12 July 2008

Cycle Helmets and Other Religious Symbols

Here in Denmark there are currently two debates going on relating to headwear. One is the muslim headscarf and the other is the bicycle helmet. The similarities between the two debates are striking and not a little unsettling. Not least because Denmark is experiencing an unfortuanate wave of helmet promotion that is putting our wonderful, advanced bike culture at risk.

The headscarf, like other religious symbols such as the christian cross or the jewish kippah, is worn because of one's faith and beliefs. The individual wears such symbols in subservience to their god and in the sub-conscious hope and belief that this symbol will somehow protect them from evil, danger or what have you.

The bicycle helmet is also worn because of a belief that this polystyrene shell will protect the wearer from percieved inherant dangers involved in cycling, including serious head injury or even death.
Cycle Safe For Christ
Bumper sticker from International Safety Union for Cyclists

As an atheist – which is really just a silly word for those of us who prefer humanism over monotheism – I'm not a big fan of religious symbols or subservience. I am, however, a big fan of science, although I am not a scientist. I merely choose to seek answers in scientific research.

Science and god will never go for a bike ride together. They are two opposite poles in the human mind. God remains a belief, stronger in some than in others. It is quite the same for bicycle helmets. Science tells us what we need to know about them, and yet people insist on sticking to their beliefs that they are wearing a polystyrene, all-powerful halo that wards off all traffic evils and will ensure a long, healthy life.

To be honest, when I walk down the street or ride by bike through town I don't notice what religious symbols my fellow citizens are wearing, whether headscarves, burkhas or a cross on a chain. My life is too short to notice. They're just fellow citizens who are an integral part of my society. The same can be said of the occasional cyclist who rides past wearing a helmet. Just a regular young woman going to work or the supermarket or a nightclub. A young woman who falls in love, laughs and cries, pays her taxes. All the things homo sapiens do.

These regular people are harmless and they are important cogs in the societal wheel. They don't preach their respective beliefs to others. They just do what they want to do of their own free will.

Things become rapidly different when we look at fundamentalists. Regardless of religious leaning or the name of their god. The loud, vocal and arrogant mobs who want us all to be just like them and who look down at others for not having 'seen the light'. Sad, intolerant, individuals strengthed by the volatile shoutings of clerics.

Unfortunately, the bicycling world has its own fundamentalists in the form of bicycle helmet advocates. They are loud and intolerant and they reject science with the same fervour as they embrace their beliefs.
Freedom to Choose
Sticker from International Safety Union for Cyclists. A spoof site, but great all the same.

This was spotted recently on the internet. Not even as a spoof. Which kind of supports this article:


What started this train of thought was a recent email from a Copenhagenize reader in America who lamented the fact that he experiences nagging and bullying from other members of his bike club because he refrains from wearing the symbol of their beliefs – the bicycle helmet. I've recieved many other emails in this vein.

On occasion I ride with the local cycling club (of which I'm a dues paying member) to enjoy a long ride on rural roads and some vigorous exercise not afforded by my daily errands. I have never been able to enjoy a ride without at least two people nagging or trying to bully me into wear a helmet. Sometimes shadowy "club rules" are cited, but I've found no mention of helmets in my membership application and the application contains a liability waiver in case of accident. Even if bicycle helmets were effective at preventing serious injury the behavior I encounter would be considered rude by decent people. And in fact the behavior of the other club members is polite in every other regard.

The extra insult is the rudeness is accompanied by the presumption that I am an inexperienced and ignorant cyclist who just doesn't know better. I am new to this area, but I've worked in the bicycle industry for several years and I support my family with a bicycle business that I own.

I am aware of The Helmet Wars in other countries. BikeSnobNYC attended an event in NYC in which Jan Gehl, the legendary urban planner, was speaking about Copenhagen:

Trillin was followed by Jan Gehl, the Danish architect, who described how over the past 30 years Copenhagen has been transformed into a pedestrian paradise thanks largely to bicycle-friendly city planning. Gehl was charming, despite an inordinate number of lascivious asides about how much easier it is to gawk at women while riding a bicycle. (Then again, he does live in Copenhagen). The crowd ooh-ed and ahh-ed every time Gehl displayed another slide of a happy person biking in a pristine bike lane, or every time he cited a statistic showing how many people in Copenhagen ride to work. In fact, the only time they stopped sighing longingly was when Gehl off-handedly mentioned that because Copenhagen has no helmet laws people don't need to bother wearing them. Suddenly the audience was silent and you could hear people shifting in their seats uncomfortably. Apparently even the most progressive Americans are not ready to accept the concepts of freedom of choice or personal responsibility.

I've often wondered how I would react if someone mumbled ”where's your helmet” to me on the bike lanes of my beloved Copenhagen. I may be tempted to harbour thoughts of smacking them one, but that would be frightfully un-European. It isn't necessary to be aggressive because I know that the average Copenhagener just isn't aware of the facts. It just isn't cricket to smack the uninformed.

As mentioned at the beginning we are experiencing a spate of helmet promotion and we've never really had any helmet debate before, so it is understandable that the average Dane hasn't been presented with the facts. The only time we had some helmet promotion was back in the early 1990's and the number of cyclists fell sharply and drastically as a result.

I had hoped that we had learned from that regrettable mistake but then came a poster campaign from the Danish Cyclists' Union and the Danish Traffic Safety Board.

Fortunately, Denmark is, by and large, a rather secular nation. Only 7% of the population in Copenhagen go to church and the national level is 20% - most of the churchgoers live in rural areas and the church is more of a social club for the local area. Danes have a reputation for prefering to engage themselves in social activities and also for being well-informed and well-educated about their society and the world at large.

I am putting my money on this fact with regards to the bike helmet debate here. Because there has been a lack of information available to the public, Marie and I started a website called Cykelhjelm.org – in order to allow our fellow citizens to form their own opinions instead of merely being fed a handful of vague, but carefully selected stats from the public organisations seeking to create a doctrine on which the faithful can plant their new faith.

I know the vast majority of my fellow citizens will tackle the subject wisely. However, there are fundamentalists showing up on the radar. Facebook groups that preach the catch phrases they have memorized from the promotion campaign.

”It is common sense to wear a helmet!”

Common sense, in a modern society, is embracing the facts and learning about all aspects of the subject before forming an opinion.

”Strap on your helmet and avoid brain injury!”

The ability of bike helmets to protect against brain injury is questionable at best.

And so on. You know the drill. Emotional outbursts that brush science aside.

The organisations that were promoting bike helmets – Danish Cyclists' Union and The Danish Traffic Safety Board, among others - presented the public with one or two studies that 'prove' bike helmets save lives. Considering that fact that there are scores of scientific studies on the subject, choosing one, convienient study to base your claims upon is not that intelligent. Kind of like quoting 'thou shall not kill' from the bible, when the rest of the book is a cover to cover bloodbath. Such is the anatomy of propaganda.

