Bike Helmets: A Good Thing

A couple of weeks ago I noticed some uneven paving on my city’s bike-path portion of the road, as I was traveling over it. Hm. Something is wrong.

Then, I was on my feet, talking to a stranger with my bike on the ground, a bloody hand, a sore arm, a lightly bruised face and a cut ear. What transpired between paragraph 1 and 2 is not entirely clear: there were no witnesses to my encounter with the ground and I lost 1 to 10 minutes to amnesia.

I ended up with a fractured elbow (fractured radial head, I’m told) and light headaches over the next few days. Manageable. The bike helmet may have saved my life; it almost certainly saved me a lot of trouble.

(Yes, I know bike helmets can only sustain one serious impact and should be replaced following an accident. I’ve done that.)

I wear one but I’m constantly aware of the fact that, in comparison with my helmeted head, the Elephant Man’s is good looking. Why are cycle helmets so ugly? I have a friend who believes that the first person to create a helmet which is flattering to the wearer will very quickly become a multi-millionaire. I’d like one that fits more like a motorcycle helmet and has little wings or horns on the sides. Your story is worth hearing though - in the meantime I’ll keep wearing the one I’ve got.

Yes, everyone who’s riding a bike should read your post. When I was younger, I never wanted to wear a helmet, but my parents said that I had to. My parents were smart people. I got into accidents that could have been pretty bad without the helmet. Once I was going down a long downhill with a sharp turn at the end. I went too fast and the bike slipped out from under me and I fell onto the street. I was still sliding pretty fast when my head hit the curb. I got up and walked a few steps, than got back on my bike and rode home. I had some nasty bruises on my left shoulder, my butt, and my left leg for awhile, but I probably would have been in the hospital for a few weeks without that helmet.

Bike helmets: generally a good thing.

Mandatory use of bike helmets: generally a bad thing.

I can relate to your experience, years ago I took a few falls on a motorcycle. Almost always wear a helmet when I ride the motorbike. However, I almost never wear one on a bicycle, and I have quite a bit of experience riding one of these too. It’s a choice I make, and I demand to be able to make that choice.

Not a bicycle helmet, but a riding helmet may have saved my life not once, but twice. The first time I’d finished riding my horse, and had bent down to take the protective boots off his front legs. Normally, I’d’ve already removed my helmet, but the arena had been muddy and I wanted to get them off before they chafed him. He reached up with a hind leg and kicked me in the head. He bowled me over a couple of times, but no serious injury done. I took off my helmut and found that he’d kicked me right in the temple. one of my friends said he’d had a friend kicked like that who died on the spot. The second time was this past July. I’d just mounted my horse (yes, the same one) and he started bucking like a bronco. He’s a big horse, over 16 hh at the withers (5’4" at his shoulders, to most people). I flew WAY up in the air, a witness saying he thought I hit 10 feet up at my apogee. And I fell on concrete. I fell mostly on my back, but my head gave an awful thud. I walked away (albeit slowly) from that one, too. Thank you, flowbark, for reminding me that I need to replace my helmet. I keep putting it off, although I know I should. The helmet manufacturer even will replace it for free if you have a fall.

These small, sometimes annoying things we do, such as safety helmets and seatbelts and carseats for children, really do make a difference.


I’ve had bike helmets just protect me from signs. More than once, especially if it’s raining, I will be startled by traffic an pull to the side and get clipped by a stopsign, leaving a nasty gouge in my helmet.

I remember reading an article about ten years that stated that helmet users on bicyclests had X % (don’t remember exact percentage - it HAS been ten years) less head injuries. However, helmet users ALSO had the same percentage ( X ) fewer broken limbs. Basically the article seemed to state that bicyclists who wore helmets were just safer riders in general, and the helmets were more a psychological aid. Al I know is there are alot of folks who swear by them. That’s good enough for me.

Would you say the same about wearing a seatbelt in a car?

And also, your ‘choice’ does actually affect other people. Would you pay more of whatever method you use to support the medical system because of your increased risk of injury? Probably other things too that I can’t think of right now.

And besides, I personally can’t think of a single good reason not to wear a bike helmet.

