Should I Wear a Bike Helmet?
Summary: We are helmet advocates, so you know our bias, but here is some food for thought about those who attempt to
disparage bike helmets.
In 2010 we saw an increase in blog posts from cyclists who did not believe you should wear a helmet. They challenged the
conventional wisdom that helmets are necessary to reduce brain injures. That has continued now for the intervening years.
The positive experience with shared bicycle programs has raised basic questions about the need for helmets, and some
riders are reconsidering.
First, for views opposing ours
Questions you may want to ask
Is there evidence that helmets protect brains and heads? Yes. We have a statistics
page that may help you research that. Don't miss the recent New York City data showing
that 97% of their dead cyclists had no helmet.
Do cyclists crash? Do bare-headed cyclists injure their brains more often? Again our stats
page may help.
What is your general level of risk-avoidance? Do you:
- --adjust your brakes when they get worn
- --use active lights at night
- --swim in thunderstorms
- --wear seatbelts in a car
- --pinch grounding prongs off electrical plugs
- --have a working battery in your home smoke detector
- --shred railings on your skateboard
- --ride a fixie with no front brake
- --ignore sunburns
- --drink non-organic milk
- --drive or ride while intoxicated
- --watch your weight
- --exercise regularly?
Maybe the conventional wisdom comes from people who have different ideas about taking risks.
- How important to you is thinking clearly?
Only you can answer that one. Do you have a lot invested in training your brain? Is anyone else depending on you to
- Who should you listen to?
On all sides you hear "studies have shown" followed by a mix of information, misinformation, fabrication and outright
prevarication. Studies have indeed shown things, but some are much better than others, and sorting it all out is not
Given that most of us have a bias, your best source of information is probably the real world. You can go to a meeting
of a local cycling group who ride the way you do: recreational clubs, commuter organizations, urban riders, touring
riders. Ask the people who ride a lot in your own area. Don't let anyone sneer at that "anecdotal" evidence. It's the
real world, not somebody's take on what happens somewhere else with a different road culture or even a nationwide
generalization using bingo numbers gathered on the telephone. The answers could be different for the riding you do, and
might not agree with what "studies have shown" or what somebody in Copenhagen thinks.
- Why does the injury prevention community advocate helmets? Why are emergency room doctors among the strongest
The doctors see the injuries, close up and personal. The injury prevention community believes helmets are the best
short-term intervention for reducing cyclists' brain injuries while we are improving the safety of roads and other
Why are we not screaming at you to "just wear a helmet"?
Cyclists think for themselves (or they would not be cyclists!) and always debate things that seem settled. Over the
years they have gone to the mat on both sides of elliptical chainwheels, solid tires, 26/27/700C/29" wheels and
whether or not wheels stand on the lower spokes or hang from the upper ones. We think most of the anti-helmet
arguments stem from either resentment about being told how to ride, the libertarian ethic or just the urge to oppose
anything that the majority seems to be mindlessly going along with. The one valid concern would be if helmets
discouraged cycling, but we have no indication of that in any US city or state where actual rider counts have been
done. The success of shared bicycle programs, and their low rate of reported head injuries, may challenge that. Those
programs will not attract as many casual users if helmets are required. And more recently there have been those who
feel we are just not taking enough risks in
Re-examining views on safety is always appropriate, even though the level of discussion on this topic is more heat
than light, and not likely to produce progress. We are surprised that after examining the evidence people would
consider riding without a helmet because somebody posting on a blog thinks it's not necessary, or somehow detrimental
to cycling. But every rider is of course entitled to their opinion, so here we try to offer some food for thought,
never pretending that we are not biased.
For studiesHarborview Injury Prevention Center's
helmet effectiveness studies
Other pages on our site