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« Be nice to dogs, or else | Main | Bootleg Recherché »

Portland BTA’s shift on helmet use

Portland, Oregon’s Bicycle Transport Alliance (BTA) is no longer opposing helmet laws. They are not necessarily supporting them, or pressing the state to implement mandatory helmet use, but if the state decides to go that route, they will apparently not oppose.

They had this change of policy after polls have shown that 80% of their membership already wears protective headgear.

Is this new “non-opposition” policy the thin end of the wedge, and will it eventually lead to mandatory helmet use on Oregon?

Mandatory helmet use is not the way to reduce cyclist injures and death. The only ways to reduce those is by education of both cyclists and car drivers alike, and prevent the crashes in the first place.

Mandatory bicycle helmet use is a “Blame the victim” fix. Many pedestrians and even car drivers also die of head injuries, but no one suggests helmet laws for them.

I have heard the argument that a cycling advocacy group opposing mandatory helmets is like an automobile association opposing seat belt use. Not the same thing, seat belts can be proved to save lives, bicycle helmets cannot.

If a cyclist is run over by a vehicle and crushed, whether or not he/she is wearing a helmet is immaterial. If a cyclist is hit by a car doing 50mph or more, internal injuries and broken bones from the impact alone are going to be serious or fatal, and wearing a helmet will make little or no difference to the outcome.

I wear a helmet when I ride my bike, not because I believe it will save me from serious head injury, but because I believe the little protection it does give can’t hurt.

Another big incentive for me is, in the event I am hit by a car and injured; when I make a claim with the car driver’s auto insurance, they cannot say I was negligent and contributed to the seriousness of my injures by not wearing a helmet.

Insurance companies are notorious for finding ways to pay less or not pay at all on a claim; why give them the opportunity to deny a claim by not wearing a helmet? Apart from that I believe this little piece of lightweight Styrofoam I wear on my head offers only a token amount of protection.

These are my personal views; I would not tell anyone they should or should not wear a helmet when riding a bike. I strongly believe that helmet use should be an individual choice.

Whenever mandatory helmet laws have been introduced, like in Australia and New Zealand for example, the result has been a large drop in bicycle use.

Ask yourself this: Would you wear a helmet to walk around your city, or when your drive a car? I certainly wouldn’t. Why? Because it is unnecessary, and I would look stupid; some people who ride bikes feel the exact same way.

Mandatory helmet laws do not make cyclists wear helmets they make some people stop riding bikes.

Driving a car or walking is not necessarily a choice; we all have to get to where we need to be by some means or other. But riding a bike, for many cyclists, is a conscious choice and therefore wearing a helmet should also be left as a conscious choice.

Portland’s BTA calls its shift in policy is a "Slight Modification," but by standing on the sidelines and saying “We no longer oppose mandatory helmet laws,” is not doing any favors for its membership or the cause of cycling. Just because most of its membership wears a helmet anyway is not a reason to no longer oppose.

If you cause cyclists who are just starting out, to quit, and discourage new cyclists from riding a bike, it will jeopardize a whole city or even a state’s cycling initiative.

This is a bad thing for all cyclists, we need more people to ride bikes not less. Get people to ride bikes first, educate them to wear a helmet later if you feel it is necessary.

In a way the helmet becomes the badge of a serious and committed cyclist; most will start wearing one when they reach that level without prompting from others.

The fact that the majority of Portland BTA members already wear one shows this. Only people who are committed to cycling are going to make the effort to join an association like the BTA.

Cycling is all about freedom; and I would hope that any cycling advocacy organization would continue to strongly oppose all attempts by legislators to take away the individual freedom of choice to wear, or not wear a helmet.


Footnote: Relavant to this post is a story (With video.) from Austalia, of a film-maker's bid to repeal mandatory helmet laws. 


Reader Comments (38)

"Not the same thing, seat belts can be proved to save lives, bicycle helmets cannot."

Factually incorrect. Bicycle helmets can save lives and have been proven to do so scientifically and empirically. Continuing with this idiotic analogy you might argue that seatbelts can not be proven to save lives since the car may burst in fire and seatbelt only slows down escape (I believe that argument was used extensively when mandatory seatbelt law was being challenged).

