08 May 2008

The Hierarchy of the Bike Helmet Empire

It's all clear to us now.
The Hierarchy of the Bike Helmet Empire
Click for a larger picture.

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Fakta om sykkelhjelm
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Anne said...

When NYC has a real bike infrastructure with an extensive network of separated lanes, I will gladly give up the helmet (worst "fashion" accessory ever).

While the current situation exists, where we are basically playing in traffic, the helmet will unfortunately stay.

Christina said...

As another US cyclist, I agree with Anne: a separate infrastructure must come first but it has not -- and may not. The oil and automobile interests are very powerful in this country so the vast majority of transportation funds are spent on roads (and not bike paths, public transit, etc).

In a cycling accident near my house a couple of years ago a car turned right, directly in front of a cyclist. When she fell, the car's rear wheel ran over her head. She had a cracked helmet but survived with neck and shoulder injuries.

Many drivers are inattentive and distracted, chatting on phones, texting, eating, drinking -- these are the drivers with whom we share the road when we cycle. I wouldn't go out there without a helmet.

Philboy said...

I'm an American cyclist also and I never ride without a helmet. I don't know if that is sensible or not but I really like Cycleliciousness's point of view; it ought to be a matter of personal choice instead of a matter of law. My own safety might or might not be affected but public safety isn't.

Der Geis said...

I am generally opposed to having helmets be mandatory for adults. That having been said, I think anyone who rides without a helmet is being unnecessarily foolish. I wear a helmet when I ride my bike. I wear a seatbelt in the car. I look both ways before crossing a street. I don't eat things that smell wrong. These are all reasonable things that people do to stay alive.

Green Idea Factory said...

Helmets say "cycling is dangerous". Car drivers see cyclists wearing helmets (when they don't have to, e.g. not in Australia, Lithuania or Bogota) and think "responsible cyclist" etc. and never consider driving slower than the speed limit. Media (in the USA at least) often mentions whether or not an adult cyclist is wearing a helmet in a reported bike "accident", even though this has no effect on the crash happening in the first place... well, actually I am wrong, a recent study showed that car drivers get closer to cyclists who are wearing helmets.

None of the cities/countries with high cycling modal share had anything like a "helmet phase" on the way to that.

Styrofoam is meant to live free and wild, not on your head.

Fonk said...

Why does it bother you Europeans so much that we (Americans) wear helmets? As much as you argue against it, you end up looking like just as much of a zealot as those who argue you can't ride a bike without one.

If you want to wear a helmet, wear one. If you don't, don't.

Peter said...

when i was out in California, i wore a helmet a lot. as soon as i came to Austin, i saw few people wearing helmets and realized that these were really two routes that diverged in the land of the yellow jersey. I went with the route less helmeted, and that has made all the difference.


Svend said...

If all people and animals wore helmets doing their everyday routine, a lives might be saved.

Anonymous said...

This is enough to convince me...


Anonymous said...

It is obvious to me that a helmet will protect your head in crash, but how you ride is the most important bit of safety. I acknowledge that are dangers to riding a bike, however, like the majority of the world's bike riders, I believe it is pretty low on the list. Call me foolish if you like, but every once in a great while I will eat a Big Mac & fries too. Styrofoam hats are really best suited to racing.

Just a guy that rides his bike around in the US.

Andy B from Jersey said...

NEWS FLASH!! Riding a bicycle at relaxed speeds is not dangerous! It's the damned cars that make going to the grocery store by bike a blood sport in the US.

Reluctantly, I wear a helmet nearly every mile I ride because cars have stained our streets with genocidal amounts of blood and I don’t want to be a statistic in the body count. I hate my damned helmet. It is a Crown of Thorns and a Scarlet Letter that our homicidal auto culture forces us to wear because we dare to be different and not follow the lemming in their shiny metal boxes. If I'm riding for speed then I wear my helmet without complaint but I shouldn't need it to cruise 1/2 mile down the street to get my Sunday bagel.

