Helmets, Schmelmets: Should You Wear a Brain Bucket on a Bicycle?

I’ve been thinking about helmets recently. Ever since eagle-eyed Mike in the bike shop at Sun & Ski Sports noticed mine has a crack in it, the need to replace it has been in the back of my mind. The one I got a while ago has MIPs – the inside slides around and if you make impact is supposed to cushion your brain even more. I got it on sale but full price is $150, and that’s a bit rich for my blood right now. On the other hand, protecting my brain, such as it is, is pretty important. I could make do with a cheaper one. And then I thought, do they really work? Do I need one at all? Turns out, there’s a lot of opinions about bike helmets. I’ll touch on a few and share my own helmet journey.

Insane in the Membrain: Pros and Cons

There are plenty of arguments for wearing a helmet. Here are a few:

  • The main obvious one is that if you are involved in a crash with a car, you’ll have protection if your head hits the ground;
  • Another is that it’s good to model the helmet-wearing behavior for children, who’s brains are still forming all the way to the mid-20’s;
  • In some areas, it’s the law, and sometimes it only applies to kids;
  • You might crash on your own, or into another rider, even at slow or no speed; a helmet can reduce dain bramage in those cases too;
  • They look cool and offer some cover from the sun.

On the down side, some people say:

  • Helmet-wearing promotes a false sense of confidence and causes cyclists to ride more recklessly;
  • Wearing them sends a wrong message to other cyclists that it’s not safe;
  • More pedestrians and car drivers get hurt and killed in crashes, so why don’t they wear helmets?;
  • Cycling is safer when there are more people on the road, and having to wear a helmet discourages people;
  • They cost money and mess up your hair.
Girl, Biking, Bike, Bicycle, Cycle
Two wild and crazy women biking sans helmets. Source: Cuncon on Pixabay

Both sides have merit. For a more in-depth article against them and a rebuttal for them, see John Marsh’s Road Bike Rider post, “The Great Helmet Debate – Pros and Cons.”

My Story With Helmets

You’ll notice that in the photograph of me as a kid that’s my logo for A Dude Abikes, I’m helmet-less. I don’t recall ever wearing one as a teen or young adult, and by the time I got a car, a bike was a distant memory. In college, I may have used one, but didn’t do much biking.

Skip ahead to 2005, when my car was smashed by a guy in a truck, and I couldn’t afford a replacement vehicle. I also wanted to see if I could live car-free, and maybe get in better shape. That was 14 years ago, and I’m still working on the weight loss as a fathelete, but I have biked about 30,000 miles in that time.

I’m purely guessing that I did 1,000 miles a year, or 10,000 miles in a decade (2005-14). Then I estimated based on alot of training for two charity rides using Google Maps and ride maps that I rode 3,500 miles in 2015. That’s about 30,000. Since getting a smart phone and activity tracker watch, I know for a fact that I’ve done 16,200 miles from 2016 to now. That’s a shit-ton of miles, people. And alot of skilled safe riding, but also some luck.

In the early 2000’s, the Austin mayor at the time tried forcing a helmet law on people. (He had a crash so decided he knew best for everyone.) I was one of the ones who became involved with League of Bicycling Voters, and we fought it. Many of us did not wear a helmet to protest it. But I wasn’t doing long rides, and had a car, so it wasn’t like I was risking alot.

Eventually we won, and on kids in Austin have to wear helmets. I continued my carefree days and decided to “let my freak flag fly.” (That’s from the song “Almost Cut My Hair” by Crosby, Stills and Nash) And then I had a job where a supervisor got me a discount at bike shop, and I got a helmet for cheap. I never looked back. Especially since I need all the brains I can get.

Also, they are good protection in case of zombie apocalypse. This is one argument I have not seen anyone else make. Remember, you read it here on zombie apocalypse first! (Which is good timing since yesterday was zombie Jesus day. Hope yours was hoppy! Get it? Rabbit joke. What on earth do eggs and rabbits have to do with zombie Jesus anyway?)

But seriously, in all this time, I’ve never had a crash with a car. Luck, skill, fear and an abundance of caution, whatever. But I have gone down several times due to curbs (one being quite bad), other times due to operator error, and once while on a group ride. All the times that my head would have hit the ground, it was protected by a helmet. And now I’m virtually never without one. And yes, I’ll be replacing my well-worn Giro very soon. Yet another of the many purchases that are pending a plethora of pennies (or pounds, pesos, or pesetas, etc.) for Sophie the Fairdale.

So What Should You Do?

Well, I’m not going to tell you. Unless you’re a kid, you get to be a grown-ass man or woman and decide for yourself. That’s up to you. But if you want my opinion, it’s that the anti-helmet laws are pretty specious. If someone wants to bike, they should, helmet or not. And why not err on the side of caution?

Sure, helmets mess up your hair, but I think that’s a small price to pay for possibly preventing paralysis and even death. Of course, you should ride safely, and not rely only on a helmet to keep you safe, because it won’t. Let’s face it, if you get hit by a car, your helmet may protect your head but you could get messed up badly everywhere else.

PRO TIPS: If you do wear a helmet, you should have a professional bike shop fit and size you. Improper wearing or poor fit of a helmet are not good. If you do crash, or you have an old or cracked helmet, replace it immediaely.