Here the law requires that "cyclists should usually wear helmets." It recognizes the usefulness but does not make it mandatory. It is good.

November 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTorben

We need more accurate data. To say this many cyclists died, and this many were not wearing a helmet is not good enough. Only those who died of head injuries should be included to be accurate.
If a cyclist dies of internal injuries then wearing a helmet would not have saved him, and you can’t say he wasn’t wearing a helmet and that is the reason he died.
When we have that data I will be a believer, in the mean time, I err on the safe side and wear a helmet. But I will not tell another that a helmet will most definitely save your life.

November 7, 2011 | Registered CommenterDave Moulton

Some states don't even require motor-cyclists to wear helmets.

November 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJW

When a cyclist goes over the bars, he is usually traveling on a hard surface such as asphalt or cement, and the obvious first thing to hit the ground is his head. With modern, comfortable helmets, its senseless not to wear one and in this case a law to wear one protects the ignorant from their own stupidity. The argument that it will decrease bicycle use does not hold water with me, in my area there is not a single person I know of that doesn't wear a helmet. There are far more serious issues threatening bicycle use than this one.

November 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMike Z.

Mike Z,
When you say “Everyone you know wears a helmet,” are you talking only of other serious cyclist like yourself?

I see many casual cyclists on my local bike path without helmets, I see low income people who use a bike for transport without helmets. I see kids in my neighborhood of all ages without helmets; in fact most kids will not wear a helmet because other kids make fun of them; if the helmet laws for kids were strictly enforced these kids would probably stop riding bikes rather than face bullying and ridicule from their peers.

I agree there are more serious issues threatening bicycle use, but mandatory helmet use is a distraction from the real issue of preventing car/bike crashes in the first place.

People were riding bikes for 100 years before America started the helmet thing, there was no wholesale trend of cyclists going over the handlebars and killing themselves. I rode for 50 years without a helmet and somehow survived.

Read my post on “Pro Cycling and Helmets.” Professional cyclists have worn helmets only since 2003, and deaths in pro racing have actually increased; does this prove or disprove anything.

I wear a helmet, if I didn’t think it was a good idea I would not. However, I will not preach helmet use to others, and I definitely stand against mandatory use.

November 7, 2011 | Registered CommenterDave Moulton

I, too, wear a helmet when I ride, but every time I put my helmet on I wonder about this story.

Dr Walker, a traffic psychologist from the University's Department of Psychology, said: "This study shows that when drivers overtake a cyclist, the margin for error they leave is affected by the cyclist's appearance."

More on his research here: Bicycle overtaking studies

Naturally, he got some push-back, and he wrote about it in his - now languishing - blog.

His critic, Dan Gutierrez, could be correct. I'm not in a position to evaluate the methodologies of the studies they undertook. But, that doesn't stop me from wondering about the psychology of the motorist when they see me on the road. Just exactly what is it they see, and what are they thinking in those brief seconds as they blow by?

My fear is that they're not seeing or thinking at all. And, in the face of the motorist's myriad distractions, my helmet is probably of very little value at all. I'd hate to think it actually made my circumstance worse.

November 7, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterbystander

When we race cars, we wear helmets. When we drive around town, we don't. I think it makes sense to require helmets when racing, but otherwise it should be the choice of the cyclist.

There is data to show that driving is more dangerous than cycling, and that a primary cause of death in motor vehicle accidents is from head injury. From a pragmatic point of view, we should therefore require helmets for all drivers long before we should do so for cyclists. In the other direction, if you are comfortable driving without a helmet (especially on the freeway at 60+ mph) you should be MORE comfortable cycling without one.

Studies have shown that seat belt laws have saved lives. No studies have yet shown that mandatory helmet laws have had any effect. Of course, if you are in a bike crash, you may benefit from wearing a helmet. What is in question is the LIKELIHOOD of having a bike crash of the type where a helmet is of any benefit. Too slow, and you didn't need a helmet in the first place. Too fast, and the helmet is not going to help. It appears to me that bike helmets only benefit a small slice of crashes in a particular speed window that involve landing on one's forehead. If one's argument that the chance of this alone makes it reasonable to MANDATE helmet use, then I would argue that we should first mandate automobile helmet use.

