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What is wrong with bicycle helmets?
October 28, 2011 2:12 PM   Subscribe

What is wrong with bicycle helmets?

It is at first surprising to many people that the wearing of helmets by cyclists is a controversial subject. However, cycling safety is a much more complex issue than many people realize, where best evidence and real-world experience sometimes conflict with received opinion. Key considerations about risk when cycling, what influences cycling safety and the inter-relationships between safety interventions, cycle use, behavior and health (both individual and public) are often poorly understood. In particular, opinions as to whether cycle helmets are an appropriate, proportionate or effective intervention are often dominated by emotion and expressed with exaggeration, which can make it difficult to know what to believe.

The Bicycle Helmet Research Foundation (BHRF) and cyclehelmets.org were established to provide a resource of best-available factual information and to challenge evidence and policies that do not stand up to scrutiny. BHRF is pro-cycling and pro-health and seeks to judge the evidence on its merits. This overview is an attempt to distill the most important evidence and arguments about cycle helmets.


Robinson DL. No clear evidence from countries that have enforced the wearing of helmets. BMJ, 2006;332:722.
Hagel B, Macpherson A, Rivara FP, Pless B. Arguments against helmet legislation are flawed. BMJ, BMJ 2006;332:725-726.

An introduction to the objective risk assessment of cycling:
Safety in numbers How cycling is safer the more people who cycle
Assessing the actual risks faced by cyclists (PDF) Wardlaw MJ 2002. Traffic Engineering + Control: Dec 2002 p352-356
Test your perceptions of bike safety
Risk Compensation & Helmet Wearing (PDF) Published in 'Injury Prevention', June 2001
The health risks and benefits of cycling in urban environments compared with car use Rojas-Rueda D, de_Nazelle A, Tainio M, Nieuwenhuijsen MJ. BMJ 2011; 343:d4521 The health benefits of cycling outweigh the risks by 77 to 1, in a city where few people wear helmets.
Choose the yum and risk the yuk? The University of Cambridge's Professor of Risk Understanding (who cycles without a helmet) notes that the balance between risk and benefit is not straight-forward

Many people who wear helmets can relate their experience of a crash which leads them to believe that a helmet 'saved their life'. This is a very common experience - very much more common, in fact, than the actual number of life-threatening injuries suffered by bare-headed cyclists. Yet there is no evidence that helmets save lives or prevent serious injury at all across cyclists as a whole

Frequently asked questions:
How likely is head injury when cycling?
Is cycling without a helmet dangerous?
What evidence supports helmet use?
What evidence is there that cycle helmets save lives?
What evidence is there that cycle helmets reduce serious injury?
Do helmet promotion and helmet laws affect cycle use?
What is the balance of advantage?
What is the cost-benefit of helmet use?
What is the most effective way to make cycling safer?
If car occupants must wear seat belts, why shouldn't cyclists wear helmets?
posted by Blasdelb (273 comments total) 67 users marked this as a favorite

 
That's a lot of links. I'll keep my helmet on.
posted by entropone at 2:15 PM on October 28, 2011 [24 favorites]


That's a lot of links. I'll keep my helmet off.
posted by Greg Nog at 2:17 PM on October 28, 2011 [25 favorites]


Let me guess, Blasdelb. You got a citation for riding your bike without a helmet.
posted by crunchland at 2:18 PM on October 28, 2011 [13 favorites]


That's a lot of links. Sometimes I wear a helmet; other times, I don't feel like it.
posted by pts at 2:18 PM on October 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


Well, since the main problem with riding a bicycle is you might get hit by a car and killed, does the helmet actually do anything for you in that situation? My guess is it probably doesn't.
posted by Artw at 2:20 PM on October 28, 2011 [5 favorites]


Bikes are entirely too dangerous. I'll stick to walking.
posted by Ad hominem at 2:20 PM on October 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


speaking as a crazy fuck who rides like a crazy fuck, i will keep the lid on. i tended to keep the lid off when i rode c-mass but that was because a) i could barely ride faster than a walk and b) it was a Thing and c) FUCK YOU IM DRINKIN A WHOLE BOTTLE OF WHISKEY AND ARRAAGHH

in conclusion, lids are as good as the brain inside who wears them

tune in next week for "the time the bike shop down the street ordered mountaineering helmets by mistake and some people bought them anyway to my eternal confusion"
posted by beefetish at 2:20 PM on October 28, 2011 [4 favorites]


That's a lot of helmets. I'll keep my links off.
posted by The Deej at 2:21 PM on October 28, 2011 [9 favorites]


ad hom walking is really bad on your knees i will stick to being ferried everywhere in this glitter-bedecked wheelbarrow by a bevy of nude, ferocious, and pleasantly curvy young women
posted by beefetish at 2:21 PM on October 28, 2011 [33 favorites]


This sounds like the arguments the car companies made against seat belts back in the '60s. "Those damn things reduce safety by encouraging dangerous driving."
posted by caddis at 2:22 PM on October 28, 2011 [12 favorites]


There is a Cochrane Review study on bike helmets that looks at a number of studies.

Their conclusion is:

Bicycle helmets have been advocated as a means of reducing the severity of head injuries, however voluntary use of helmets is low among the general population. Bicycle helmet laws mandating their use have thus been implemented in a number of jurisdictions word-wide in order to increase helmet use. These laws have proved to be controversial with opponents arguing that the laws may dissuade people from cycling or may result in greater injury rates among cyclists due to risk compensation. This review searched for the best evidence to investigate what effect bicycle helmet laws have had. There were no randomised controlled trials found, however five studies with a contemporary control were located that looked at bicycle related head injury or bicycle helmet use. The results of these studies indicated a positive effect of bicycle helmet laws for increasing helmet use and reducing head injuries in the target population compared to controls (either jurisdictions without helmet laws or non-target populations). None of the included studies measured actual bicycle use so it was not possible to evaluate the claim that fewer individuals were cycling due to the implementation of the helmet laws. Although the results of the review support bicycle helmet legislation for reducing head injuries, the evidence is currently insufficient to either support or negate the claims of bicycle helmet opponents that helmet laws may discourage cycling.
posted by sien at 2:23 PM on October 28, 2011 [23 favorites]


Cost-benefit rules here. What does it cost me to wear a helmet? Nothing. (I don't buy the "cars overtaking helmeted riders" thing. Philly drivers don't care either way.) Is there a possible benefit? Could be. Certainly doesn't hurt one's chances in a fall. I daresay my brain holds/is the largest investment I'll ever make.

For me, helmet stays on.
posted by supercres at 2:23 PM on October 28, 2011 [13 favorites]


beefetish, can I take a ride in your wheelbarrow sometime?
posted by Specklet at 2:23 PM on October 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


Wait, so that is not a face shield?

Well shit.
posted by everichon at 2:24 PM on October 28, 2011


by a bevy of nude, ferocious, and pleasantly curvy young women

I am with you as long as they are ethnically diverse. I will not stand for racism in my wheelbarrow ferrying bevy.
posted by Ad hominem at 2:25 PM on October 28, 2011 [13 favorites]


Looking at the summary from the main link:
Bicycle helmets probably have some protective value, but not nearly as much as has been claimed, or most people seem to think.

Wearing a helmet does nothing to prevent you from being hit by a car.

Real bicycle safety involves learning how to ride properly.

Crash helmets could easily save more lives for motorists than bicyclists.

Helmet laws restrict freedom of choice, may result in the targeting of minorities, discourage cycling, make cycling more dangerous for those who remain, and shift the blame in car-bike collisions to helmetless cyclists even if it was the motorist who was at fault.
Most of those are not actually about whether helmets are helpful. My hunch from what I've seen is that individually, helmets are beneficial. Not super-beneficial, but they are indeed helpful. Collectively, they cause problems by making drivers less cautious around bikers, but the solution to that is driver education. And the inequitable enforcement of helmet laws is not best solved by removing the helmet laws.
posted by Lemurrhea at 2:25 PM on October 28, 2011 [9 favorites]


"Let me guess, Blasdelb. You got a citation for riding your bike without a helmet."

I wear a helmet myself, but am a firm believer in data driving public health policy not dogma.

"Bikes are entirely too dangerous. I'll stick to walking."

The data shows that, per mile traveled, walking in the developed world is around 1.7 times more dangerous than biking. So, good luck with that and all.
posted by Blasdelb at 2:26 PM on October 28, 2011 [14 favorites]


So a lucky rabbits foot is equally effective, and has the added benefit that you can put it on a keychain.
posted by Artw at 2:26 PM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Cost-benefit rules here. What does it cost me to wear a helmet? Nothing.

Yeah, this seems like the crux of the issue to me.

Should we teach people to ride safely? Absolutely.
Do people ride less safely because of their helmets? No.

Hey, look we can do both things!
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 2:27 PM on October 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


Cost-benefit rules here. What does it cost me to wear a helmet? Nothing. Well, not "nothing." My helmet cost me $40. Not that I mind, but it's not nothing.
posted by crunchland at 2:31 PM on October 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


"Well, since the main problem with riding a bicycle is you might get hit by a car and killed, does the helmet actually do anything for you in that situation? My guess is it probably doesn't."

My husband was the bike (and the loser) in a pickup-vs.-bicycle hit-and-run (which occurred RIGHT IN FRONT OF THE EMERGENCY ROOM ENTRANCE, as I've mentioned before). He sort-of went down sliding on his right side, but went down hard and fast. He suffered bruises and contusions all over his right side, a broken right collarbone, torn clothing, terrible road rash on exposed skin (including that exposed by tearing), and a badly-dented helmet on the right side where his head hit the pavement.

I am extremely grateful he suffered a badly-dented HELMET and not a badly-dented HEAD. The replacement helmet arrived by amazon two-day shipping weeks and weeks before he was able to ride again.

I know if he'd been hit in a different way, the helmet might not have made a difference. But he wasn't and it did and I'm grateful. A father of two has no business riding a bicycle or motorcycle without a helmet or a in car without a seatbelt -- simple precautions, particularly when others depend on you.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:32 PM on October 28, 2011 [48 favorites]


When I slipped fast and hard on wet train tracks a couple of years ago, my helmet protected the side of my face from cuts and bruises and a serious headache to possible mild concussion. When I went over my handlebars this summer, my helmet was irrelevant because my backpack broke the impact of the bike on my back.

I still wear a helmet most of the time, skipping it for short local trips, which means I can feel guilty about bad choices 100% of the time. Win!
posted by maudlin at 2:34 PM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


(I meant to say, amazon does not sell replacement heads.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:34 PM on October 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


Riding a bike on a nice summer day with the wind in your hair is one of the finer things in life.
posted by loquacious at 2:35 PM on October 28, 2011 [6 favorites]


I've been in two bad bike accidents. Both times I flipped the handlebars and hit head first. Though, I would have taken non-lethal bodily injury with or without a helmet, it probably saved me from having to re-learn how to read.
posted by wcfields at 2:36 PM on October 28, 2011 [6 favorites]


The eloquent, passionate urban cycling advocate Mikael Colville-Andersen at Copenhagenize has been a persistent critic of what he calls "bike helmet hysteria." In addition to the many posts of his own slugged with that tag, his site published a five-part "Fear of Cycling" essay by sociologist Dave Horton that is essential reading for anyone interested in seeing more bikes on city streets.
posted by gompa at 2:36 PM on October 28, 2011 [8 favorites]


As a motorcyclist, I'm fully in the camp that if more people rode motorcycles, the roads would be safer even if most of those people drove everywhere. I imagine the same would be true if more people rode bicycles. It's harder to be that asshole in the car if just yesterday you were the guy on the bicycle shaking his fist at another asshole.

(Friends of mine who are avid bicyclists have told me they've been deliberately run off the road by a car which they caught up to at a light, where the douche started raving about "socialism." Jesus.)

Anyway, I agree with the premise, to a certain degree. I'm sure helmets help, and probably don't hurt, but people always, ALWAYS use up every margin of safety. In a way, seat belts, air bags, and antilock brakes have made people much worse drivers. Most modern drivers could not safely drive one of my older cars because they use up every last percentage of the very good braking abilities their cars have, just for regular stops.

When you start strapping on armor, you begin to feel invincible. Rarely are you actually invincible. Good training can help you remember that.
posted by maxwelton at 2:37 PM on October 28, 2011 [9 favorites]


Raise your hand if you know people who are alive today because they wore bicycle helmets.

Ok, now go tell those people that helmets don't do any good.

These arguments all sound similar to the opposition against wearing seatbelts in cars, yet we all accept it as given today that seatbelts in cars are a good thing.
posted by jpeacock at 2:37 PM on October 28, 2011 [9 favorites]


(I meant to say, amazon does not sell replacement heads.)

If you don't mind having a toothrbrush head instead of a person head, they do!

Plus, the toothbrush heads come with helmets.
posted by aubilenon at 2:38 PM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Now I want a helmet that's an anatomically correct model of a labia.
posted by loquacious at 2:38 PM on October 28, 2011


Now I want a helmet that's an anatomically correct model of a labia.

Nobody would ever be able to call you a dickhead ever again.
posted by Joey Michaels at 2:40 PM on October 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


I wear a helmet, but the so-called "War on Cars" meme is probably more dangerous to the average cyclist than safety gain offset from wearing a helmet. Drivers operating their vehicles with a false sense of victimhood seem angrier and more likely to hit a cyclist at speeds where a helmet provides little protection. We could use more studies that analyze how traffic changes, as drivers are coping with sharing the roads we all pay for.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:40 PM on October 28, 2011 [6 favorites]


Just duct tape two declawed cats to your head. Absorbs rain a treat, too.
posted by maudlin at 2:40 PM on October 28, 2011 [4 favorites]


correct model of a labia.

Now you have me wondering if "a labia" is correct, I would have thought "labia" was plural and always referred to a set. Hm.
posted by maxwelton at 2:41 PM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have been in at least two crashes where not having a helmet would have meant a trip to the hospital, or in one of the two, a much longer stay in the hospital (if not losing the ability to speak, use a fork, etc.). Neither of them involved cars or other vehicles. One was black ice, and one was a fluke involving streetcar tracks at an odd angle in perfectly dry conditions in the middle of the afternoon on a clear day. You can't always predict what is going to happen.

But wear whatever you want. You have a right to do what you want with your body, and I won't tell you otherwise.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 2:42 PM on October 28, 2011


Collectively, they cause problems by making drivers less cautious around bikers

I don't put much stock in that University of Bath study mentioned in the first link. There was only one cyclist in the study, the researcher himself.

I also don't believe drivers are agressive because they have a false sense of victimhood. False sense of entitlement, yes.
posted by hydrophonic at 2:42 PM on October 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


I do have a suspicion that a helmet worn incorrectly is more dangerous than not wearing a helmet. I see a hell of a lot of helmets worn incorrectly, so I'm generally opposed to helmet laws for cyclists.
posted by hydrophonic at 2:44 PM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Labia is plural, the singular is labium.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 2:44 PM on October 28, 2011


Of course you wear a helmet. That way, when you go the wrong way up a one way street, or you run a red light, or you knock over a pedestrian, you'll be protected.
posted by crunchland at 2:45 PM on October 28, 2011 [4 favorites]


I always wear a helmet when bicycling. Always, always, always.

That doesn't mean that I've been convinced that riding a bike without one should be a crime.
posted by grouse at 2:45 PM on October 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


Raise your hand if you know people who are alive today because they wore bicycle helmets.

In my experience, this is the No. 1 defence of bike helmets by a wide margin. Used to use it myself - I've got a badly dinged helmet from the time a collision with a rearview mirror sent me headfirst over my handlebars on Gerrard St. ten years back. I walked away from the accident with just a bit of road rash and an aching shoulder, convinced the helmet had saved me from substantial head trauma.

The problem is, there's rarely conclusive proof the bike helmets saved anyone's life or even significantly reduced the scale of the injury. In fact, the linked site directly addresses this widespread belief. Its conclusion:
The next time you see a broken helmet, suspend belief and do the most basic check – disregard the breakages and look to see if what's left of the styrofoam has compressed. If it hasn't, you can be reasonably sure that it hasn't saved anyone's life.
This is not to say helmets are useless; it's more to say that the net effect of helmets (especially if mandatory) is a public safety negative, because it reduces the number of cyclists on the road, and the only factor known for certain to increase bike safety is to substantially increase the volume of cycling traffic on a given roadway.
posted by gompa at 2:46 PM on October 28, 2011 [17 favorites]


It's useful to remember what bicycle helmets are designed to do. They're supposed to protect the weight of a head starting at rest, dropping two meters onto a flat surface or a metre and a bit onto a rounded curb. For the two metre test, that's roughly an impact speed of 14 miles per hour on impact. During impacts, the acceleration on the head should be less than 300g, 250g or even 200g in the strictest (Snell) tests.

Most concussions happen at 1/3 to 1/2 that impact acceleration, less than 100g.

Also, the average speed of a commuter is something like 12-15 mph.