The point of all this is that the vibrant and exciting Danish bike culture is under fire. It recovered from the destructive helmet promotion back in the early 1990's, coming back stronger than ever. Now our bike culture faces it's greatest challenge since the advent of the automobile age. Fear-mongering disguised as helmet promotion.
billions of kilometres
Safety in Numbers - respectable stats stand to fall
I am fearful that this fear-mongering helmet promotion will infest our bike culture. We already have the world's best cycling safety statistics, second only to the Netherlands, thanks to our separated bike infrastructure. A drop in cyclists, however, affects the Safety in Numbers concept, not to mention leads to increased illness due to lack of exercise. Branding a safe activity like cycling as dangerous, in a country that has enjoyed a century-long love affair with transport cycling, is going to send people into car showrooms in a flash.
Safety in Numbers
More cyclists, fewer serious injuries. We used to be proud of these stats.
It's times like these that I look admiringly to our friends in the Netherlands. The official helmet wearing statistic is 0% and 5% for children. The best safety stats on the planet. Here in Denmark we are at 11% nationally. For every percentage point that rises, the number of cyclists falls. I love bike culture too much to just stand by and let that happen.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have a bike culture to defend.


Cykelhjelm.org - In Danish.
The Bicycle Helmet Research Foundation

The Danish Traffic Safety Board [Rådet for Sikker trafik] In Danish.
Danish Cyclists' Union. In Danish.
International Safety Union for Cyclists
Fakta om cykelhjelm
Fakta om sykkelhjelm
Fakta om cykelhjälm


Anonymous said...

In St Louis, our cycling advocates preach helmet use and support VC, thus the political rights of cyclists and road respect are virtually nonexistent.

Advocacy organizations spend much needed funds on bike trails to nowhere as most cyclists are seen as recreational riders and not commuters... and so goes the bike culture.

Zakkaliciousness said...

What odd bed fellows; helmet advocates and those Vehicular Cycling people.

Malplaced money is always a problem. Spending money on helmet campaigns could be put into better infrastructure. Instead, the money spent on campaigns will reduce the number of cyclists and health costs will rise due to fewer people getting much needed exercise.

Christopher Johnson said...

The anti-evangelistic theme was rather humerous in light of your traditional closing remarks, "Copenhagenize the planet".

Zakkaliciousness said...

I like irony. Thanks for pointing it out. Although I don't sneer at cities that don't have bike lanes or at people who don't ride a bike.

Christopher Johnson said...

So true. It's one thing to be an advocate and try to gently persuade, and another thing to sneer. My apologies for misspelling "humorous".

Lord Peter said...

The thing that worries me about the helmet debate is that the playing field is not level: helmet manufacturers have a lot of money to put behind helmet campaigns, and there is, of course, a lot of money to be made if the government requires people to buy their products.

So its very important for helmet skeptics (I'm not really sure what the right term is) to get out there early and keep the camel's nose out of the tent.

Zakkaliciousness said...

indeed. The helmet manufacturers are especially looking to the EU's 500 million citizens - 100 million of them are daily cyclists - and are itching to sell helmets.

The big companies are silent about concrete scientific studies. They prefer to, as you say, finance lobby groups who can say what they please.

It's a brilliant system for profit and a horrible one for science and personal freedom.

Almafuerte said...

should be just a personal choice like it is here. I live in a small town so I don`t use helmet, but in Buenos Aires (Argentine capitol) you need more than a simple helmet, maybe a motorbike helmet and a gun (to kill some taxi drivers) ja ja. I think that in Cities like your, you don`t need it because you have a strong bycicling culture and cardrivers respect a bike passing by.

steven said...

If I lived in Copenhagen I wouldn't wear a helmet either. The appropriate infrastructure exists to make it reasonable to ride without one. However living in Seattle WA with some of the absolute worst drivers I have ever witnessed, and living previously in Chicago IL where motorists are routinely aggressive toward bicycle riders, my helmet is mostly worn as a symbol of my distrust of humans while they are piloting automobiles. I don't harbor any false beliefs that the helmet emits some force-field that protects me from harm. When you are in a warzone, you wear armor.

RJ said...

I came here to post exactly what Steven said. Sure, if I lived in a place with fantastic bicycle infrastructure- I might not bother to wear a helmet. But I don't. I live in the US. Ever seen the sticker, "I wear a helmet so that you can drive like an idiot"?

Also, while I would concur that bicycle helmet promotion can kill bike culture (which I don't want)-- I also feel uncomfortable that the "anti-helmet religion" if you will, is also guilty of making ME feel uncomfortable when I wear a helmet (akin to the opposite situation of making the non-helmet-wearer uncomfortable). When my head has smacked the asphalt, I was pretty glad that it was the helmet cracking, not me-- which did a good job of convincing me that my helmet worked in certain situations. So are you going to "bully" ME into NOT wearing a helmet? I fear that the "religion" can go both ways.

And I'm one of those "middle ground" people. ;)
Want to wear one? Go ahead. Don't want to wear one? Sure, fine. Just don't bully or make laws either way. Instead, put unbiased information out there for people to make the decision on their own.

Anonymous said...

Another rider in the US here, and I agree with Steven and RJ. I wear a helmet but I am certainly not under the illusion that it's "a polystyrene, all-powerful halo that wards off all traffic evils and will ensure a long, healthy life." In fact, I don't know anyone who believes this. I do, however, believe that wearing one is better than nothing.

Please stop with the sweeping generalizations.

Bethany said...

Here in BC, Canada you can incur a large fine for not wearing a helmet while cycling, or motorcycling. That said, though, I don't know how heavily this law is enforced with "pedal" cyclists. In my own community I see as made helmeted riders as not.

Wearing a helmet is probably not necessary on our rural roads. But, we also have a lot of trails which are, in some places, more like single track mountain bike trails, and a helmet does help in a collision with a tree. My daughter found this out on one trip, hitting a tree root the wrong way and sailing over her handlebars to smash her head against a tree. She was not "mountain biking", she was using the trail which was created alongside the main road for cyclists, pedestrians and horse riders. Much more pleasant to be on, until you hit a tree root.

What we should be doing is creating bike friendly cultures, instead of forcing people to wear helmets. Wear a helmet if and when you choose. No bullying, no propaganda.

stevo9er said...

I agree with the article and most of the following comments. There are times and places where a helmet really isn't needed. If you are cruising around safe areas, quiet streets, MUPs, and places with good infrastructure what is the point. But if you are driving in a busy US city with terrible drivers, no bikes lanes, etc you might want to consider a helmet. Either way it should always be a choice.

Anonymous said...

I'm wondering if you've seen this, at Dave Moulton's blog (US). He polled 700+ people via his blog, and in spite of the attitude that seems very prevalent among bikers in the US that it is their duty to admonish the helmetless, this group believes in choice. http://davesbikeblog.blogspot.com/2008/07/helmet-poll-result.html

Cyclingred said...

Aside from the debate about the effectiveness of helmets, I wonder if cycling is basically more dangerous in the U.S. than in places such as Copenhagen and The Netherlands. We are a very car obsessed culture and cyclists get very little regard.

That may not apply to all cities in the U.S. but I think it applies to most of them.

Anonymous said...

As an person who rides a bike to work everyday I can see both sides of the issue. But as a doctor who works in the emergency room, I lean towards wearing a helmet. I have worked on too many people who enter the hospital after an accident on a bicycle (some with cars, some on their own) and have severe head trauma. Now I know that not all of these people would be saved by a helmet, but I also treat many bicycle riders who come to the hospital after an accident who were wearing helmets and they often are still wearing their shattered helmets, strapped to a back board, with a broken bone and/or bad road trash on their face or elsewhere...with no head injury (or a minor concussion maybe).