What is rarely mentioned is that bicycle helmet use has a drawback, unlike wearing seat belts. Styrofoam is one of the most efficient thermal insulators known - that's why picnic coolers are made from them. The top of the head is the most important part of the body for cooling one's self. When you are wearing a helmet you are thwarting your body's primary mechanism for thermal regulation. There is no similar drawback for seat belt use or wearing a helmet in cars or on motorcycles, which are not aerobic activities.

I wore a helmet every time I got on a bike from 1990-2010. Twenty years. I started wearing one because I was 15 and I was convinced that's what "serious" cyclists wore, along with padded lycra shorts. In the summer of 2010 I was on one of my many bike tours (having long since ditched the padded shorts), riding across California's Central Valley in 100-degree heat, and I took off my helmet and wore a wide-brimmed sun hat instead. What an epiphany. Last month I rode an organized century that required helmets and while on a long climb in direct sunlight my whole body was screaming for me to remove the beer cooler on my head that was making me miserable. That might be the end of my organized ride participation.

I no longer wear a helmet, or padded shorts for that matter, which I suppose makes me a less "serious" rider, despite the facts that I use a bike for all my local travel, go on fully-loaded tours at least once a year, and occasionally ride over 100 miles in a day. Having started out without wearing a helmet (because nobody did in the early 80s), then worn one for 20 straight years (because that's what serious cyclists do), and gone back to not wearing one in the past year (because they make me enjoy cycling less and are of questionable benefit), what strikes me is that the most important thing is to GET MORE PEOPLE ON BIKES!

SO - if wearing a helmet makes you feel more comfortable, assuages your fear of cycling and makes you more likely to ride, then by all means wear one. Both of my parents wear helmets and I would never tell them not to. They are relatively new to cycling and if they do at some point land on their head they will possibly benefit from the inch of foam between their skull and the pavement. Possibly.

HOWEVER - If you hate wearing a helmet, feel comfortable on a bike without one, and are more likely to ride if not brow-beaten into wearing one, then by all means don't. The data shows that you are better off than you would be if driving, ESPECIALLY if you take health benefits into account.

I fully understand and appreciate the argument that I SHOULD wear a helmet. I happen to disagree. I strongly disagree that I should be stopped and ticketed for not wearing one. It's my choice.

Thanks for reading.

November 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDaniel M

In my state motorcyclists do not have to wear helmets but bicyclists under 12 must. Of course the gendarmes do not hand out $25 fines, they instead hand out coupons for free Italian ice to the kids who are wearing helmets.
Bicycle helmets do remind me of seat belt use. I grew up before either. Initially both were inconvenient and uncomfortable and only perceived safetyniks used them, often with tragiocomic results (anyone remember Steve Cook? or the VW with the "running mouse" seatbelt?). Seatbelt usage became law, but nobody was pulled over for not wearing one for many many years. Eventually a new generation who grew up with them changed the culture.
I understand your position Dave. Part of me agrees and part doesn't, especially where children are concerned. Just because my Mom tossed me in the front seat of a car with a steel dashboard and I survived fine doesn't mean that progress cannot be made (I can't believe I just typed that). And while I agree that the real issue is education, the two are not mutually exclusive.

Still, if they're going to outlaw something, why not those brakeless hipsters?

November 7, 2011 | Unregistered Commentertonyd

I generally agree with Dave's reasons for wearing a helmet. I would add one more. If the worst happens, I don't want some idiot telling my family that "He would have survived if he'd been wearing a helmet" whether it's true or not.

I would also point out that King County, WA has had a mandatory helmet law for a few years now and cycling has increased. But I still think it's a law that shouldn't be on the books.

November 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSteve

Population level stats do not show that helmets save lives. While I believe they do provide limited protection this is balanced by other factors meaning there is no overall increase in safety.