In effect, a helmet is designed to protect your head during a fall or a cyclist at modest speed running into something. In that case, a helmet will protect from very severe injury, but will not stop a concussion. You'll still probably need to go to the hospital, but your injuries will not, probably, be a bad injury.

More importantly, during a car accident, a helmet will not prevent major organ, spinal or neck damage. It cannot reduce head trauma to safe levels after being hit at 35 mph.

Helmets offer a modest level of protection, mostly from road rash and falls. They're really not much use in collisions or higher-speed falls. I bike with a helmet for that reason; I've had stupid falls and such. But a helmet isn't going to protect me from a car---it's not a magic amulet.

Cycling safety is wearing a helmet yes, but more importantly, in terms of cycling fatalities, means learning to ride safely.
posted by bonehead at 2:47 PM on October 28, 2011 [9 favorites]


What I think people miss in this argument is that obviously if you're in an accident you're better off with a helmet on. But that doesn't necessarily mean that helmet laws increase public safety.

Wears helmet. Usually.
posted by auto-correct at 2:47 PM on October 28, 2011


Both times I have had seriously bicycle accidents I flipped over the handlebars and was grateful that I split my helmet and not my head.

That said, I don't wear a helmet when I'm riding a beach cruiser because I feel silly. You take your life in to your own hands every day.
posted by ethansr at 2:49 PM on October 28, 2011


hydrophonic:
I don't put much stock in that University of Bath study mentioned in the first link. There was only one cyclist in the study, the researcher himself.


Hah, that's not science, that's opinion. Well, opinion based on miles one person traveled, unless he actually rode the same routes at the same times, trying as best as possible to re-create the same scenarios with different variables.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:50 PM on October 28, 2011


I came in here to say this, essentially:

Riding a bike on a nice summer day with the wind in your hair is one of the finer things in life.

So what does wearing a helmet cost me? Joy & comfort, which is a pretty steep price.

I wear a helmet in scary traffic areas and not the rest of the time.
posted by small_ruminant at 2:51 PM on October 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


Riding a bike without a helmet is like riding a fixed gear without brakes. Sure you CAN do it, but there's no advantage to doing it either.
posted by monkeymike at 2:52 PM on October 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


I know several people whose quality of life, if not their *actual* life, has been saved by wearing a bike helmet. You should be more than welcome to unshackle your lovely locks and ride helmet-free among multiple-ton lumbering hulks made from chrome, rubber, glass, plastic, alloyed aluminum, and cast-iron that have been designed with the express goal of preserving the lives of the occupants at the expense of everything in its path. Hell, take your brakes off too, if that helps turn your cranks! Me, I'll wear a helmet. I'll take all the help I can get.
posted by the painkiller at 2:52 PM on October 28, 2011 [5 favorites]


Remember that historically in the US, kids and teenagers have been the vast majority of bike riders. Kids take more risks, fall down all the time, and have softer skulls. Plus, adults are naturally more protective of kids than they are of other adults.

Another big group of cyclists, the racers, always wears helmets because they get in some quite severe crashes on a fairly regular basis.

If we rode like people in Holland, with their big old city cruisers going 10 mph with a hundred other cyclists, we'd have way less need for helmets.

A cyclist cut me off at 4-way stop late last night, with no lights, no helmet, and huge over-the-ear headphones so he couldn't hear anything. Argh.
posted by miyabo at 2:53 PM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


FWIW when I was a kid I flipped over handlebars a few times and got into other crazy scrapes, sans helmet, and emerged without skull injury. Just to add to the anecdata.
posted by Artw at 2:53 PM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have a hard time getting people to believe that I am both very pro-helmet and very anti-helmet law.

I am pro-helmet because I study brains and I've seen someone killed on a bike in front of me and die of a head injury. I almost never leave home without my helmet except for a handful of days where I risk a less than quarter mile ride on quiet and very familiar streets to my office without it just to feel the wind in my hair, cause hey that's nice sometimes.

I am vehemently anti-helmet because of the way police, drivers, and pedestrians think about cyclists. All the police I've ever interacted with think cyclists are risk takers and foolish and prone to obstructing traffic and causing hazards. Most drivers who don't also ride a bike think cyclists shouldn't even be on the road or allowed to take a lane. Pedestrians walk willy nilly in front of me into the street, not at crosswalks, all the time like I don't even exist while I'm cruising at 15-20mph and then get huffy when I almost hit them. NONE of these groups need yet another reason to blame cyclists for something. Helmets would do almost nothing to actually create good will or fix the kind of situations that arise that cause police-driver-pedestrian-cyclist conflict in the first place. That's all in PR, education, law and traffic engineering. Helmets are absolutely no good until the second my head hits the ground.
posted by slow graffiti at 2:54 PM on October 28, 2011 [8 favorites]


gompa: the net effect of helmets (especially if mandatory) is a public safety negative, because it reduces the number of cyclists on the road

Ridership stats in Ontario are the exact opposite. Bike commuter numbers have been steadily climing since the passage of the helmet law.
posted by bonehead at 2:55 PM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


My office mate had a low speed single bike crash this year without a helmet. Had to get brain surgery and wears a helmet every time now.

I'd like to live in a world where speed are a little slower and there pretty much no cars around, but until we do, I'm going to wear a helmet.

Never wore a helmet in Copenhagen, but also didn't have to worry about some jackass dooring me.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 2:56 PM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


(that should be "I am vehemently anti-helmet LAW")
posted by slow graffiti at 2:56 PM on October 28, 2011


If car occupants must wear seat belts, why shouldn't cyclists wear helmets?

And if car occupants decide to wear helmets, why shouldn't cyclists wear seatbelts?

ANSWER ME THAT, SMART BOY!
posted by mazola at 2:59 PM on October 28, 2011 [11 favorites]


Read the studies before you decide.

Oh, and then also talk to some people who have suffered traumatic brain injury and take that experience into account as well.
posted by quarterframer at 2:59 PM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


I know two people who, while grievously injured in bike accidents, would not be alive if they had not worn their helmets.
posted by Danf at 3:00 PM on October 28, 2011


I destroyed two helmets on a bike a one while skiing. Based on the damage to the helmet in each instance I think that a helmet has increased my lifespan. Thus I will keep wearing one. Ymmv.
posted by humanfont at 3:00 PM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've wiped-out one while riding without a helmet, and once while riding with a helmet. With a helmet went a lot better.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:01 PM on October 28, 2011


bonehead - the ontario cycling law only applies to children and isn't widely enforced anyway.

I had a few crashes mountain biking when I was a kid, once flying over the bars and landing in a field... bailed a few times coming down big hills too... nothing but road rash really. I've yet to have any crashes as an adult cyclist. I did a short tour and wouldn't have wanted to have my helmet on for entire days at a time, they are still heavy and make me sweat more. I think I'll move away if they ever try to bring back mandatory helmets in Ontario. I don't have a big issue with folks that wear them but they aren't a panacea either.
posted by glip at 3:02 PM on October 28, 2011


Tell it to Ryan Lipscomb, gang.
posted by to sir with millipedes at 3:03 PM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Who wears a helmet in the shower too? Lots of people slip and fall there...
posted by glip at 3:04 PM on October 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


The way to get the emotion out of it and look at the evidence - and yet seems to be a largely ignored subject when discussions of helmets come up:

Which helmet designs work the best, and why?

Trying to find statistical evidence of helmets working seems to make a very STUPID assumption that anything on your head is just as good as any other thing, and common sense suggests that this is likely a false assumption.

Where are the engineering studies of helmet designs?
posted by -harlequin- at 3:06 PM on October 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


Where are the engineering studies of helmet designs?

I wondered that, too. Why weren't there more crash test dummy-type experiments (or any at all, that I could find)?
posted by jedicus at 3:07 PM on October 28, 2011


Who wears a helmet in the shower too? Lots of people slip and fall there...

If it were practical, I probably would've while pregnant and very unbalanced. As it is, people take shower appropriate precautions all the time--they put in things like non-slip mats, handles, or seats, depending on their balance and physical ability; they wipe spills off of the floor; they go less than 20 mph.
posted by the young rope-rider at 3:08 PM on October 28, 2011 [12 favorites]


That's a lot of labium. I'll keep my helmet on.
posted by davejay at 3:10 PM on October 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


I've crashed and bashed up my helmet. My head was 100% fine. I think that anything that can smash a plastic bill is not something I want slamming into my head. Actually afterwards about the only thing that DIDN'T hurt was my head. Oh wait, no I sliced my chin up pretty well, that hurt.

I tend to have very little respect for those that don't wear them; They are obviously putting style and/or comfort over safety, neither of which rate high on my list of things I respect.
posted by Canageek at 3:11 PM on October 28, 2011


If we don't wear helmets, how are we going to mount our helmet cams?

If we don't mount our helmet cams, how will people believe our amazing tales?
posted by -harlequin- at 3:12 PM on October 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


Raise your hand if you know people who are alive today because they wore bicycle helmets.

Oh, hey, is it time to play the anecdote game? I know two people who were hit by cars while riding bicycles, with no helmets, and suffered no head injuries in the process. What does that prove? Absolutely nothing, just like the other anecdotes.

You should be more than welcome to unshackle your lovely locks and ride helmet-free among multiple-ton lumbering hulks made from chrome, rubber, glass, plastic, alloyed aluminum, and cast-iron that have been designed with the express goal of preserving the lives of the occupants at the expense of everything in its path.

No, thanks - I'll just not ride a bicycle among the lumbering hulks at all. If I am going to get into a scrap with a 2-ton SUV, I want a little more on my side than a styrofoam skullcap.
posted by Mars Saxman at 3:13 PM on October 28, 2011 [6 favorites]


Last month I lost a good friend who died of head trauma as a victim of a car-bike collision in which he was not wearing a helmet. It's very possible that a helmet would have made a difference. Now he's dead. Those are the stakes. Ride defensively, advocate for safer infrastructure and wear a helmet.
posted by scottjlowe at 3:13 PM on October 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


Wow, I thought not reading the article was reserved for Slashdot commenting. Apparently it happens a lot here too!

THE ARTICLE DOES NOT SAY "DON'T WEAR A HELMET".

It says helmets are not the most important thing. It says the most important thing is to ride defensively and don't get hit.

READ, people. You're smarter than this.
posted by LoudMusic at 3:17 PM on October 28, 2011 [24 favorites]


The problem is, there's rarely conclusive proof the bike helmets saved anyone's life or even significantly reduced the scale of the injury.

Tell you what. You put on a helmet and I'll hit you in the head with a hammer. Then take the helmet off and I'll hit you in the head again with the hammer. Then we'll have conclusive proof that the helmet significantly reduced the scale of your injury.
posted by The World Famous at 3:18 PM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


I know two people who, while grievously injured in bike accidents, would not be alive if they had not worn their helmets.

For me this is a positive only if my quality of life were as good after my recovery as before the accident.
posted by small_ruminant at 3:20 PM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've had 2 crashes where my helmet prevented a traumatic brain injury (but not other injuries). Both were unavoidable, and at high speeds. I was riding about 250 miles/week at the time.

Then again, just the other day, I saw a kid spill off his skateboard and smack his head because the helmet wasn't adjusted properly...so just the helmet alone isn't going to protect you.
posted by Chuffy at 3:22 PM on October 28, 2011


Tell you what. You put on a helmet and I'll hit you in the head with a hammer. Then take the helmet off and I'll hit you in the head again with the hammer. Then we'll have conclusive proof that the helmet significantly reduced the scale of your injury.

Which is great if you want to figure out how to keep yourself safe when hanging out around people who like to hit you in the head with hammers.

To what degree does this hammer-swinging situation actually resemble the urban cycling environment? Is it possible that being hit in the head with a hammer is not a useful representation of the injury risk bicycle helmets are designed to protect against?
posted by Mars Saxman at 3:23 PM on October 28, 2011 [5 favorites]


I agree with the point of the article: helmets are not the end-all be-all of bicycle safety.

If the law can require helmets, why can't it require safety courses as well? I try to be a safe driver, and give bicyclists room, but it would be a heck of a lot easier to do so if they knew how to signal (and turn from the correct lane) and had lights and highly visible reflectors at night.
posted by MuChao at 3:24 PM on October 28, 2011


2006 discussion
2008 discussion
posted by small_ruminant at 3:24 PM on October 28, 2011


Eyebrows McGee: "(I meant to say, amazon does not sell replacement heads.)"

Yet.
posted by schmod at 3:24 PM on October 28, 2011


Here's a few things that are wrong with bike helmets, off the top of my head (ba-da-bump, thankyou):
- They are not easy to keep clean. If you use one every day, the pads and the straps get filthy. Most pads are affixed with velcro and so are easy to remove, but putting them through the washer/dryer will make them lose their stickiness (or whatever the correct word is for velcro) within a few cycles.
- Most helmets on most people will fit imperfectly, for a variety of reasons. There are usually no more than three sizes, often two, to cover all riders; one is usually obliged to compensate with extra pads and the ratcheting plastic cradles at the back of many new helmets. Proper fit is really up to the user, but the typical strap & pad system does not make it easy.
- The cheap ones cannot, by law, be less effective (in the sense that they must pass the same certifications as the top-end models) so the manufacturers deliberately make the cheap models less comfortable and/or attractive.
- They're something of a pain to haul around with you, being too large and awkwardly shaped to fit nicely alongside other items in a typical day bag. A working design for a fold-flat(ter, anyway) bike helmet would probably do a lot to increase helmet use among riders of my city's bikeshare system, which currently hovers around zero percent.

All of the above contribute to the casual rider's indifference to helmets. There's a design gap to be exploited here, I think. All that being said, even the cheaper helmets are much, much more comfortable and effective than their equivalents of 15-20 years ago.
I've crashed with and without; as others have commented, I prefer with. The little machine in my cranium that analyzes first-person experience tells me that anecdotal data is A-OK.
posted by $0up at 3:26 PM on October 28, 2011


Way back in 1998, The Journal of Pediatric Surgery established the effectiveness of bicycle helmet laws in the prevention of pediatric traumatic brain injury and death in Brooklyn. It was a nice study, and has engendered updates to meta-analysis and Cochrane analysis studies (and massive proliferation of such studies) of the efficacy of bicycle helmet laws and prevention of pediatric traumatic brain injury since. What's more, the increased attention to correlating helmet legislation to prevention of pediatric injury has led to increased helmet legislation and subsequent use for pediatric users of ATVs and other small motor vehicles.

Because most falls and injuries of children do involve the head (anatomically, children's center of gravity cheats towards the relatively heavier child's head, and their core musculoskeletal system often fails to arrest the effects of gravity in a fall), most of us have collectively agreed that children should wear helmets during these activities and that legislation encourages their caregivers to keep their kids head's protected.

I only dip my toe in here, because all of these studies still report underuse of helmets in pediatric riders despite legislation. Why? Because kids do what they see their grown-ups do. And they copy other grown-ups that are doing activities they, themselves, love to do.

I understand that role-modeling is an unfair, and totally unlegislatable burden. But I've worked on a neuro unit of a large children's hospital, and every time I'm tempted to feel the wind in my hair, I think about kids we have to decompress by removing their entire skull and of hearing stuff from their families like "I could never get him to wear his helmet biking because his dad didn't." I think about the fact that my own kid totally notices everything about other bikers on the road because he loves biking--including their helmet or lack of one.

So I think these are really interesting reading about the question of legislation on this issue for adult bikers and calls the issue absolutely into fair debate. Legislation of helmets for minor bikers does increase use, and correlates to injury prevention. I guess the dots I am connecting are to what adult bikers can do to encourage the next generation of safe bikers and how they can acknowledge that the shorties really do need helmets. Kids who see people they admire not wearing helmets are not going to wear them, or will fight wearing them, or wear them incorrectly.

So I admit to supporting helmet laws, for everyone, because there are ways that all legislation frays personal freedom for small, but meaningful benefits--the passage of seat belt laws brought role-modeling to its rhetoric, which has paved the way for safer and safer child passenger laws that overwhelmingly prevent pediatric death and injury. Perhaps helmet laws might, similarly, pave the way for safer and safer cyclist road-sharing laws that make cycling more appealing to more commuters--breaking open possibilities for real cycling infrastructure as well as real consequences for motor vehicle aggression.
posted by rumposinc at 3:27 PM on October 28, 2011 [25 favorites]


I wear a helmet, but I agree that bike safety campaigns seem to pay way disproportionate attention to helmets. I see lots of people riding bikes after dark without lights, which is really, really dangerous. Every time I go to the doctor, he asks me if I exercise, and when I say I ride my bike everywhere he asks me if I wear a helmet. I've never once been asked if I have lights. So yeah: helmets are cool, but it'd be nice if they weren't the only bike safety issue that anyone discussed.
posted by craichead at 3:29 PM on October 28, 2011 [22 favorites]


Look, you can link to all the studies you want, it's not gonna stop me from doing what I know is right: coming into a thread and posting personal anecdotes dominated by emotion and expressed with exaggeration. I know too many people who clicked on links and read entire articles, only to post calm well-reasoned reactions that only get a single favorite, if that. You guys can do what you want, but I'm not going out like that.
posted by Ian A.T. at 3:30 PM on October 28, 2011 [62 favorites]


Tell you what. You put on a helmet and I'll hit you in the head with a hammer. Then take the helmet off and I'll hit you in the head again with the hammer. Then we'll have conclusive proof that the helmet significantly reduced the scale of your injury.

