Saturday, February 26, 2011


I saw this over at the Lazy Randonneur blog.

About 8% of my rides are helmet-less. About 92.4% of those rides incur a helpful comment from someone regarding my helmetlessness. I find that maddening, but I never ever ever respond with anything more than a nod and a smile.

Please don't leave a "my helmet saved my life story" comment for me to ponder.

Helmet talk is the abortion discussion in the bike world. Everyone's got an opinion. Everyone's sure that everyone with a different opinion is an utter moron at best, and morally suspect at worse.

I admire the Lazy Randonneur's restraint. He just posted the comic without the sermon. Impressive.


adventure! said...

I think this is possibly the best post about "helmets" I have read in a long time!

Anonymous said...

I'm with ya John.

Kinda funny that whenever the public hears about a bicycle vs. car accident, "was the rider waring a helmet"? is a convenient question for everyone to ask. As if, not wearing a helmet immediately puts the cyclist a fault for the accident and the motering public can feel better about it.

Okay, so there I've made a comment that you and the Lazy R had the restraint to leave out.

I'm a 98% helmet guy myself, BTW.

Anonymous said...

This isn't really the "abortion" discussion, because no one is saying, "I don't want you to wear a helmet, even if it is the right thing for you or even if it could save your life," but that is precisely what the people who are against privacy and medical rights are saying about abortions. I think analogies involving Hitler, rape or abortion should be carefully considered.

Unknown said...

The Helmet: the cheap, emotional pacifier for the Fox News sound-byte generation.

Unknown said...

The Helmet: the cheap, emotional pacifier for the Fox News, sound-byte generation.

Rachel said...


Hey, the comic is sure to point out that the helmet did its job, the guy's brain is in fine shape!

Unknown said...

I tend to wear a helmet 99% of the time now, after 21 years of not wearing one, but my primary incentive to do so is the mirror I have stuck to it. I can't imagine a better place for a bike mirror. Now though I have a constant battle to keep sweat out of my eyes -- just bought a Walz cap to wear under the helmet to see if that helps.

I bought the mirror because I started listening to music on my commute and wanted to keep an eye on what's behind me. Now it's hard to imagine not having one. I suppose criticism of my over-the-ear headphones might replace the criticism I used to get for not wearing a helmet. :p

Ken Paulman said...

Actually, Anonymous, there are people out there who seriously argue that no one should ever wear a helmet under any circumstances.

It's similar to the tortured rationalizations people come up with for riding without brakes. The argument goes, roughly, that eliminating the safety features forces you to be more aware of your surroundings, causing you avoid danger in the first place.

It's sort of like arguing that not having insurance makes you healthier because you have a stronger incentive not to get sick.

It's always been my impression that these arguments have more to do with rationalizing impractical fashion choices than anything else (helmets and brakes aren't very compatible with the image of the bandana-clad rebel cyclist). But that's just me.

Rachel said...

The thing that bothers me is that people so often take offense at the choices of others. If _you_ decide to wear or not wear safety equipment, use brakes, ride versus drive, eat well, etc, it's somehow an attack on the choices of other people?

Ken Paulman said...

@Rachel: The problem is there comes a point when one's decisions about safety begin to negatively impact others.

One of the arguments for seat belt and motorcycle helmet laws is that they result in lower rates of critical injury, thereby saving everyone money on health care costs and insurance rates.

Not that I'm in favor of helmet laws. I hold the radical position that the possessor of the skull in question should decide to what degree they want to protect it.

However, me wearing a helmet has exactly zero negative impact on others, whereas not wearing a helmet *could* have a negative impact on others. So I can protect my head and make the world a better place. What's not to love?

Yes, I know there's an argument that overly fixating on helmets creates a false impression that cycling is dangerous, preventing people from riding in the first place, and then they all get fat and die of heart attacks. I've never bought that either - cars are loaded with safety devices, but that doesn't seem to spook anyone away from driving.

Plus - at the risk of bursting anyone's bubble - riding a bike in traffic is objectively more dangerous than riding in a car or a bus at the same speed. No one should be made to feel silly or stupid or not "hard-core" for taking simple measures to protect their brain-grapes if they feel the situation warrants it.

Look, John! You've started a helmet debate!

Rachel said...

Did you know they used to have car helmets too? They even had TV ads to get you to wear one.
Of course, no one wanted to use them...

Are we debating helmets?

I'm a helmet wearer, but I don't judge others whether the wear one or not. Honestly, I usually don't even notice whether someone has one on or not!

Riding down the wrong side of the street on the other hand.......

We could have a seat belt debate too. On a cycling blog... all the better!

Ken Paulman said...

I've heard the car helmet thing before.

There was a guy in Texas who patented a car helmet for kids, and some state legislators have introduced car helmet bills to protest motorcycle helmet laws. And there was a 2004 study in Australia that said they'd be as effective as air bags.

But I've never seen evidence that there's been an actual organized safety campaign to get car drivers to wear helmets. I think it's one of those myths that's become accepted truth through repetition.

Rachel said...

What I seem to be remembering about people telling me they had TV campaigns in the 50s for automobile helmets, it must just be hearsay because I can't dig up anything on it.

I did, however, relocate the 1980s (Australian) "motoring helmet" that I had seen around the internets:

And its modern-day counterpart:

Anonymous said...

I admit it. I'm a hater of the non-helmet sect. It doesn't bother me when people aren't wearing helmets while cruising on the Centennial Trail or meandering through some residential area. But I instantly brand a rider as an idiot when I see them helmet less and riding w/ traffic or hitting the jumps at Manito. Most of the sentiment comes from my perception of drivers. I assume bikes and cars is a game, and the cars get points for killing riders.

Dave N said...

I don't chastise others but I won't ride with somebody not wearing a helmet. After having a compound depressed skull fracture of my own with bone fragments in my brain, and acrylic cranioplasty and a year and a half of physical therapy to recover I think I have a valid reason to wear a helmet. The best part is when I cut my hair short in the summer you can see the wonderful scar on my scalp. If I every lose my hair I am gonna look like a baseball.

Anonymous said...

Helmet discussions concuss my brain.

That is all.