So what you say? It's their choice? I agree, it is their choice to wear a helmet. But when my hospital is emptied of critical resources (doctors, equipment, money) because we have to treat a vegetable who chose not to wear a helmet, I feel bad for somebody who comes to the hospital for another life threatening problem and has to deal with diminished services. Hospitals don't have infinite capability, they don't have infinite money, and many people end up paying for these bicyclists either through taxes or higher insurance rates. A society PAYS for these head injuries one way or another, so don't try to pretend that it's purely an individual choice. Perhaps if you choose to not wear a helmet you should also have a note that says, 'don't spend any excess resources on me because I don't want others to pay for my decision to not wear a helmet.'

So go ahead and don't wear your helmet, but when it comes time to treat you for a major head trauma, please don't complain if we put you at the back of the line...it was your choice to go there.

Anonymous said...

ps - I love your website, your push for slow cycling in the clothes you wear to work and I'm very envious of the wonderful city you live in with it's fantastic bicycle friendly infrastructure.

And agree with many other posters that perhaps helmets aren't as needed there as they are in other places. But do you choose to wear a seat belt?? I see the decision as very parallel. They do prevent injuries, they reduce health care costs for society and they're really not that big of a deal.

Thanks for the great website(s)!

stevo9er said...

The amount of people getting in cycling accidents pales in comparison to the amount of people becoming obese/diabetic/just plain unhealthy. Maybe if some of these McDonald loving fatties got on bikes helmet or no helmet, we could reduce some healthcare costs.

Lord Peter said...

9:28, you might want to read some of the studies on the effectiveness of bicycle helmets (Wikipedia's entry is a decent place to start). There is a very important difference between seatbelts (and motorcycle helmets) and bike helmets. Seatbelts and motorcycle helmets have been clearly shown to reduce injury. Bike helmets have not; in fact, the most reliable studies show that they have no effect on serious injury. (I.e., after they were made mandatory in Australia, the number of cyclists went down and the injury rate did not change. Despite the fact that many more bikers were wearing helmets.

The reason for helmet's ineffectiveness is pretty clear - in order to make helmets that people will wear, they had to make them so light that they provide no real protection. (FWIW, if a helmet breaks it is *not* working as designed - it has failed and consequently provided no protection to the wearer - there is a link to a discussion of this on the wikipedia page, if you are interested).

I used to wear a helmet all the time when I biked, even when I lived in Europe. I stopped not because I wanted to trade freedom for safety, but because I became convinced that bike helmets provided no safety benefit. Or, to tie into Zack's original post, no more benefit than would be provided by carrying a crucifix around.

Mr Bascombe said...

I've been riding all my life - in Australia. I've crashed 3 times - all whilst wearing a helmet. Each time I've hit my head (!), twice VERY hard. Each time the helmet has broken, absorbed the impact, saving my head and maybe even my life - and keeping me out of hospital. Ride without one and you obviously don't particularly value your brain. I never ride without a helmet. What's the big deal? The newer ones are even cool-looking...

Zakkaliciousness said...

A Helmet Saved My Life.

2whls3spds said...

Scientific Proof! that helmets work; I have yet to see any type of comprehensive study proving or disproving the effectiveness of bicycle helmets. They also have NO performance testing standard that mimics real world crashes, unlike safety belts and air bags.

I can provide documentation that seat belts cost lives, cause severe injuries and trap people in burning cars. However! these are in the minority...just like the "evidence" that bicycle helmets positively always save lives.

There are hundreds of other examples of risky behaviour that are much more likely to cause death and at a much higher statistical rate than wearing/not wearing a bicycle helmet. Smoking and driving while impaired are two that come to mind. Showers and stairs are very dangerous places too ;-)


2whls3spds said...

misplaced "and" in the previous post. Should read smoking OR driving while impaired...


whatcould said...

Thank you for the terrific article.

Previous commentators are on the money in that the USA is a different ballgame. With many fewer riders on the road, worse road conditions (minimal bike lanes, etc), and more angry drivers, helmet use might be an unfortunate necessity.

But here in the USA, the unfortunate effect of helmet-wearing on commuters and athletes seems to be a large increase in testosterone levels. The increased feeling of safety, combined with a feeling of identification with professional cyclists (which is magnified by awkward pedals and gawdy jerseys advertising cable channels or Wheaties) seems to make them bike through city streets at ridiculous speeds, giving a bad name to cyclists in general, making other commuters less likely to join them, and making it infinitely more likely that they cause a serious accident.

I rarely notice cyclists without helmets performing such testosterone-induced antics. It may follow that banning helmets would lead to an increase in low-testosterone biking and therefore an increase in cycling safety generally.

Jen said...

It seems a bit inappropriate to compare bicycle helmets to the hijab, don't you think?

Philboy said...

Zakka, you are the best bike culture guy there is, but as a religious philosopher you are no better than the next guy. You should stick to bike stuff.

On the helmet issue we should all stick to the main point that helmet use shouldn't be a legal requirement. I think thats where you started out before so many started arguing about their own opinion about a helemt's value.

Alexandra said...

So many comments here just make me want to cry.

-- happily riding in DC w/out a helmet

Jerry said...

You had me until you imply that anyone who believes in science can't truly believe the Bible. Makes me wonder if you did any real research on either subject.

Riding Miss Daisy said...

Helmet use shouldn't be mandatory (but I don't see what the problem is).
I'd also like to get one thing straight... I have an accidnt, bang, scrape my head (eek - blood!)... and my head will be worse off in a helmet(!?) Man, you guys drink funny juice in Copenhagen!

myyearonline said...

isn't the problem that you are extrapolating population studies back to individuals and their very different behaviour? in genetics the overall risk of developing a particular disease in a given population can be completely different from that of an individual once their genetic background is known.

the most informative study would be the same rider, the same bike, the same behaviour and the same accident, twice over: once with and once without a helmet. anyone?

The Grimp said...

The helmet debate is hilarious. Or it would be if it weren't so sad. There are so many misconceptions, and in particular people hold their beliefs like religious beliefs, inaccessible to logical argument. There is a "discussion" on bikeforums.net that has been going since 2005. In it you can see all the same arguments, rehashed over and over again; sometimes the same things are said by different players.

For me, the most irritating thing about the helmet debate is that it is a fig leaf; some people feel that once all cyclists are wearing helmets, then no more needs to be done to make them safe.

In reply to the nameless "doctor who works in the ER", I look after brain injured patients, and I've seen far more patients in this situation after car accidents or as pedestrians, both of which carry a greater risk of severe head injury than cycling. None of them were wearing helmets either- so by your logic, perhaps they should be denied treatment. Your logic is not only flawed, your approach that blames the victim is profoundly unethical.

Cian said...

In reply to the doctor...

Here's the views of a UK Accident and Emergency doctor who is - unlike you - named...


In reply to those who think "it's different in my country", the University of Bath has published research to suggest "wearing a helmet puts cyclists at risk"...


Ekhi said...

Here in Seattle, the helmet cult is very powerful. The county government encourages people to send their "Save-by-the-helmet" story as you can see here:


It's not even a religion, it's a cult. If you are not with them, you are against them.

Anonymous said...

In Australia, the law compels you to wear a helmet. I too have hit the road head first, and been grateful for a helmet, and feel unsafe without one. In our culture, you can't approach cycling as a casual "hop on your treadly and off you go" kind of thing, because there are just too many large steel objects rushing past.

I've done work with head-injured people too, and it is an appalling thing to contemplate. But it leads me to an opposite conclusion. It would be bloody good if we insisted that people in cars wear a light-weight helmet.