You should probably volunteer to be hit in the head whilst wearing a bike helmet yourself first, as a control.

the funny thing about all these anecdotes - with that many people having helmeted accidents you really would expect to see *something* in the statistics, and yet nothing...
posted by Artw at 3:32 PM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


You should probably volunteer to be hit in the head whilst wearing a bike helmet yourself first, as a control.

OK. That's fine with me.

the funny thing about all these anecdotes - with that many people having helmeted accidents you really would expect to see *something* in the statistics, and yet nothing...

Nothing? Where are you looking to determine that there are no statistics whatsoever indicating that helmets reduce the severity of injuries?
posted by The World Famous at 3:34 PM on October 28, 2011


The links handily supried by Blasdelb.
posted by Artw at 3:35 PM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wow, those sure are some anecdotes.

Here's another one: I've had many cycling accidents, torn up my hands and legs pretty badly. I have yet to hit my head.

Don't forget to wear your gloves and chaps!
posted by cdward at 3:36 PM on October 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


The links handily supried by Blasdelb.

And, based on those links, you're able to determine what exists in the world outside of those particular statistics in order to conclude that there are no statistics whatsoever indicating that helmets reduce the severity of injuries? How does that work?
posted by The World Famous at 3:36 PM on October 28, 2011


Well, since the main problem with riding a bicycle is you might get hit by a car and killed, does the helmet actually do anything for you in that situation? My guess is it probably doesn't.
posted by Artw at 4:20 PM on October 28


Last summer I was riding on a relatively quiet two lane road, on the pavement but as far to the right as possible. I saw an SUV come up from behind me in my rear view mirror. I didn't think much of it, there wasn't any other traffic in either direction. Next thing I know I'm going over my handlebars *BAM* I'm skidding down the street. When I come to a stop on my front I instinctively got up on my hands and knees and realized I must not be too bad off since I did that. I looked up to see the SUV driving away without stopping. Then I realized I was pretty bad off, hurting all over, and didn't have it in me to get up and didn't know what kind of internal injuries I might have, so I crawled back to my mangled bike, pulled out my cell phone and called 911. When I got to the hospital and was cat scanned I had a couple of cracked ribs, bad road rash on my belly and knuckles, and a badly scuffed up helmet.

Fortunately my pretty face and beautiful mind came through unscathed.
posted by Reverend John at 3:38 PM on October 28, 2011


I've fallen off a bicycle enough times to want to wear a helmet when I ride. It's just... yeah. That thudding/crunching sound when your helmet hits the tree, sidewalk, iron rail, curb, gravel.... Yeah, that sound is a much happier sound than the one when my head does, especially because in the former I'm not bleeding from somewhere on my head.

Also, my daughter fell off her bike down a culvert and it would have been very bad if she hadn't had a helmet which she was wearing under protest and after we showed her the cracks and scratches in it we never had problem with her wearing it again.

It's the little things that convince.
posted by seanmpuckett at 3:41 PM on October 28, 2011


And, based on those links, you're able to determine what exists in the world outside of those particular statistics in order to conclude that there are no statistics whatsoever indicating that helmets reduce the severity of injuries? How does that work?

Well, you're certainly free to turn up alternate stats, but just presuming the existence of them seems a bit much.
posted by Artw at 3:43 PM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Again. Y'all. I'd like to repeat what LoudMusic said above.

The first article linked doesn't say, "Don't wear a helmet." It says that the most important thing is to learn to ride safely.

It also says that helmets aren't useless, but that helmets have some drawbacks. Namely, that some drivers seem to assume that they can take more risks around cyclists wearing helmets, because those cyclists seem safer. And also, that helmets make it harder to hear cars coming up behind you. I can't confirm the former, but I can confirm the latter. A helmet is a big foam earplug around your head.

This is an emotionally charged subject. Any time I try to discuss the relative pros and cons of helmet use, everyone is all, "oh my brother in law wasn't wearing a helmet and he died," or, "I've been riding without a helmet for ten years and I'm okay." And, like, I'm sorry that happened to you. And I'm glad you're okay.

But, as much as some of these are compelling anecdotes, one anecdote really isn't a productive contribution to the discussion. Especially because there's no 'control' group in a bicycle accident. You think you would've been less safe in a given situation without a helmet? Well, that's cool. But there really isn't any way to know for sure.
posted by liminalrampaste at 3:47 PM on October 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


Namely, that some drivers seem to assume that they can take more risks around cyclists wearing helmets, because those cyclists seem safer. --- As a driver, I can categorically state that I am just as likely to run you over, regardless of your choice of head protection.
posted by crunchland at 3:49 PM on October 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


Get real, folks.

http://www.ski-epic.com/amsterdam_bicycles/
posted by magullo at 3:49 PM on October 28, 2011 [5 favorites]


There are many common scenarios where wearing a helmet helps prevent injury.

There are also scenarios where wearing a helmet won't help at all.

The existence of the latter does not negate the benefit of the former.

So, yeah, I wear a helmet.
posted by mazola at 3:50 PM on October 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


"Well, since the main problem with riding a bicycle is you might get hit by a car and killed, does the helmet actually do anything for you in that situation? My guess is it probably doesn't."

I'd be dead if it weren't for my helmet.

That simple.

Period.
posted by Shepherd at 3:54 PM on October 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think all of you people who are wrecking on your bikes (thus necessitating a helmet, in your view) need to find a new hobby/mode of transportation.
posted by kuanes at 3:55 PM on October 28, 2011 [4 favorites]


Helmets would do almost nothing to actually create good will or fix the kind of situations that arise that cause police-driver-pedestrian-cyclist conflict in the first place.

I like to think that by wearing a helmet, I'm sending a signal to drivers that I'm a responsible adult and deserve respect as a fellow user of the road. I'm setting myself apart from the stereotypical helmetless hipsters who zoom around everywhere oblivious of traffic laws. They really do treat me slightly better because of it.

It's not unlike how you get treated completely differently at stores and restaurants when you're dressed professionally versus when you're wearing a T-shirt and jeans.

Of course, I get WAY more room on the road when I'm out biking with my wife. It's almost like some switch goes off in driver's brains between "annoying hipster librul" mode and "happy couple enjoying the weather" mode. Maybe she should be a mandatory accessory.
posted by miyabo at 3:57 PM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


How are all these folks who know they'd be dead without their helmet be so sure? You've had exactly the same crash twice, with and without helmet, and one time you died and the other you didn't?
posted by normy at 3:58 PM on October 28, 2011 [6 favorites]


Clearly the only thing to do is hit a dude with a hammer, then have miyabo's wife stand next to the dude and hit him again with a hammer, then see what the results are.
posted by Greg Nog at 4:00 PM on October 28, 2011 [8 favorites]


Helmet probably saved my life (or at least from signicant head injury). Hit so hard that the shell cracked and I had padding-shaped bruises on my temple.

I'll keep it on, thanks, and so will the kids when they ride.
posted by jquinby at 4:01 PM on October 28, 2011


Well, you're certainly free to turn up alternate stats, but just presuming the existence of them seems a bit much.

I'm presuming their existence. I'm confronting your baffling assertion of their nonexistence.
posted by The World Famous at 4:04 PM on October 28, 2011


I hate wearing a helmet. I have a huge noggin, so any bike helmet looks hilariously stupid on me. And I get horrible helmet hair, so I still look like a dork even after I take the helmet off. But I've wrecked enough times both on and off the road, that there's no way at all I would ever ride without one.
posted by xedrik at 4:04 PM on October 28, 2011


"Get real, folks.

http://www.ski-epic.com/amsterdam_bicycles/
posted by magullo at 3:49 PM "

Yeah, look at all those cars they're sharing the roads with...
posted by Chuffy at 4:04 PM on October 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm another of those people who is alive today because of a helmet. I don't have any memory of the incident and very few memories of the month before it, but I do know I was lit up like a Christmas tree when I was hit, and the driver had just pulled out of his driveway and so wasn't going very fast. I won't ride without a helmet, it's that simple.
posted by Runes at 4:09 PM on October 28, 2011


Well, my anecdote is that I recently moved from a Big East Coast City where I never saw bikers to a Small Biking City where I probably see at least 3-4 bikers every time I jump in the car, even for short trips of a couple of blocks. Most of the time, the bikers aren't wearing helmets.

I have become a much better driver in the few months I've been here, particularly with respect to seeing and noticing bicyclists. In fact, you'll note up above that I say I never saw bikers in my old city (in fact, I can't even remember seeing *one*)--but I suspect they were there, just outside of my field of vision because I was focused on what other cars were doing and where the next stop light or stop sign was. Now I probably pay about as much attention to moving objects in the bike lane as I do to signs and cars; there's no doubt in my mind that reaching a critical mass of bikers makes drivers better and safer.

Now, if there was a helmet law in my city (which I don't think there is, although I'm not sure) that was being aggressively enforced, I'm guessing I'd see fewer cyclists; most of 'em seem to be students who could probably walk just as easily as ride. And I think that would make a worse driver, and probably make the cyclists who faithfully obeyed the helmet laws rather than give up biking less safe.

I dunno. I wear a helmet every time I get on a bike, and try to stick to bike paths rather than roads because cars still freak me out. And yet I'd probably be against a proposed helmet law if there was one here, because the huge shift in my perception once I started driving in a place where there were so many (unhelmeted) cyclists has been so much bigger than I would have thought possible.
posted by iminurmefi at 4:11 PM on October 28, 2011


They make you look like a twat.

Caring about whether something makes you look like a twat makes you look like an even bigger twat, or a thirteen year old.

More broadly, I find these studies quite interesting, in that they juxtapose something that is relatively straightforward to ascertain with not so many variables - do helmets reduce head injury for cyclists? - against something that very complicated to ascertain, with a shit-tonne of variables - what behaviours in cyclists, and in drivers, across multiple locations, at different times, on different surfaces, with different populations, does the wearing of helmets effect and by how much?

Truly, I think the former is a much more difficult case to make, especially as it relies on hypotheticals in that you can only have one option for one location at any given time - helmet laws or no helmet laws, and there's a tonne of other influences there to be accounted for. Further, by putting them side by side it posits somewhat of a false dichotomy, and some tricky maths. Are the number of helmet-preventable injuries outweighed by the rise in cyclists - which may increase overall injuries even while reducing their incidence per capita? I mean, you're gonna have to be one crazy hot-shit statistician to make a case either way.

The reaction to it - outside of the personal anecdotes (bias declaration: Helmets probably haven't saved my life, but they've saved me a shitload of stitches and god-knows-what-else) - is completely understandable. The first time I was hit by a car I was doing absolutely nothing wrong and the situation was 100% out of my control. But I can control whether I wear a helmet or not. Knowing what other drivers are thinking - let alone changing that - is pretty much out of my hands.

I feel anti-helmet activism is like the "she was asking for it" defence for drivers. Why should my legal and safe cycling choices be responsible for your shitty fucking attitudes and driving? The problem here is driving, not what head-gear people wear, and I'll stop wearing a helmet when we stop having hit-and-runs and countless - often pre-meditated - cyclist accidents here in Sydney.
posted by smoke at 4:17 PM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


There are many common scenarios where wearing a helmet helps prevent injury.

There are also scenarios where wearing a helmet won't help at all.


One thing people completely miss..

There are also scenarios where wearing a helmet will make things worse!

In particular..
The helmet sticks out 1-2" from your head in all directions, and as much as 4" to the back. The volume increase that represents is quit huge. Therefor you will hit your head on things far more often when wearing, than when not wearing.

Helmets add weight to your head, which effects your balance.

And those kids that have trouble keeping their head from hitting things because their neck muscles aren't developed? And yet the accepted remedy is to add even more weight.

In all of those cases, the factors balance somewhere, and the net effect might be a benefit or a detriment. I don't really care so much where the balance point is, but it isn't all benefit.
posted by Chuckles at 4:18 PM on October 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


There's got to be a corollary to Godwin's law which states the probability of Hipsters being mentioned in discussion involving urban biking being 1, as that discussion length goes to infinity.

There's real pent up anger which always gets vented any time a bike discussion happens on a non-bike forum. Cars are so central to American identity that anything that questions it, directly or indirectly, is immediately going to inspire heated responses. Happens with public transportation discussions too.

Those Amsterdam photos must be really infuriating to a lot of people here. As Chuffy points out, not as many cars on the roads with those happy, healthy carefree cyclists.

Hmm. Not at many cars on the road.
posted by scelerat at 4:20 PM on October 28, 2011 [5 favorites]


I always wear a helmet. There's just no downside for me. I did crack one once, and I'm happy it was the helmet and not my head.

Plus, I look totally cool in my helmet, so there.
posted by cccorlew at 4:20 PM on October 28, 2011


In BC, if a cyclist is hit by a car and is wearing a helmet, the driver assumes full liability for the accident. If a cyclist is hit by a car and is not wearing a helmet, they split liability 50/50. Therefore even if the helmet doesn't prevent a physical injury, it prevents a large financial injury. I suspect the law is similar in other provinces as well.
posted by mek at 4:22 PM on October 28, 2011 [5 favorites]


The thing that really baffles me about the bicycle-helmet debate is that helmets are supposed to be something you wear while engaging in extreme, dangerous activities. Putting on a helmet says "I am about to do something that might get me killed". Sure, I wear a helmet every time I get on a motorcycle. I even wear a helmet when I ski, now, since I started hitting black diamond slopes at 25-30 mph. But the idea that merely pootling around city streets at 10-15 mph is somehow a sport so extreme, so dangerous, that it justifies wearing a helmet - indeed, that it justifies laws requiring helmet-wearing? Something is deeply wrong with this picture.

I conclude that American society has completely lost its perspective on risk, to think that an activity as simple as urban bicycling is so dangerous that it justifies a helmet; and that American city planners have completely fucked up, to design streets so dangerous that you can even make a plausible case for helmet-wearing while riding bikes on them.
posted by Mars Saxman at 4:25 PM on October 28, 2011 [22 favorites]


In BC, if a cyclist is hit by a car and is wearing a helmet, the driver assumes full liability for the accident. If a cyclist is hit by a car and is not wearing a helmet, they split liability 50/50.
That strikes me as a really stupid, lazy way of doing things. I can't see any relationship between fault in a traffic accident and what one of the parties is wearing on his or her head.
posted by craichead at 4:25 PM on October 28, 2011 [4 favorites]


Judging by the number of scrapes and scratches on my two-year old's helmet, having one has paid for itself in saved band-aid purchases alone...
posted by madajb at 4:26 PM on October 28, 2011


116 comments and no one has used the word "ugly". I'm still convinced that if bicycle helmets were more fashionable that more people would wear them.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 4:36 PM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


"In BC, if a cyclist is hit by a car and is wearing a helmet, the driver assumes full liability for the accident. If a cyclist is hit by a car and is not wearing a helmet, they split liability 50/50."

"That strikes me as a really stupid, lazy way of doing things. I can't see any relationship between fault in a traffic accident and what one of the parties is wearing on his or her head.
"

Thats nothing, guess who is at fault when a drunk driver speeds through a winding residential area at 55 mph and smears a cyclist over half a block? The cyclists! They wern't wearing a helmet so the driver keeps their license.

Bicycle law is depressing

posted by Blasdelb at 4:40 PM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


I can't see any relationship between fault in a traffic accident and what one of the parties is wearing on his or her head.

It strikes me more as an attempt to codify common law contributory negligence rules in a particular way and in a particular circumstance.
posted by The World Famous at 4:42 PM on October 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


I can't see any relationship between fault in a traffic accident and what one of the parties is wearing on his or her head.

Well I don't want to get into an argument about Canadian jurisprudence since it hardly matters as we're not judges, but the logic here is that since injuries could be aggravated by your failure to follow the helmet law, it is not fair to hold the driver responsible for the full extent of those injuries. (Plus we do have healthcare and such here so you aren't suing the driver for medical bills, you're only suing for other incidental costs, which are only ever entering the big-ticket range when you suffer... head trauma.)
posted by mek at 4:42 PM on October 28, 2011


Bike helmets are meant to act like crumple zones for your head. They are not meant to protect you from cars, they are meant to protect you from falling and hitting your head.
posted by doctor_negative at 4:48 PM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Bike helmets are meant to act like crumple zones for your head. They are not meant to protect you from cars, they are meant to protect you from falling and hitting your head.