While I was out in Davis CA for a bike planning conference, people asked the local bike planners why they didn't push for more helmet use amongst the locals. The reply was simple. They didn't want to make cycling more inconvenient or scare people from riding their bikes because they knew that it is more important for safety to have more people cycling then to push helmet use and risk lowering the numbers of cyclists. After a week of riding around town I started to realize that Davis was an exceptionally safe place to ride a bicycle, similar to some of the best bicycle towns in Europe. So I left the helmet behind and for the first time in a long time I truly felt free while riding a bike. I had none of the guilt for riding helmetless that I feel when I do so back home in New Jersey because I knew what I was doing was perfectly safe. And it was the wonderful bike culture and city planning in Davis that made it possible for me to do so.

As long as we feel compelled to wear a helmet for even the most casual bike rides, we are not free as cyclists and we will not be living in a true cycle culture.


Gordon Inkeles said...

I've fallen twice in the past twenty five years. Both were low speed slip-outs; one in sand, one on a steep switchback. No cars were involved. Fortunately, I landed on my head both times and cracked open only my helmet.

I donated my second shattered helmet to my doctor, who placed it on a shelf in her waiting room.

Zakkaliciousness said...

There are few people who are anti-helmet. There are, however, many people who are 'anti-bad science', 'anti-manipulation of facts' and 'anti-freedom of choice'.

Helmets are a personal choice and should remain so, without misleading 'facts' presented by helmet advocates.

The main point is that bicycle helmet advocates use their strange form of peer-pressure to sell their gospel. They use select statistics, usually plucked from flawed scientific studies, instead of presenting citizens with science that shows quite a different picture.

The wool is pulled over peoples' eyes. There is no clear-cut evidence that helmets do what you are told they do.

Regarding cracked helmets, this is of interest - My Helmet Saved My Life - from the Bicycle Helmet Research Foundation.

These claims of "a helmet saved my life" are rarely based on science, only a percieved notion. This emotional blackmail that advocates love so much is dangerously misleading.

Andy B from Jersey said...

Gordon, riding a steep switchback is not casual riding! It sounds more like mountain biking and is not what I'm referring to.

I've been riding a bike regularly for over 30 years. I've had some good spills in my time and I have the scars to prove it but I have never hit my head. I know there is an element of luck involved in this fact but I believe that my skills have been more important in helping me fall properly so to protect my head.

That said I still wear a helmet on American streets because they are still WAY too dangerous.

Fritz said...

Anon 16:40 -- There's a world of difference between track racing at 35 mph and toodling to the corner store at 10 mph. Did Dale Earnhardt's death while racing convince you (or anyone else) to wear a head and neck brace while driving to work?

Juan said...

I'm not sure why people get so worked up about helmet use. I don't believe in helmet laws or seatbelt laws, but use both all the time. I don't see my bicycle helmet making me any less "free" than if I rode without it. Many of you say that these studies are misleading and dangerous, and that there really is no proof helmets help. I've broken several helmets, and maybe it's true that it's my "percepetion" that leads me to believe it saved my life, it's still what I believe. I love my helmet and wouldn't think of riding without it. If you don't want to wear yours....don't.

David said...

It is a myth that cycling is only dangerous because of auto traffic. It is also foolish to believe that good, experienced riders are somehow immune to crashing. If you ride a lot, over many years, you will occasionally be involved in crashes that are no fault of your own. I've ridden at least an hour a day for the past 30 years. I wear my helmet about half the time. 6 years ago, I was out of the saddle, sprinting hard up a hill when my right crank arm snapped in half. No traffic was involved, and I hadn't done anything wrong, but my head hit the cement curb so hard that it blew my helmet to pieces. I was on crutches for the next 6 weeks, but my head was OK. Of the 10 or so crashes that I've had over the years, about half were in races. Twice I was hit by a car. The others were strange, unpredictable situations like the one I've just described. This was the only time that I've ever hit my head, but I'm glad that I was wearing my helmet that day. If you ride a lot, you will eventually crash. When you do, a helmet MIGHT save your life, or reduce the severity of your injuries, and decrease your healing time. Or it might not. The seat belt analogy is a good one. You hope to never use it, but that one time you needed it you'll be glad you had it.