Then again, I think that all cars should be bright orange and covered in soft rubber...

- barista

BeBe Blazfemi said...

My husband and I live in Philadelphia and recently got bikes. I had NO idea about the helmet controversy, but wasn't planning on wearing one.
Out of curiosity as to why people do or don't, I posted a thread on a local forum.


After this, my husband and I really looked into the science and realized the TRUTH.
Read the forum, some great posts there from the magic helmet worshippers!
(aka "sugarcoma")

Mike -NYC said...

Big fan, but I have to ask - were you feeling lonely? You should know that the great helmet debate is bound to stir up a lot of conflict. I ride in NYC, usually helmetless mainly because it's damn uncomfortable and I'm not completely convinced of its magical abilities. I doubt you'll have much to worry about looking at the safety statistics, why would someone want to bother with a helmet when they're used to riding unemcumbered? Viva the Slow Bikes!

SteveL said...

I'm a great fan of choice too, though offroad I believe in helmet, reinforced gloves, shin guards and elbow guards. So my bike gets damaged instead.

Onroad, it's a controversial story. The bath study also explored our city -Bristol- and showed that when you wore a helmet, vehicles drove closer. A good argument against them. Yet earlier this month in oxford, I
came across the results of a bike-on-road fall

Andy B from Jersey said...


Are you sure that website International Safety Union for Cyclists (come on "I-SUC") isn't a joke?? Do you know the connotation for "I suck"??

Plus the description of the people includes line like "he works at a law firm that represents large corporations like Tech Chemicals and she, too, is an upstanding member of her community," and (I really like this one) "Robert is well-known from the tv commercials in which he stars, promoting his car dealership - The SUV Showroom."

If the head injury folks were really serious about reducing head injuries they would be advocating the use of helmets for car drivers and passengers. Statistics have shown that this strategy would be the most effective way to reduce brain injury since most people who get brain injuries were IN the car!

But this would never fly since the car lobby is just too powerful and wouldn't stand for it. Bikes however are another story...

Anonymous said...

The doctor and others remind me of a recent debate in the UK, where the nanny-state zealots are currently being reined in, in various facets of life, by a public sick and tired of having their lives curtailed (village fetes cancelled through lack of funds to carry out huge risk assesmants etc).
A couple of years ago, an MP tried to force through a compulsion bill in parliament. The opposition (including our great national org, the CTC) came up with some interesting studies, which showed that even if the most damning of the helmet indutry stats were true, and which ever way you tried to skew the stats, the results would ALWAYS come out that, for every life saved by cycle helmets, you could save ten or twenty by compelling car drivers and passengers to wear helmets.
Bear that in mind as a neutering tool for the zealots - it shuts them up straight away! (Except the helmet industry of course, who would love helmets to be compulsory for every living being on the planet 24/7).

Anonymous said...

I fail to see how wearing a helmet is that much of an inconvenience. Admittedly, when I first started wearing one about 10 years ago i found it cumbersome and the feeling of something sitting on my head was a bit odd. A few weeks later I really didn't find it a problem at all. The weight of polystyrene is hardly anything and the way that the new harnesses work, it's not even that difficult to adjust a helmet so that it fits comfortably and securely.

The only reason i can think of is plain vanity. A helmet might mess up your hair and make you look like a goof while you're wearing it. Seriously, grow up guys.

In the event that you have a crash that involves your head coming into contact with something, how can a thick layer of polystyrene not to anything at all to protect you. It will at the very least protect your skin. Some of the modern sylish helmets are full of holes and use a harder form of polystyrene which is less able to collapse to absorb an impact. I personally avoid these :)

Also, people that haven't fallen off their bike much as adults usually don't realise how easy it is for your head to hit the ground.

I am in favour of choice though. I just chose to wear a helmet and would advise others to do so. But if they don't want to, i won't push the subjuct.

Zakkaliciousness said...

vanity? that's odd how you can generalise and call almost 100 million daily cyclists in Europe for vain.

grow up? how about you actually reading the science instead of preaching fear-mongering? Here's a good start on your education

Anonymous said...

Hey, just look at all those posts from people who landed on their skull at 30 kph without a helmet and didn't get a scratch!

Oh wait, they're dead.

Zakkaliciousness said...

Hey look at the fundamentalist who can't understand science and chooses to quote propaganda! You are the Taliban Man.

Zakkaliciousness said...

The funny thing is that a helmet is only designed to protect the head from cuts, bruises and possible concussion in solo accidents under 20 kph.

So all the people who were going 30 WITH a helmet, as the Taliban mullah above refers to, are more than likely dead, too.

Anonymous said...

Interesting. You certainly seem to be hitting the nail on the head here. I'm glad those helmets aren't yet religious symbols here in Germany.

I must note however, that the people NOT wearing a helmet seem to be just as ideological as those who do. "I found the TRUTH".

What about the science, though? The data you present are only correlational. We don't know whether not wearing a helmet leads to more people cycling or whether it's the other way around. In any case, there seem to be large effects of the countries involved. And it seems logical that if you are the only person in your city riding a bike, you are in more danger than someone with a large number of cycling friends.

If I promise not to be evangelical, can I keep wearing my helmet?

Anonymous said...

While wearing a helmet may or may not save your life or prevent serious injury (which seeing as it's "just a lump or polystyrene" it may well not), here's a simple experiment to try.

Put on a helmet and bang your head against a wall lightly and then slowly increase the force with each hit until you consider the force hazardous. Then repeat the experiment without a helmet and compare the difference.

I'm not against people choosing not to wear helmets because they beleive that it won't save them from serious injury. I merely question this anti-helmet rhetoric that trys to convince people that helmets have the same protective qualities as a headscarf.

What anti and pro helmet zealots need to realise is that unless data is completely one sided, it can usually be manipulated to give whatever "conclusion" the analyst requires. This goes for both the companies that claim they work as well as those that claim otherwise.

Zakkaliciousness said...

helmet advocates sell helmets.
bicycle advocates sell cycling.

but yours is a good idea. let a swimmer swim out to sea wearing a lifevest for four hours.

then let them swim out to sea without a lifevest for four hours.

the conclusion, with your logic, will be that we should immediately start to advocate compulsory lifevests on all beaches and in all swimming pools.

Anonymous said...

In your haste to defend your anti-helmet sentiments you have missed the point of the experiment.

The point is that you only have to tap your head quite softly to feel the difference between knocking your head against the wall and knocking the helmet. This is somewhat different to suggesting that someone go and swim continuously for 4 hours.

I haven't said that helmets should be compulsory either, in fact quite the opposite. That was an assumption that you made. I only wish to say that wearing a helmet can provide some degree of protection when a head collides against something. Surely you're not going to argue that the helmets provide no protection at all?

Cian said...

But you said: "and then slowly increase the force with each hit until you consider the force hazardous".

Zakkaliciousness said...

i apologise for the assumption.

Regarding no safety benefits at all, here's a rather telling quote from a solicitor who has worked on over 2000 cases involving cycle helmets in the UK:

"What evidence does exist makes it clear that cycle helmets are only tested to offer protection in some pretty limited, low speed circumstances. Of course your helmet will be scratched and marked if it hits the deck – try dropping it from only a small height with a bag of flour in and you'll find it doesn't take much. And certainly, if your head does hit the deck (which is by no means certain in my experience), it will probably save you from some cuts and bruises. But please don't assume that this slight piece of coated polystyrene saved your life."