It seems counter-intuitive (i.e., dumb) to think that a helmet will not helpful if you run into problems when traveling 30 km/h on a bike on pavement.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:52 PM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


>In BC, if a cyclist is hit by a car and is wearing a helmet, the driver assumes full liability for the accident. If a cyclist is hit by a car and is not wearing a helmet, they split liability 50/50.

That strikes me as a really stupid, lazy way of doing things. I can't see any relationship between fault in a traffic accident and what one of the parties is wearing on his or her head.


In Japan, motorists are at fault 100% of the time, no matter what. Driving your car down the street and a cyclist swerves in front of you, and you hit him? You're 100% at fault. Same thing with cars and pedestrians.

This is the way things ought to be.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:54 PM on October 28, 2011 [7 favorites]


In BC, if a cyclist is hit by a car and is wearing a helmet, the driver assumes full liability for the accident. If a cyclist is hit by a car and is not wearing a helmet, they split liability 50/50. Therefore even if the helmet doesn't prevent a physical injury, it prevents a large financial injury. I suspect the law is similar in other provinces as well.

Not exactly: In his decision the judge found the defendant was 85 per cent responsible for the crash, and Dobre was 15 per cent responsible. He noted in the decision that the defendant didn’t see Dobre, didn’t brake, and the crash sent Dobre, who was not wearing a helmet, “flying high into the air.”
posted by monkeymike at 4:59 PM on October 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


Right there, that lack of a helmet cost $20k.
posted by mek at 5:04 PM on October 28, 2011


Which is admitted kind of silly since there is zero way the helmet would have saved his thumb... okay derail over!
posted by mek at 5:05 PM on October 28, 2011


But the idea that merely pootling around city streets at 10-15 mph is somehow a sport so extreme, so dangerous, that it justifies wearing a helmet - indeed, that it justifies laws requiring helmet-wearing?

It wouldn't be an issue if drivers weren't actively trying to run cyclists off the road, nudging them from behind at a stop light, or throwing beer bottles as they go by, all of which have happened to me on my bike in my sleepy little town of 15,000. The helmet is an unfortunate necessity when you go sailing over not only your handlebars, but the entire car, as a driver fiddling with her cell phone swerves into your oncoming lane on a curve and hits you head-on. (Which happened to my brother-in-law, same town.)

There's a reason I rarely ride my bike anymore. :(

Unfortunately, there are also a lot of asshole bicyclists out there running stop signs, crossing against signals, riding on the sidewalks, riding against traffic (WTF???) etc. that give cyclists everywhere a bad name, and make any kind of progress all but impossible.
posted by xedrik at 5:12 PM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


A bicycle helmet is a good place to rig up a camera so you can help the authorities catch the negligent driver who kills you on the way to dinner.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 5:16 PM on October 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


Driving your car down the street and a cyclist swerves in front of you, and you hit him? You're 100% at fault. Same thing with cars and pedestrians.

This is the way things ought to be.


That's madness. The word "fault" loses all meaning there. If you are doing everything right and someone decides to step out in front of you and get hit, there's no logical way that is the drivers fault.
posted by wildcrdj at 5:22 PM on October 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


Yeah, I'm sorry but this is a dumb-as-shit argument. Wear your helmet! The very last thing I want is someone making this bicycle-helmets-are-really-unnecessary argument to my kids.
posted by newdaddy at 5:26 PM on October 28, 2011


Walker, filming the whole thing on a handlebar cam, shouts "Whoa, holy cow! Are you OK dude?"
posted by applemeat at 5:30 PM on October 28, 2011


Blah blah blah blah blah. Just wear your fucking helmet, m'kay? Yes, all that other stuff is important, but no amount of defensive driving is going to keep your melon from splitting open on the pavement.

Your head is where you keep your stuff.

BTW, the very same stats we collect for car drivers suggest that they need to wear helmets, too. There is way more ways to get a head injury in a car.
posted by clvrmnky at 5:37 PM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well, you're certainly free to turn up alternate stats, but just presuming the existence of them seems a bit much. posted by Artw at 3:43 PM on 10/28

Cochrane review's been linked a couple of times up thread. Found the balance of evidence was beneficial, didn't it? Feel free to criticise Cochrane if you can point out errors.
posted by MattWPBS at 5:48 PM on October 28, 2011


So what does everyone think of the interplay, trade-offs, and side-effects between

1) Built environment
2) Societal attitudes
3) Perception of risk
4) Bicycle/Car mode share
5) Car driving behavior
6) Bike riding behavior
7) Collision likelyhood
8) Impact location / force
9) Severity of injury

...

OK, let's just go back to trading personal anecdotes and opinions, and making character judgments based on surface observations.
posted by anthill at 5:52 PM on October 28, 2011 [7 favorites]


So what kind of helmet should one wear?
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:54 PM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Astral projection is the safest form of transportation. And helmets keep your soul crammed in your head, so I don't wear them when I project myself.
posted by mccarty.tim at 6:23 PM on October 28, 2011


Some streams of thought in opposing lanes:

1) Helmets prevent injury in the event of cycling accidents.

2) Cycling accidents are reduced in places when there is a healthy road culture where cyclists are acknowledged as a valid mode of transit.

3) Helmet laws discourage cycling. Cycling is displaced into a risk/fringe activity.
posted by ovvl at 6:26 PM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Brett and Jemaine always wear theirs. That's all the data I need to do the same.
posted by Scoo at 6:27 PM on October 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


From the first link: The main problem with helmets is not with the helmets themselves, it's with the attitude towards them, the idea that they're the first and last word in bike safety.

That's a straw man if ever saw one. Nobody claims that all you need to be safe is to wear a helmet. If the purpose of that article was to promote the safe use of bicycles, why would he frame it that way?

Everybody knows that getting hit by a car going 100km/h is fatal, helmet or no helmet. Everybody who's been in a low speed crash with or without a vehicle has learned first hand that helmets are fucking awesome. I have had several of these kinds of crashes. Each left my helmet destroyed, my body badly bruised, and my noggin unscathed.

It seems counter-intuitive (i.e., dumb) to think that a helmet will not helpful if you run into problems when traveling 30 km/h on a bike on pavement.

This is totally true. If you're sitting completely still and you fall off your bicycle without a helmet, you could easily get a head injury. This is where the clever assholes point out that, "if that's true then pedestrians should wear helmets too." Never mind that a stationary bicycle is inherently unstable. I often travel over 70km/h (80 is my self-imposed limit) on my bike. I'd be a complete moron to not protect my head with something.
posted by klanawa at 6:38 PM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


A lot of criticism of anecdata here -- but poorly done correlation data is no better than anecdata. There are plenty of theoretical arguments you might concoct why helmet use could increase injury rates, but without a proper randomized study, these arguments even less valuable than anecdata. There are a thousand reasons why injury rates might have risen while helmet use also rose that have nothing to do with a causal connection between the two. Disdain of anecdata seems to have overwhelmed people's usual skepticism of correlation studies.

Anecdata is extremely unreliable, but not worthless, and perhaps more worthwhile than weak "statistical" studies like these. I myself know someone who in fact had to relearn to read due to a helmetless accident, and another helmetless friend who did two flips after being hit and only avoided head injury by landing in a small dirt patch amidst a sea of concrete. Anecdata, sure, but I'm a Bayesian: it's going to take a lot more than a few shady correlation studies to overcome clear personal experience, especially when the theoretical arguments against helmets -- though quite possibly true -- are prima facie much weaker than those in favor.
posted by chortly at 6:41 PM on October 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


How are all these folks who know they'd be dead without their helmet be so sure? You've had exactly the same crash twice, with and without helmet, and one time you died and the other you didn't?

I can't speak for anyone else, but in my case, a medical professional gave my helmet back to me when I got out of the emergency room, a mashed blend of shattered plastic and crushed styrofoam, look me in the eyes, and say "you would be dead were it not for this helmet."

Between the trained EMT and some jackass on the Internet making crap up in his mind about the circumstances of my accident, I will trust the opinion of the EMT. Sorry.
posted by Shepherd at 6:41 PM on October 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


The accident having obviously destroyed my ability to parse verb tenses.
posted by Shepherd at 6:43 PM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Where I live (downtown Toronto) in the last few years:

1) I've seen a lot more cyclists on the road.

2) Most car drivers are being more respectful, giving me a bit more space on the road, and I could say: "Thank you, car drivers! That's nice!"

3) There is a minority of car drivers who are assholes, but this applies to that minority of cyclists too.
posted by ovvl at 6:51 PM on October 28, 2011


4) DON'T FUCKING TEXT AND DRIVE/CYCLE/PEDESTrian, A=HAT, FUCKR, I MEAN YOU, ARE YOU LOOKING AT ME? OF COURSE YOU AIN'T, YOU'RE STARING AT A FUCKING INCH OF TEXT ON A SCREEN OBLIVIOUS TO your IMMEDIATE DEATH!!! AND YOU DON'T FUCKING CARE IF YOU DIE IF A BIG TRUCK HITS YOU BECAUSE YOU ARE LIVING IN A DREAM WORLD, a dream world.
posted by ovvl at 6:51 PM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


THE ARTICLE DOES NOT SAY "DON'T WEAR A HELMET".

It says helmets are not the most important thing. It says the most important thing is to ride defensively and don't get hit.


I only ever needed my helmet once. There was no other traffic around and I wasn't riding offensively, or particularly fast -- just trying to carry a lowish gear up a hill, putting a lot of power into my pedaling when my chain suddenly snapped. Maybe a quarter-second later, my head smacked the road and my helmet broke ... but not my head. My neck was sore for a few days.

Sure glad I didn't read the article.
posted by philip-random at 7:00 PM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Cars are powerless to resist safety-yellow hand signals. I wouldn't recommend a helmet, but I'd recommend them.
posted by Chuckles at 7:03 PM on October 28, 2011


I've finally sourced safety coloured mittens too. I don't have them yet, but I bet they are just as good.
posted by Chuckles at 7:04 PM on October 28, 2011


Chortly, I agree that anecdata is extremely unreliable. Mostly because anecdotes are only about

1) very memorable
2) stuff that happened.

There are all sorts of reasons that a car *didn't* hit you yesterday. How can an anecdote say anything about what those influences might be?
posted by anthill at 7:09 PM on October 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


Just this week my coworker was hit by a car while on his bike. He suffered a collapsed lung, 4 broken ribs, a broken collarbone and surgery on his left arm. Plus your typical full-body road-rash. The left side of his helmet was completely crushed. While badly battered, he's alive. I'll continue wearing my helmet, thank you very much.

P.S. His helmet-wearing habit was something new that was adopted after repeated harassment by his fellow coworkers.
posted by danherwig at 7:19 PM on October 28, 2011


Rumposinc up above has it, I think. I'm a pretty slow and consecutive rider, and odds are good I'll be fine. My 5 year old is a freaking fearless maniac on her bike. We work hard on safe riding, but she still falls off A LOT. On her head, often. She needs to wear a helmet, and I'd she needs to, then we need to, too. Simple.

I think the argument that people drive more dangerously around bikers with helmets is a bizarre one.
posted by purenitrous at 7:31 PM on October 28, 2011


That strikes me as a really stupid, lazy way of doing things. --- They probably do it this way to nudge people to behave a certain way without specifically legislating their behavior. So it's like, "you're free to ride your bike without a helmet, but if you do wear a helmet, you won't leave yourself open to all this monetary liability."
posted by crunchland at 7:33 PM on October 28, 2011


Want the ultimate in cycling safety? Try a hot pink mohawk, carharts, steel toed boots, and a chain lock slung across your chest bandolier style. Cars wont go within about 2 vehicle lengths of you, even if there is a second lane. Its like leading a parade. I stopped wearing my helmet for the few months I had that hairstyle, and had no problems in traffic. (the boots and getup were for my job, the mohawk was just a fun social experiment).

When I put my helmet back on the first ride I almost got clipped by one truck, had another swerve in front of me and slam on the brakes.
posted by Pink Fuzzy Bunny at 7:45 PM on October 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


I should also add that the mohawk adds about +0 to the crash worthiness of my head. Had I crashed it would have been bad, but man was it nice to have the space on the road.
posted by Pink Fuzzy Bunny at 7:48 PM on October 28, 2011


Do people ride less safely because of their helmets? No.

Citation, Bulgaroktonos? Because fact-free assertions are the basis of the article's point.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:03 PM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm a dude in my mid-40s. Been biking long distance since I was a kid. Routinely still do centuries and occasionally double centuries. When I was in middle school I used to test myself to see if I could get to school without touching my handlebars once. Was five miles. I had to pick a route that stayed away from traffic and when I did come to a stop sign had to slow down or speed up to make the intersection. Did it routinely for several years. I lived in Alaska and commuted in the snow regularly. Bike all over LA, NYC, Seattle, Portland, Chicago, a couple dozen other cities all over the globe. Heavy rain, snow, wind, traffic.

I don't wear a helmet, and I'll be honest. It's not primarily because of safety. It's vanity and just resentment that any halfway decent looking helmet costs $200 for plastic taped to styrofoam. Fuck. That. Won't pay $200 to look like a friggin' reh-tard. There is not one helmet for cyclists available that doesn't look like shit. And don't suggest any to me, because I absolutely guarantee that I have seen them *ALL.*

My philosophy when biking is to always assume that one or more motorists are out to murder me. That they are actively stalking me with the intent to kill. Seeking me. Hunting me. I am their prey. Of course, this is not the case, but practically speaking it might as well be for the rather large percentage who literally have not one whit of care about my life or safety. I've had too many people cut me off, side swipe, throw things at me just because they can. America is a very, very messed up place. It's completely uncivilized. Yes, even in the so-called bike friendly Meccas like Portland or Seattle.

I've only been in one bike accident in my life and it happened three decades ago. I didn't have a helmet, was riding on the sidewalk (because of criminally deep and wide potholes on the street and, of course, no bike lane, one of the many cities in America which has dilapidated, ignored infrastructure), and had my schoolbooks under one arm. A car pulled out in front of me and I rammed them hard in the driver's side, flipped over the roof, landed on my feet, and started cursing them out from the passenger side. No. I didn't drop a book either. They were pretty damned surprised. Rather than check to see if I was okay, of course, they just sped off. Typical.

Also, the driver was female.

So, now I hate all women.

My system for remaining safe is this: do whatever it takes to keep pedestrians safe first, *ME* safe second, and cars dead last. Meaning, I won't put a pedestrian at risk to protect myself. In any collision involving pedestrians or cyclists, someone is going to get hurt. When a car is involved, the driver won't get hurt. Ever. If I have to ride on the sidewalk and it's illegal, I'll do it without hesitation. Only for safety's sake though. Not for convenience. I would rather get a ticket than get killed.

Finally, this... The American system of transportation nationwide is the wild west. A rat's maze of corruption, incompetence, graft, neglect. The problem is not cyclists, but rather a system built to treat them like trash, miscreants, or criminals.

In the immortal words of J. B. Smoove: "I gets mine, Larry." Watch your back. The police don't care. Motorists don't care. Stay safe. Stay vigilant. Helmets don't do shit. And don't wag your damn finger at me. I'm out there every day, not some spandex-clad weekend warrior. I don't own a car. I will bike anywhere.

I don't like it, but in America riding a bike is an act of political dissent. Most people, even other cyclists, will tell you that you should just get back in your damn car. No. Hell no. And shit no. And don't mention Critical Mass. I respect their mission and commitment, but have never participated. I'm a one man wrecking crew. I'm Zorro.
posted by Lon Mem at 8:12 PM on October 28, 2011 [10 favorites]


You know, natural selection only works when you let it work.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:19 PM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


One other thing, I've always had a huge problem with cyclists that practice the "act like a car" strategy, which is to say park themselves dead center in a lane doing 20 MPH. Get over to the damn curb. Tight. You're not special.
posted by Lon Mem at 8:21 PM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Want the ultimate in cycling safety? Try a hot pink mohawk, carharts, steel toed boots, and a chain lock slung across your chest bandolier style. Cars wont go within about 2 vehicle lengths of you,

I've found riding with a bike trailer makes motorists much more cautious. Mind you, I only take it out (with my youngest son) on "safe" streets where motorists are generally tolerant of cyclists (I live in the cycling capital of North America), but even so people give us plenty of berth.

I'm most afraid of getting doored, or getting t-boned in an intersection or by someone backing quickly out of their driveway.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:25 PM on October 28, 2011


One other thing, I've always had a huge problem with cyclists that practice the "act like a car" strategy, which is to say park themselves dead center in a lane doing 20 MPH. Get over to the damn curb. Tight. You're not special.

