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.
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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