My friends and I gave up biking (for driving) around the time helmets started becoming popular (they appeared slowly but there was no real “you REALLY should wear these” push or anything), so we missed the whole bike safety deal. I went through many things on a bike that should have killed me (while looking down trying to kick a dog that was trying to bite my ankles, I hit a curb, sailed through some dead bushes, a sign, and rolled a couple meters on the road on the other side…keep your dog on a leash if he’s going to chase people who are just biking by, dammit), but I generally come out of it with just a few scratches (haven’t even broken a bone before). I know full well that it’s just been luck though, and that I could have been seriously injured and killed a number of times…but I figure I’ll just bike safer rather than wear a helmet.

The majority of accidents I’ve ended up in or seen happen have been caused by people doing generally stupid things on their bike (speeding down a hill and across a road at full speed, not watching out for traffic, jumping off things, riding one/no handed, kicking at a dog that’s trying to gnaw on their ankle, etc.), and while there ARE out of the blue flukes, most of the time if you’re paying attention to what you’re doing, you can avoid flying through the air. There are flukes you can’t prevent though…but when I’m walking down the street I can also have a billboard fall on me…I’m not going to wear a hardhat all day just in case, heh.

(and it’s just bicycling that I “take my chances” with, because I basically grew up on my bike and feel confident enough that I can avoid most incidents, or hit the ground right…I wear a seatbelt even when I’m just going to 7-11 for some Doritos and nag at people who don’t wear them, heh)

I second the notion that bike helmets should look cooler. I’d wear one that looked like something out of Robotech (, heh…

  • Tsugumo (who will likely have to go back to riding a bike in the near future, for he shall have no car…will he wear a helmet? Tune in next time to find out!)

Anyone who thinks that compulsory wearing helmets is an infringement on their civil liberties should visit a facility where people with permanent head injuries are forced to reside in permanent nursing care.

They should also pick up a book on trauma medicine and learn what happens inside your skull when you bang it very hard. A staggering proportion of deaths from road trauma are directly attributable to closed head injury.

I agree totally with Cumber, who said that choosing to go without a helmet DOES impact on others. Besides the increased medical costs involved, there is also an impact on the paramedics and rescue personnel who have to stabilise the patient in the field.

Better to be alive and looking slightly silly in your bike helmet, than seriously ugly and dead with your head caved in…

I usually side with civil liberties, but this time I’ve got to agree maditory helmets are a good idea. If everybody has to wear them then I don’t look like so much of a geek in mine. Maybe after a while helmets might even become “cool.” When seat-belt law were fist it was kind of a wimpy thing (at least that’s my impression of how society viewed seatbelt laws)but after everyone did it and it became not so bad. I know this may seem like a silly reason, but I sick of all the girls laughing at me at intersections. May be it’s the shorts. (just kidding I don’t wear the shorts.)

Two years ago I was riding my bike home from work as I do almost every day (I’m 46). I remember turning a corner and then my memory gets fuzzy, exactly like a movie fade-out.

The next thing I remember is a bright light and I am moving away from it.

No, this was not a near-death experience, at least not in the usual sense. The bright light was daylight and the reason I was moving away was that the gurney I was strapped to was being pulled into an ambulance.

The ambulance attendent was on the radio telling someone “He knows where he is and who is the president.”

“Hey,” I told him. “I do know those things, but I don’t remember you asking me.” But I was back among the living.

I had a concussion and got several stitches above my eyebrow - the ear piece of my glasses had snapped and gashed me.

I did have a helmet on and I calculate that the depth of the padding was about the same as the distance between the
gash and my eye. So I figure the helmet may have saved me an eye.

But what surprised me was that the helmet showed no signs of damage except a little scraping on the outside and some
lovely blood streaks on the white cover.

I took it to the bike shop to trade for a new one and commented that I thought the helmet was supposed to compress to protect my skull. So why did I have a concussion and the helmet was unharmed?

“Let’s take a look,” said the bike shop guy. He grabbed each end of the helmet and twisted in opposite directions,
like wringing out a cloth. Immediately we saw a jagged crack in the black padding. The padding had busted under the pressure, exactly as advertised, and the plastic shell held the pieces together.

So call me a satisfied customer.

Does anyone know if the are bicycle political activist type groups around. I like to ride my bike to work every day too, but it can be tough (too few bike lanes, poorly maintained bike lanes, discourteous drivers, etc.). I’ll soon be moving to central NJ, which as far as I can tell is not very bike friendly. It seems to me us bike folks have issues that city planners should be listening to.

Ride on the sidewalk (which rarely has pedestrians, and if there are some, you can easily go off onto the grass on the sides and miss them, unlike a car that notices you at the last second on the road and can’t just go up on the sidewalk and go around), and if someone tells you you have to ride on the road, give them your bike and tell them to ride on the road to the nearest set of lights and back, with cars going 2x as fast behind them and trying to pass them without changing lanes.

