You may really need a bike helmet some day “In a recent survey, we found that more than half of Americans don’t wear a bike helmet, and watching riders on the streets of my city, that seems to be the case.” [Consumer Reports Health]

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  1. Coles_Law says:

    I’m always surprised when I see cyclists without helmets. I’m an avid road cyclist myself, and more than once I’ve picked myself up after a crash just to see bits of plastic and foam from my helmet on the road. Without a helmet, I’d have stayed down more than once.

    • Coles_Law says:

      @Coles_Law: However, lines like this from the article don’t help:

      “Take a look at our bike safety tips, and before you buy a helmet, see our recommendations and Ratings (subscribers only) of 15 helmets, including Hannah Montana, Schwinn, and Hot Wheels models.

      Not the greatest encouragement for adult cyclists there…

      • johnva says:

        @Coles_Law: Statistically, helmets are a much larger benefit for children than for adults. A lot of the crashes that adults get into are either at too high a speed for it to help as much, or are with cars, where it also doesn’t help a great deal. By contrast, kids tend to just fall over a lot more frequently, and those are precisely the kind of crash where a helmet can be of benefit. So it kind of makes sense that it would be more marketed towards kids.

        • Kevin Mills says:

          @johnva:

          Statistically, you may be correct but I’ve been involved in two collisions with cars and a few other accidents over the years. In one case I broadsided the car at 25mph (it was the drivers fault), went up and over and landed on my back (which was conveniently protected by a backpack full of clothes). My bike was totaled. In all cases, however, my helmet certainly prevented serious harm to my noggin and I was able to walk away.

          20 years ago I also almost lost an eye to a tree branch when the branch inserted itself about 1.5 inches in between my eyeball and nose bridge while riding. Walked, actually rode, away there too, but ended up having my tear duct surgically reconstructed. Now, not only do I always were a helmet, but protective eye wear as well.

          I may be a statistical anomaly…

        • Coles_Law says:

          @johnva: True, but I’ve been hit by a car. My (helmeted) head bounced off the hood. Granted, if I had gone under the car, all the helmet would have done is allow an open-casket funeral. Still, there’s no crash where a helmet would make you worse off. That’s my problem with helmets being mostly kid designs-an adult walks into Walmart and sees pink Barbie helmets, he goes to the bike shop and sees $200+ helmets and says “Screw this.” There is a market for adult helmets in the $20-$40 range, and by ignoring it more adults go without and risk irreversible trauma.

          • johnva says:

            @Coles_Law: The bike shops near me have quite a range of helmets, from about $30-$200+, as you said. Mine was about $50.

            I’m not arguing that you’re not better off with a helmet, and I always wear one. I’m just saying that they save kids more often than they save adults.

    • brianary says:

      @Coles_Law: Do you think any of these accidents may have been caused by helmet-impaired vision or hearing?

      • floraposte says:

        @brianary: Unless you’re wearing a modified deerstalker, it doesn’t go over your ears, and it doesn’t block your vision any more than a baseball cap (presuming you’re using the visor, which is optional on a lot of helmets). And since threats from above are pretty rare, a visor’s not really likely to impair your useful road vision.

        So, no, I don’t think that was a factor.

        • brianary says:

          @floraposte: I just can’t remember the last time I fell off my bike.

          • TerpBE says:

            I just can’t remember the last time I fell off my bike.
            @brianary:
            Maybe if you wore a helmet, you wouldn’t have that memory loss.

        • nybiker says:

          @floraposte: You are pretty much correct about the hearing & about the threats from above as to their rarity, but they can happen. I would like to point out some of them:

          Coal trucks. Yeah, they don’t always cover the trucks and when you’re riding across the USA, you will encounter them at times. So they pass you and the next thing you know, you’ve got a few chunks of coal (clean or otherwise) hitting your noggin. The visor might just keep it from hitting the front of your face.

          Logging trucks. It’s not so much the whole log you’ve got to worry about, but rather pieces of the log just bouncing off when they drive buy. Again, they usually come from above.

          Any other truck that carries things like gravel or loose stones and don’t have the cover on top to keep the stuff from bouncing out.

          /experiences from my Bikecentennial trips of 1976 & 1980.

          • floraposte says:

            @nybiker: I was being facetious, of course, but I was actually joking in the opposite direction–kind of interesting point that even the visor may block some stuff you don’t want to get hit with.