I don't really need to argue... it's easier to refer to people who have done the research and/or deal with the subject on a daily basis. It's quite telling that no British judge has ruled that helmets protect against serious injury and/or death. And this is in spite of an army of experts from both sides of the fence presenting their expertise in courts.

Zakkaliciousness said...

well spotted, cian.

Anonymous said...

I suppose i could have chosen a better word, but personally it doesn't take very much head hitting for me to consider it "hazardous". As soon as it starts to hurt, i'd say that was at least a little hazardous. Really, i'm serious, go and try it later on. You'll find it only takes quite a light tap to cause quite some discomfort.

I have read some of the cyclehelmets.org site and to be very frank, i was not that impressed. Maybe it's the very obvious intention of the site to dismiss the use of helmets, that makes it hard for me to read the articles as impartial (even if they are actually impartial)

There are also instances of the same sensationalism as in the pro-helmet literature. For example the site proclaims that "TRL confirms helmets may increase severity of injuries", where in fact the paper's abstract says that their own conclusion was "Overall, it was concluded that for the majority of cases considered, the helmet can provide life saving protection during typical linear impacts and, in addition, the typical level of rotational acceleration observed using a helmeted headform would generally be no more injurious than expected for a bare human head. However, in both low speed linear impacts and the most severe oblique cases, linear and rotational accelerations may increase to levels corresponding to injury severities as high as AIS 2 or 3, at which a marginal increase (up to 1 AIS interval) in injury outcome may be expected for a helmeted head."

I will read on with interest, and as ever I am open to having my opinions changed if i am convinced to do so. As i am yet to see conclusive evidence either way, I will go on with my particular version of "common sense" :)

Zakkaliciousness said...

what is important to remember is who is doing what and why.

the bike helmet industry and the sports gear industry would like you to wear a helmet, for obvious reasons. the automobile industry is active in helmet promotion, namely FIA. it is in their interest that you wear a helmet. branding of cycling as dangerous is good for sales.

almost all helmet promotion has, at its root, financial interests.

what possible financial interest is there to be against bike helmets? the bicycle helmet research foundation consists of a dull, dry panel of dull, dry doctors, scientists and researchers.

they have nothing to gain from their conclusions. no multinational corp finances their efforts or lines their pockets.

is it possible that instead of 'bias' their conclusions are close to the truth? merely because the science they analyse that promotes helmets is faulty and unreliable?


Anonymous said...

Having just visited Copenhagen, and I have been visiting for the last 20 years, I too fear helmets may be taking off their. What a shame.Dayglo jackets could be next.
In general the Danes do have a tendecy to follow fads an fashions. I have seen many over the years. I paticulary dislike the Cycle Helmut which makes everyone look like a Nazi Storm Trooper

Anonymous said...

I think all these people that are always falling and are saved by their helmets have a few things in common. They ride road bikes with very narrow tires. They ride as fast as they can. They are clipped to their pedals. The people that aren't always falling off their bikes ride with wider tires, ride slower, and aren't attached to their pedals.

Adrienne Johnson said...

Why is no one here talking about saving their heads by using safe bicycling practices? Emergency stopping, bunny hopping out of pot holes, recognizing and avoiding blind spots in cars, keeping out of the door zone, having working brakes (!!!!!!) and using them...

I have witnessed 3 accidents involving cars and bikes in the last 4 months. Every one of them involved a car driving reasonably being impacted by an out of control rider on a 'fixie' with no brakes. All of these accidents were avoidable and none of them would have ended better with a helmet.

Bike riders have to take responsibility for themselves and stop using cars as the reason that they suspend the use of reason and skill in exchange for the 'protection' of a helmet. Using the argument that the U.S. does not have good infrastructure does not hold up- as riders we can choose our routes, when we ride them and how much attention we pay to the rules of the road (this is how I get through 12 miles of heavy urban commuting every day, without a helmet).

We all need to grow up about this. Wear one or don't, just learn how to ride your bike and let others do the same.

Anonymous said...

Riding Miss Daisy: In Copenhagen they know how to ride without hitting their heads on things. You might try drinking some of that juice.

Grimp: Bless you, Sir.

Anon: I actually tried your test against a rough hewn stone wall (using a helmet about to be retired anyway). Overall comfort was greatest with a bare head until impact levels got high. Really. Injury level was the same in both cases. None.

Quite frankly I'm not sure you know what helmets are for or how they go about trying to do that. They're about brain damage, not pain, bumps or abrasions.

Greatest comfort and least "injury" in this test was obtained, however, with a simple knit wool beanie.

In my opinion a high quality felted wool hat (such as a Stetson or Akubra) sized to fit a wool beanie under it and adequately secured will provide just as much protection as a bicycle specific helmet.

Disclaimer: I have been wearing a hardshell bicycle helmets since before there even was such a thing and was the first licensed racer in NYS to roll up to the line wearing the first hardshell Bell helmet: and got shit for it at that (funny how religious fundamentalism is so changeable).

I am anything but anti-helmet; but I am anti-religious fervor. I'm not terribly fond of Nerf(tm) wrapped society either. For most people, most of the time, a helmet provides no safty advantage - and there are other means of achieving the same or very similar levels of protection than a helmet.

The people who seem to feel that "OMG! You're going to die!" about non-helmet wearing aren't "safety conscious," they are obsessive neurotics.

And quite possibly witch hunting little fascists as well.

Begone, the lot of you. The rest of us have lives to lead.

Zakkaliciousness said...

what a great comment... :-)

Anonymous said...

It is perfectly possible to believe in God and to believe in science.

Dr. Katherine Jefferts-Schori, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church/USA, for example, also has a Ph.D. in Marine Biology; she is far from the only religious scientist on the planet.

But, to get back to the topic at hand, look at this article:


Now, do I believe that a helmet will make a cyclist invincible? Of course not!

Do I believe that wearing a helmet is the be-all and end-all of safe cycling? Of course not!

But wearing one's helmet is an important part of safe cycling; I, for one, don't like the idea of my skull or little niece's skull bouncing on the pavement without some sort of protection.

Zakkaliciousness said...

So if you follow your own logic, do you wear face protection gear, too? your face is part of your head.

Do you wear protective gear on your arms and legs?

Do you wear your helmet when walking or driving? Pedestrians and motorists are far more vulnerable to head injury.

Most importantly, do you wear a lifevest when in a swimming pool or just hanging on the beach? Just in case?

Just looking for the logic.

Anonymous said...

Zak : You're a man of science? You're a nitwit with a lot of time on your hands. You need to go to school.

Mikael said...

ah, the sad little internet troll raises his petite tête once again. you're so cute.

Anonymous said...

anonymous's true self?: he/she finally got to the barbwire...
"Zak : You're a man of science? You're a nitwit with a lot of time on your hands. You need to go to school."...
anonymous is the peep w/alot of
time on their hands... many comments were left by anonymous, which took alot of time on their hands... unless they had a stenographer... did anonymous have a stenographer or did they happen to have alot of time on their hands... time, time, time, is on my side

anonymous should be thankful Zak has "a lot of time on your hands"... using his time dueling your DA comments

all have their outlook and that's it... none is going to 'change' their view of whatever they view...

society, keep your view out of my view... but you won't... the West has become a nanny state since socialism has been
giving 'something for nothing'...

if laws indeed are enacted, like some places and if you really want to protect your head, you can choose to bypass the bicycle helmet industry by using a motorcycle helmet, full-face, half-face, half-helmet(like HD bikers use)... it's ok with bicyclists if motorcyclists are required to wear those big 'ole helmets and not bicyclists?... all depends on who's ox is being gored...

the object is to protect the head?... a moto helmet protects the head way better than a bicycle helmet... watch they
don't mandate using a moto type helmet anyway...the sky is not the limit as to what laws can/will be enacted upon us...

and if you can, dump the four wheels, get a moto... then, you'll have a vehicle that uses no fossil fuel, one that uses small amounts of it and a one helmet for both... but you won't, you'll think a moto helmet would look funny on a bicycle...
tkx... have a good day

amigosito said...