Zakkaliciousness said...

All of this is, quite simply, a choice between "belief" and "knowledge".

I was raised to appreciate and respect knowledge, especially knowledge that is based on fact and backed up by science.

The seatbelt analogy is weak. Science supports the effectivity of seatbelts whereas the case for bicycle helmets, made by helmet advocates, is suspect and misleading.

I prefer to know, rather than to fall victim to emotional blackmail and merely 'believe'.

David said...

I'm not aware of a lot of science that has been done to show that umbrellas actually keep you drier in the rain, but some things make common sense. I agree that wearing a helmet should remain a personal choice. I never wear a helmet on my daily commute, but I also realize that this choice puts me at a greater risk. I've decided that it's worth it. I'm all for freedom and personal choice, but from a position of responsibility rather than denial.

If in doubt, and lacking better science, one should conduct a personal test. Personalized research is often more meaningful. First, take a large wooden serving spoon and strike yourself hard on the head. On a scale of 1 to 8, with 1 being "not very painful" and 8 being "extremely painful," rate your personal perception of pain. Write this number down in column A. Next, put on your favorite helmet. Now, taking care to apply the same amount of force, strike yourself again. Using the same 1 - 8 scale, rate your perception of this experience. Write this number down in column B. To account for unavoidable variations in force applied, this entire procedure should be repeated at least 3 times. Next, add the numbers in column A. Then, add the numbers in column B. If the sum of column B is higher than the sum of column A, you should conduct additional research. If the sum of column A is higher than the sum of column B, you should consider this information when making the choice about wearing a helmet on your next ride. Unless you are very strong and very dedicated to this research, you probably will not achieve the structural damage to your head that you would with a typical head injury from a bicycle crash, so you'll need to be willing to extrapolate if this test is to have any personal value.

Zakkaliciousness said...

At least your comment was amusing. Thanks for that.

To reiterate... helmets should be personal choice. That's been said all along. What I object to is how helmet advocates manipulate the research and the statistics to reflect how 'dangerous' cycling is and how much 'risk' there is for 'life-threatening injury or death'.

The millions of people out there who are potential daily cyclists like the 100 million daily cyclists in Europe are not being convinced to ride because of this fear-mongering and false information.

I want them out there riding.

What do you find objectionable on the website of the Bicycle Helmet Research Foundation or elsewhere on similar sites? I'm interested to hear. What research do you choose to 'believe'? There is much science on the subject, surely you have an opinion about which studies you find credible and which ones you don't.

I agree with the wooden spoon analogy, though. In wooden spooning and in cycling you might get an 'ouchie'. That's why BandAids were invented.

Anonymous said...

I have never worn a helmet yet while riding a bicycle never will either I belive myself that it should be a personal choice. Same thing with motorcycles. Sure if I was riding a motocycle at greater speed then I will wear a full face helmet. But as stated I am lucky if I ride faster than 15mph usually I average around 10. I have fallen only twice myself got hurt once and not all that bad never hit my head and it was riding on a BMX track as a kid. I have ove 20 years of riding experince and ride every chance I get. Bu as I said there shouldn't be laws to force you to use one if you want to go for it but I feel safer and pay more attention with out one to my surrondings. My baseball hat is my helmet. Enough said

Anonymous said...

@David - with your spoon test you would presumably use this in determining whether to wear a helmet when walking as well (and round the house etc).

So assuming you decide that your test means you should wear a helmet when cycling, why would you not wear it when walking etc.

Cycling is seen as far more dangerous than it is. It is a perception of risk, rather then actual risk.

Many people seem to offset that perception of risk (fear), by wearing a helmet, which does very little if anything to change the risk of injury, but becuase that risk is so low, they feel it must have worked.