      • varro says:

        @brianary: Nope – bicycle helmets aren’t like motorcycle helmets – and you can mount a rear-view mirror on the helmet as well.

        • brianary says:

          @varro: So if a bike helmet is good, wouldn’t a motorcycle helmet be better? Shouldn’t steel-toed boots be required, too? And a roll-cage?

          • Cant_stop_the_rock says:

            @brianary:

            Are you seriously arguing AGAINST the use of bicycle helmets by adults?

          • floraposte says:

            @brianary: Sounds like you’re advancing the slippery slope fallacy to me, and it’s known as a fallacy for a reason. Do you refuse to look both ways when crossing the street because that wouldn’t prevent all accidents?

            The point isn’t that this is the only safety precaution one can take and that it will protect you from everything; it’s that it’s comparatively inexpensive, it helps protect you from some of the most disabling kinds of damage, and it has virtually no disadvantages that can’t be addressed with a comb.

            • brianary says:

              @floraposte: So you get to be the one that draws the line between reasonable precautions and unreasonable ones? Please don’t lecture me on fallacies when your own arguments are based exclusively on anedotal evidence and other overgeneralization. Helmets are not necessary for my situation, it is not less expensive than the alternative, and your trivialization of disadvantages neglects my heat sensitivity due to MS. Please prove that putting a tiny styrofoam cooler on my head will PREVENT serious injury, rather than merely mitigate it.

              @Cant_stop_the_rock: I’m saying I’m tired of emotional, unreasoning mandates. I don’t ride on streets; our area has a perfectly good bike trail that I don’t need a helmet to ride, and I’m tired of other people telling me how I should ride my bike.

              • johnva says:

                @brianary: For some reason a lot of people find the idea of helmetless biking terrifyingly dangerous. In actuality, it’s still probably safer than driving a car.

            • brianary says:

              @floraposte: Please disregard my inflammatory language. This issue frustrates me too much. I realize you have provided some data, and that you are merely trying to convince more people to take reasonable precautions.

              My point is just that helmets may not be for everyone in every situation. There are downsides (cost and heat, at least), and statistically the occurrence of cycling head injuries is small. These, and other points are better spelled out at [www.kenkifer.com] .

        • whitecat says:

          @varro: My rear-view is mounted on my handlebars.

  2. farcedude says:

    I’ve personally never been in a crash, but it’s saved a couple of people I know, including my brother, from some pretty nasty head trauma. I remember being about 10 when he (my brother) came to the kitchen door clutching a broken arm, and I remember thinking that his head looked remarkably free of blood.

    • kc2idf says:

      @farcedude: Even more annoying to me than cyclists without helmets is cyclists riding with their helmets dangling from the handlebars. No, it does not count as a token effort.

  3. dohtem says:

    For those that choose to learn the hard way and serve as an example to others, let them.

    • farcedude says:

      @dohtem: What’s the Darwin Award for, right?

    • tcolberg says:

      @dohtem: OOH, if some of these fashion oriented cyclists’ heads go squishy, I could pick up a slightly used bicycle at the estate auction.

      You would think that with all the “ghost bikes” that have been appearing here in LA, people would be better about wearing helmets.

  4. jiminim says:

    Modern bike helmets are essentially useless. There is research that proves wearing a helmet in a 30 MPH crash absorbs enough impact to bring it down to the equivalent of a 27 MPH crash. Modern helmets do not deform and absorb energy, they break! I do realize that that tiny benefit may just be the the difference in ever walking again so I will continue to wear mine on any ride out of sight of my home.

    Since I have been logging my cycling miles, ~7500 since 2007, I have been involved in one accident where I was essentially run down in the bike lane (the only .8mi of bike lane in town). I wish there had been a helmet for my wrist which was the only casualty of that encounter.

    • outlulz says:

      @jiminim: Was it some jerk tailgating you (besides being in the bike lane). I really hate that I pull over as far as possible to the right so people can pass but someone decides to stay behind me so close that I’m afraid to brake or turn in fear of getting run over.

    • floraposte says:

      @jiminim: Can you give a pointer to the 3 mph reduction thing? I know there’s some varying information, but I haven’t seen anything that claims this across the board.

      • brianary says:

        @floraposte: Can you point to strong evidence that helmets help significantly?

        • floraposte says:

          @brianary: Sure. Unless by “strong” you mean “will convince brianary :-). Thompson, Rivera and Thompson in the New England Journal of Medicine 320:21 (1989) is the big one; it’s been criticized, and it’s not perfect, but it’s pretty strong. Helmets have also improved since then, so the disadvantages have lessened.