Fascinating post, thank you for point me to it. Obviously your encounters with helmet-zealot conformists has shaped your opinion in a very interesting way. But might I suggest that your own evangelism is as dogmatic as that which you purport to combat? As Mark Twain once proclaimed, "there are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics." And just what is the source for your statistics? And did you cross-reference the number of motor vehicles to the number of cyclists? Or the availability of bicycle lanes in the countries used in your dataset?

I don't like being nagged any more than you do. People need to mind their own business. But I think you're being a bit myopic in your assessment that helmets are simply an artifact of a fear-mongering military-industrial complex.

Cian said...

amigosito, you're correct.

Helmet use and promotion is not simply an artefact of a fear-mongering industrial.

Use and promotion also depends on unquestioning people and government. People who are unwilling and/or unable to question anything in the name of safety.

Just a cyclist said...

Cian, I guess that some people are more programmable than others. So then its quite funny to see how the more programmed ones are taking on the roles of rebels on this site.

Anonymous said...

Hey, enough already with the anti-religious sneering. Let's see some tolerance, please. ;-) To quote: *[N]o more benefit than would be provided by carrying a crucifix around* - nothing wrong with that, especially if it's been blessed. I ride a bike, live in the USA, and wear a crucifix - I don't see any contradiction.

I normally wear a helmet but chose not to wear one the day I got into an accident with an idiot uninsured motorist and got pretty banged up. The crucifix (via God's grace) protected me from broken bones and getting my teeth knocked out. My bike was totalled, however. So, yes, I'll most likely wear a helmet from now on, even tho' I didn't suffer a closed head injury from not having worn one the day of the accident... I believe I was lucky this time. I was brought to the local ER (where I am interning as a student!) and everyone kept asking me why I wasn't wearing a helmet. I agree with the Anonymous ER Doc's post... it's our choice, but extra head armor helps in a society dominated by motor vehicle users. I've seen a lot of closed head injuries and I don't want to go there myself.

Please everyone, get over your fear of people who have religious beliefs... especially any fear of Christians. A lot of us ride bikes too. Peace.

Just a cyclist said...

Dear christian anon. Just like with helmet use, you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who angrily oppose your practicing of your religion. As with any religion, the problems arise mostly when the propensity of spreading the belief is felt. Religion by the way, is a source of hope at times of weakness and fear, or, all to often, it is mostly based on fear (parallels may be drawn to the issue at hand).
I am myself of the belief that cyclists are alredy more blessed than most of the "idiot uninsured motorists" and don't feel that they are in need of any more blessings than those who choose the car.
Now go and pray that more people choose the bicycle instead.

tom said...

I would just like to say this. Take a bicycle helmet in your hands and push it very hard against the street sliding it along the surface for a meter. Then take a look at the helmet all scratched up. Then have a friend hold your head against the same surface and perform the same procedure. Then have your friend drive you to the hospital for medical treatment. Don't tell me a helmet doesn't give a substantial amount of protection even with a light face plant to the street. I'm not saying it will protect you from death if your involved in a collision with a vehicle or the road in the country side,But it will work. I want to keep my head and face just as they are. At that end I also believe you should be able to make up your mind without anyone telling you you must wear one.

Mikael said...

if i had a euro for everytime i've heard that one...

what you don't mention is how helmets have an unfortunate ability to turn a simple lateral impact into a rotational impact... which is the kind that causes brain damage.

nor do you mention that helmeted cyclists have a higher risk of getting into an accident, as reported by the Norwegian Transport Economic Institute.

Then there's the increased chance of neck injury.

Nobody's saying that a helmet won't save you from non-life threatening injuries. Not at all. It's just fair to the debate to mention the scientific studies that tell a different story than the usual propaganda.

tom said...

Are you a helmet wearing type?

Mikael said...

i assume you're being funny, tom. i'm the guy who wrote the post. :-) so no, i'm not a helmet wearing type.

tom said...

Actually I didn't notice. It is a good article,and of course it will bring up all kinds of rebuttals. I wear a helmet when I ride my bicycles,I just feel safer, and It is required to wear a helmet when I ride my motorcycle. I have seen helmets destroyed, only motorcycle helmets though and the people who wore them did in fact still get beat up pretty good but the one in particular still looks as fine as ever. When I looked at that helmet and how pretty she still was I am sure the helmet did it's job.

Anonymous said...

I'm an American cyclist and I wear a helmet, but I race, bomb down trails, and ride as fast as I can. Regarding helmets, look at the crash of Jens Voigt in this years Tour De France. The helmet saved his life, but he was going over 45 miles per hour down a mountain. It doesn't matter to me if you wear a helmet or not. However, if you don't and you turn your brain to mush skidding your head on the blacktop tell your family ahead of time to pull the plug on you ASAP. I don't want my insurance rates going up or pay one extra dollar in tax because YOU chose to not wear a helmet. If you choose not to wear a helmet don't continue to be a selfish bastard when you're a vegetable lying in a hospital bed sponging off the rest of us!!!

Mikael said...

so you have no problem with 42,000 dead motorists in the US every year? or the couple of hundred thousand people who are injured in car accidents and 'sponging' off you because they require hospital care?

what a sad outlook on life.

helmets aren't even designed to save lives.
jens voigt hit his face. how did you manage to 'prove' the helmet saved his life when nobody else in the world can?

you've been brainwashed. sad but true. and you are basically a poster child for the point of the above post.

so thanks for that! i like being right.

Ben Wilson said...

Hi, I'm a New Zealander, living in Auckland and I tend to agree with much of what you've said here.

Helmets are compulsory here, but they were not when I was a child. Children who did wear them were usually ruthlessly mocked. I did not mock, but I did not wear one either, seeing them as ugly, uncomfortable, and unnecessary.

My bicycle usage was purely for transport - I rode to school, to friends, and with friends on long excursions, and I used it for work, delivering papers. I was not a sport-cyclist, though, I did not 'train'.

New Zealanders are sports fanatics. I have a funny feeling that the eventual seizing of power by the compulsory-helmet advocates gained a lot of traction from the tight association made between cycling and sport, rather than the actually far more common usage of transport. The most high profile cyclists are always sportspeople, decked out in fluorescent lycra bodysuits and helmets, on $10,000 bikes, covered in sponsorship endorsements.

These are also the most 'visible' cyclists on the road, too, as they move in large packs, they get in the way of traffic (Auckland has very underdeveloped cycling infrastructure), and you just notice people who are doing something as puritanical as hardcore cycling training, their odd gear, their faces clenched in pain, their bums high in the air, their insistence on trying to compete with motor vehicles at every opportunity.

