What’s with all the helmet-hatin’?

Today, I read a seemingly anti-helmet statement posted via Alex Bogusky’s (@bogusky) Twitter stream that read:

The culture of fear and why we shouldn’t bike with a helmet. If we were rational we would wear helmets in our CARS. http://t.co/g3iRyKZ

It links to a blog post by Bogusky on his FearLess Revolution blog with an embedded video of Mikael Colville-Andersen’s recent TEDx talk in Copenhagen. The video is 16 minutes long, and asserts, essentially, that the bicycle helmet industrial complex and their use of fear tactics to encourage sales is directly responsible for a decline in the growth of cycling, promotes unsafe cycling behavior, and claims that cycling with a helmet is less safe than riding without a helmet.

A real conspiracy or just sartorialist helmet hatin’?

Colville-Andersen is better known as @copenhagenize on Twitter and is responsible for the popular bike culture blogs Copenhagenize and Copenhagen Cycle Chic. In his video (link in Bogusky tweet above) and related blog post, Colville-Andersen’s reference to facts and statistics seem tenuous, at best. Maybe he’s totally right and there IS a direct correlation between helmet scare tactics and reduced cycling uptake. I’d like to see some real proof of that, though. My sense is that there’s more of an anti-industry, sartorialist underpinning here than empirical evidence. I totally dig the sartorialist coverage of cycling by Colville-Andersen and others, and I do feel that our consumerist society is out of control (more on that below).

BHSI’s Response to the video

The Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute (BHSI, a part of that evil bicycle helmet industrial complex) responded with a post on their site, offering rebuttals much of what Colville-Andersen claimed. They offer some compliments for the presentation’s entertainment value, but contend that the claims Colville-Andersen are inaccurate or without merit.

Is there a conspiracy?

Yes and no. I believe there is definitely a concerted effort by those within the automobile-centric ecosystem that would prefer to see the status quo maintained. This is evidenced by recent policy statements by AAA Mid Atlantic suggesting that Highway Transportation Funds be shifted away from alternative (non-motor vehicle) transportation projects. Huffington Post covered it well in this interview between Larry Cohen and Dick Jackson, M.D., M.P.H. But, I doubt very seriously there is any conspiracy between the automotive complex and the helmet industry.

Consumerism is rampant and planned obsolescence-along with lofty claims of performance and/or safety-is as prevalent in cycling as every other aspect of our “modern” consumerist societies. Who really needs a 3D TV, or an iPhone 6XLi? I doubt, though, that the marketing, from what I see in the U.S., is something that turns people off of cycling. If there’s hard evidence of that, I’d love to see it exposed more clearly so that we can legitimately rail against it.

Can we get more dialogue on this from both sides of the argument?

Helmet lovers and helmet haters who all care about bicycling should come together and discuss what the issues really are. What’s the evidence behind the claims being made? Is there a better way to promote safety for cycling that’s holistic, beyond the basics of using a helmet, lights, and brakes? Of course there is. So let’s get together and hug this shit out. If you’re not into hugging, talking/writing is OK, too.

@bogusky, @copenhagenize, and BHSI: (Why don’t you have a Twitter account, BHSI?) Can we have an open, civil dialogue/debate that covers these issues in a factual, helpful, possibly even mind/policy-changing way? I would personally sponsor a site to host the dialogue—virtual or in person.

To all cyclists: What are your thoughts about helmets and the fear factor mentioned by @bogusky and @copenhagenize? Are you a helmet hater? Any stories to tell to support either position?

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