Urban Velo

Why We SHOULDN’T Wear Helmets

Urban Velo previously posted this interview with Mikael-Colville Anderson of Copenhagen Cycle Chic and in this TEDx talk he discusses his opinions (err…stirs the pot?) in the ol’ helmet debate.

To summarize his talk, Anderson feels we live in a culture of fear that scares people away from seeing the bike as a rational and safe means of transportation by relying heavily on promoting helmet usage. He pulls from scientific studies and various polls that reference both the risks and rewards of cycling as well as other activities, such as driving and walking. Ultimately, he feels cycling gets the short end of the stick as an activity that is promoted as far more dangerous than it actually is.

I feel some of his assumptions are a little presumptuous and exaggerated (people would stop driving if they knew how statistically dangerous cars are?), but hey, a little rousing debate never set us back. Anderson’s talk is convincing to a point, but I think he’s (deliberately?) trying to swing the pendulum to the equally opposite end of the helmet consideration. As in most discussions, a middle ground is probably the rational practice Anderson is really begging us to adopt. I worry about asking you to share your opinions in the comments section, but hey, let’s keep the pot from getting stagnant.

Via Momentum Magazine

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.

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  1. pandaDecember 26, 2011 at 10:45 am

    It’s a sad day when drivers think they own the road more than cyclists do. Unfortunately, in America, those are the times we are living in. Cycling is always dragged down as dangerous and impractical when it just plain isn’t either of those things. In my opinion, a helmet is a personal choice, I wear one because I’ve been hit by a car before and in case next time is worse I’ll be prepared. People understand how dangerous cars are, the hulking metal shell always gives them a false sense of security though, typically causing them to drive even more dangerously.

  2. josieDecember 26, 2011 at 11:04 am

    The human body was never designed to hurtle through a concrete jungle at 35 miles an hour or more. Perhaps you choose not to wear a helmet while commuting on your dutch 3 speed. Thats fine by me your brain your decision. As for me I would wear full body armor and my fullface on my roadbike if it weren’t so uncomfortable.

  3. yup.December 26, 2011 at 11:16 am

    Where does this guy live? Oh yeah, he lives in one of the most cycling friendly cities in the world. He also ride slower than most of us do who have to share roads with fast moving traffic. He also doesn’t need to share the road with pissed off/texting/inattentive motorists. If I had protected and separated bike lanes everywhere I rode maybe I’d share his naive point of view. Until then, I’ll keep my brain functions thank you.

  4. Chrissy JDecember 26, 2011 at 11:42 am

    But life is about risk. Riding a bicycle is risky. Going to work is risky. Getting out of bed is risky for some people. We assess each risk, subconsciously or not, and act accordingly.

    I don’t wear a helmet because I take the view that the best helmet in the world won’t stop me getting my legs run over, or me breaking my arm or getting a handlebar punched in the chest. Each of these injuries have happened, to me or my friends, whether we wore helmets or not.

    But… my children wear helmets, because I’m responsible for their health and wellbeing, and they don’t ride in traffic, so the risk of head injury from a fall is increased, just as the risk of collision with a vehicle is decreased.

    “The human body was never designed to hurtle through a concrete jungle at 35 miles an hour or more”

    Quite right. But we do it.
    Back when trains were invented it was stated, by the scientists and doctors of the day, that the human body would not withstand train travel above 15 miles per hour, or some such speed. It was *proved*, scientifically, yet it was equally proved that a) people are more resillient than expected, and b) the science was actually rubbish.

  5. yup.December 26, 2011 at 12:31 pm

    Chrissy, you are correct saying that a helmet won’t save your legs. However, a helmet will prevent a debilitating brain injury.

    In the USA, two-thirds of cyclists admitted to hospital have a head injury. Ninety per cent of cyclist deaths are caused by collision.

    If you choose to ignore the science at least do not ignore facts.
    I can tell you from experience from being one of those cyclists who was admitted to a hospital with a head injury after receiving a left hook from an inattentive driver that if I were not wearing my helmet the outcome in the neurologists words, “…would have been grim.” I don’t trust drivers and neither should you. Also, contrary to your opinion we humans are very fragile creatures indeed.

  6. ChampsDecember 26, 2011 at 2:34 pm

    Helmets are a basic step anybody can take when riding a bike. It’s an important piece of gear, but not essential. Adding lights, maybe a bell, that’s a better place to start.

    I can recall about six serious bike crashes that I’ve had, and only half of them with with a helmet. Obviously, I’m still alive, but I’ve got better correlation between smashing my glasses and surviving a crash than wearing a helmet.

    The last helmet I replaced spent its final moments cradling my head while I lay unconscious for over a minute. Anyone who’s been in or seen such a situation can accept the conclusion that styrofoam hats save lives, because it’s much easier than trying to prove that fallacy wrong. That whole “do it… for science!” thing doesn’t work here.