To me this is actually lamentable. I have no problem with people who want to pursue that sport, but I have little interest in it myself, but I still love cycling. I don't think that the whole way cyclists are allowed to operate should be dictated by the few people who cycle in the most dangerous way possible (in which wearing headgear is probably sensible). Sport cyclists are tired, they are in a hurry to stick to their training schedule, so they are impatient, they have the lightest bikes with the thinnest tyres, and they always go on the road because they want to go fast. They wear very thin clothing to avoid getting too hot. They are pushing every safety boundary there is in cycling.

Contrast that to my own cycling habits - I ride slowly, under total control of my bike. I sit upright so I can see and be seen. My bike is 'all terrain' with fat tires for better traction. It has suspension and powerful lights. I wear normal clothes, typically jeans and t-shirt and sneakers, and a sweatshirt or jacket if it's cold. Which will give me better protection if I fall (and mean I don't need sunblock all the time too). I make every effort to blend safely with cars and pedestrians, using my bell judiciously (as a warning), and hand signals, head checks etc on the road. I never shout at anyone about failing to comply with my perception of the road and footpath rules, considering it my own duty to take care of my own life, rather than everyone else's.

I think this attitude is clearly visible, and have never experienced any animosity from motorists or pedestrians. Generally I make eye contact with people when it is required that we both do something in order to pass. This removes a huge amount of the tendency to road rage, as it humanizes you. Usually people just smile, nod and pass on.

In my mind I am using my bicycle the way I relearned to do it in Holland when I visited there a few years ago. It opened my eyes to the possibility of cycling as a genuine and better alternative to cars for some purposes, and I count that week as one of the most enjoyable overseas experiences of my life, not least because I had a wonderful machine that opened up vast tracts of the city to me, at very little cost.

tedsfiles said...

I'm sick of reading "about the 42000 dead motorists" and "religion". Forget this crap: putting an engineered casing around your head will reduce the impact when it strikes a hard surface. For other cases of injury, of course a helmet will not affect the outcome.
It's compulsory here in Sydney and NSW to wear one, and as a regular rider, I am glad about that. When a cyclist dies, she cannot be a bike advocate.
I won't give you my story as you don't seem to believe anyone with first hand experience, but these experiences are why I feel strongly that this important safety device should be worn.
As for the PhD man who says that no helmet gives him an extra 8.5cm space, whoopy! 8.5cm will not make me feel safe! A law covering the minimum distance passing would increase this to 1m. Or are laws requiring respect for cyclists also too much nanny-state interference for you live-and-let-die people?
Thanks for providing all those links. The one explaining Snell standards and the great testing done on helmets makes me feel much safer.

Mikael said...

Engineered casing, yes. Engineered and designed to save lives, no.

Basic industrial design. A helmet will protect your head from non-life threatening injury but it won't save your life. It's not even designed to do that.

Polystyrene hats is the proper description.

tedsfiles said...

Well we agree on two things: they are a hat yes, and they give some protection to your head. Unlike a hat, the impact protection is measured according to standards.
If it only prevents a brain injury, then it's still worth it.

Mikael said...

unfortunately you have no conclusive scientific evidence that they do prevent brain injury.

on the other hand there are studies that show your risk of brain injury due to rotational forces - the most common form of brain injury in these instances - is higher with a helmet on.

not to mention you have a 14% higher chance of getting into an accident with a helmet on.

your australian govt did studies that showed that there would be 25% fewer fatalies among car occupants if THEY wore helmets.

That set the University of Adelaide to work developing motorist helmets. As you can read here.

So please be sure to wear a motorist helmet and to advocate using them at the same time as advocating bike helmets.

tedsfiles said...

Once again, I don't want to argue about cars or jesus.
For studies into the benefits a quick search turned up these:
Results of this study indicate that helmets are effective for all bicyclists, regardless of age.
A number of case-control studies have been conducted demonstrating the effectiveness of bicycle helmets

Just a cyclist said...


I've made done some calculations on the stated maximum impact energy absorption according to the EN1078 standard and it worked out to correspond to a free fall (only the weight of the headform is taken into account for the impact testings) from ~1,5m height on level ground and from about 1m on a kerbstone.

The Snell standard specifies a maximum impact absorption level (on level ground) just 1,2 times higher. It should thus work out to be a free fall from about 1,8m.

While probably adequate for the watermelon demonstrations performed at elementary schools, I dunno if it makes sense safety-wise that this (or anything, for that matter) haves someone "feel much safer".

Mikael said...

if you look at the collective scientific work on helmets instead of conveniently hand-plucked individual studies you'll find that there is no conclusive scientific evidence.

The Bicycle Helmet Research Institute has a wealth of information.

This lack of evidence is one of the reasons that the European Cyclists Federation as well as cyclist federations in the UK, Ireland, France, Holland, Germany, Spain, Hungary, etc etc do not promote helmets and fight tooth and nail against legislation.

the other reason is that promotion of helmets and legislation has been seen to scare people off of bicycles. telling them that cycling is dangerous - which it isn't and hasn't been for 120 years - turns people off the bicycle.

and the health benefits of cycling are 20 times greater than the little risk involved, which is of utmost importance in our obese, sendentary lifestyles.

there's an excellent australian webiste on the failed australian helmet laws, with focus on western australia: http://cycle-helmets.com

good luck with your research. Belief or knowledge, it's your choice.

and remember to wear a helmet when travelling in cars.

tedsfiles said...

Freefall from 1,8m sounds like a lot of energy.
Mikael - you are right regards the public health overall. If the pro-helmet people are right though, that would be like sacrificing a few people who crash to benefit the majority who might not.
Here's a video from an Australian doctor which is of interest from that perspective
He goes on to agree that helmets are a negative for public bike schemes.

tedsfiles said...

Here;s a video of my trip to and from work, under the "cars & vehicles" section. Cycling in Sydney increases your change of getting hit by 763%.

Just a cyclist said...


The 1,8m freefall is inferred from the Snell standards maximum impact energy of 110 Joules (to a headform falling on level ground).

To put this into (a somewhat oversimplified) perspective a punch can be estimated at 300 J, a karate punch is in the range of 100-450 J, the maximum recorded boxing punch 1028 J (Rocky Marciano).

I guess we'd need to ban martial arts before we ban bare headed cycling.

tedsfiles said...

Are you saying boxing is safe? Try taking a 110-300J hit in the head and see what you think.
Most doctors I've heard are 100% for the abolition of boxing etc. It's human cockfighting to steal a phrase.

Yokota Fritz said...

I have a helmet safety post sitting in my draft's folder that I really need to get out. In a nutshell, it shows that while US helmet use has gone from near zero in the 70s to about 40% today, there has been no decline in bicycling fatalities. Statistically, helmets seem do absolutely nothing.

I used to be a frothing at the mouth helmet fundamentalist, but I saw the data and changed my tune.

anonymous from manifesto said...

mikael, as usual you are too extreme in your position and polemic, which doesn't add to the dialog. a helmet is no ground to wage political and religious war among cyclists, governments and industries. you admirably fight tooth and nail to resist governmental mandated helmet law. however in the effort, you deny almost any credit that helmets can provide the users. which is unfortunate. all approved helmets are able to reduce head acceleration of 1000g to under 300g when colliding with an unyielding surface. this may be an 'artificial' standard. but all standards are defined in controlled conditions. and within the operating definition of protection that helmets provide, they can (and do) prevent brain-threatening injuries. of course you can easily imagine accident where helmets offer no help, but you can also imagine situations where an object is hurdling toward your bare head at 40 kph. that is just the real world--and that is why most helmet studies are flawed: they just can not statistically discern all real world contingencies to meaningfully support one way or the other. the best you can do is to assess what helmets can do (and the helmets do perform, even if the manufacturers are driven by profit) and decide if your individual safety can be enhanced by them. it is a just a form of insurance. no more, no less.