If there are two lanes going the same direction, I take over an entire lane - cars can pass me. If it's a single lane going one direction I still ride pretty far out in the lane - this means that if a motorist passes too close I will have somewhere to go. If you ride tight close to the curb I've found motorists will attempt to pass, and there really is then no margin for error. If a motorist is delayed by 2 seconds in their commute, it's not big deal. We're all human beings.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:27 PM on October 28, 2011 [9 favorites]


I should add that in fairness to motorists, it's important for individual cyclists to be predictable - riding at a steady pace, riding in a straight line, and also no riding up the ride side of stopped cars at a light, unless there is a bike lane. At lights, it's best to stop at the end of the line, in the middle of the lane if possible. Going to the front of the line on the right-hand side just means all of those cars are going to have to pass you.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:32 PM on October 28, 2011 [8 favorites]


"One other thing, I've always had a huge problem with cyclists that practice the "act like a car" strategy, which is to say park themselves dead center in a lane doing 20 MPH. Get over to the damn curb. Tight. You're not special."

On a road with more than two lanes there is no excuse for not commanding the lane your are expected to take by law. On a two lane road however, it really depends. If there is little traffic and great visibility I'll hug the curb, but if either of those variables are lacking I always command the lane and yield the moment it is safe to do so. Drivers are pretty decent about not hitting you when it is easy not to, especially in areas with lots of cyclists, but when there is heavy or invisible oncoming traffic things can get very bad very quickly when drivers are not used to having to pass a cyclist safely.
posted by Blasdelb at 8:43 PM on October 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


How do you reconcile "I won't put a pedestrian at risk to protect myself" and "If I have to ride on the sidewalk and it's illegal, I'll do it without hesitation" Civil_Disobedient?
posted by joannemullen at 8:48 PM on October 28, 2011


That's madness. The word "fault" loses all meaning there. If you are doing everything right and someone decides to step out in front of you and get hit, there's no logical way that is the drivers fault.

No, I like that theory, too. Drive your car as if it's your responsibility to not hit anything. If that means you have to drive slower, just in case there is an idiot around, then that's what it means.

Rule 1: avoid collision. If you have a collision, you broke rule 1 by definition.

(still, there would be reasonable-person exceptions. I can't expect to run my bike into you while you're stationary with the car in park and have it be your fault.)
posted by ctmf at 8:49 PM on October 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


Riding a bike without a helmet is relatively more enjoyable. Getting hit or thrown and landing on one's head while wearing a helmet is also marginally more enjoyable.

Only a minority will study the data before choosing. I haven't. Most people choose based how safe they perceive themselves to be, not how safe they actually are, so it really comes down to how they see themselves.

The helmet seems like a reasonable, non-onerous form of partial compensation for what I think of as my inability to control or anticipate all eventualities and everyone else's people's behavior, or always to do the wisest, safest thing.

I ride a Dutch-style three-speed at around 10-15 miles an hour in San Francisco and the East Bay, including the hills. I am not interested in speed or asserting my right to share major arterials with motor traffic. I use side streets and bike routes. I think it's possible for an American to pretend he or she's in Holland. You just show up 15 minutes later and less sweaty than the fixed-gear crowd.
posted by Montgomery Roebuck at 8:53 PM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


I generally find that riding about where cars' right wheels go works better than dead center of the lane; less random oil or debris on the road and the drivers don't get as irrationally angry at your presence. Hugging the curb just means you've got absolutely nowhere to maneuver and the slightest wobble will send you flying, not to mention that the drivers give you no space at all when you do that.
posted by asperity at 8:56 PM on October 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


This is a total derail but I'll bite: What's the justification for KokuRyu's advice? It seems:

1) If you wait at the back of a line of cars, when the light turns green you'll just end up getting passed by a *different* bunch of cars. At least the car drivers that have already passed you have a 100% track record of not killing you.

2) If you're passing and re-passing cars at a light, that means your average speed is faster than car traffic and had car drivers waited behind you they would be no worse off (having traded more time driving slowly for less time stopped at a light).

3) If we accept Lon Mem's advice to "get over to the damn curb" for motorists' convenience, what's so different about staying over to the damn curb when cars are stopped and lined up? What's good for the goose...
posted by anthill at 9:00 PM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


>> How do you reconcile "I won't put a pedestrian at risk to protect myself" and "If I have to ride on the sidewalk and it's illegal, I'll do it without hesitation" Civil_Disobedient?

If you think it out like a logic problem, the solution is obvious.

I'll check back in a few hours and if you haven't figured it out, I'll post the answer.
posted by Lon Mem at 9:03 PM on October 28, 2011


1) If you wait at the back of a line of cars, when the light turns green you'll just end up getting passed by a *different* bunch of cars. At least the car drivers that have already passed you have a 100% track record of not killing you.

Ha! I had never thought of it that way, and it makes total sense.

2) If you're passing and re-passing cars at a light, that means your average speed is faster than car traffic and had car drivers waited behind you they would be no worse off (having traded more time driving slowly for less time stopped at a light).


I don't know about this. The cars at the light got there before I did on my bicycle, right?
posted by KokuRyu at 9:28 PM on October 28, 2011


How do you reconcile "I won't put a pedestrian at risk to protect myself" and "If I have to ride on the sidewalk and it's illegal, I'll do it without hesitation" Civil_Disobedient?

Easy. I do it all the time.

I commute year round in Edmonton. We get a lot of snow. In summer, I'm on the road. In the winter I'm on bike paths primarily but will use sidewalks to get to them. That's because the road is not in any condition to share with traffic. With snow and ice there aren't shoulders. Riding where the road is makes you an obstacle and drivers do very dumb things to get around obstacles.

On the plus side, there is nearly no one on the sidewalk in winter. If there is, I know they are the priority. If I come up behind a person, I pace them at walking speed from a safe distance and pass when they let me (where *they* feel safe). If that means I trail them for the whole block till I get to a street crossing, so be it. On the sidewalk the priorities are: 1) pedestrians; 2) pets; and 3) me in that order. It's a fair trade-off. I'll take the inconvenience for safety any day. I've got a family to think of.

In the end, it's all about consideration. I want the cars to get where they're going fast, efficiently and safely. I want pedestrians to own the sidewalk and feel safe. And I want to get from point A to B safely. It can be win-win if you let it.
posted by mazola at 9:47 PM on October 28, 2011 [6 favorites]


mazola solved the riddle.
posted by Lon Mem at 10:20 PM on October 28, 2011


I've broken my helmet twice from impact while wearing it. Two friends have broken theirs from impact as well--one completely in half. I love riding without, and frequently have to talk myself into wearing mine, but I do.
posted by nicholai88 at 10:34 PM on October 28, 2011


One other thing, I've always had a huge problem with cyclists that practice the "act like a car" strategy, which is to say park themselves dead center in a lane doing 20 MPH. Get over to the damn curb. Tight. You're not special.

The closest calls I've had going through downtown have almost all been cars turning right without looking, cutting me off, and car doors opening. The idea that the area closest to the curb is safer than the middle of the lane in those circumstances just seems stupid to me. Sometimes the middle of the lane, staying in the flow of traffic, is the best thing. It's the opposite of special, it's avoid having cars can pedestrians having to treat you specially because you're hugging the curve and behaving like a bike.
posted by beegull at 10:47 PM on October 28, 2011 [6 favorites]


I'm a little conflicted about this:

First of all, anyone who thinks a helmet makes you look stupid doesn't spend any time around any kind of experienced cyclist at all - not roadies, not mountain bikers, not even serious commuters. To them, anyone riding without a helmet looks like a child at best and an idiot at worst. You could come in for a group ride wearing your shorts backwards on your head and not look as stupid as if you routinely rode without a helmet.

On the other hand, I don't really believe in forcing people to wear them. Sure, it's a little riskier, but not excessively dangerous. It's still far safer to commute on quiet roads without a helmet than the do serious downhill riding, even in full body armor. And I don't really see a legitimate argument for making the former illegal without also making the latter illegal as well.

So I guess what I'd say is... You should wear a helmet unless it would absolutely stop you from riding. If it would, I guess I'd go without it (unless it's mountain biking, because that's just brainless). But unless you plan on never doing any riding beyond the absolute most basic short-distance commuting, you should probably just get over it and get the helmet. You'll do it eventually anyway and you need to wear it the most during your early riding when you're still learning.
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:04 PM on October 28, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'm resigned to the fact that I am going to look like a dork when I ride my bike. I wear tights and flashing safety vests and that sort of thing. A helmet is the least of my fashion faux pas.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:24 PM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


On the plus side, there is nearly no one on the sidewalk in winter. If there is, I know they are the priority. If I come up behind a person, I pace them at walking speed from a safe distance and pass when they let me (where *they* feel safe). If that means I trail them for the whole block till I get to a street crossing, so be it. On the sidewalk the priorities are: 1) pedestrians; 2) pets; and 3) me in that order. It's a fair trade-off. I'll take the inconvenience for safety any day. I've got a family to think of.

In the end, it's all about consideration. I want the cars to get where they're going fast, efficiently and safely. I want pedestrians to own the sidewalk and feel safe. And I want to get from point A to B safely. It can be win-win if you let it.


I totally agree. We live on a fairly busy street, and it's nearly impossible to make a left across traffic to get onto our driveway. Instead, we (my eldest son and I) usually use the crosswalk to get to the sidewalk on our side of the street, and slowly coast a city block or so home on the sidewalk.

I've taught my son that pedestrians are the priority. This means riding very slowly, and, if we encounter a pedestrian, we make way, usually by riding on the grass or whatever. But we rarely if ever ride on the sidewalk anywhere else.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:29 PM on October 28, 2011


First of all, anyone who thinks a helmet makes you look stupid doesn't spend any time around any kind of experienced cyclist at all - not roadies, not mountain bikers, not even serious commuters.

Except the Danish or the Dutch.
posted by alexei at 11:44 PM on October 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Except the Danish or the Dutch.

Who happen, by some strange coincidence, to inhabit the two most cycle-friendly nations on earth! Whaddaya know, the places where you're least likely to find cyclists clad in body armour are the ones where the most people ride bikes on city streets.

What're the odds? Funny old world.
posted by gompa at 12:32 AM on October 29, 2011


As a frequent cyclist, the one thing that annoys me the most about other cyclists is not those who ignore road rules, but those who insist on riding on crowded, busy streets with no shoulder when there are side streets and designated bike lanes only a few blocks away. The article talks about prioritizing safe riding over simple 'wear a helmet' mantras, and I can't think of a clearer example of a dieing need of this than the roads that people choose to ride on. Not only is it safer for the cyclist, but more convenient for the drivers; a win-win if I ever saw one. People may have a right to ride on whatever road they like, but there's no law against being an idiot or an asshole, either - and riding on the wrong roads can sometimes be a bit of both.

Ahh, sorry for the digression, I just had to get that off of my chest.
posted by Arandia at 12:42 AM on October 29, 2011 [7 favorites]


It is unbelievable how many people are coming here to preach about the importance of helmets. Who are you arguing against? Surely it's not the article, which says that helmets matter. For my part, I agree that helmets matter.

However, in my part of the world, in my extensive cycling experience (15 years of commuting and downhill cycling, including a stint as a professional bike courier), I know with the kind of certainty that only comes with repeatedly risking death, breaking a couple of helmets, getting a few concussions (all while downhill cycling), and being challenged to multiple fistfights (all by drivers) that whether I am wearing a helmet or not is only one of many factors that determine how safe I am at any given moment on my bike. It is not the biggest factor, or the majority of what determines my safety. The biggest factor is how the roads/bike paths are designed and laid out. After that, in no particular order, are how many other cyclists are on the road (critical fucking mass), whether I have a helmet on, how much of a hurry the driver behind me is in, many years of practice, how used to cyclists the drivers on the road are, whether or not it is raining, and how well tuned up my bike is.

This is effectively what the article says: "Helmets matter. But our undue focus on them has led us to ignore all of those other equally or more important factors." We can't change whether or not is it raining, but let's start talking about those other factors if what we really want to do is make cycling safe. This should not be particularly controversial, and the gruesome anecdotes above speak at least as much to the other factors as they do to the helmet factors. Thanks for grossing me out, but I'll keep biking defensively (i.e. aggressively) before worrying about my helmet, thank you very much.
posted by the thing about it at 3:13 AM on October 29, 2011 [6 favorites]


Right chaps, so the word 'illegal' means 'I can do it if I feel like it or it makes life a bit easier for me and that makes it ok'. Here was me thinking it meant 'against the law' or something like that. Silly old me.
posted by joannemullen at 3:42 AM on October 29, 2011


In short, figures show many fewer cyclists in NSW (and the rest of Australia) since helmet laws became mandatory.
Reasons include cyclist commuters having messed up hairstyles, fear of looking like a dick, and god knows what other issues.
Those ex-cyclists are getting less exercise, and some of them will die because of it.
I'm a parent, I make my kids wear a helmet in traffic (as I do), but legislating helmet choice is dumb. It makes no more sense than legislating helmets for walking, skating or driving - all activities where head injuries are problematic.
Why is cycling the activity where it is ok for society to criminalise a helmet free head?
posted by bystander at 3:52 AM on October 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Why is cycling the activity where it is ok for society to criminalise a helmet free head?

When you've got a choice between the road and the footpath, depending on how you feel and if you can be bothered with the way the traffic is flowing, like every single cyclist in Brisbane, then I think wearing a helmet is a fair price for you to pay. And the next lycra-clad fucker I see on a pushbike, stopped at a light and slugging from his stupid water bottle, then swishing it around in his mouth and spitting it violently onto the ground, I will literally run over.
posted by tumid dahlia at 4:11 AM on October 29, 2011


When you've got a choice between the road and the footpath,
As I said, I wear a helmet, and make my kids. What I object to is being forced at point of law to do so. Make it compulsory until 18, and let adults decide. Or are you wearing a helmet in your car, and on the bus, because head injuries are the most likely serious injury in those locations too?
And not to be humourless, but in NSW adults can't ride on the footpath unless they are accompanying a kid. Spitting is optional to date. (O'Farrell government is still new, spitting may become de rigeur, judging by their quality so far)
posted by bystander at 4:20 AM on October 29, 2011


The likelihood of serious head injury when cycling is extremely small, and hugely outweighed by the health benefits of cycling.

If wearing a helmet is the difference between you having the confidence to cycle (or to cycle more) or not, you should wear one! The health benefits of cycling outweigh greatly any negative consequences of helmet use.

On the other hand, if wearing a helmet makes it likely that you will cycle less, then the balance of advantage is cycling without a helmet.

If helmet wearing is unlikely to affect the amount you cycle, you may like to consider the following. Interpretation of the data can be controversial, but examination of the wider evidence from places where helmet use has become significant suggests that the following are reasonable conclusions:

1. If worn correctly, a cycle helmet may afford some protection against minor, largely superficial, injuries to the head.
2. A helmet is unlikely to offer protection against more serious or life-threatening injuries.
3. You are more likely to hit your head in a crash if you wear a helmet.
4. You may be more likely to crash in the first place, particularly if a helmet makes you feel better protected.
5. A helmet may increase the very small risk of the most serious brain injuries that lead to death and chronic intellectual disability.
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:06 AM on October 29, 2011 [6 favorites]


Right chaps, so the word 'illegal' means 'I can do it if I feel like it or it makes life a bit easier for me and that makes it ok'. Here was me thinking it meant 'against the law' or something like that. Silly old me.

Ah, joannemullen, you do make me chuckle sometimes. For some of us, the world isn't a nihilist hellhole, filled with depraved and slavering morlocks, with the crushing weight of authority and law the only thing that prevents total anarchy and society-wide destruction.

Sometimes, the footpath is empty. Sometimes the footpath is very wide indeed. Sometimes, it's neither but with just a soupcon of courtesy and awareness, we can all share the richness of this concrete commons with naught but the ding of a bell to warn others of our approach and a hastily uttered "g'day" or "cheers" under the breath in passing.

Sometimes the able-bodied pedestrian gazes fearfully unto the bituminous slag washed up against the curb; festooned with shattered glass, pin-sharp pebbles and pot holes you could boil a mammoth in, and understands well the parental concern to spare a wobbling-as-a-newborn-deer child the terrors of the tarmac.

Or perhaps the day is gray as slate; the hapless cyclist buffeted by sulfurous squalls from passing motorists, the bicycle naught but a ghostly galleon, tossed on a cloudy seas - the pedestrian is animated by a sympathy to spare our intrepid highway albatross the industrial indignities lying in wait near the curb, and thus a simple sidestep is easily considered and excecuted, or the cyclist will plough through the treacle-thick but safe and predictable grass, sparing both themselves and ambulators the trouble of negotiation.

It's not that hard to conjure forth these scenarios, you need but a skerrick of imagination. Or is it empathy?
posted by smoke at 5:08 AM on October 29, 2011 [7 favorites]


It's best that people have choice in whether to wear a helmet. Who are we as a society to tell people how to take care of themselves. If you believe in freedom you believe in the freedom to make choices about risk. Those who are too stupid or vain to wear a helmet may even do the rest of the world a favor by removing themselves from the gene pool prematurely.
posted by caddis at 5:26 AM on October 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


And the next lycra-clad fucker I see on a pushbike, stopped at a light and slugging from his stupid water bottle, then swishing it around in his mouth and spitting it violently onto the ground, I will literally run over.

