Saturday, April 19, 2008

Do I wear a helmet?

Bike helmets are a contentious issue. Some people won't ride a bike without them and others think they are a complete waste of time & money. I take a philosophical approach to the matter. I don't feel bike helmets are an essential safety item. They protect you from a very finite set of circumstances that are, in my experience, very low probability. In my whole biking career, spanning 34 years, I haven't had a single accident where a helmet prevented me from suffering an injury or where a helmet reduced the severity of an injury. This isn't to say I think helmets are not potentially useful.

What I do is a risk analysis based on my personal experience and based upon what I've heard from other riders. I look at all the factors I see as relevant and decide what safety gear to employ. This analysis goes further than just if I should wear a helmet or not. It includes things like what gloves to wear, reflective gear, sandals/shoes?, lights? Not all rides are created equal.

Some examples of choices I often make:
  • I pretty much wear a helmet 100% of the time I go mountain biking. Although I don't crash often this type of riding has the highest likelihood that I'll end up on the ground.
  • On casual urban rides close to home I almost never wear a helmet. I ride slowly and tend to spend a lot of time off the bike drinking coffee, eating dinner, shopping, etc... I ride defensively on these occasions which I think is more important than wearing a helmet.
  • I always wear a helmet on brevets. I think it is a club rule, but regardless when riding fast for long hours day and night the chance I may have an accident is greater making a helmet a good investment.
I'm not suggesting my methodology is the best or the smartest. I'm just sharing how I look at helmets and safety. To my mind the most important thing is that each rider evaluates the risks they are talking and uses the equipment/tactics to keep themselves safe - whatever that means to them.

If you have a moment leave me a comment and let me know how use helmets.

11 comments:

Arleigh said...

Helmets - To me I feel naked with out one if I'm riding. Often I go to ride to the pool less than a mile away and go back in to get my helmet as I forgot it.

Why? Because you never know. I'm a pretty safe rider but that driver flying into their driveway might not be paying attention when I think they are paying attention.

Jerome said...

Great Post Vik!

I look at it the same way. All winter long, I rode my bikes without a helmet. It was only a short distance. When I do coffee and beer runs, no helmet. When I get onto the highway though, I put on the brain bucket. I do for some reason feel a little safer with it when on the highway.

One other thing I've noticed, when I see a cyclist wearing a helmet, the first thing I notice is the helmet. Instantly my mind says: helmet, safety, be safe. As a motorist, I think I act safer even unconsciously, because the cyclist had a helmet on.

I guess you just never know what a helmet might to. I always think of head impact as being lessened in severity with a helmet on.

Feeling safe is nice too. Cheers.

Anonymous said...

I'm a UK rider and have never worn a helmet for the past 20yrs+ until l became a father! However, l think the issue is entirely dependant upon where you ride, ie, culturally, and how you ride as you already state. I do not think helmets should be made compulsory.

Josh said...

For short trips using mostly sidewalks and bike paths I'll go without one. For everything else a helmet goes on my watermelon.

Alan said...

I ask my teenagers to wear helmets when they ride, so I always do the same to set a proper example.

Dan said...

I'll wear either a helmet or a ball cap, and I feel just as safe regardless.

Doug said...

I started racing when I was 13 year olds. My older brother was the one who would never let me ride without a helmet. It just became habit and now I feel odd (not really naked) without one on my head. Plus I've had two crashes, one while racing, one during a casual bike path ride. Both times I landed on my head. I'd hate to think what kind of brain injury I could have had if I hadn't had the helmet on.

Andrew said...

I started using helmets in my teens because I thought 'serious' riders used them and I wanted to be 'serious.' ;-) It has become a habit and like others I feel naked without it.

Since my kids are required to wear a helmet by law, I wear one on all rides, casual or not. My kids grab their helmets straight away when they want to play with their wheeled toys or go for a ride in the bike trailer.

Steve Fuller said...

I'm in the same mode as Vik. I used to wear one all the time, but for short trips to the store, or rides on the local MUPs, I will often not wear one. Mountain biking, I always wear one. For my commute, I will wear one because I am on a somewhat busy road, and I don't trust people. One thing that I don't do is I don't tell other people that they should be wearing their helmet. It's an individual choice.

Steve Fuller said...

I'm in the same mode as Vik. I used to wear one all the time, but for short trips to the store, or rides on the local MUPs, I will often not wear one. Mountain biking, I always wear one. For my commute, I will wear one because I am on a somewhat busy road, and I don't trust people. One thing that I don't do is I don't tell other people that they should be wearing their helmet. It's an individual choice.

jonathan said...

At least you mob have a choice. In Australia helmets are mandatory countrywide. Cops take great delight in hassling you if you dont have one on.

I went to collect my kids the other day from school and I did not realise I did not have it on until my son asked me where the helmet was. I had not even noticed its absence.

After a while it just becomes second nature but feels good to be an outlaw occasionally.