Just a cyclist said...

anonymous from manifesto:

Wow! Where did you get the 1000g from?

While it's true that the ANSI and Snell standards are designed to reduce the brain acceleration down to no more than 300g, an acceleration over 250g is considered to result in a critical brain damage while an acceleration over 300g is considered to be lethal.

I may be ignorant, but I still haven't worked out how the falls that that these helmets are tested for can even produce a 300g acceleration.

anonymous from manifesto said...

@Just a cyclist,

a bare head striking a flat form at about 20km/hr (speed from 2 m drop-test) would produce 1000g:

(5.5 m/sec)/(.0005 sec) = 11000 m/s^2 = 1100g

the .0005 sec comes from the time that the head must comes to a stop in approx 1/4 cm:

(.0025 m)/(5.5 m/s)= .0005s

helmets mitigate that acceleration to 300g by crushing approx. 1 cm, lengthening the time your brain to come to zero speed by a factor of about 3.

yes 300g is at the threshold of lethality, would be nice if the standards are 200g, as in canadian children helmet.

anonymous from manifesto said...

@Just a cyclist

just read your impact energy comment: so everything is equivalent, impact energy and impact speed:

(i used too low a speed earlier, a 2-m drop gives about 23 km/hr impact speed, 6.4 m/s)

1/2 mv^2=kinetic energy, so that:

1/2 (5 kg)(6.4 m/s)^2 = 102 J

Just a cyclist said...

So this means that someone a few cm over 2 m tall who trips over backwards and falls hands free on his head would get 1000g in his head.

Where are the basketball helmets!!??

Just a cyclist said...

The formula you provided for calculating the g-force was interesting. Is it formulated in any helmet standard?

If the assumptions in this formula are correct, then a fall from 40 cm height (at 2,8 m/s) would be more than enough for the deadly 300g blow. Even if we double the time for the head to come to a stop we'd get >300g at a free fall from 80 cm.

...how long until we get berated for sleeping or at least sitting down, unhelmeted?

anonymous from manifesto said...

well, indeed you can generate 300g from a 0.4m fall. this is simple impulse calculation. but it is important to realize that helmet testing has to be done in a standard way that excludes all extraneous effects so the tests are repeatable over time and with many helmet models. these tests assume a freely falling 5 kg head. in the real world fall, the head is (usually) attached to a body so that a 0.4m fall is mitigated by, e.g. reflex in neck muscles, so that the head do not usually reach the 2.8m/s impact speed. another effect is that at low impact speed, the materials that make up the human head (bone, cranial fluids) contribute more to 'cushion' the brain than at high speed. this is the reason why helmet foam is so hard--it is design to work at high impact speed--the foam does not start crushing until a certain threshold. a helmet designed to work at low impact speed would have softer foam but the foam would 'bottom out' at high impact speed.

anonymous from manifesto said...

well, indeed you can generate 300g from a 0.4m fall. this is simple impulse calculation. but it is important to realize that helmet testing has to be done in a standard way that excludes all extraneous effects so the tests are repeatable over time and with many helmet models. these tests assume a freely falling 5 kg head. in the real world fall, the head is (usually) attached to a body so that a 0.4m fall is mitigated by, e.g. reflex in neck muscles, so that the head do not usually reach the 2.8m/s impact speed. another effect is that at low impact speed, the materials that make up the human head (bone, cranial fluids) contribute more to 'cushion' the brain than at high speed. this is the reason why helmet foam is so hard--it is design to work at high impact speed--the foam does not start crushing until a certain threshold. a helmet designed to work at low impact speed would have softer foam but the foam would 'bottom out' at high impact speed.

anonymous from manifesto said...

by the way, a 2.8 m/s head impact speed with the ground is equivalent to the head being hit by the earth at 10 km/hr--the speed may be low but the impact surface does not give, that's what hurts you.

Anonymous said...

Why is so little made of the type of bike that is ridden.
The body position on a bike is so important to comfort balance speed safety and a whole range of other things.
If you sit on a bike and your ear, shoulder, hip, knee and ankle are in line verticle then you will be in balance like walking.
This type of bike will be the most comfortable to use for every day journeys. It really is only a form of amplified walking wear the same clothes you would use if you stepped out of the office to get a cup of coffee.
No special clothes or equipment is needed.
Other bikes where there is a stretch forward puts weight on the hands and moves the body weight forward and allows more effort to be applied to the pedals but also promotes a faster pedal spin rate

Just a cyclist said...

Yeah, any helmet standard will make the assumption that you'll break your neck in a head impact.

Thus the only weight used in the calculations is the weight of the head as the weight of the weight of the body is assumed not to make any contribution due to the flexibility of the neck, apparently even for a head on collition.

Nick said...

Don't really see the reason you attack religion so much. The topic is bike helmets. Anyway I've never really been bombarded by fundamentalist religious types, I'm sure they must exist, somewhere. But I am constantly bombarded by fundamentalist scientist types, especially in the media. Think about who's doing the preaching here. No really, just think. Aside from that it was a good article. As an Australian we are lawfully required to wear a helmet, that's why our bikes are rusting in the garage.

ruukkukasvi said...

You should pay regard to local circumstances. Denmark and Copenhagen is known to has bicycle-friendly environment (lanes, attitudes, etc) and high bicycle commuting rates. I also guess that high commuter rates implies rather low speeds (10-20 km/h) and short distances in urban environment where cars have low speed too.

I believe that these facts affect heavily the safety of cycling and in fact, more than helmets. However, I insist that in a different environment and culture, cycling and the need of a helmet is not so straightforward.

In Helsinki, there is practically no bike lanes and motorists are almost aggressive. The bicycle commuting rates are also lower than in Copenhagen. Because of these, I consider Helsinki more dangerous city for cyclists and therefore I'm wearing a helmet. If we had commuter rates and bike lanes similar to Copenhagen the situation would be completely different, regardless my helmet usage.

Situation is also different in long-distance cycling: velocities are higher, bike lanes may not be availabe and bypassing cars have higher velocities (the airflow caused by passing, full-loaded truck at 100 km/h may throw one off the road).

I state that things I've mentioned above imply that circumstances in Copenhagen and Denmark (and other bicycle-friendly areas) shouldn't be universalized too much. Therefore I also question the comparability of statistics concerning fatalities and helmet usage in different countries ("Safety in numbers").

Lastly I question statistics in general:
Statistics say that helmet doesn't save everyones life (this comes more important when amount of cyclists increases = more kilometers / one fatality).
However, if it MIGHT save your life WHEN things go wrong, and if it isn't remarkably dangerous, why not use it?

(I'm not defending aggressive helmet-laws, but defending helmets in general.)

Mikael Colville-Andersen said...

Comparing Helsinki - or anywhere else - with Copenhagen doesn't really apply. You can't ignore the fact that a helmet isn't designed to save lives. It's only effective in reducing minor injuries in solo accidents under 20 km/h. Anything involving a car and a helmet is not helpful.

Thinking that a plastic hat will help in those situations is dangerous.