  7. TerryDecember 26, 2011 at 2:41 pm

    Well, if we all want to be perfectly protected against bicycling injuries, then we could all quit riding bicycles. That would do it.

    Riding a bicycle is the really big, risky act. Not wearing a helmet is just a little riskier.

    …where’s my spoon…

  8. TomDecember 26, 2011 at 2:42 pm

    Problem with your polemic yup is you ignore the many thousands of miles cyclists ride without going to the hospital.

    Heck, I reckon at least 2/3rds of the people involved in airplane crashes wind up dead. What safety precautions do you take before flying, pray tell?

  9. TerryDecember 26, 2011 at 4:09 pm

    That was easy…

  10. EricDecember 26, 2011 at 5:16 pm

    I have never been hit by a car nor have I ever been in a major accident on my bike, but I wear a helmet every time I ride because I am not worried about myself making an error so much as the driver next to me making one.

  11. Brent LoganDecember 26, 2011 at 7:43 pm

    Even if not required to by law, my son would wear a helmet while biking, just like he does while skateboarding (and just like I do). There are more dangers for biking than being hit by cars.

    This last summer, my son was riding along the edge of a residential road in a resort area. There was no traffic, no concern about cars at all. He was going uphill and around a corner and there was some small gravel on the edge of the road. When he rode over it, the rear tire spun out and he went down — hard. Hard enough that we had to get a new helmet for him. I don’t want to think about what the results would have been if he hadn’t been wearing a helmet.

    Rather than making a statement about how safe biking is so we can get more bikers, I’d rather just be safe(r).

  12. T.S.December 27, 2011 at 12:22 am

    I think wearing helmets is a really good idea… infact I think its rather stupid not to, but at the same time, I would rather see someone ride a bike without a helmet than not ride at all. I think pro helmet people need to relax and anti helmet people need to realize that in most situations a helmet wont harm you, and could possibly save your life. If we’re going to force cyclists to wear helmets as a law, i think we should make mandatory 5point harness seat belts and racing helmets for all drivers. Commuter Cyclists with a helmet have the same level (if not quite a bit more)of body armor as pro racers… and I know most commuter cars dont travel at racing speeds, but head on collisions on 2 lane highways probably generate waaay more impact energy than most race car crashes…

  13. Joe PeraltaDecember 27, 2011 at 5:05 am

    I think people who are that concerned should wear a helmet 24/7. Danger is everywhere! I never wear one, and my head is scarred up like an old alley cat’s – but none of that happened when I was riding. Beware!

    A helmet is a great thing if you’re about to get clubbed by a whisky bottle or hit by a golf ball. It’s not worth much if your skull and brain are in motion – when your skull stops your brain crashes into it, and then it bounces around, ow ow! The helmet protects the skull, but that’s not the desired object – and if the injured brain swells inside an intact skull, the situation is likely to become much worse if the pressure isn’t relieved. Relatively primitive people knew “trepanning” – opening the skull to relieve pressure and possibly save a life.

    For cycling, learning how to fall off a bike and get up laughing is worth far more than any helmet. Judo students don’t wear helmets – they learn how to make a hard fall easy. But you can’t buy that skill off the shelf like you can buy a helmet.

    Kids are different – they’re uncoordinated, with over-sized heads. They usually toddle along at low speed, so a fall is more a vertical copter crash than an oblique airplane landing. They should wear helmets, and I guess their adults are obliged to provide a good example. Not me!

    The other situation making helmets advisable is riding with your feet locked to the pedals. It’s impossible to crash gracefully with the bike attached to your feet. It’s also impossible to leap off the bike to avoid getting hit. Choose your risks. And always wear your helmet – you could fall out of bed! Ow!

  14. DrinkslingerDecember 27, 2011 at 7:37 am

    Wear a helmet! Or don’t!
    It makes no difference to me if you wear your lid or not. I wear mine, but have been known to ride without one. It’s your head. I also know that I don’t want to be a burden on my family/friends after suffering a catastrophic head injury. I’m pretty sure my 70 something parents wouldn’t relish the idea of changing my diapers and feeding me AGAIN.

  15. scottDecember 27, 2011 at 12:35 pm

    Both cars and pavement crack skulls, I have friends that can attest to that. Helmets help to prevent that.

  16. DominicDecember 27, 2011 at 12:36 pm

    I’ve used my helmet 3 times, and only once was there a vehicle involved. #1 I was cycling through a wooded area and stopped to take a rest under a tree. A Coulter Pine cone fell and landed directly on my helmet. I would be dead under a tree if not for my helmet. #2 I was cycling across campus after meeting with my advisor. The roads were empty of cars, and as I rounded a corner my tires slipped on leaves and I went down. My hand, shoulder and yes, side of my helmet were pretty banged up. #3 after 12 years of dedicated cycling and over 70K miles, I finally got hit by a car. It happens. I broke his windshield with my head(helmet) and walked away. I was back on a new bike within 3 days.

