 4 years ago
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I see almost everyone who has responded has ignored the author's request for opinions on the helmet debate, which beautifully illustrates the point I assume he is trying to make!

I will express no opinion on helmets, but the debate itself is a complete waste of time. I've observed this "discussion" on the internet for over 15 years now. People on both sides still repeat exactly the same arguments, I have never seen anyone change their mind, and it always turns into a bad natured confrontation.

Just make your own mind up and get on with your life, but don't waste time reheating the same old discussion.

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Initialised [334 posts] 4 years ago
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According to the Health and Safety Executive: PPE should only be used as a last resort when alternative measures cannot be deployed in order to mitigate risk.

Bike helmets were originally developed for high risk activities on a bike.

When racing collisions with other riders are likely so falls at high speed are likely.
Mountain Biking, high speeds, loose surfaces and rough terrain, therefore a high chance of a crash.
BMX/Trials etc learning and performing tricks on the bike is likely to result in fall.

Pootling to the shops at 5-15mph in dry conditions or on off road routes does not imply a high enough risk of head injury to warrant the use of PPE by an experienced cyclist.

Commuting sits in the middle, I haven't had a head impact in a fall since my first winter of commuting so now I wear a lid more out of habit than necessity.

So, before making helmets mandatory to cyclists the following measures could be considered or deployed to minimise their risk of injury:

Give vulnerable, non-pedestrian road users priority over motorised traffic in line with the "Cyclists Must Give Way to Pedestrians and Horses" rule for Bridleways and Shared Use paths.
Apply strict liability in collision resolution.
Adopt a minimum passing distance law for motorised traffic.
Make more sections of road car free, enforce this with pop-up bollards.
Improve driver awareness and rider training. e.g. hit a cyclist, pass Bikeability Level 3 before you get your license back, same for cyclists deemed to be at fault, do the course or pay a fine.
A review of the road layout at any site where near misses or accidents are reported.
A change of road 'design rules' to improve cyclist safety without reducing cyclist numbers (if anything design for more than expected) cycling speed whenever a roadway is improved or built.
A review of collision avoidance technology with a view to making some devices mandatory to new vehicles.
Provide larger, longer ASLs and delay motor traffic with respect to cycle traffic at complex and high traffic junctions.
Provide more roads for cyclists (as opposed to shared use paths).

Once all this is in place and it can be shown that the occurrence of cycling head injury in utility cycling is lower in a meaningful statistically significant way for those who wear helmets then consider making them mandatory.

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adamthekiwi [149 posts] 4 years ago
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Lots of the arguments I have seen in favour of helmet compulsion are based on the idea that helmets necessarily make things safer. Ignoring the fact that there is no population study that confirms this, and quite a few that suggest the opposite (see the NZMA's investigation of the efficacy of helmet legislation in New Zealand), this misses the point, IMO - the decision on what personal safety equipment is required should be reserved for the individual.

I will accept that there are other areas where we allow the law to impinge upon this personal responsibility (safety belts in cars, helmets for motorcyclists) but this is not a good reason, in my opinion, to allow this continued creep to a legislative framework that mandates personal safety. If you want to extend the logic that leads to mandatory head protection for activities that have a similar or greater risk of head-injury in comparison to cycling, we will have car helmets, walking helmets and bathroom helmets.

The key thing, above all others, that makes cyclists safer on the road is this: more cyclists. More cyclists: more driver awareness, greater push for better facilities. More helmet compulsion: fewer cyclists.

Lastly, to anyone who would try to characterise me as anti-helmet: I have no desire to take your helmet from you, nor do you need to justify your wearing of it to me. It is your choice. I would simply seek to maintain that choice for every cyclist. Oh, and I wear a helmet - because, even though I think it extremely unlikely it will save my life, I think the chances of it injuring me are also pretty slim (not non-existent), the inconvenience is mitigated by its utility as a camera-mount and it (generally) stops people who would impose their choices on me from lecturing me.

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Leviathan [3057 posts] 4 years ago
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I despair at the extremists on both sides. One side says the have never wore one and never will and due to their expert bike handling skills will never need one. That they are therefore uncool and dangerous, causing 'rotational' injuries.
The other side says helmets (and Hi viz) are required because we are putting people at risk exposing them to drivers.

There are plenty of people in between with a spectrum of views. I just find it sad that the moderate view of wear a helmet if you want to and it makes you feel safer, but you don't have to if you don't want to; is always drowned out. I personally wear a helmet when I am wearing my bike kit, because I AM going faster and think it will protect me if require and it looks the part too. If I am wearing street clothes I generally don't wear a helmet because I am going slower (in jeans) and just going to the shops. I don't like being told by either side that I am wrong whatever I do. And I don't like being told what to wear even if it is safety equipment. My personal clothing choices are up to me. I would feel like a right berk with a flashing light attached to my head. I have just bought some ridiculous expensive bike lights from kickstarter so I can choice to wear all black in the winter if I want.