          I’m not suggesting they’re a panacea. One problem is that “helmet” is actually a pretty vague term, and efficacy will vary considerably from design to design–contemporary helmets are quite different from those twenty years go, for instance. Fit is also a problem. There’s also a difference between saying “people should wear them” and making them mandatory, sort of like the difference between suggesting people should use child seats for infants when traveling in aircraft and making them mandatory. (I’m also skeptical of the 14 times likelier to be killed in an accident claim that floats around the net, frankly, which seems to come unsourced.)

          The most useful thing Americans could probably do for their safety on a bicycle is not be male–male cyclists are disproportionately killed and injured just in regular traffic, not even factoring in dangerous sports. But absent that option, sticking a decent helmet on your head is a pretty decent plan that isn’t going to hurt you any.

          • brianary says:

            @floraposte: Well, it sounds as if you are merely recommending helmets, rather than calling for making them mandatory, which I appreciate. You suggest higher quality helmets, which I’d argue are not cheap. I am a bit frustrated that everyone trivializes the downside (see previous comment). It’s a big world. Just because you can’t think of a disadvantage doesn’t mean there isn’t one.

            I think any deep examination of the topic will show that cycling head injuries are exceedingly rare, and mostly depend on environment and riding habits. When people do fall, it’s their hands, wrists, and arms that tend to suffer injury. I don’t wear a helmet in my particular context for the same reason I don’t carry shark repellent with me–it just isn’t something I’ll need.

    • Drew Volker says:

      @jiminim: you say that helmets do not “absorb energy, they break!” what do you think causes the helmet to break on impact, the helmet fairy? it breaks because it’s absorbing energy. you know, that whole “conservation of energy” concept you were supposed to learn in high school.

  5. brianary says:

    I’ve never worn a bike helmet, and I probably never will.

    Honestly, far more lives would be saved if people were compelled to wear helmets in cars than bikes.

    • brianary says:

      @brianary: Clarification, I don’t ride in traffic.

      I’m not sure I want to survive an accident that’s bad enough that a helmet would have helped.

      • Coles_Law says:

        @brianary: Oh, Ok-now you’re making a bit more sense. (Although, I had a friend crash on the sidewalk and go head first into a concrete stair-owwww…) I do ride in traffic. I’ll freely admit if I fall and my head lands in the path of a truck, my helmet won’t do squat. But, assuming the helmet fits properly, it can help if I go down on a curb or get thrown. I’m not suggesting helmets should be mandatory, just that if they’re properly fit, they do help.

    • econobiker says:

      @brianary: In many places it is illegal to wear helmets in cars…

  6. P_Smith says:

    We keep hearing about HMOs looking for “pre-existing conditions” as a reason to refuse paying for treatment. Instead of doing that, why don’t they help people who need it, and then refuse to pay for idiots who won’t use safety devices like bicycle and motorcycle helmets and seat belts? In all likelihood it would cost the same, but those who refused to wear helmets and belts chose to endanger themselves and would be cut off justifiably.

    I value my brain at around $1 million. Of course I’m going to wear not just a high quality and high priced helmet, but also reflectors, an LED light and even sometimes hard plastic elbow pads like those used by roller bladers.

    Not for falls. I use them to bang on windows of cars that drive dangerously close.

  7. Charles Duffy says:

    There is strong statistical evidence that bike helmets kill more people than they save. The short form of the argument is thus: Introduction of laws making helmets compulsory reduces the number of cyclists on the road by about 50%. Every time the number of cyclists doubles, average safety of every individual cyclist increases by about 30%. Wearing a helmet may have some increase in an individual cyclist’s safety, but also may not — a study of the average amount of passing distance afforded helmeted vs helmetless cyclists indicates that motorists give the helmeted cyclists less leeway — and the statistics certainly don’t bear out a 30% improvement.

    Me? I wear my helmet (on my daily commute), but mostly because it’s where my rear-view mirror is mounted, not because I believe it’s likely to save my life.

    • Charles Duffy says:

      @Charles Duffy: Sorry — I didn’t mean to say that helmets kill more people than they save, but that laws making helmets compulsory have that effect.

