“Where’s your helmet?”

where's your helmet.jpg

Helmets. You all probably have heard and read how wearing a helmet can reduce the chance of a serious head injury while riding a bicycle. You’re probably aware that some states, including Washington, legally require the use of a helmet while riding on public roads and trails. And yet many riders refuse to wear a helmet while riding. Yep, those arguments have all been covered. Verily, one cannot escape them in magazines and the web. So if I’m not wearing a helmet while riding, why do you feel it necessary to tell me to wear one when you are riding toward me in the oncoming direction?

“Where’s your helmet?” you ask. What kind of passive-aggressive BS is that? I’m an adult, well aware that I’m technically breaking the law. Our combined closing speed is something like 40mph or more on a seven foot wide path, you’ve got a line of riders behind you who have the expectation (based maybe more on etiquette than actual familiarity with you as a rider) that you’re gonna ride a straight line, and you choose that exact moment to open up a discussion (complete with a gesticulating hand) about the whereabouts of my safety equipment? Hold your line, please.

You can’t rationally expect me to have a change of heart from your drive-by sarcastic quips, so you must be preaching to satisfy your own needs. I wonder, are you such the activist to helmetless riders at a stoplight? Probably not. I know no one has ever said squat to me at a dead standstill. Why not? Because people naturally try to avoid uncomfortable social confrontations. You feel safe tossing out comments at speed, but you suddenly are a hear-no-evil-speak-no-evil simian when you are face-to-face. It’s just like a teenager hurling verbal barbs from a moving car who suddenly goes quiet at the next stoplight.

As I said, the arguments have been covered, and I’m not refuting the benefits of helmets one bit. If I’m wearing a helmet or not, I am aware the situation already, I assure you. Save your breath and steer you own bike straight, you sanctimonious schoolmarm. Why don’t you spend your time doing something useful, like explaining how to properly wear a helmet to the ill-informed? Backwards helmets, helmets worn tilted halfway back, or helmets not strapped at all won’t fulfill their safety duty. If you want to make a difference, those riders need your help more than I do, since they think they’re safe.


Actually, there’s a really good explanation in the book Traffic: Why we drive the way we do… (http://www.amazon.com/Traffic-Drive-What-Says-About/dp/0307264785) which is quickly becoming the seminal text on the vehicular experience.

He talks about why people feel a need to confront people they feel are doing something dangerous, and why things like road rage exist. Basically, we’re programmed to scold those who don’t follow conventions for the betterment of the “tribe,” which is the ideal size group for human interaction, and what our brains still think we live in.

Calling out someone’s failings, even when it doesn’t affect our lives a bit, helps the survival of the tribe.

You’re dead on about why most people don’t say anything at a standstill, the anonymity of the moving vehicle isolates people from the guilty feeling of saying something negative, just like having a ton of steel and plastic around you makes you more likely to engage in road rage than you would be if you were confronting that person directly.

You make valid point. People are too lame to offer their opinion on level ground. Just out of curiosity though, why don’t you wear a helmet? I’m not preaching, just curious.

I never know if I should say something to the people wearing their helmets backward. I’m assuming it’s not intentional.

I’ll admit there are times when I ride sans helmet and I’ll also admit I find the helmet police types incredibly annoying and self-righteous. There’s also the whole matter of millions of Europeans riding sans helmet without getting killed in droves.

However, the argument that when you ride without a helmet you’re only putting yourself at risk is a load of crap. For starters, if you become seriously injured there’s a good chance your family will have to spend the rest of their lives caring for you. Also a good chance your family will be driven into bankruptcy from the medical bills (even if you are insured!) Beyond your family, riding without a helmet does put other people at risk. If you crash and get injured the fire and police dept will be called and have to respond. The leading cause of on the job deaths for fire fighters isn’t building fires, it’s traffic accidents while responding to calls. Spend some time riding along with fire fighters or cops and you quickly realize how incredibly dangerous it is for them to respond to calls. When you get injured they have to risk their lives to come help you. The notion that not wearing a helmet only impacts yourself is the argument of someone who is incredibly naive, self-centered, or just plain stupid.

If your combined closing speed is 40mph or more, you’re probably breaking two laws—the speed limit on the trails around here is 15mph.

It’s a perennial topic and I’ve said it before: “I wear a helmet and think everyone should, but I don’t get on a soap box about it.” Example is I’d have to not publish 1/2 of the postings we do if I didn’t want to show urban cyclists not wearing helmets—even at our Mobile Socials. What am I gonna do, ask people to leave? I will do that for no-brake fixie riders that cause crashes because they can’t handle their bikes, but helmets I gave up on.

But just don’t come here from your dark corner of the helmet hating universe to tell me they cause more injuries or don’t do anything. Riding yourself into a brick wall without a helmet and YouTube it.

One thing I restrain myself on is seat height or gears. Seeing cyclists practically sitting on the bike knees hitting their chest drives me nuts.

