Bike Helmets on Campus
Summary: Do I really need a helmet just to ride to class?
You know our answer for that already, but here is how we got there.
First, ask your Physics prof what can happen to a head dropped from the normal height where you ride, say about 5 feet up, when it hits the concrete walkway. Your prof will tell you about g forces the head can experience from that drop height. Bike helmets are tested in a two meter drop, a little higher, but that five feet is all the impact you need to mess up your brain. You don't need forward speed at all, although it can make it worse--ask the Physics prof about vectors.
Then think about random things that happen when you ride on campus. Do you ever get distracted by, say, passing members of the opposite gender? Same gender? Have you had near-collisions or actual collisions with pedestrians as the mobs change class? Do you ever hurry to get to class on time and take little chances? Have you ever seen a patch of ice or sand on a campus sidewalk? Ever ridden on campus after a couple of beers or whatever? Are there sidewalk cracks where a bike wheel can catch? Do people ever leave cans or bottles around that could turn your front wheel? Do you ever extend your ride off campus to go somewhere close by to run an errand and end up in city traffic? We would bet that you know more risk factors than we do.
And what do the stats say? There are 800 people killed on bikes in the US every year, and a half million, more or less, who end up in emergency rooms being stitched, fitted with a cast or just having their road pizzas scrubbed and bandaged. Nobody keeps track of how many of those were on a campus when they crashed. But we do know that you are making a major investment in yourself for a lifetime of good returns, and you don't want a fuddled brain to bring that to a halt. People with head injuries can remember how much more they were able to do mentally before the crash, and that hurts long after other things heal. The effects can last forever. At your age you have a lot of good years to look forward to. You are just beginning to realize how much pleasure in life comes from being competent, smart and educated. You don't want to take a chance with that. It means a lot to you.
Helmets are cheap at Wal-Mart or Target, and the cheap ones work fine if you fit them carefully. You can lock it with your bike. It really won't mess up your hair much in a short ride. Give it a try.
Or even better, take a look at the campus biking Web site at Stanford.
This page was suggested by a student at Dartmouth.
This page was updated or partially revised on: April 27, 2015.