Still doing God's good work, I see.
posted by Wolof at 6:27 AM on October 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


Wearing a helmet here in .nl, if you're on an ordinary bike, doesn't make you look like a twat at all: it makes you look German. If on the other hand you're trying to recreate the Tour de France on your daily commute and/or going "mountain biking" in a country that's largely below sea level, you do look a bit naff.

I wouldn't use the Dutch experience to argue whether or not helmets are necessary though, as I can well understand wanting that extra bit of personal protection when you're living somewhere without a proper biking infrastructure and basic familiarity with bikes on the part of the rest of the traffic on the roads.
posted by MartinWisse at 7:55 AM on October 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ultimately, the helmet is going to help me or else do nothing. The possibility of being spared grave injury, even if less than 100%, is enough to overcome the need to look cool on my bike.

That may be easy for me to say because as a rule I never look cool on my bike. Whatev.
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:09 AM on October 29, 2011



1. If worn correctly, a cycle helmet may afford some protection against minor, largely superficial, injuries to the head.
2. A helmet is unlikely to offer protection against more serious or life-threatening injuries.
3. You are more likely to hit your head in a crash if you wear a helmet.
4. You may be more likely to crash in the first place, particularly if a helmet makes you feel better protected.
5. A helmet may increase the very small risk of the most serious brain injuries that lead to death and chronic intellectual disability.


1. Like a fractured skull? Yeah, no big deal.
2. You tell 'em! Only pussies get concussions and die.
3. Because your head is thus slightly larger? How about a number for "more?"? Are we talking about tenths of a percent?
4. That's not the helmet's fault. Plenty of helmetless riders also think they're invincible (more, in fact.)
5. Pigs may fly. With sufficient thrust.
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:15 AM on October 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


WRT #2 there, snuffleupagus, if you had read my post you would see that that's exactly one of the things bike helmets are explicitly NOT designed to do: protect against serious concussion. Even the strictest Snell 1998 tests allow at least double the impact acceleration found to cause serious concussions in football players. This is magical thinking.

As I said, I do wear a helmet and recommend such to everyone I setup on bikes, but it's important to realize that these things aren't magical Harry-Potteresque talismans against injury. Lots of people die and get seriously injured with helmets on. Biking defensively, following the rules of the road is more important that biking with a helmet on. Your kids should wear helmets, sure, but teaching them to stop at stop signs and look for cars will save their lives.
posted by bonehead at 9:14 AM on October 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


"When you've got a choice between the road and the footpath, depending on how you feel and if you can be bothered with the way the traffic is flowing, like every single cyclist in Brisbane, then I think wearing a helmet is a fair price for you to pay. And the next lycra-clad fucker I see on a pushbike, stopped at a light and slugging from his stupid water bottle, then swishing it around in his mouth and spitting it violently onto the ground, I will literally run over."

It is no wonder that Australia is the fattest nation on earth. How many more of your neighbors who don't want diabetes or heart attacks have to die in your country because they have you and people like you to be afraid of on the road? If you thought that shit was funny keep in mind that you are talking to a room full of people who have been assaulted by butt-hurt drivers with rage issues.

You seem to have encapsulated everything that goes wrong with these discussions in your short hateful sentence and sentence fragment. Portraying helmets as some kind of punishment to be imposed by drivers, spiteful of having to decay in their rolling living rooms for two more seconds, is terrible public health. Its just puritanical* assholery, it has nothing to do with protecting your neighbors and everything to do with punishing them for being different from you.

Fuckers like you are the reason why I always carry my U-lock within reach, even if you don't care about your neighbors you're still likely to care about your car.

*Defined as that nagging fear that someone somewhere might be having fun
posted by Blasdelb at 9:23 AM on October 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Brett and Jemaine always wear theirs. That's all the data I need to do the same.

And for people who think helmets look ugly, they should take a page from Bret and make a helmet that looks like their hair.
posted by RobotHero at 9:27 AM on October 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


I really hope all of you people lecturing about the necessity of helmets wear one while you're traveling via automobile as well. Because, y'know, that's wear the real head injuries happen. And those of you in wintry climates, I can't believe you even walk on icy sidewalks with an unprotected head! Can I come hit you in the head with a hammer right now so we can test this before you get in your car?

Meanwhile, this fucked up (but so easy to do) focus on helmets leads to things like every fucking news report of a cyclist's death commenting on whether or not the cyclist was wearing a helmet. Oh sure maybe a semi ran them over, but omg they weren't wearing a helmet.

For me personally, I'm gravitating away from wearing one for my casual around the neighborhood riding. I think people should feel free to ride with or without a helmet. If you look at the stats, the argument for wearing them really isn't there. But it feels like it makes a difference, I know. I too know people who have been in gnarly crashes. While not the same, in a way it's like the people who tell me they ride on the sidewalk because they feel more safer there (when in fact sidewalk riding is a bad idea unless you are really slow and yield at all points where cars cross your path). Anyway, gompa's link above is pretty great and you should read it.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 9:56 AM on October 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


WRT #2 there, snuffleupagus, if you had read my post you would see that that's exactly one of the things bike helmets are explicitly NOT designed to do: protect against serious concussion. Even the strictest Snell 1998 tests allow at least double the impact acceleration found to cause serious concussions in football players. This is magical thinking.


I find it difficult to believe that some protection, even if it wouldn't pass muster in the NFL, would still not prevent or at least reduce the seriousness of some concussions. Why is the protection needed by football players the benchmark here, anyway? No one is actively trying to twist my head off my shoulders when I fall off my bike. (Yes, hyperbole, but still...) Statistics cut both ways: that helmet is going to prevent SOME concussions, and thereby SOME of the resulting complications. If it's you, don't you want that extra chance? Even if its not the primary design feature? Certainly, you're not MORE likely to sustain the concussion. And at what penalty? Looking less cool? Sacrificing some essential libertarian principle?

Have you ever fallen, hit your head, and sustained a concussion? I have, running around my parent's house as a kid. Less dramatic pratfalls from a bike (compared to a bike vs car scenario) can still cause injury and are a good reason to protect your head even if that protection wouldn't prevent concussion in a more violent accident (although it then might prevent other injuries.) That's not magical thinking, it's common sense.

What seems magical to me is the leap from sub-optimal to worthless.
posted by snuffleupagus at 10:03 AM on October 29, 2011


I guess this is the thing that drives me nuts about the helmet conversation: it's often people lecturing via anecdata vs people using stats and taking a more nuanced view (ie wear your helmet if you want, but there are some other issues at play here and how we frame those issues via policy matters).

In the US I get tired of the "don't get hit by a car!" warnings and dream of living in a country with strict liability where cars are at fault for hitting pedestrians and cyclists. And that has fuck all to do with helmets.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 10:04 AM on October 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


dream of living in a country with strict liability where cars are at fault for hitting pedestrians and cyclists. And that has fuck all to do with helmets.

Seriously? Because bicyclists can't ride negligently? The kids who think it's cool to blast through intersections ignoring traffic controls shouldn't be responsible for their choices if they ride directly across traffic that can't possibly see them?

Or, you want to be strictly liable to a jaywalker at night? Because it's not likely that a driver who hits a pedestrian on a sidewalk is going to escape liablity under our current tort system.

I am all for bicyclists rights, more spending on restriping, signage, education etc. More ticketing of drivers who are observed failing to share the road properly. But there are limits. Strict liability doesn't make sense, when it is possible for me to do dumb shit and cause an accident on my bike and then inappropriately shift responsibility to the person unable to avoid the incident.
posted by snuffleupagus at 10:14 AM on October 29, 2011


What pisses me off: the normative approach to other people's cycling.

Riding without a helmet is dangerous! You shouldn't be riding on the road, you could get hit! You shouldn't ride on the sidewalks, it's too dangerous and you're also an asshole for doing it! Riding in the middle of the lane is dangerous! You shouldn't be riding with your children, you could get them hurt! Etc.

I regularly get "avid cyclists" ridiculing me for riding without a helmet - on my upright Dutch bike at modest speeds. And yet, they are the same ones who ride sport-type bikes and hurt themselves falling off their bicycles after riding too fast and aggressively (their own claim, not mine).

If you calm down a little bit, and turn down the "ought", you find that a large proportion of people is put off by wearing a helmet. Around here, driving is the norm, and it's one that kills hundreds if not thousands of people each year. Normative attitudes that have helmets inseparable from cycling (and laws to that effect) make it difficult to get more regular people cycling to get around town. And that is far and away the biggest factor in cycling safety - how many people cycle. The more people you get cycling, the safer it is, both because drivers are more aware of cyclists and because of the increased demand for cycling infrastructure.

Moreover, more people cycling is a massive net positive for public health, even with all its actual and perceived dangers. The dangers are focal and easy to perceive, but it's a lot more difficult to perceive population-wide improvements in things like heart health.
posted by parudox at 10:20 AM on October 29, 2011 [7 favorites]


"Why is the protection needed by football players the benchmark here, anyway?"

Most of the research done into the effects that mini-concussions have on the brain have been done on football players, and the recent-ish results showing how really little it takes have been surprising to a lot of people. The Snell standard has never been demonstrated to provide protection of any kind against half of the very small magnitude of impact that has been shown to cause serious injury in football players. In adults, snell standard helmets have only been clearly demonstrated to be protective against largely cosmetic damage.
posted by Blasdelb at 10:24 AM on October 29, 2011


I once went over the handlebars of my bike and split my helmet in half as I landed head-first on a rock. I got a concussion and an 'and this is why I make you wear a helmet'-speech from my mother. I always wear a helmet because one literally saved my life. I don't care about the percentiles and averages: my kids will learn to ride safe while wearing helmets.
posted by slimepuppy at 10:37 AM on October 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


I always wear a helmet because one literally saved my life. I don't care about the percentiles and averages: my kids will learn to ride safe while wearing helmets.

I related my experience already. Unfortunately, like yours, the I-don't-wanna-wear-a-helmet crowd can just shrug it off as anecdotal. Which frustrates the the hell out of me, because I know some of them. They're friends, family members, neighbors. Was it like this back in the day when they were trying to get folks to wear seat belts? I'm guessing it was.

I was lucky enough to start driving a car after the laws came into effect. As such, I've always worn a seat belt and regardless of where I am in a car, I feel naked if I haven't got one on. I feel the same about bike helmets. A few thoughts:

1. For those who say they wear helmets when they head out into traffic but don't worry about it when cruising around close to home, I bet you'll find the stats are similar to those of car accidents: the majority of bad accidents happen close to home. Further, your helmet isn't going to save you if you get run over by a truck or a bus. That's not what it's for. You want to wear a helmet because most bike incidents are small things, minor slips and tumbles that all too often end with one's head smacking the pavement. Certainly, mine had nothing to do with speed or dangerous location. But man did it happen fast, and I hit hard.

2. Don't get me started on bad cyclists. I see two kinds basically (the hotdogs and the out-to-lunchers). The hotdoggers are skillful, no doubt. But man do they foolishly push the envelope -- riding out in heavy traffic, forcing the issue with cars and trucks, making frequent risky moves any one of which could end in disaster should a tire deflate, a chain snap, a car door open, etc. The out-to-lunchers are sort of the opposite of the hotdoggers. They just amble along sidewalks and sidestreets, talking on their cells, lugging two bags of groceries, going the wrong way, not paying attention. What both these bad cyclists have in common is a lack of imagination. If they truly had a grasp of the life-threatening/changing dangers they were frivolously putting themselves in, they wouldn't. My guess is they're generally younger (30 and under) and as such ....

3. Maybe we need age-related bicycle laws. If you're 30 or over, you're your own master. If the state of your hair is more important than your brain, your kids future livelihood, all your hopes and dreams, then you've earned the freedom be that particular kind of asshole/idiot. Do as you wish. Under 30? Sorry, youngsters, the stats show that you don't have a thorough enough grasp of life and its dangers and the judgment required to make wise decisions in this regard. You gotta wear a helmet.

4. To those who want to shout me down by saying that the real DANGER issue isn't helmets (pro-or-con), its assholes driving cars -- I AGREE. If the roads were free of automobiles, cycling would be far, far less dangerous. But they aren't. I live in one of the most bike friendly cities in North America but there's still way too many assholes/idiots in cars sharing the road with me. Changes are being made. More bike routes are being built. Existing laws are being more strictly enforced. But the fact remains, the city was built with the supremacy of the automobile in mind and that can't be just changed in a day (or even a decade). What can be changed in a day is the danger you're putting your unprotected brain in when you cycle. Get a f***ing helmet ... so I can worry about you a little less.
posted by philip-random at 11:21 AM on October 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Again, the argument seems to be "because the effectiveness of this safety device is imperfect and possibly overestimated, it is better to use nothing." That seems fallacious to me. Saying something hasn't been clearly demonstrated is miles away from it having been disproven. In fact, it's on the other side of zero crossover, as it were.

I can understand the objection to be being required to do X in the absence of strong enough evidence, where the burden of doing X is sufficiently heavy. (Even so, where's the heavy burden in being required to wear a helmet? The expense of purchasing it and inconvenience of securing it or toting it around are about the only things I can think of.)

But that's different than saying it's not a good idea: the evidence suggests it IS a good idea, but just can't say for sure how effective it is. Nevertheless, purely in terms of sustaining an injury vs. not sustaining an injury, in some cases the helmeted rider will escape injuries the helmetless rider will sustain. That simply cannot be denied. Whether or not it's "worth it" requires the consideration of externalities.

And in this case the immediate externalities seem relatively trivial: looking dorky, carrying it around, paying for it. I'll admit that the systematic externalities of requiring them can be more problematic. (Like some dick cop giving you a ticket for riding without one, discouraging ridership, etc.)
posted by snuffleupagus at 11:26 AM on October 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Helmets also make you look cool.
posted by humanfont at 11:30 AM on October 29, 2011


mandymanwasregistered: I really hope all of you people lecturing about the necessity of helmets wear one while you're traveling via automobile as well. Because, y'know, that's wear the real head injuries happen. And those of you in wintry climates, I can't believe you even walk on icy sidewalks with an unprotected head!

Just as there's a problem with anecdotal evidence, there's a problem with overreaching interpretations of statistical studies. When I ride in an automobile I have the protection of airbags and always wear my seatbelt. Are the risks you're warning me about the same for me, or did those studies include older cars and careless passengers? Are the people falling on sidewalks mostly the old or infirm, or toddlers, or are they relatively able-bodied like me?

It's the same for studies about helmet use. The question of whether or not helmet laws are effective is different from the question of whether or not it's a good idea for any person to wear a helmet.
posted by hydrophonic at 11:33 AM on October 29, 2011


The question of whether or not helmet laws are effective is different from the question of whether or not it's a good idea for any person to wear a helmet.

Yes! This. Problems emerge when going from "everyone should wear a helmet" to "everyone must wear a helmet."

But if you ride with me, I will give you shit until you relent and allow someone else to be the statistic.
posted by snuffleupagus at 11:40 AM on October 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


And in this case the immediate externalities seem relatively trivial: looking dorky, carrying it around, paying for it.
Honestly, I know people mock this, but it messes up my hair. And I'm a woman who works in a professional environment, so I'm expected to have non-fucked-up hair. I've figured out ways to deal with it, but it would be a lot less of a hassle if I didn't wear a helmet.
posted by craichead at 11:48 AM on October 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think it's certainly a good idea for *you lot* to wear helmets, as apparently it's not possible for you to get five foot from the front door without going arse-over-tit.
posted by Artw at 11:51 AM on October 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


I've cycled since I was about 5. I currently don't even own a helmet.

There have been two occasions I've worn a helmet cycling. The first was mountainbiking in France, the second was RAGBRAI.

I will definitely wear a helmet when I think it's necessary. In the US? you betcha. Everyday cycling in the Netherlands? never going to happen.


And anybody who tells me what to wear or not will have just volunteered themselves to listen at length to my pet peeve of the day.
posted by HFSH at 11:52 AM on October 29, 2011


but it would be a lot less of a hassle if I didn't wear a helmet.

I disagree. If you fall and smack your head without a helmet, that's a huge hassle for you, your loved ones, the medical system.
posted by philip-random at 11:54 AM on October 29, 2011


Yeah, dude. I know that. That's why I wear a helmet. I'm commenting on why it's a pain in the butt, at least for women who have to deal with particular expectations about our appearance at work.
posted by craichead at 11:56 AM on October 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, dude. I know that.

Sorry. I guess I'm just doomed to keep leaning on the point that helmet wearing should not be viewed as a hassle, but as a necessary part of the process of cycling. The hassle we should be concerned with is that women have to deal with such appearance-related expectations at work.

Again, the Patriarchy is to blame.
posted by philip-random at 12:11 PM on October 29, 2011


"Helmet laws restrict freedom of choice, may result in the targeting of minorities, discourage cycling, make cycling more dangerous for those who remain, and shift the blame in car-bike collisions to helmetless cyclists even if it was the motorist who was at fault."