Risk Compensation - cyclist feel safer and take more risks. Cycling is so safe anyway that a tiny increase in risks outweighs the protection from a helmet.

Drivers perceive helmeted riders as more experienced and overtake closer

Cyclists in the UK account for 1% of head injury admissions to hospital. Why single out cyclists for mandatory helmets? More than half of head injury admissions are alcohol related. Drinking helmets anyone?


November 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTed

I am going to repeat a story once told before, THAT AMAZES ME. First off I allways wear a helmet! I was at a rest stop on the trail around the Parker,Denver area. A chap on a Harley pulls in leathers, chaps etc full Harley gear, NO BLOODY HELMET, Pulls up to his wife in a station wgn. Parks his Harley gets out a carbon wonder zillion speed racing bicycle.changes into his skin tight cycling kit.PUTS ON A BLOODY BIKE HELMET and rides off down the trail! Now I will have to admit that for many many years like Dave, I NEVER wore a CRASH HELMET as well called them, EXCEPT to race on the track! Crashed many many times still alive to day 60+years later. BUT I do NOW wear one every time on the bike along with a suit of armour when I can. Any help is better than none, To days helmets very expensive BUT worth it in my mind, They are now so light that I sometimes dont remember I have it on. SO whats all the fuss, Pay the $$ and get at least some protection. Its may NOT help but who wants to pay the gamlbe?

November 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGRUMPY Crump

I agree with this article.
BTW, it is NOT possible to scientifically prove that cycling helmets save lives. To prove something scientifically, you need to be able to repeat the measurement with consistent results, as in when Snell tests helmets using jigs.
In real life this is impossible. Take a large group of cyclists wiping out on the same patch of ice (for example), and every single one will hit the ground differently with different consequencies. There are so many variables that come into play.
The faster you go when (if) you hit the ground, the less protective a cycling helmet is. Serious cyclists usually zip by at good 24 km/h or more. At those speeds cycling helmets are not only of very very diminished help, but they can also contribute to worse injuries (they can force the head/neck into unnatural positions and also instead of allowing the head to roll freely along the ground to dissipate the energy of the fall, they can stop that motion and thus cause more problems). If you want a really good head protection when cycling, you can wear a full-face motorcycle helmet or at least a hockey helmet. Their design is not compromised by the need for super ligtness and lots of venting. Of course, your brain may fry...

November 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMicheal Blue

What annoys me most about this perpetual debate is the argument that helmets look stupid and so people won't cycle. Really? A helmet that conforms to the Australian standard costs $30AUS (a small fraction of the cost of a new bicycle + lock + lights) and is available at the same place that you buy and service your bike. Therefore, there are no excuses for not owning a helmet. If you make decisions on how you travel based on your personal appearance (when considering the financial savings, health benefits, potential environmental benefits) then there is little hope for you, and choosing not to cycle is the least of your problems.

As for the argument about kids being bullied for wearing a helmet, if it is the law then there is no choice in the matter, and so bullies and everyone else has to wear a helmet. Kids don't get bullied for wearing helmets in Australia anymore, unlike when I was a kid growing up and helmets were optional. I would think that a law that encourages helmet wearing early in life and removes the social stigma is beneficial to the cycling cause.

The only time that this argument about helmets becomes valid is when discussing the uptake of bike hire schemes that exist in some European cities, and have now also come to Australia. The last time I heard, the trial of bikes in Melbourne Australia was not doing too well because you need to be carrying a helmet with you to use the bikes opportunistically, and instead have to plan ahead for the chance you might ride one of the bikes that day.

To use a similar logic to yours, instead of wasting so much energy rallying against helmet laws, put your energy into lobbying for better cycling infrastructure and education.

November 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGerald

Cycling is ALL about freedom! So is living! I am and have always been 100% against restrictions on the way I live. The main reason I left the UK and moved to the USA was in the hope that I could live my life the way I WANT, NO restrictions and 100% freedom. This country that I NOW a citizen of, is becoming a country FULL of restrictions, The goverment is now telling us how to live and act. Next they will be telling us when to go pee etc. Like the Harley rider in my prev post, IF he does NOT want to wear a helmet when riding his Harley, THAT IS 100% up to him, Same with cycling if you dont want a bloody helmet dont wear one, THIS IS FREEDOM, YOUR CHOICE. BUT the consequence of your actions are on your shoulders. Like riding on the roads, this is your choice. "Better to have lived and loved that NOT live at all" or something like that!