      • floraposte says:

        @Charles Duffy: Yeah, that’s where things get interesting, because you have to factor in what people do instead of getting on a bike. I think there’s a big cultural component there, too, so mandatory laws are going to have different effects in different places, but I would suspect that in general people who stay off of bikes because they have no helmets in such a situation are the people who are inclined to be more careful anyway. Risk is a fascinatingly complex thing.

  8. f3rg says:

    I primarily mountain bike, and I wear a helmet on the trails, but not on the road. Almost 11 years of this, and still haven’t hit my head. Prior, 12 years of helmet-less skateboarding–falling down flights of stairs, over handrails, and on hills–taught me how to take a fall.

    • moore850 says:

      @f3rg: Well, once you do hit your head without a helmet, be sure to come back and tell us how that goes for you.

  9. varro says:

    Bike helmets will muss the professionally-mussed hair of the hipsters who ride their fixed-gear bikes through stop signs and lights.

    • Anonymous says:

      @varro: There’s nothing inherently wrong with riding through stop signs and stop lights. It can be done unsafely, however.

      I ride through stop signs and traffic lights all the time, but I do it safely. I tend to think that most people that complain about the practice don’t ride their bicycle regularly for transportation purposes. If they did, they would quickly pick up on the habit and understand why it is OK.

      • Charles Duffy says:

        @QueenieNike: I ride my bike ten miles to and from work every day, and I stop for lights and signs every time. Sometimes this means waiting for a car to pull up behind me to trip a detector, or getting off and hitting a pedestrain-crossing button; fine, I do that.

        Not because I couldn’t sometimes run a stop sign safely — but because I’m doing my part to be seen as part of a law-abiding community.

    • TheyCallMeStacey_GitEmSteveDave says:

      @varro: Not as much as a ER stitch job will muss it.

  10. bobert says:

    About 25 years ago, I was on a “beginners’ ride” with the Fort Worth bike club. We were tootling along slowly in a well-paved road peaceful suburban subdivision with no traffic. One guy without a helmet hit a pebble, took a spill, and cracked his head on the curb. Off he went in the ambulance. If he’d been wearing a helmet, he probably would have dusted himself off, laughed, and kept going.

    I was wearing a helmet that day, and have religiously worn one ever since. And I consider anyone who gets on a bike without one to be an idiot.

  11. hills says:

    Here in Portland we have lots of cyclists – and most that I see wear helmets… I do.

  12. microe says:

    Helmets have always been a safety of a ‘last resort’. It is only necessary after everything else has failed and you are in a fall or collision. Never, ever make helmets your only attempt to be safer while riding. Learn how to ride a bike and make sure your bike is in good working order. Don’t ride on sidewalks if you are riding any faster then 4MPH. Be aware of traffic that is perpendicular to your direction of travel. Follow the vehicle code for your area. OK, now put your helmet on. Go for a ride.

    As for seeing people not wearing their helmet. See how they ride. If they are riding erratically or generally not paying attention, then you can harp on them for not wearing a helmet. But feel free to harp on them for everything else they are doing wrong as well.

    I always wear a helmet and I make my kids wear a helmet when they ride. But I also do my best to never have to need my helmet.

    • floraposte says:

      @microe: I think there’s a lot to be said for that, and that has a lot to do with the different accident/injury rates in different countries.

  13. I Love New Jersey says:

    Bike helmet has saved the bacon a few times. It is much better to get a new helmet than to deal with head trauma.

  14. HiPwr says:

    I don’t know how my peers and I got through childhood riding our bikes everywhere we went w/o helmets.

    • Cant_stop_the_rock says:

      @HiPwr:
      Fallacious argument. I hope you don’t need me to explain why.

    • pop top says:

      @HiPwr: I never wore snow shoes when I was carrying all of my brothers and sisters on my back, up and down the hill both ways, on the way to school. Why should anyone else?

    • econobiker says:

      @HiPwr: These were the ones who survived. Enough people know children who died in bicycle accidents to prove helmets are needed…

      • HiPwr says:

        @econobiker: You’re right. It was Armageddon. Who knows just how large the Baby Boomer generation would have been if they had only worn helmets.

    • David Brodbeck says:

      @HiPwr: One of my buddies used to have competitions to see who would hold onto a firecracker the longest after lighting it. Just because he survived it doesn’t mean it was a good idea. ;)

  15. nybiker says:

    I posted this on the Consumer Reports comments section of the article: Here in New York City this coming Saturday, July 11.