Hello, what's all this then? Looks like rationalizing without a license. I'll have to ask you to come along with me.

Mark me down as another person who was very happy to break the helmet and not his head.
posted by sneebler at 12:42 PM on October 29, 2011


People complain that helmets are uncomfortable, but a properly fitted helmet feels as natural to me as wearing pants. (Wrong metaphor for this crowd, but still.) Yet certainly the design of helmets could very much be improved. I mean, I don't have too much trouble with mine, after decades of practice, but they haven't changed much since the thin plastic shell became standard in the early 90s. The back-of-the-head ratchet system makes fitting a lot easier (although it was maligned upthread for some reason), but the clips below the ear are a pain to get right and the chin buckle can be uncomfortable. My current helmet's straps are too slippery so I have to readjust it all every couple of weeks. Why can't the strap settings be customized when it's purchased, and be permanent? Why isn't there a better way to find a good fit? Many shops will measure your ass for you, but I've never had more help with a helmet than "try these on."

Other complaints about helmets I just don't get. Too heavy? I just weighed mine: 11.2 oz (315 g). Too hot? I hardly even notice. Gets gross? Try Febreeze, or even rubbing alcohol. Blocks your hearing? Seriously? I can hear traffic fine even when I'm wearing an ear wrap, and I've been going to rock concerts for over 25 years and I work in a wood shop. Looks dorky? Yes, but it draws attention away from the shorts and the tight jersey over my beer gut. I can sympathize with it messing up your hair, but I know plenty of people (men and women) who make it work.

I do get forehead imprints that last for hours after my ride, but I figure they just make me look like I'm thinking hard.
posted by hydrophonic at 12:58 PM on October 29, 2011


So, as I've always said, the safety of the bicyclist is most related to how many people commute by bicycle in the society of the particular bicyclist. That is, the major factor is out of the hands of the individual cyclist.

That said, two cyclists have the identical incident that causes them to be thrown from their bike and land on their head. Which one would you rather be, the one with the helmet on or the one without the helmet?
posted by Mental Wimp at 1:00 PM on October 29, 2011


Try Febreeze

Oh no no no. Febreeze is not a substitute for cleaning anything. The pads come off. Wash 'em in the sink with the soap of your choice. Do not try to cover up the stink with Febreeze, because that is a) gross and b) definitely contributes to stinky cyclist stereotype.
posted by asperity at 1:02 PM on October 29, 2011


Febreeze has Ethyl alcohol, which both kills bacteria and destroys odoriferous compounds. But yeah, washing is good too.
posted by hydrophonic at 1:14 PM on October 29, 2011


Yet certainly the design of helmets could very much be improved. I mean, I don't have too much trouble with mine, after decades of practice, but they haven't changed much since the thin plastic shell became standard in the early 90s. The back-of-the-head ratchet system makes fitting a lot easier (although it was maligned upthread for some reason), but the clips below the ear are a pain to get right and the chin buckle can be uncomfortable. My current helmet's straps are too slippery so I have to readjust it all every couple of weeks. Why can't the strap settings be customized when it's purchased, and be permanent? Why isn't there a better way to find a good fit? Many shops will measure your ass for you, but I've never had more help with a helmet than "try these on."

Seriously. I had hours of help getting my ski helmet fitted (as much time I got getting my ski boots fitted), but I could not get any advice about how I am supposed to wear my bike helmet for love or money, much less get advice on how to fit one. Maybe I should take it to the next Goat-up and find out how wrong it fits.
posted by crush-onastick at 2:32 PM on October 29, 2011


There have been many predictions that cycle helmets are effective in reducing serious injuries. Most of these predictions come from case-control studies, which are based on small research populations and have been criticised for methodological limitations.

On the other hand, large population data, from sources such as traffic casualty statistics and hospital treatment records, do not support these predictions. These sources show no improvement in serious injury trends as helmet use has become more common. Indeed, sometimes they suggest that the number or severity of injuries has increased.

In Great Britain, there was no detectable improvement in fatalities, serious injuries or the average severity of injuries to cyclists over the period 1985 to 2001, during which helmet use rose from close to zero to approx 22%. Injury severity increased as helmet use became more common [11]. A study of road traffic casualties has found no association between differing patterns of helmet wearing rates and casualty rates for adults and children. Similarly, boys and girls have identical percent head injury rates but markedly different levels of helmet use [2] [3].

In Greater London, cyclist injuries became more serious as helmet use increased in the mid 1990s [4]. In 2001, although about half of cyclists wore helmets, the severity of injuries was significantly higher than in 1981 and fatalities were highest since 1989. In Edinburgh, also with approx 50% helmet wearing, casualties have become more serious as helmet use has increased [5]. In the Lothian region (close to Edinburgh), wearing a helmet has made no significant difference to outcome in the case of the more serious head injuries measured by need of follow-up or hospital admission [6].

In the USA, cyclists suffered more head injuries in 2001 than in 1991 although helmet use had increased from 18% to 50%. There is no clear information that cycle use increased during this period and some evidence that it may have fallen. [7]

In Australia, helmet laws caused head injuries to fall by 11% to 21%. But cycle use fell by 30% to 60%, suggesting that those who continued to cycle were more at risk [10]. In New Zealand, large increases in helmet use have not brought any reduction in the proportion of serious head injuries. Some reduction in mild concussions and lacerations has been balanced by an increase in neck injuries [10]. An analysis of enforced helmet laws in Australia, New Zealand and Canada has found no clear evidence of benefit and increased risks for cyclists post-legislation[8].

In Germany, research found no significant difference in the level of head-trauma in cycling crashes between cyclists who wore a helmet and those who did not [1].

More generally, concerns have been expressed that helmets may increase the risk of the most serious types of head injury typical of road crashes and which involve rotational forces [9].

References

[1] Möllman FT, Rieger B, Wassmann H. Specific patterns of bicycle accident injuries - An analysis of correlation between level of head trauma and trauma mechanism. Deutschen Gesellschaft für Neurochirurgie, Köln. 2004.
[2] Hewson PJ. Cycle helmets and road casualties in the UK. Traffic Injury Prevention, 2005;6(2):127-134.
[3] Hewson PJ. Investigating population level trends in head injuries amongst child cyclists in the UK. Accident Analysis & Prevention, 2005;37(5):807-815.
[4] see: Casualty trends in Greater London.
[5] see: Casualty trends in Edinburgh.
[6] Extent and severity of cycle accident casualties. Scottish Executive Social Research, 2005.
[7] see: Cyclists requiring treatment in US Hospitals 1991 to 2000
[8] Robinson DL. Do enforced bicycle helmet laws improve public health?. BMJ, 2006;332:722.
[9] see: Cycle helmets and rotational injuries.
[10] see: Helmet laws: What has been their effect?
[11] see: Casualty trends in Great Britain.
posted by anotherpanacea at 3:02 PM on October 29, 2011 [6 favorites]


How do you reconcile "I won't put a pedestrian at risk to protect myself" and "If I have to ride on the sidewalk and it's illegal, I'll do it without hesitation" Civil_Disobedient?

My comment was specifically referring to helmet laws. Laws that protect people from their own stupidity do the rest of humanity harm because they effectively prevent natural selection from taking place. If you don't want to ride with a helmet, there shouldn't be laws forcing you to do so: forcing somebody doesn't change their minds, and it's their minds that are fundamentally defective. This defectiveness would normally work itself out of human DNA. But we aren't allowing nature to take its course. That's my problem with helmet laws. Same thing goes for seatbelt laws. They sidestep evolution, to our species' detriment.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:29 PM on October 29, 2011


I'm not even sure why we're arguing over helmet vs. non-helmet. There are great arguments for each. The main thing is, we're all just trying to ride bikes, which makes us all nerds.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:30 PM on October 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


anotherpanacea, find me the study that proves that my crashing headfirst into pavement will hurt me worse with a helmet than without and I'll happily bow to your stats. In the meantime, I'll continue to let my anecdote be my guide.

If the point is, wearing helmets makes people careless and leads to more serious accidents (ie: higher speeds, more hazardous situations), then the discussion needs to be about not taking stupid/unnecessary risks ... as opposed to not wearing helmets.
posted by philip-random at 4:26 PM on October 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


http://www2.cochrane.org/reviews/en/ab001855.html

Abstract

Background Each year, in the United States, approximately 900 persons die from injuries due to bicycle crashes and over 500,000 persons are treated in emergency departments. Head injury is by far the greatest risk posed to bicyclists, comprising one-third of emergency department visits, two-thirds of hospital admissions, and three-fourths of deaths. Facial injuries to cyclists occur at a rate nearly identical to that of head injuries. Although it makes inherent sense that helmets would be protective against head injury, establishing the real-world effectiveness of helmets is important.

Objectives To determine whether bicycle helmets reduce head, brain and facial injury for bicyclists of all ages involved in a bicycle crash or fall.

Search strategy We searched CENTRAL, MEDLINE, EMBASE, Sport, ERIC, NTIS, Expanded Academic Index, CINAHL, PsycINFO, Occupational Safety and Health, and Dissertations Abstracts. We checked reference lists of past reviews and review articles, studies from government agencies in the United States, Europe and Australia, and contacted colleagues from the International Society for Child and Adolescent Injury Prevention, World Injury Network, CDC-funded Injury Control and Research Centers, and staff in injury research agencies around the world. The searches were last updated in November 2006.

Selection criteria Controlled studies that evaluated the effect of helmet use in a population of bicyclists who had experienced a crash. We required studies to have complete outcome ascertainment, accurate exposure measurement, appropriate selection of the comparison group and elimination or control of factors such as selection bias, observation bias and confounding.

Data collection and analysis Two authors independently extracted data. Odds ratios with 95% confidence intervals were calculated for the protective effect of helmets for head and facial injuries. Study results are presented individually. Head and brain injury results were also summarized using meta-analysis techniques.

Main results We found no randomized controlled trials, but five well conducted case-control studies met our inclusion criteria. Helmets provide a 63 to 88% reduction in the risk of head, brain and severe brain injury for all ages of bicyclists. Helmets provide equal levels of protection for crashes involving motor vehicles (69%) and crashes from all other causes (68%). Injuries to the upper and mid facial areas are reduced 65%.

Authors' conclusions Helmets reduce bicycle-related head and facial injuries for bicyclists of all ages involved in all types of crashes, including those involving motor vehicles. Our response to comments from critics are presented in the Feedback section.
posted by MattWPBS at 5:51 PM on October 29, 2011 [9 favorites]


So is it confirmation bias if I just favorited MattWPBS's comment?
posted by philip-random at 6:02 PM on October 29, 2011


(Stupid) Meta
posted by mlis at 7:38 PM on October 29, 2011


The main thing is, we're all just trying to ride bikes, which makes us all nerds.

Er, no. I'm already riding. What I am trying to do is to get lots more other people riding for transportation, and not some kind of special "cyclist" group but just regular people.

To get regular people riding, cycling needs to be made easier, needs to be perceived as safe, and needs to be perceived as something regular people do. Honestly, utility cycling is already quite a lot safer than reputation would have it. This is where it is vital to avoid unnecessary barriers to cycling such as helmet laws, licensing, or special clothing. Making cycling out to be a kind of urban extreme sport and chiding people for not wearing helmets is exactly how to dissuade regular people from even trying out cycling for transport.

Thank God for Copenhagenize and cycle chic. It is one major reason cycling is becoming cool, why more people are discovering it, and thus why it is getting safer and more competitive as a travel mode. Helmets, on the other hand, haven't helped cycling very much; they've been around all through the decline of cycling to its nadir of popularity and safety and have nothing to do with the more recent improvements on both fronts.
posted by parudox at 9:21 PM on October 29, 2011


Which is great if you want to figure out how to keep yourself safe when hanging out around people who like to hit you in the head with hammers.

Look, I am not saying helmets aren't helpful in preventing some injuries. But super fuck off to the forced helmet laws.

Helmets can save you in many situations... showers were mentioned above, cars are a place where we can always be safer, hey walking on the street and using stairs is (I am guessing) probably the number one cause of head / brain injury due to falls. Let's mandate helmet wearing in all of those situations - it's safer!

What I don't like is that I want to be a free agent, I really would like the state to leave me alone as much as it is feasible. As it is the state is too much in my bidness with regard to health and safety, and there has to come some point where I can say "hey, thanks for your concern, but I'm cool".

The state could mandate that we all be constantly encased in a 6" sheath of ballistic gel... I guarantee you that within a few months we'll have millions of stories of lives saved through this excellent new cocoon system.

Fuck off state! Please, I am really quite serious here, I've got this!!!!

Everybody dies, and I'm the one who has to die when it's time for me to die, so let me live my life he way I want to... /hendrix
posted by Meatbomb at 9:29 PM on October 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have been in bike v car accident. I was driving the car. Bicylclist won. Sort of. I was driving north on N Clark Street near Wrightwood in Chicago. I am driving in my lane (only one lane in my direction) at about 20 mph. It is around 4:00 in afternoon so there is a decent amount of traffic. Traffic seemed to lighten up for a few blocks and I noticed a cyclist in my rear view mirror drafting behind me. I kind of was impressed. At the next light, he pulls up next to me to ask how fast I was going. I tell him.

Light turns green and he is drafting me again. Only this time a driver pulls out of a parking spot from the curb without looking. I jam on my breaks. Bicyclist tries to stop too. He does, but only because he ran into my rear bumper and went over his handle bars and through my rear window. Glass and ass is everywhere. Literally my entire rear window is in little pieces everywhere. Guy starts screaming and climbs right back out the rear window and starts laying onto the old man who pulled away from the curb. Turns out he was an off duty cop. A motorcycle cop.

He tells me he is fine and I did nothing wrong. Ok, but wtf. He was not wearing a helmet. I noticed that. Looked in my back seat to see if it was there. Nope. I ask him why when he calms down. He tells me because he hates his mother. Huh? Apparently, when he first started riding a motorcycle, his mom asked just one favor. For him to wear a helmet. When he asked why, she said because she wanted an open casket and a good looking corpse. He figured he was a goner either way so he would piss her off by not wearing one.

Anyway, the decision for me to wear one is situational. Sometimes I do and sometimes not so much. I happen to think they probably help and probably don't hurt. But, just like I wear my seatbelt every time I get in a car, I don't think my government should be mandating it. You cannot legislate away stupidity nor force intelligence.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:33 PM on October 29, 2011


Anecdotally, I don't buy the "drivers become less cautious" argument at all. Helmets are, even if simple, strikingly clear in the rear-view-mirror, and as a driver, I am terrified of bikers. Because cars, even if driven by drunk and crazy people, have only so much leeway for change in angle and velocity at any given moment, and if there is a collision, I can do my own part, in general, to limit it if I am involved, as long as I keep even vaguely sharp.

Bike on the roads, however, are frightfully unpredictable. And for drivers, or me at least, the outcome isn't "fender bender" but rather, "yo that dude just died," at least in my head. And experienced bikers know what they are doing, but the drivers don't know that. At least not for sure.

I'm not going to make this about how bikers don't follow traffic laws. I have sworn not to do that in the past. Many do, and many don't. And many fudge them in ways which stress the fuck out of drivers. The only point I'm making here is that helmets are a quicker identifier of a biker in one's rear-view mirror, which throws drivers into the "okay I'm not driving idly anymore so much as playing operation with a spastic child" mode an instant or two faster, which probably adds to safety overall.
posted by Navelgazer at 11:55 PM on October 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


from the article: But I also believe that if you think a helmet will do as much to protect you as you probably think it does, then you're kidding yourself.

I believe that if you think this sentence means as much as you probably think it means, then it doesn't.
posted by BurnChao at 2:04 AM on October 30, 2011


Thank God for Copenhagenize and cycle chic.
I kind of despise Mikael Coleville-Andersen, and I'm a woman who cycles for transportation in everyday clothes.

First of all, he reinforces the idea that women on bikes are on display, automatically presenting our image for objectification and commodification. He doesn't get permission from the women he photographs; just by cycling in public he thinks we're volunteering to have him take sexy photos of us and make money off of them. I don't know whether sexual harassment of women on bikes is a problem in Copenhagen, but it is elsewhere. I don't much like the idea that I become some sort of sexy fetish object every time I go to the bank.

Second, he refuses to acknowledge that every place is not like Copenhagen. Every place should be like Copenhagen, and if it is not, then we should feel really bad about that and then pretend that it is. People in Copenhagen don't take showers after riding their bikes to work, so people in Arizona shouldn't take showers after riding their bikes to work, either! People in Copenhagen don't use studded tires in the winter, and if you don't happen to live in a flat area with a network of extremely-well-maintained separate bike paths that are plowed before the streets are, then that's really stupid of you not to live in a place like that, but you still shouldn't get studded tires. There is no room in his philosophy to acknowledge the realities of climate or infrastructure with which the rest of us live.