November 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGRUMPY Crump

@ Gerald - the question is what kind of protection those thirty-dollar helmets offer. Yes, they have to be certified by some agency, but what does that certification really mean? Snell tests helmets (not just bicycle ones) much more thoroughly and as you can see from the list of the helmets that actually pass their tests, there are few of them (www.smf.org) that pass and get Snell certified. Here in Canada you can also buy helmets for 30 bucks. I bought a Snell-certified helmet that cost 290 bucks. Just because you put a piece of styrofoam (or whatever material it is) on your head and that it has some kind of a certification stamp doesn't mean it's really helpful in real life.

November 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMicheal Blue

Michael, I can answer your question. Nowadays every helmet sold in the U.S. (not sure about Canada) must be compliant with a DOT standard that replaced ANSI. Snell is perceived by many to be a "higher" standard but in fact is just DIFFERENT Some tests are less rigorous than DOT, most are less rigorous than EU. Many non-Snell compliant helmets certainly WOULD pass SNELL, the manufacturers just chosse to not pay for the testing. Additionally, many Snell approved helmets would not actually pass the Snell test, although their "sample" did. Forty years ago when I started riding motorcycles off-road a popular sales slogan was "If you have a $20 head wear a $20 helmet." In fact, higher price does not generally buy you more protection. It buys better build quality, more comfort, better ventilation, more advertising, etc. The protection comes from the EPS, which is essentially identical. Little known is that memory foam is replacing EPS in modern helmets. Having seen the bicycle helmet progress from leather hairnet to vinyl hairnet to Bell Biker, Skid Lid, Giro, to that which is available today with QR buckles, dial-fit, headholders, etc. I can say that there is little reason to not wear a helmet nowadays, especially since so many people are willing to give you one if you can't afford one. I don't need scientific data. I've bounced my head off of pavement with and without a helmet and while EPS is no panacea against injury it sure helps. Having said that, the issue of making helmets mandatory is another kettle of fish.

November 8, 2011 | Unregistered Commentertonyd

Are some of these posters serious?!?! Actually arguing against helmet use?

If you fall off your bike and hit your head when doing so, which is possible, even probable, you're better off with a helmet than not. This is so obvious it's laughable. Regardless of what studies say about death rates, etc.. I've bounced my head off the ground before, as have many serious cyclists, and without a helmet, I'd be in a bad way today. If you are ride in traffic, you should wear a helmet.

But it's your choice. Enforcing mandatory helmet use for cyclists is heavy-handed and a poor use of scant societal resources.

November 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBig Mikey

@ Big Mikey - if what you're saying is true (about it being so obvious it's laughable), then in the Netherlands they should have a huge problem with head injuries, as almost nobody wears a helmet there and most people cycle. Yet their cycling is one of the most "problem-free" in the world (if not the most).

November 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMicheal Blue

Great piece. I'm a firm believer in wearing a helmet every time I ride, and credit mine for saving my life in a relatively slow speed fall.

However, they don't work miracles; just this last weekend two Southern California cyclists died wearing helmets, one in a high-speed fall on a steep descent, and another when she was hit by a car at 50 mph. In both cases, the impact speed far exceeded the design parameters of their helmets, which are only designed to protect at impact speeds up to 14 mph, and can do nothing to protect other areas of the body.

As you note, mandating helmet use will only mean fewer cyclists on the road, while making non-cyclists feel they're doing something to protect us — when what they really need to do is pay attention and pass safely.

November 8, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterbikinginla

"Not the same thing . . ."

. . . because seat belts save lives principally by preventing you from striking the inside of the car. Secondarily from preventing you from striking another occupant of the car (protecting the lives of others). Tertiarily by retaining you inside the car.

