Urban Velo

Go Helmet-less! Or Don’t.

And the debate rages on… This time in The New York Times. The often helmeted author describes her experience in Paris when she rented a ride from one of the best bike rental systems in the world, only to ride away without her usual head protection. What followed was a consideration of the helmet vs. non-helmet debate that brought up some finer points I had not yet thought about. For instance,

“Statistically, if we wear helmets for cycling, maybe we should wear helmets when we climb ladders or get into a bath, because there are lots more injuries during those activities.” The European Cyclists’ Federation says that bicyclists in its domain have the same risk of serious injury as pedestrians per mile traveled.

And then there is the part about wearing a shared helmet…ew.

In the United States, cities are struggling to overcome the significant practical problems of melding helmet use with bike-sharing programs — such as providing sanitized helmet dispensers at bike docking stations, says Susan Shaheen, director of the Transportation Sustainability Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley.

Ultimately though, there are so many differences between the culture and design of European cities compared to the United States that it’s hard to extrapolate any dynamics from their operations and apply them to ours. When it comes down to it, I think the helmet debate will be like the abortion debate. Both sides have completely legitimate points and it’s always going to come down to a matter of personal preference, which is why we should probably leave the law out of this one. Just do what you’re most comfortable doing.

About Scott Spitz

Commuting, touring, kid hauling, couriering, mechanic work, sales, advocacy, fixed, free—Scott has had his hands in it all over the years.

View all posts by Scott Spitz →


  1. John CampbellOctober 3, 2012 at 12:36 pm

    “When it comes down to it, I think the helmet debate will be like the abortion debate. Both sides have completely legitimate points and it’s always going to come down to a matter of personal preference, ”

    The pro life camp has no “real” legitimate points concerning abortion. it is always a woman’s choice.

  2. JamesOctober 3, 2012 at 1:12 pm

    Random but I’m so glad you compared it to abortion debates because everyone laughs it off when I made that comparison but they get so mad about the subject.

    And it is personal preference. Nuff said.

  3. Chris KiuchiOctober 3, 2012 at 1:31 pm

    Dirt cheap helmets exist.

    Make the helmet the key that unlocks the shared bike.

  4. T.S.October 3, 2012 at 7:20 pm

    I always wear a helmet while riding. But I think mandatory helmet laws are a horrible idea. How about actually enforcing speed limits for cars and making automobile drivers wear helmets first. If you want to reduce head injuries and the associated medical expense burden on our country that would be the way. (I wouldn’t mind strapping on a full face and 5point harness every time I drIve, its by far the most dangerous thing I do… and I am an avid mountain biker and rock climber…if every one else did it I wouldnt feel like a complete idiot hah)

    @chris: although cheap helmets supposedly have to meet the same standards, I have worn a few cheap helmets that may as well have been a noose tied around my neck. there is no way it would of stayed in place during a crash and no matter how hard I tried to adjust it, it would just loosen up and inevitably fall in front of my eyes or backwards off my head.

  5. dannyOctober 5, 2012 at 7:05 am

    If the helmet debate is like the abortion debate, then not wearing one is like using the rhythm method of contraception.

  6. BarryOctober 6, 2012 at 1:13 pm

    Conflating the pro choice/anti -abortion battle with the bike helmet debate isn’t particularly helpful, since it just takes one divisive issue and ratchets up the emotions by associating it with an even more emotional debate.

    I will say that on both these issues, both sides will never agree because they aren’t arguing from the same starting points.

    I do think the helmet debate (along with debates about bike licensing and registration) can be useful exercises to think about what is an acceptable role for government and law. For instance I’m pro-choice on helmets for bicycles, so how should I feel about helmets for motorcyclists or mandatory seatbelt licenses for cars?

  7. SamOctober 9, 2012 at 7:52 am

    Seat belts have been proven to save lives. Helmets, unfortunately, have not been proven to do much of anything. That’s not to say that people shouldn’t wear helmets, but thus far there aren’t enough studies that prove anything one way or another with regard to helmet use on bicycles. I haven’t looked into studies on helmet use and motorcycles, so I can’t really speak to that.

    Overall, I’m more of a fan of laws that force drivers to consider cyclists… like laws that require drivers to give a minimum 3 feet in order to pass a cyclist. That is, as long as those laws are enforced.

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