Helmets, Fear, and Safety

I can haz safety?

Tom posted about the Safety Myth.  He mentions Vik’s post on the topic.  I think he was calling out some locals toward the end, but he doesn’t name them.  Was I one of them for my previous post?

The argument is Vik makes is that the helmet is (in most cases) unnecessary and helps spread fear.  It also leads to a false sense of security.  Read Viks post, read the comments.  Some good points are made.

I’m known for my helmet, mirror, reflective vest, and good lights.  I think Tom is also.

When I first started riding as an adult in 2008, I didn’t own a helmet.  After enough people pestered me about it, I gave in to the fear (and peer pressure) and bought a helmet.  It became part of my cycling garb, as I bought cycling garb.

There are definitely reasons to wear a helmet.

  • Fast or dangerous riding
    • 40+ MPH descents
    • Technical mountain biking
    • BMX tricks
    • Pace lines
    • 20+ MPH descents on rough gravel roads
  • Warmth with helmet cover
  • Place to mount the mirror

There are also reasons to not wear a helmet.

  • Makes cycling look dangerous which scares people away from it
  • You look less human with a helmet, this can cause different behavior from others
  • Gives a false sense of security – Plenty of people suffer brain injuries while wearing a helmet
  • We don’t wear helmets for many other more dangerous endeavors

In Kentucky and most other states there is no law requiring helmet use for adults.  This is as it should be.  I’m not sure the law should exist for children either, as raising children is a job for the parents, not the government.

I only have one issue with others wearing helmets all the time – the fact that it reduces bicycle use.  I can’t say too much here, as I generally wear my helmet.  So why am I accosted by other cyclists for not wearing a helmet when I’m riding on a grassy trail?

It really boils down to being prepared for the conditions.  If you are riding in a manner that has increased risk of fall, wear a helmet.  If you’re riding at night, have lights and reflective gear.  If it’s foggy, you probably need a strobe.

You would never wear rain gear on a sunny day, just in case it rains, but that’s what we (even I) have been used to doing with safety gear.

My changes have been gradual.  I haven’t worried (as much) about lights or reflective gear on bright sunny days.  I’ve been skipping the helmet on around town trips in light traffic.  Hint to myself:  The helmet probably won’t matter if I get hit by a fast moving car.  There’s a much better chance of it being helpful if I do something stupid and go over the bars.  It can also be useful in a right-hook scenario where I slide over the hood of the car and hit the pavement.  With cautious riding those scenarios are unlikely.  I’d rather work to avoid the crash than try to protect myself after the fact.

Modern America is obsessed with safety features, whether or not they are effective.  They make us feel better.  Some examples?  TSA, air bags, crumple zones, helmets, cell phones for children with GPS tracking.  What’s next?  The Thudguard?

Most cycling clubs, like the LBC, require helmet use on organized rides.  They don’t have a choice.  They are hamstrung by their insurance company.  Why?  A culture of fear.

Why is it when a cyclist is hit by a car and dies, the first question is always “was he/she wearing a helmet?”.  Does it matter?  Who caused the accident?  Not wearing a helmet will not cause an accident.

Most people my age and older rode bikes as kids, and most of us had never seen a bike helmet.  Most of us made it through just fine.  I never knew one of my peers to suffer a head injury on a bike.  Broken arms and collarbones?  Yes.  I had friends who fell out of trees they were climbing and nobody was wearing a helmet.  I was riding recklessly down the sidewalk when I was about eight years old.  I fell and hit my head.  I blacked out for a second or two.  I had a bad headache, but I didn’t automatically die or suffer permanent damage because I wasn’t wearing a helmet.  I could have, but I could have with a helmet also.

The only people I personally know who suffered major head injuries were driving when it happened.

Enough ranting for one day.  I’m not anti-helmet.  I’ll still be wearing mine on many rides.  I’m anti-fear.  I’m still learning, and my riding style is still adjusting.

5 thoughts on “Helmets, Fear, and Safety”

  1. The point of my post (that you linked) was to get folks talking about their thoughts on safety. Apparently, I was successful with you. I’m glad. I’m glad to read your thoughts on the matter. I’ll be putting up more of my own thoughts in the next day or two, as well.

  2. Oh, and the “both of you” bit was my tongue-in-cheek reference to my sense that only one or two folks read my blog regularly. I know there are more who read it, but few make any comments.

  3. I’m gonna choose a helmet most of the time. I take it off on hot climbs when I tour sometimes, but it goes back on when I descend. I wore one when I played college football because I didn’t want to get my face and head smashed in, in the off chance I had a head to head collision as an offensive lineman. 🙂

    I have a baby boy now, too. If it helps me in the unlikely event of a crash, cool. To me, the helmet is a little like health insurance: You never know for sure if it’s gonna cover you, but it might.

    I wonder if the Lazy Randonneur has health insurance. Do you think he sees it as driven by fear?

  4. Good post. Much like Patrick, I feel that wearing a helmet isn’t much of an inconvenience, and there’s a chance it might help me, so I wear one almost all the time. It’s unlikely (granted, not impossible) that it will do me any harm.

    That said, I always support each rider’s right to make his/her own safety decisions.

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