The entire seatbelt argument is bogus as the environment and physics of auto impacts are entirely different. Using it is an attempt to distract from the fact that motorists are not required to wear helmets, even though head injuries from striking the inside of the car despite wearing a seat belt is one of the leading causes of motorist deaths, as seat belts only work optimally when combined with a helmet and a HANS device.

November 8, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterkfg

"you're better off with a helmet than not. This is so obvious it's laughable."

So why don't car occupants and pedestrians wear them then? If there is no downsides to wearing a helmet then make them mandatory for everyone. Otherwise don't single out cyclists.

November 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTed

@Micheal Blue: Instead of playing devil's advocate, go ahead and state that you as an individual are not safer wearing a helmet. And see how silly that sounds. Just b/c a study can't prove the theory doesn't mean it's not true.

If you happen to fall off and bounce the side of your head off the road from 30 kph, you're going to wish you had a helmet on. It's pretty simple, actually.

November 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBig Mikey

Just b/c a study can't prove the theory doesn't mean it's not true.

Maybe, but I believe this is also where the idea of conventional wisdom comes from.

Proof is a pretty high bar. I'd settle for a decent correlation coefficient.

November 8, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterbystander

Proof is a bar theory cannot attain. A theory is a conceptual model of a system assembled from simple empirical facts, held together by the glue of reason. The model can be supported by noting how well it reflects that actual system, or it can be falsified by showing that either a fact or link of the chain of reasoning is faulty.

A model is always tested against the thing for accuracy. That's why it's a model. You cannot "prove" a Spitfire by holding up a Revel plastic model. The Spitfire is the referent for the model. The model can only be more or less faulty in the comparison.

The entire design, construction and use of helmets is based on a theory, and thus only valid so far as the theory fits the empirical data. If you think questioning the empirical data irrelevant or "laughable," well, then you're simply relying a theory of magic.

Please "prove" magic.

November 8, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterkfg

OK All this B/S about wearing a bike helmet. IF you are injured in a bike accident, helmet or not, WHO is going to take care of you? Most everyone has family of some kind. Do you NOT have an obigation to them as well as your bloody self to do all you can to NOT cause them more stress, than they all ready have?. Taking risks is part of every day life, driving a car, walking the dog, riding a bike, WHY OH WHY NOT protect yourself as much as you can? You owe it to your friends and relatives.

November 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGRUMPY Crump

Count me in on the no-mandatory helmet laws. They just discourage cycling. If you have a mandatory helmet law for cyclists then you must have a mandatory helmet law for motorists--automobiles, motorcycles, and trucks, etc. The head injury numbers for the motorized folks are in our favor.

That said. I always wear my helmet and I always have a spare at home. Why do I have a spare? Well, I've broken six helmets. I don't think a helmet has ever saved my life but a helmet has certainly saved me from a concussion several times. When I crash I seem to lead with my head. Your mileage may vary.

I hope to see my fellow cyclists out there wearing their helmets. However, their chance of suffering a head injury is actually pretty small. Let them ride hassle free. That or force everyone to wear a helmet. Let's start with the motorists and then move on to pedestrians, skateboarders, inline skaters, etc.

November 8, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterburnt

I think most people agree that a helmet won’t help you in a major crash. It provides some protection in low level, low speed crashes.
Most people here are not saying “don’t wear a helmet”. They are saying don’t wear a helmet just because you think it will really save your life. Mike has given some sensible reasons to wear one. The question is should they be mandatory? Mike fears that mandating use will deter people from taking up cycling. Is there any evidence for this? The huge increase in the sport and pass time in the UK in the last ten years has occurred with helmet wearing being the norm and is mostly due tot he success of the British team.

I prefer less intrusion from the nanny state and would prefer to let individuals make up their own minds.
Mike did you make your kids wear helmets?

I read somewhere that even at lower speeds helmets can make things worse. Wearing a helmet makes your head area bigger. So, when you fall your shoulders, which would normally take up the initial impact in some falls, don’t perform this role because your now larger head hits the deck before your shoulder.
I know I was glad (I think) that I was wearing one when my pedal spindle snapped as I was standing on the pedals and I hit the deck with my head striking the curb. I assume the helmet covered head absorbed the blow with less pain than an uncovered one. Who really knows?