Sorry, just had to get that out. I find it stupid that bikers are supposed to ride on the road (though I never looked into it, I was told when I was younger that it was the law that you have to ride on the road, but for all I know that’s BS and people just LIKE riding on the road for some reason. If it’s not the law anymore (or never was), feel free to mention that, heh)…it makes no sense at all. And I’ll be using a bike as my main transportation relatively soon, so this sort of thing is going to be affecting me, heh…I’ll be riding on the sidewalks/bike paths/grass where I don’t have cars dodging me.

  • Tsugumo (abusing the brackets (it’s just so much fun))

Buddie… as you’ll soon find out the sidewalks just don’t cut it. (well maybe it depends where you live. for some places they may be okay.) There are just too many hazards. The sidewalks in my neighborhood are loaded with pedestrians. Sidewalks are ok, for kids who want to ride over to the next block to get to there friends house, but if you’re going more than a couple miles you’ll make terrible time on the sidewalk.

Must be it, heh. I live in a relatively small city (especially compared to New York or something), and I see rarely any pedestrians except for in the main “business” areas where people are walking all over the place in a mad rush. If you have to take a route that goes through something like that then I guess sidewalks won’t work, but personally I’d rather hunt out another route than ride on the road with cars. Especially when I can’t see what they’re doing behind me…

  • Tsugumo

On ugly helmets:
They’re getting a little more attractive. I’ve noticed the newer ones are more streamlined and somewhat less bulbous. The trend towards visors also makes the helmets look more hat-like.

Friend of the Devil:
Leaving aside the policy issues for the moment, I’m curious about why you choose not to wear a helmet. Expense? Appearance? Comfort? Hassle? I suspect that for many people the answer is, “Never got around to buying one.”

when mountain biking, you look silly when you don’t wear a helmet. it’s like folks who don’t dress properly for the weather, preferring ‘fashion’ to function - they just end up looking dumb. having ‘endoed’ many times on rocks, i love my helmet just the way it is. it is purely functional - the parts that stick out in front and behind are like rollbars for the face and neck. it’s lightweight, comfortable, and has great airflow through it. i think it looks good on me, simply because it’s the right tool for the job.

I wear a helmet, but I dont think they should be mandatory - if someone doesn’t want to protect their brain, that’s their business.

But anyway: what drives me nuts is when I see a family out cycling and, while they are all wearing helmets, which is good, they are all wearing them incorrectly!! Argh!!
It’s not supposed to sit jauntily on the back of your skull, for crying out loud. Or people who wear baseball caps underneath the helmet (not nearly as common).

But anyway. I put stickers on my helmet (the big kind you get from grocery store machines, 50 cents each) and then I was out in the rain, a lot, and all the colored part wore off the stickers, and now my helmet is covered in blotchy white, vaguely-shaped blobs. Almost like I am wearing a giant cauliflower on my head.

I wish I had a giant cauliflower right now. It would be my friend. I would be happy with a giant cauliflower.


Comfort, hassle and the perceived need to wear one.

Let me explain that last one a little bit. The vast majority of my riding is done on groommed and paved trails, or low traffic city streets. My environment is not downtown Chicago or New York, it is a fairly small suburban area. I recognize and support the concept that a bike helmet is a good idea for SOME riding situations. My argument is against the position that a helmet should be a mandatory thing for ALL situations (this has been proposed by some in my area).

I have been riding (bikes and motorcycles) for over 30 years. The motorcycle riders out there especially will understand when I say that it is absolutely necessary on both vehicles to ride defensively and be aware of your surroundings.

Any activity carries with it some risk. One could be further protected on a bike with knee and elbow pads, and by wearing full length clothing at all times. Cars could be safer if they had governors limiting speed to 25 mph. In fact, why not require drivers to wear helmets as well? It’s not always black and white - life usually contains many shades of gray as well.

My health care impact on society? Perhaps it’s potentially lower than many of you. I don’t go skateboarding, or mountain climbing. I don’t drink, so my chances of an alcohol-related driving accident should be slightly lower. In many other categories, my overall impact should be lower. In some, it may be greater. I haven’t been convinced yet in this case that the justification exists for a mandatory restriction on my behavior.

And yes, I know people with permanently disabling head injuries. From various causes.