  17. scottDecember 27, 2011 at 9:36 pm

    I completely understand his argument, but I think taken to his stated extreme, it’s just not responsible. I’ve wrecked with helmet and without. Without, I laid on the pavement and waited for an ambulance to take me to a crappy hospital for hours of painful waiting. With, I got up, shook off the fear and rode away. I know what side I stand on. Whatever though, do what you gotta do to get yourself on a bike.

  18. TDDecember 27, 2011 at 10:55 pm

    I wear helmets sometimes, and sometimes I don’t. Riding my grueling route to work with heavy, fast traffic, and mixed terrain, I wear a helmet. When just cruising down to the grocery store or downtown…I usually don’t.

  19. zachDecember 27, 2011 at 11:01 pm

    I work on the neurology unit in a hospital. I’ve worked with victims of traumatic brain injury and have seen what these injuries do to patients and their families.
    Chrissy J – your line of reasoning just doesn’t make any sense. A helmet won’t keep you from breaking your arm?? What?? Do you not get the difference between a broken bone and a catastrophic brain injury? We’re not debating whether or not it makes sense to ride with elbow pads.
    And we’re not talking about avoiding all risk in life. We are talking about one small, simple act that can help minimize (some!) of the risk of catastrophic injury while cycling.

    When I drive a car I wear a seatbelt. When I ride a bike I wear a helmet. These activities are still risky, but if I can easily eliminate some risk I don’t really see any reason not to.

  20. Rusty NailDecember 28, 2011 at 11:54 am

    I wear a helmet not to protect me from collisions with cars, but to protect me from collisions with the ground. I don’t expect the brain bucket to protect me from some metal box hurdling through traffic at 50mph, but I am 6’3 and it’s a long way down to the ground. It’s that head to the ground, head to the curb, scraping the asphalt I am concerned with.

    Also, aerodynamics.

  21. BrianDecember 28, 2011 at 4:35 pm

    Everyone needs to chill out. Wear a helmet or don’t. I will always wear mine, but I’m not going to scold you if you don’t. I had one accident where a helmet did it’s job, but I’m not going to trot that out.
    The bigger thing that gets me to wear a helmet: I recently separated from the Army after 8 years, and if you want to see what a traumatic brain injury is, go to a military hospital. You’ll find room after room full of guys who are relearning the alphabet after being in an IED blast, whose personalities have completely changed. I have several close friends who can no longer keep in touch with me, because they can’t write any more. They have to live at home or with caretakers. One has developed epilepsy as a result of brain lesions after his vehicle was hit.

    A brain injury is no joke, and it’s a far cry from a broken leg or a couple of stitches. The brain can’t be repaired. Will a helmet prevent every brain injury? No, it won’t. Most of the guys I was just talking about had on helmets when they were injured.
    But it could make the difference between writing a post about not wearing a helmet and staring blankly out of a window while someone spoon feeds you apple sauce, and then listens to you breath after every bite to make sure it went down the write tube.

    So wear it, or don’t. It’s a free country, but you should know the risks.

  22. josieDecember 29, 2011 at 12:02 am

    After watching the lecture several more times and thinking about it I have some ideas I would like to share. Please excuse me for posting twice.

    Again I have no problem with you not wearing a helmet thats your right. What I do have a problem with is the lecture and the concepts it proposes.

    He has his statistics manipulated to argue his point.

    #1 ” people who wear helmets are 18% more likely to have an accident.” True because more people wear helmets are in the majority of riders.

    #2 ” the medical profession is slip 50/50 on weather or not helmets reduce injury.” Bald faced lie. I don’t know any doctors who would recommend not wearing a helmet as a way of reducing injury.

    Heres how Iook at it. As a cyclist I embrace technologies that allow me to move through the world in a faster and more elegant way. I use pneumatic tires because the provide more traction comfort and speed as apposed to solid ones. I have suspension on my mountain bike because it allows the same.

    I have two fixed gears both equally light. Both are carbon and aluminum construction with the best wheels i could afford. One has a brake one does not. The bicycle with the front brake is not nearly as hip but it is faster because it allows me to stop much quicker and sprint harder into a corner.

    When I ride off road I wear body armor because it gives the confidence I need to pull bigger air.

    Why wouldn’t I wear a helmet on the road. It is a wonderful piece of tech that allows me to ride with increased confidence and peace.

    Last but not least wearing a helmet is like using lights at night. I can see fine in the dark but lights tell drivers “hey I take this seriously”. You are much more likely to be respected on the road if you look like you mean business.

  23. DonJanuary 1, 2012 at 8:31 pm

    Whenever this comes up I am inclined to notice two things: 1. Having children in your life changes things, for various reasons, and 2. Local conditions, not only in terms of traffic but also bike infrastructure and paved/gravel/unconventional surfaces, changes things. To me, bike helmets are like guns in the old west: they say as much about how our culture solves problems as about the problems themselves.

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