Yes there is no empirical evidence helmets work. The reason being we do not throw fit healthy human beings at static concrete blocks both wearing helmets and not, and see which ones die or are brain damaged. There will NEVER be any empirical evidence. So the anti brigade dismiss the anecdotal evidence of people who have crashed. How dare they characterize other peoples experiences. If some one tells me a helmet saved their life I take this at face value. This is the only evidence available. It is impossible to believe that a helmet never saved anyone's life. Just look at other sports, I have done some extreme things in my younger years and some things you just wouldn't try without a helmet [Helmets ARE Cool.]

I find the antis the most delusional, whilst the ultra pros are damaging participation and freedom of choice and stoking blame culture.

Please stop telling other people what to do. {Did I say helmets are cool?}

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PonteD [327 posts] 4 years ago
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I wear a helmet to stop twigs and stuff whacking me on the head, and in the summer keeps the sun off my head.

If I fall off it may protect me marginally and save a nasty bit of gravel rash on my head, but I seriously doubt it will protect me from 2+ ton of metal travelling at 60mph (saying that, neither would a large metal box with windows and a steering wheel).

Time and again experts have proven how our perception of danger is seriously out of whack with the reality (like the fact more people are killed by cows than sharks, so why aren't there any Spielberg films about giant rampant cows tearing up the countryside?). At the end of the day, I say if a helmet makes you feel safer, then stick it on, if you would rather not then fine. However you most definitely MUST NOT under any circumstances be allowed to wear baseball caps!

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mrmo [2099 posts] 4 years ago
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Bikeboy76, not sure i agree, the argument comes down to those who basically don't give a f*** if you wear a helmet or not and the other group who think your an insane moron.

One group says if you want feel free, just don't think it is a panacea. The other group seems to assume helmets offer more protection than they do. After all we are not talking Motorcycle helmets and if the issue was safety wouldn't we ban baths, showers and stairs????

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Joeinpoole [465 posts] 4 years ago
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massspike wrote:

Risk is calculated as the probability of an event multiplied by the expected damage from the event. Helmets reduce the damage (those pesky anecdotes you want to ignore) so they reduce the risk. Since this applies to all events, you can argue that helmets are the biggest single risk reducer.

The vast majority of head injuries occur when people are travelling in motorised transport, drinking alcohol or when climbing/descending stairs.

Therefore, if we are serious about reducing this 'risk', helmets should be worn first for these activities before later considering the use of helmets for cyclists.

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dotdash [119 posts] 4 years ago
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About 4 months ago I was hit by a car whilst riding home, I was wearing a helmet at the time. I believe that the helmet both saved me from serious injuries and cause serious injuries.

I went over the bonnet of the car and landed on the crown of my head, I then bounced up about a foot and landed again on my head.

The helmet was crushed and cracked in a number of places but my skull was fine however the shock wave led to me compressing 3 of my vertebra, breaking 6 ribs and bruising my chest.

It could have been that without a helmet my skull would have been fine, and my chest/back ok. Or I could have serious head injuries and still have the chest/back injuries. I just don't know, and as the police never bothered to come out then we will never know.

I've only just started returning to work this week

I would like to ride without a helmet, but it's too risky for me. But it's peoples choices.

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gnarlyrider [33 posts] 4 years ago
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MAss pike wrote: Risk is calculated as the probability of an event multiplied by the expected damage from the event.

The assumption that wearing a helmet can only reduce the severity and does not affect the probability of it happening is a fallacy. Plenty of studies show compensatory behaviour (both cyclists and other road users) so the probability is likely to shift.

A helmet adds mass and size to your head. In a dynamic system it is more likely to hit the road so you cannot decouple probability and severity.

The additional size of a helmet increases some injuries through increased rotational acceleration (worse for your brain than a straight impact)

My own experience in over 50 crashes (I have ridden fast and furiously for a long time), of 8 crashes with a helmet - in races I bumped my head twice. Of the other 40 plus crashes without a helmet at similar and higher speeds under many conditions (cars knocking me off, overshooting corners, head over handle bars on mountain bikes etc) I have never hit my head.

Anyone jumping up and down in certainty about this issue must have held on to the certainty of being right that normally only a teenager can hold.

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Sam Walker [70 posts] 4 years ago
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Sheldon Brown was a helmet advocate. He needed somewhere to put that eagle. In Helmet Wars – bottom of the page – he wrote "Although small in numbers, [helmet skeptics] are adamant, and fill blogs and bulletin boards with anti-helmet messages, giving rise to the term 'helmet wars'."

My take on that is, as an early adopter, he probably suffered years of "Why are you wearing one?" Combat fatigue is the only way I can explain his experience being so at odds with mine: "Why aren't you wearing one?" seems far more common, the most adamant anti- being anti-compulsion. In keeping with my mission statement, have you ever been grilled (either way) in person, or is the debate largely an internet phenomenon?

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Almost obligatory xkcd.

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Thanks for voting.

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