November 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJW

I'm a former racer and although I no longer race, I've been a serious rider for the past thirty years or so. When I started riding in the late 1970's virtually no one wore helmets and that was accepted as the norm. As far as I know there is no new information about the causes and results of head injuries, but there has been a substantial shift in attitudes toward and increase in the use of helmets. This is only speculation on my part, but I would suggest that the change in attitudes regarding helmet use are perhaps due to marketing, peer pressure and possibly a desire to look like a professional rider.
I agree that helmets provide some degree of protection (more or less I don't know, not having studied the data); I disagree with forcing people to wear them, or harassing them when they don't. Should eating junk food be against the law? Why not force people to eat healthy diets, or force people who don't exercise to do so? These are two things which affect health, but I think it's safe to say there would be an outrage if laws requiring them were put into effect. Helmet use should be an individual choice, at least for adults. If you want to wear a helmet, more power to you; if you don't, ditto.
Mike Z, I would suggest you look up the meaning of the words "ignorance" and "stupidity".
For the record, I don't wear a helmet.

November 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJohn C

In the USA stats show that increased helmet use does not reduce fatalities compared to pedestrian injuries. Between 1986 and 2000 cyclist fatalities decreased slightly less than pedestrians. Graph at


I'm not saying that helmets don't give some protection. They do. Just not as much as some people believe and little enough that other factors like risk compensation and changes in driver behaviour outweigh the benefits.


Helmet wearing should remain a personal choice.

November 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTed

I believe very strongly in mandatory helmet laws. I agree that intelligent, responsible cyclist should be able to make up their own mind. I think we should cheerfully give up this right to force younger, less experienced riders, who are the most likely to benefit from wearing a helmet where one. Right now, they succumb to peer pressure, try to be cool, ride brakeless or single brake bikes with no helmet. A mandate to do so means they don't have to choose to do the right thing and be uncool, they can just say they do it because they have to.

It is more like mandatory helmet laws for motorcycles. Its one thing to tell a biker who has been riding safely for 30 years that he has to wear a helmet. But mandating their use means that the inexperienced rider with a brand new motorcycle (who is statistically, along with riders on borrowed bikes) the most likely to be in a fatal accident, does not have to make the choice to be cool or be responsible.

November 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLarry

I've witnessed the effect mandatory helmet laws have on cycling. You end up with sports cyclists in lycra on $$$ carbon racers. What the proponents who say forcing people to wear helmets is a good thing seem to fail to grasp is that riding a bicycle is a choice, if people are forced to wear helmets, only those who really want to ride will ride, the rest will throw their bikes away. The number of people who cycled in the small town I lived in (Nambucca Heads, NSW) after helmet laws were introduced could be counted on one finger. The local police chased down any non-helmeted cyclists and seemed to take great pleasure in handing out fines, until no cyclists were left apart from me. Prior to this many people slowly tooled around town on treadlies, road to the beach, rode to the shops. I bought a helmet to avoid the fines and police harassment - no one else seemed to, they just gave up riding their bicycles.

Certainly the, "its just common sense", "its laughable", "no helmet, no brain" trite homilies have no place in reasoned discussion. I am surrounded by helmet zealots and whenever a study questions the effectiveness of helmets they always rely on "don't baffle me with facts". It seems to be an article of faith that helmets must offer protection - after all they are helmets, specious to say the least. Surely if it was so cut and dry there would be a plethora of whole population timeline studies which would confirm the thesis offered by many case control studies that helmets provide huge benefit and thus every cyclist should be forced to wear one.

November 11, 2011 | Unregistered Commentercsk

"Right now, they succumb to peer pressure, try to be cool, ride brakeless or single brake bikes with no helmet."

So if they ignore the brakes law why will they heed the helmet law? In any case you are assuming helmets save lives. The evidence suggests they don't.