Whether you wear a helmet sometimes, all the time, or something in-between, I encourage you to learn and follow the rules of the road and the practices of the League of American Cyclists Smart Cycling. Keep the rubber side down and use your head.

What are your thoughts on helmets?

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14 thoughts on “Helmets, Schmelmets: Should You Wear a Brain Bucket on a Bicycle?

  1. When I was in my teens I rode a 3 speed, a 10 speed, and a Velo-Solex moped. I liked to feel the wind in my hair. I can’t ride a bike now (tumor in the spine) but motorists seem to think they’re gods and own the road. If I knew the traffic patterns, my route, etc. I wouldn’t wear my helmet. There quite a few old streets in my city, cobblestone, and that means jarring bone crushing rides. One day I was riding my Solex on an old cobblestone street when I was rear-ended. If I hadn’t worn my helmet I’d be dead. Motorists don’t care to share the road. But with more and more cars on the road, a helmet is almost a necessity. To protect the old brain box a helmet is really good idea. Some cyclists may not like it but it’s life insurance you shouldn’t ride without.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I have two reasons for wearing a hairnet (about as useful as a helmet in many (but not all) cases):
    1. I can attach really useful safety equipment there in the form of lights. This gets my lights higher up above the ground and so more visible than just on the back of my bike, although I have them there too. Also, I can turn my head to direct the beam of light down side streets and at drivers when necessary. Even if no one had ever invented helmets for cyclists, I would still attach lights to some kind of hat.
    2. If I do get hit, I do NOT want to feed the victim blaming done by the media. Go back and look at the KXAN report for the young woman who died on MLK on her bike a few months ago. First thing they did was point out that she was not wearing a helmet. No mention of the driver being distracted by a text message (I’m not saying that happened – just that KXAN didn’t bother to investigate that aspect of it)

    I became much more ambivalent about helmets when I was lying on Parmer Lane after being hit and run on while cycling home from work. I had been much more in favor of them before. I did not hit my head, but I was asked by EMT and police about my helmet (not my head), as if that made some kind of difference into what kind of report was to be filed. Helmets may help in some instances, but they are a distraction from getting us real safety.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t think it’s either or, John. Wear a helmet, bike safely, try to improve bike infrastructure if you have the luxury if time and resources. Mostly think we need better driver conduct and stiffer penalties and laws. That seems to be where we are weakest as a movement.

      Like

  3. Always wear one since crashing in 2016. Two bits of advice from that experience. Don’t race dogs…they cheat. And always wear a helmet. After my crash I rode back into town, showered and accessed damage to my body. Needed a doctor to fix my shoulder.
    Packing my gear I noticed road rash on my helmet, from above the temple to the back. Styrofoam was cracked significantly at temple and less toward back.
    Recalling how hard I dropped when the dog ran under my tire, and how far I skidded on asphalt, I realized I wouldn’t have been able to keep my head from hitting the pavement.
    I don’t know if it would have been road rash on my face and ear, or a crack in my skull. Neither is appealing to me.
    I am very grateful and thankful the helmet did its job. I don’t think I’ll forget it.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I wear one most of the time. I don’t when I can get away with me going for a ride on a trail without my kids noticing (rare). Not legal to ride with one here in the UK but quite a divisive issue.
    Another benefit to a helmet=useful to use as an aid to pedal park when there is no raised curb. I discovered that from someone on WP

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Other perks to wearing a helmet:
    * can increase visibility
    * also protects against neck injuries (which no one expected; learned this from my mother when she became and EMT)

    Other negatives:
    * May reduce visability or hearing.

    I still wear one. As far as messing up my hair–being in the wind might mess it up even more. I did crush one helmet almost immediately after buying it by dropping a garage door on it. By “crush,” I mean I could see virtually no difference, but I still knew I should replace it. Finally did.

    And yes, I do sometimes feel like I should wear one as a driver and pedestrain, too. And in the future when I get to that age where falling can break a hip, I kind of want all the football gear. Um, plus hip pads.

    Why eggs and rabbits are associated with zombie Jesus: The usual–because people wanted to keep some of their pre-Christian celebrations.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good points Debbie. Mine is bright yellow for that reason.

      I look at the pagan roots of most holidays surviving the oppression of the church as grass growing through pavement – you can try to suppress nature, but she’ll always find a way. Until we kill her (and ourselves) completely with global warming. Even then I bet there will be life at some level.

      If everyone who ciuld rode a bike and we got rid of fossil.fuels, we might survive as a species.

      Sorry, got serious there. Yes, let’s wear body armor for all transportation! You’re funny.

      Like

  6. I’m a part time helmet wearer. When I’m on my road bike, I always wear one. On the bike path or riding around town for errands, I don’t. I went for a solo ride last week, and I’m pretty sure it’s the first time I’ve worn a helmet in months.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. CapeJohn, Thanks. I’m wondering have you ever had any falls or close calls while without a helmet? Just curious about those who don’t wear them and what the thinking is behind it. All it takes is one time, so hopefully that never happens. But then again, a helmet isn’t a panacea. Thanks for your comment!

      Like

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