    DOT Offers Free Bike Helmets at Queensbridge Park, Long Island City – July 11

    The Department of Transportation will give away free bike helmets while supplies last on Saturday, July 11 from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm at Queensbridge Park in Long Island City in partnership with Partnerships for Parks and Bike New York.

    Check the events calendar on the DOT Web site at [www.nyc.gov] for other bike helmet events. Or, you can schedule a fitting for an NYC helmet at one of the DOT’s Safety City locations in the five boroughs by calling 311. Safety City locations can be found at [www.nyc.gov]

  16. moore850 says:

    Only the most naive of amateur riders has never fallen off of their bike, and only the same would ever consider donning a bike without a helmet on. Mild accidents without a helmet cause permanent, irreversible brain damage daily across the nation, just ask at a hospital to get an idea of how many in your neighborhood (warning: it’s a shockingly high number). The other argument I hear a lot is that helmets indicate an inexperienced rider. If so, then how come all the world-class pro Tour riders wear them?

    • johnva says:

      @floraposte: It’s interesting how people wrongly assess risk. A bike is safer than a car, but they are perceived by many people as very dangerous. I think this is related to the psychology of it more than any real knowledge of risks. The bike feels more “exposed”, while the car feels like a cocoon or bubble. So people wrongly assume the exposed mode of transportation is more dangerous, neglecting things like the fact that it’s generally lower speed and is much more maneuverable.

    • brianary says:

      @moore850: Most of that is just wrong, I’m afraid. [www.kenkifer.com]

  17. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for posting this. We work everyday to raise awareness for brain injury and wearing your helmet is honestly the easiest thing you can do. brainline.org is a great resource for finding out more about TBI. It’s the leading cause of death among 15-40 year olds, no joke.

  18. pax says:

    I would never ride through NYC traffic without a helmet. And I second the commenter above who has said that quality helmets are available at a much lower price point, too.

  19. econobiker says:

    It would be nice if insurance companies reduced premiums when they got the mandatory seatbelt laws enacted. Sure these were to “save lives” but you always need to follow the money trail…

    • Charles Duffy says:

      @econobiker: Funny you mention that — seatbelt laws have consistently (everywhere but the UK, which stepped up drunk-driving enforcement at the same time) resulted in more deaths by people who weren’t behind the wheel of a car — pedestrains, cyclists, and (to a much lesser extent) passengers.

      There’s an article on the subject in the British Medical Journal.

  20. dotphildot says:

    I use to practice short track speed skating and let me tell you that my helmet litterally save my ass a few times, from violently knocking my head on the ice to protecting it from getting cut by fellow skater’s blade.

    That’s why I still don’t understand people not wearing helmets when practicing sports with risks of falling. We always think we won’t fall but always forget that other people are very unpredictable obstacles…

    Recent helmets are lightweight and very good looking, I don’t see any good arguments not to wear them.

  21. oneandone says:

    City Paper in DC had a great cover story on bike helmets; lots of profiles of local cyclists who have been in crashes, and the differences in rehab between those who wore a helmet and those who did not. All in different situations – in the park on a trail, messengers, and one woman who was hit by a bus and dragged a few blocks. Unlike a lot of the others, she was wearing a helmet and seems to have the easiest post-crash experience. It made me realize the differences between traumatic injury to your brain vs. any other part of your body.

    [www.washingtoncitypaper.com]

  22. brianary says:

    Some interesting, if counterintuitive, stats:

    “Head injuries going up with increased helmet usage. Between 1991 and 2001 two things happened: helmet use among cyclists soared, and head injuries soared along with it. Head injuries among cyclists went up by 10% on a simple basis, but when we factor in the dramatic decrease in the number of cyclists during that period, head injuries effectively went up by 51%. (New York Times, 2001)”

    [bicycleuniverse.info]

    “This chart shows that despite an increase in bicycle helmet use from near zero to 30% or more during the period, the trend in fatalities is virtually the same for both [cyclists and pedestrians]. Somewhat disturbing is that the rate of reduction in cycling deaths has not been quite as rapid as for pedestrians.”

    [www.magma.ca]

  23. esc27 says:

    I had no idea that bicycles were so dangerous. We’d probably be better of banning them from roads entirely.

  24. gerrycomo says:

    The top helmets that CR rated are Bell Citi and Bell Slant if you are not subscribed. I am, hu hu!

    It’s easier to fix a broken arm/wrist/leg. A head injury? Good luck.

    So wear your helmet!