November 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTed

Dave, I'm an avid reader of this blog and I usually agree with most of your opinions, but your position on bike helmets I find unsustainable, rooted on prejudice and the ideas that were current back when you were racing, etc. I have not done any research, but I know for a fact that helmets can save your life or prevent serious injury, because in the two serious crashes I've had during my more than 20 years riding I've broken a collarbone, an elbow and I got all sorts of road rash, my head though has remained blissfully unscathed even though in both cases it hit the pavement hard enough that both Ubex helmets were toast. Had it been my head and not the helmet that absorb the hit, I wouldn't probably be typing this right now. The helmets did not prevent me from breaking bones though. Is that an argument against helmets? Kevlar vests won't protect you against a nuclear blast, but they can stop bullets, and that's pretty darn good. Riding bikes in a car world is dangerous: if seat belts are mandatory, so should be helmets.

November 11, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterahsere

This must be one of the most commented upon posts Dave has ever put up. Count me in the camp that always wears a helmet, but insists that it should be voluntary. And yes, I am one of those guys on a $$$ carbon bike. Is that a bad thing?

November 11, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterskylab

"I know for a fact that helmets can save your life or prevent serious injury, because in the two serious crashes I've had during my more than 20 years riding I've broken a collarbone, an elbow and I got all sorts of road rash, my head though has remained blissfully unscathed even though in both cases it hit the pavement hard enough that both Ubex helmets were toast"

I agree that helmets are a good choice if you crash regularly. Racers and competetive MTB riders may benefit from wearing them as they are more likely to crash. Also these types of crashes that don't involve motor vehicles are the type of crash a helmet might help.

I don't accept that a helmet saved your life though. Unless you care to repeat the crashes without wearing a helmet there is no way of knowing. It is very unlikely though. For most of the history of the Tour De France riders did not wear helmets and there were virtually no deaths. According to Wilkpaedia there has been four. One from drug induced heart failure, one drowning, and two other crashes in 1935 and 1995. The 1995 rider was presumably wearing a helmet which didn't save his life.


The chance of a cyclist being killed in a crash which doesn't involve a motor vehicle is close to zero. Helmets will not help much in crashes involving motor vehicles.

Even though I accept helmets provide some protection they do not save lives at a population level. There is no justification whatsoever for making helmet use mandatory.

November 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTed

I don't know about the statistics. I just know my own experience.

Three weeks ago, riding with my two sons, I was last in our paceline. An emergency stop and touched wheel sent me off the bike to the side. The result was a compound fracture of the humerus. As I lay on the ground, as I was transported to the hospital, and thereafter, I felt arm pain, but never any head pain.

Following surgery to add some screws and two plates, I returned home and saw my helmet where my sons had left it on my work bench. It was thoroughly scraped and deeply dented and the foam was crushed. Though I may have led my fall with my elbow, my head obviously made its own impression on the asphalt.

So, did the helmet save me from serious head trauma or did it not? I don't know for sure, though this experience suggests that it may have. Whatever the truth may be, when my arm heals and I'm back on the bike my new helmet will be on my head.

November 13, 2011 | Unregistered Commenteronomastic

I think this post started not as a discussion of effectiveness of helmets, but if people should be forced to wear them or not. So far the great majority of commenters, including the poster, says "no".

November 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMicheal Blue

I agree that we shouldn't enforce mandatory helmet use for adults. I ride with a helmet pretty much all the time. When I ride at work it is company policy and a perforrmance issue for our annual evaluation.

That being said, helmets are meant to provide protection from falls. They for the most part protect your head from serious damage that can occur should your head drop from 6 feet above ground. They will provide little protection if you should go into a post at 30 mph or get run over by a car.

I've had 2 spindles break off and have landed on my head in both cases. I don't remember anything from before the failure until some time after. Helmets severely damaged. Can't say how damaged my head would have been with out the helmets.

My wife has a friend who literally fell over just as she stopped her bike and her head hit a curb, sans helmet. No apparant damage. But she ended up out of school for 2 years with concussion symptoms. I think a helmet would have prevented that. That is the type of thing they are made for. You mileage may vary.

November 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRalph

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