It’s that and barely able to get up a climb because they’re in the wrong gear. We know these things, many cyclists do not. I want to help them sometimes I do with a quick comment as I ride by. Like, hey, you’ve got a small chain ring on your bike, it’s made to get you up these hills. Remember that, even though it was a marketing failure, what Coasting taught Shimano is that bikes are entirely too complicated for people that aren’t cyclists.


“One thing I restrain myself on is seat height or gears. Seeing cyclists practically sitting on the bike knees hitting their chest drives me nuts.”

The thing that drives me nuts and which I point out is people who ride with their brake QR open. I see that every time I’m riding the Burke. People take their bike off the roof rack, put in the wheel, but forget to close the brake. Can be a real safety issue if you’re going down a hill and need to stop quickly.

Similar [topic discussed](http://bikehugger.com/2007/05/helmet.html) way back in 07 . . .

Frankly, I don’t care if you wear a helmet or not. When I see somebody without a helmet, I’m actually a bit jealous.  I’m too much of a lemming so I wear the stupid thing, even if I’m just going for a quick test ride around the block when working on my bike.  (Then again, that’s where I last crashed, so maybe it’s not such a bad idea.)

The thing that really annoys me though are news stories describing how a cyclist was killed when run over by a cement truck or some other large commercial vehicle.  Inevitably, the first couple of sentences of the story will contain something like, “The rider wasn’t wearing a helmet”.  Do they *really* think a helmet will help in such a situation?

The trouble with bike helmets is that the figures don’t show that they work at all -  helmet laws have stopped a lot of people cycling and have done nothing for head injury rates, see Robinson DL. No clear evidence from countries that have enforced the wearing of helmets. BMJ 2006;332: 722-5. http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/332/7543/722-a .

It appears that helmets break easily, but don’t absorb the impact, see the engineers quoted at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bicycle_helmet A bro.ken helmet has simply failed. Helmets have also strangled some young children who were wearing helmets while playing off their bicycles. If anyone shouts at you about not wearing a helmet, you can be confident that they really don’t know what they are talking about.

We’re not going to debate whether people should wear helmets or not here. That’s been covered. This post is about yelling at people if they’re not wearing helmets.

I’ve only had one person in Seattle tell me to wear a helmet while I was riding, a cop. He made me get off my bike and walk it home. Of course as soon as he was out of sight I rode home as I wasn’t going to walk my bike 6 miles. I didn’t take too kindly to him telling me to wear a helmet even though it’s kind of his job. He probably could have given me a ticket. But I’m back to regularly wearing a helmet now anyways.

Never had anyone do that at me personally, but then helmets aren’t such a quasi-cult in the UK. I have seen it happen to someone else, years ago in London, accompanied by direct insults; he didn’t bother to return the insults but caught up with the perpetrator at the next jam and banged hard on the roof. No idea who it was, he went off through the jam at speed, but I felt the balance of morality was rather against the person in the car.

I’ve heard/read of deliberate damage to property - keying the paint job on the way past for example - but in response to actual endangerment rather than such a trivial display of interfering ignorance.

First, I thought this was funny

>>Helmets have also strangled some young children who were wearing helmets while playing off their bicycles.<<

Yeah, and if I wear an arc welding mask when I’m not arc welding, I might run into a wall.

When you teach someone to wear a helmet, you have to teach them when *not* to as well. Don’t take your seatbelt off before you get out of the car, you’re going to choke on it.

I never yell at people about helmets, yelling doesn’t make anyone change their mind. My county is one of the few with mandatory helmet laws for adults, so I’ve been known to mention it to riders who are obviously up from New York City and are liable to be ticketed.

I *do* tend to mention when a person’s got a helmet fitted improperly—clearly they have some desire to wear one, and I know how they should go and I often give suggestions. I almost always give suggestions if the person with the ill fitted helmet is a child. (Though I have found that fathers are about 20% likely to change the helmet after the suggestions, while mothers stop and change the helmet almost 100% of the time, and thank me.)

The only people that drive me nuts are the guys with their helmets on their handlebars while they ride. You committed enough to BRING the helmet, but only enough to save your stem from damage. I’d say stuff to those people, but clearly Darwin’s already trying to send them a message.

“reduce the chance of a serious head injury” - really? I haven’t seen any proof of that.  At low speed it can protect against injury, but is that likely to be “serious injury”?

Anyway, I can understand that if you have a law then people might shout at you for not complying. For instance others might flash/shout at people who jump red lights or ignore pedestrian rights.

But it still amazes me that you are in a situation where so many people believe wearing a helmet is normal and useful when riding a cycle but not when doing other similarly safe activities.

No helmet required here and wearing rates are about 20-25%.

We’re not debating helmets here—bottom line. We respect choice. Respect ours to wear them. Again, we’ll moderate helmet debates. Thanks.

Advertise here

About this Entry

Tanning Beds vs. Hypobaric Sleeping Chambers was the previous entry in this blog.

Rock Shox Paris-Roubaix SL fork is the next one.

Find more recent content on our home page and archives.

About Bike Hugger