Helmet Or No Helmet? – That Is The Question

Nice piece in the Independent this morning about cycle helmets.

Simon O'Hagan: I use my head when I cycle, not a helmet -
Commentators, Opinion – The Independent

Mr O'Hagan clearly feel better with the wind running through his hair and pints to our French cousins for an example. 

'In London there is a strong helmet-wearing culture, and that's fine. But in Paris, for example, you hardly ever see a cyclist in a helmet. Parisian cyclists, it seems, feel safe on their bikes,and I feel safe on mine. If I didn't, I wouldn't cycle at all.'

From my own experience, when cycling in London I wear a helmet at all times. However if I'm out touring in the country with quiet roads I take the helmet off. Cycling without a helmet is a much more pleasurable experience than having a piece of plastic strapped to your cranium, but in any big city without a sufficient cycle lane program I believe the risks are too great. 

On back roads in the countryside there is little to no traffic to second guess, and there are soft verges to dive into if you should come a cropper. In London this is not the case and personally I am not willing to put the rest of my life into someone else's hands. 

I am sure Mr O'Hagan is a hugely competent rider, but does he know how skilled, aware or indeed sober the man in the van behind him is? I don't want to see 'the nanny' making it law for cyclists to wear a helmets, because cycling is all about common sense.  As a friend of mine in the US says - 

"A five dollar brain buys a five dollar helmet" 

I'm not sure what this says about those who don't wear a skid lid? Helmet or No Helmet – what do you think?

Cycle crash

This entry was posted on Monday, March 16th, 2009 at 09:55 and is filed under Bits for Bikes. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed or trackback from your own site. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


  1. This helmet business runs and runs, doesn’t it!
    I think that most of us accept that there is no established evidence that helmets save lives, but there is plenty of evidence (New South Wales, for instance) where helmet laws have reduced cycling (thereby reducing cycling casualties, but not in the way intended). Most of us who cycle know that there are greater risks (due to the side-effects of a sedentary lifestyle) in NOT cycling.
    We accept that a bike helmet is only designed to protect our heads when striking the edge of the kerb at 12mph (19kph). We accept that if we are hit by a tonne of moving metal a helmet might as well be made of soggy cardboard.
    Having said all that, I’ll admit to wearing a helmet most of the time. I don’t know why. I think that the helmet serves a similar purpose as a child’s comfort blanket; I wear it “just in case”.
    But if a compulsory helmet law is brought in in Britain I’d probably give up cycling. Which is probably what the Bike-Phobic British Establishment and their Daily Mail reading supporters would be delighted to hear. The next thing I’d do would be to leave Britain for good. It would indeed be the final staw. I’m that close packing up and going.

  2. richard

    I never leave the house without my helmet. I have had some big nasty crashes.One in particulat means my left should is mostly plastic and titanium. Had i not been wearing a helmet that time, I would have had a nasty head injury as opposed to a bad headache for a week. You see when i later sow my helmet and the side of the van i hit, my helmet was crushed and van dented. my head sore but nothing damaged unlike the rest of me.
    For me, i will always wear a helmet. not because it sives lives but because it may just save mine. Or give me a better chance than if i wasn’t wearing one. its also the 2nd most expensive piece of kit after my bike. if you do wear one, you should buy the very best you can afford. You never know, it may save your life

  3. I ride in California, both on roads heavily trafficked and on quiet mountain roads where sustained climbs (and I’m a slow climber) are the norm. I never, ever ride without a helmet and simply do not comprehend those who defend not wearing them. Choosing to not wear one is one thing but to actually go as far as to say that helmets don’t save lives or protect riders is unconscionable.
    I’m a living example and have a personal experience that demonstrates helmet efficacy for sure. My bike wheel encountered a piece of broken granite on a “safe” bike path in January of 2008. The wheel went left and I flew right, landing on my shoulder and head (which bounced twice on concrete at 20 mph). I still have the helmet I was wearing which is cracked all the way through with a pebble embedded in it (embedded). I’m grateful I can still walk and talk at the same time and that the pebble isn’t sticking out my temple at present. No one will ever be able to convince me that I should ride without my helmet on any road, no matter how quiet or safe it may appear. Accidents happen, and that’s what helmets are there for…just in case. I can let my blonde hair blow in the breeze on a hike and keep the helmet on when pedaling. My two cents…
    (Oh, and great blog – I love your recipes!)

  4. Great comment MERider thank you – far more than two cents. Will get some recipes up again soon.
    Tom Kevill-Davies
    The Hungry Cyclist – Pedalling The World For The Perfect Meal

  5. Craig Richmond

    If I didn’t wear helmets, I would probably have a fantastic scar on the top of my balding head and be potentially brain damaged from going over the handlebars after a collision with a car that started to pull (100% the car’s fault) out in front of me (ironically while I was riding in a bicycle lane clearly signed that it was there for added cyclist safety).
    When they made helmets mandatory in Western Australia, the level of recreational cycling dropped to about 1/3, but it’s back up to those original levels now many years later. My argument would be that if you are riding on roads with cars then you should wear a helmet. If you are riding on cycleways and only crossing roads then you probably shouldn’t be required to. Your chances of an uncontrolled fall at speed when you’re playing with cars is a lot higher. Again, this is probably a lot less true in places where there are millions of bikes around and they are a reality the drivers have to expect. The example of Paris that has been given is of a city choked by traffic where people are always expecting the worst and drive cautiously. At least that was my impression when I visited.

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