And those two things explain his anti-helmet obsession. He doesn't find helmets sexy, so they prevent him from leering at hot young women on bikes, and the point of women on bikes is to present ourselves for him to leer at. And people in Copenhagen don't wear them, which means that nobody should wear them, even if we live in places where cycling actually is a lot less safe than it is in Copenhagen.
Bike on the roads, however, are frightfully unpredictable.
I find that a little hilarious, because I don't think that drivers even realize how unpredictable they are. You could easily end my life by opening your door without looking. Every time I cycle past a row of parked cars, I need to account for the fact that one of them could open a door and kill me. When I approach parked cars, I move to the left to the center of the lane to stay out of the kill zone, and I'm sure the cars behind me think "oh, that cyclist is so irresponsible and unpredictable." But I am doing that because I know that I can't count on drivers taking the two seconds it would require to look in their mirrors before opening the doors of their parked cars, and I'm the one whose life is on the line. And in general, part of the reason that bikes are "unpredictable" is that we're constantly having to improvise to deal with infrastructure that isn't set up for us and that puts us in danger. If that bothers you, one way you could deal with it is to advocate for better cycling infrastructure and more enforcement of laws that would protect cyclists if anyone gave a damn about them.
posted by craichead at 2:39 AM on October 30, 2011 [11 favorites]


MattWPBS: That study (Thompson 1996) "is merely statistical analysis and not scientific investigation. At best, it provides evidence that hard helmets protect against focal injury. Neither it nor the other studies of the review shows that soft helmets reduce injury to the brain." (Curnow 2005)

In other words, it's only relevant if you wear a hard "motorcycle-style" helmet, rather than the now-standard foam-filled SNELL. Also, they failed to do a subanalysis of the differing rates of motor vehicle accidents between cases and controls.
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:08 AM on October 30, 2011


"And in general, part of the reason that bikes are "unpredictable" is that we're constantly having to improvise to deal with infrastructure that isn't set up for us and that puts us in danger."

I find the ones who are unpredictable are mostly the ones who are bad "city drivers" on their bikes. I'm not an avid cyclist, but my husband is -- he bikes everywhere in town he can get on his bike, regardless of weather. And he's a big advocate of improving infrastructure and learning defensive biking, so I've been subjected to many lectures on safe biking and I've skimmed a lot of his books and articles.

The frighteningly unpredictable cyclists are the ones who have NO IDEA WHAT THEY'RE DOING, and they are scary as shit. I probably pass 6 cyclists on a short trip, and maybe only 1 riding like an idiot. (Maybe none.) There was one just a couple days ago wearing all-black at dusk riding almost in the gutter going slowly (even for a bike) on a 4-lane, 40-mph road ... but not far enough over not to get hit. Basically none of the cars saw him until they were about to run him over, at which point they JERKED into the other land and hoped they didn't sideswipe anyone, or they braked suddenly. (There was a) a totally unused sidewalk RIGHT THERE and b) a residential neighborhood with through roads RIGHT THERE.) Another guy (broad daylight) kept swerving in and out of the traffic, I guess to let people pass? Or maybe he was drunk? I could not tell. There's a guy I pass with some frequency who rides in dark clothes with no helmet, because he is cool, and feels no traffic laws apply to him. Sometimes he acts like a pedestrian (complete with jaywalking (jayriding?)) and sometimes he acts like a car but mostly he acts like a dick. Several times I've seen him standing on the sidewalk trying to disentangle his cool, wide pants from his chain. I can almost always see his underwear no matter the season.

When my husband started cycling and I started noticing bikes more, I realized that there are plenty of bikes I barely notice, because they're riding properly (either as vehicles or as pedestrians, which I realize is a no-no but especially with kids where there's not a lot of foot traffic, it's not really that problematic around here). And then there are bikes that made me jumpy and scared. And as I got to learn more about cycling, I realized the ones that made me jumpy were the ones RIDING LIKE IDIOTS. And now that I know they're being stupid, when they scare the crap out of me, I frequently want to shout out the window, "GET SOME REFLECTIVE TAPE, YOU MORON" or "DON'T JUMP INTO TRAFFIC GOING FOUR TIME AS FAST AS YOU FROM THE SIDEWALK WITH NO SIGNAL OR WARNING" or "YOU CAN STILL GET A DUI ON A BIKE" but then I'd be a crazy person shouting at cyclists and I don't want that.

Maybe I should carry reflective tape in my car so I can give strips to people I almost run over. :P

And I never open my door without looking, but we have significant parallel parking mostly only on busy roads where another car could easily take your door off, so I'm not particularly bike-virtuous, I just like my door attached to my car. But I do always hold my breath when I see a bike go past a line of parked cars, it makes me so nervous for them.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:56 AM on October 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


I wear a helmet because I could go tumbling off my bike on a quiet bike path, and while a light bicycle helmet won't save me from fatal injuries, it will make it much more unlikely that a minor fall onto my head will give me brain damage. I use my brain for work; I really, really don't want brain damage.
posted by jb at 7:06 AM on October 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


craichead: Let me be clear. I believe that cyclists behavior is largely determined by improvising around the motorists on the road. Theoretically, I want MORE bikes on the road. But cyclists scare the shit out of me as a driver only because I don't want to do anything which could hurt them. Helmets create a subconscious visual cue of their presence which I hypothesize has a safety benefit which has yet to be determined, but which is positive. That is all.
posted by Navelgazer at 8:14 AM on October 30, 2011


>The main thing is, we're all just trying to ride bikes, which makes us all nerds.

Er, no. I'm already riding.


I hate to break it to you, but if you ride a bike, either to commute, to compete, or just to have fun, you are most definitely a nerd (or perhaps a geek, like Lance Armstrong).

It's okay. I've been riding a bike as my main transportation for 25 years, and I'm a nerd just like you.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:20 AM on October 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


In other words, it's only relevant if you wear a hard "motorcycle-style" helmet, rather than the now-standard foam-filled SNELL. Also, they failed to do a subanalysis of the differing rates of motor vehicle accidents between cases and controls.
posted by anotherpanacea


you still seem to be arguing that in a blunt impact incident, it's safer or at least as safe to be wearing no helmet at all. Are you? Seriously. Did you used to work for a tobacco company?
posted by philip-random at 9:30 AM on October 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah. I hate to say it Blasdelb but this is kind of an old'n'busted argument. I mistrust the statistics because reporting is ludicrously bad: biased, sporadic, etc. Strikes me as you can pull whatever message you consciously or subconsciously want from the available data. Perhaps that will improve, but the media and authorities still treat cyclists as freaks. Witness today's LA Times online. There's a little one-para article about a bunch of downtown streets being closed for a half-marathon. Contrast this with huge and hysterical coverage of CicLAvia, which did the same thing but for bikes and pedestrians.

I think governments/society in general should take the same approach to bike helmets that the NHL did. Grandfather those who don't wear them now, require all kids to wear them and continue to wear them when they become adults.
posted by zomg at 9:52 AM on October 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Since society is going to have to cover you via Medicaid should you suffer a traumatic
head injury; we should be able to require reasonable safety measures to reduce the probability and severity of incidents. The emotional tantrums and complaints about freedom sound about as ridiculous as a 6 year old refusing to eat breakfast.
posted by humanfont at 10:06 AM on October 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Enjoy your ballistic gel coccon then, humanfont... I have been around long enough to see a clear trend developing.
posted by Meatbomb at 10:15 AM on October 30, 2011


I hate to break it to you, but if you ride a bike, either to commute, to compete, or just to have fun, you are most definitely a nerd (or perhaps a geek, like Lance Armstrong).

I refuse to accept the idea that riding a bike as an adult has to be something... deliberate, or intense, or weird. In Groningen, a city of around 200,000 people, over half of all trips are made by bicycle. Does that mean everyone in Groningen is a nerd? Are they "avid cyclists"?

We've got it entirely backwards when driving 2 km across town is perfectly normal, while riding those 2 km by bike in the same 10 minutes marks one as fringe.
posted by parudox at 11:17 AM on October 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


you still seem to be arguing that in a blunt impact incident, it's safer or at least as safe to be wearing no helmet at all.

No, I'm arguing that "The likelihood of serious head injury when cycling is extremely small, and hugely outweighed by the health benefits of cycling." This means that any law or communal norm that increases helmet use in a way that decreases overall cycling activity is, on net, bad for human health. That doesn't mean you shouldn't wear a helmet, exactly, but I'm also arguing that there is no evidence of the sort you want, that proves that soft helmets reduce the risk of head trauma. So in a sense you're wearing it in the absence of evidence of its efficacy.

A lot of things are worth doing despite the evidence: just look at the literature on placebos and homeopathic remedies. But that doesn't mean we should force people to take placebos.

Actually, that's a bad analogy: soft helmets are a lot less effective than placebos.
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:21 AM on October 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


The thing about that argument, humanfront, is that it cuts both ways. The fact that I ride a bike does increase (by a very small amount) the chances that I will suffer a catastrophic head injury and need to rely on Medicaid. At the same time, though, my bike-riding habit significantly decreases the chance that I will need expensive medical care when I'm old enough to qualify for Medicare. There is no question that a society that encourages bike riding for transportation will be a healthier society than one that discourages it, both because the population will get more exercise and because air quality will be better. Yet people mostly raise the issue of shared healthcare costs to justify the state imposing restrictions on bike riders. It seems to me that that argument should also support the idea that individual drivers and society as a whole have a responsibility to behave in ways that would promote bike riding.
posted by craichead at 11:24 AM on October 30, 2011


Jesus, people. It isn't even close. Helmets save lives. (Thanks to MattWPBS) Click on the link, read the abstract. Hell, if you're still not convinced, cough up some dough and read the whole paper. You can even read the original studies in the meta-analysis. Don't wear a helmet if you don't want to. But don't preen and pretend that there isn't any safety benefit.
posted by Mental Wimp at 12:04 PM on October 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Mental Wimp: That study (Thompson 1996) "is merely statistical analysis and not scientific investigation. At best, it provides evidence that hard helmets protect against focal injury. Neither it nor the other studies of the review shows that soft helmets reduce injury to the brain." (Curnow 2005)

In other words, it's only relevant if you wear a hard "motorcycle-style" helmet, rather than the now-standard foam-filled SNELL. Also, they failed to do a subanalysis of the differing rates of motor vehicle accidents between cases and controls.
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:36 PM on October 30, 2011


But Mental Wimp, the study gets it wrong in the first line:
Crashes involving bicyclists are, however, common
By any reasonable definition it just isn't true.
posted by Chuckles at 12:38 PM on October 30, 2011


Jesus, people. It isn't even close. Helmets save lives. (Thanks to MattWPBS) Click on the link, read the abstract. Hell, if you're still not convinced, cough up some dough and read the whole paper. You can even read the original studies in the meta-analysis. Don't wear a helmet if you don't want to. But don't preen and pretend that there isn't any safety benefit.

I guess one meta-analysis is apparently the end of the story -- at least if it agrees with one's common sense. Here's a recent re-analysis of helmet safety studies that comes to a different conclusion than does the meta-analysis you cited.

Little of the published research on helmet safety takes into account the effects of helmet promotion on the number of people cycling and the health benefits of adult cycling. It seems cycling is treated as a recreational activity of no consequence other than injury. So a lot of it misses the big picture of population-wide public health, such as the impacts of shifts from driving to cycling.
posted by parudox at 12:50 PM on October 30, 2011


I refuse to accept the idea that riding a bike as an adult has to be something... deliberate, or intense, or weird. In Groningen, a city of around 200,000 people, over half of all trips are made by bicycle. Does that mean everyone in Groningen is a nerd? Are they "avid cyclists"?

I have never met anyone from the Netherlands who has not been a nerd.

Look, it's just a joke, by the way, although I do believe there is something inherently nerdy or geeky about riding a bike in North America. In Japan everyone rides a bike, too, and no, they are not nerds or geeks. Like you pointed out, just like the Netherlands it's an acceptable form of transportation for people of all ages. But in North America...
posted by KokuRyu at 1:00 PM on October 30, 2011


It seems cycling is treated as a recreational activity of no consequence other than injury. So a lot of it misses the big picture of population-wide public health, such as the impacts of shifts from driving to cycling.

... so ride a bike and wear a helmet.

Anyway, enough banging my head against a blunt object (where's my bike helmet when I need it), I'll just resign from this thread with a nod to zomg ...

I think governments/society in general should take the same approach to bike helmets that the NHL did. Grandfather those who don't wear them now, require all kids to wear them and continue to wear them when they become adults.

Clearly we can't save the mature adults here whose minds are already made up. Let's focus instead on the young'uns and try to imagine a future where it's possible to conceive that riding a bike while wearing a lightweight but tough helmet is simply what grown-ups do: not just good for your cardiovascular health (and your overall involvement in the day-to-day, block-by-block culture of your community), but it's also not taking any unnecessary risks with your brain.
posted by philip-random at 2:33 PM on October 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


craichead there does not seem to be a correlation between bike usage and helmet laws.
posted by humanfont at 3:08 PM on October 30, 2011


craichead there does not seem to be a correlation between bike usage and helmet laws.
Is that true? The study someone cited above suggested that there isn't sufficient evidence to conclude either way.

But that's not my point. My point is that people constantly invoke the risks of cycling to justify imposing helmets on cyclists, but they don't seem to invoke the risks of being sedentary to justify other measures that would do much more to make cycling safer and make people more likely to ride bikes. The burden is all on the individual cyclist, and that wouldn't be true if this were really all about reducing health care costs.
posted by craichead at 4:01 PM on October 30, 2011


Studies suggest no impact on ridership when helmet laws are imposed. There seems to be some debate about the numbers of injuries prevented, but not that usage of helmets increases and injuries diminish. Helmet laws have nothing to do with increasing or decreasing adoption of cycling by the general population. They also do not create an impediment to traffic safety laws.
posted by humanfont at 5:49 PM on October 30, 2011


Really? That's not what the link says.
posted by Artw at 5:51 PM on October 30, 2011


The crackpot link is wrong. For example in Canada cycling did not decline when helmet laws were introduced.
posted by humanfont at 8:08 PM on October 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Helmet laws have nothing to do with increasing or decreasing adoption of cycling by the general population.

The crackpot link is wrong. For example in Canada cycling did not decline when helmet laws were introduced.

And for example in Australia, where the data collection was more thorough, cycling was shown to decrease after the helmet law; survey data strongly suggests causality. See the British Medical Journal paper linked in the FPP titled "No clear evidence from countries that have enforced the wearing of helmets", which also is skeptical of claims that helmet laws reduce head injuries.
posted by parudox at 8:56 PM on October 30, 2011


I'm not sure how much you can tell just from data about increases or decreases, because that doesn't really tell you what would have happened in the same period if helmet legislation hadn't been introduced. Do they make any attempt to control for other factors?
posted by craichead at 9:00 PM on October 30, 2011


Well, the paper I linked briefly mentions a comparison with other states, which isn't a bad control:

Before helmet laws, cycling was increasing. Australian census data show cycling to work increased by 47%, from 1.1% in 1976 to 1.6% in 1986. This trend continued in states without enforced helmet laws, where the average proportion cycling to work increased in 1991, contrasting with an average decline for other states. By 1996, when all states had enforced laws, only 1.2% cycled to work, with a similar proportion in 2001.

The Canadian paper also attempts to compare cycling rates with other provinces, but (as pointed out by cyclehelmets.org) it's difficult to make sense of the cycling rate comparisons without matching data on whether helmet laws are being followed.
posted by parudox at 10:03 PM on October 30, 2011


On the plus side, there is nearly no one on the sidewalk in winter. If there is, I know they are the priority. If I come up behind a person, I pace them at walking speed from a safe distance and pass when they let me (where *they* feel safe). If that means I trail them for the whole block till I get to a street crossing, so be it. On the sidewalk the priorities are: 1) pedestrians; 2) pets; and 3) me in that order. It's a fair trade-off. I'll take the inconvenience for safety any day. I've got a family to think of.

People, riding on the sidewalk increases the chances you will be hit by a CAR. It is MORE DANGEROUS than riding on the street. YOU ARE NOT SAFER FROM CARS RIDING ON THE SIDEWALK.

They're not looking for you. A lot of inexperienced cyclists think of being hit by a car from behind as likely because they focus on the area where they have the least information as a source of potential danger. But a large number of accidents occur where cars and bikes interact more readily--where parking lot, sidewalk and street all join. Cars aren't expecting your speed there. They aren't looking for you there.

Cite: Effective Cycling by John Forster. All the stats are in there.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:54 PM on October 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Why should we accept that the Aussie study is precise enogh to measure a behavior difference in .5% of the population. The fluctuations between 1.1 and 1.6 and back again are just statistical noise.

Consider this:
About 50% of cyclists report using helmets. In 91% of all cycling deaths the victim wasn't wearing a helmet.
posted by humanfont at 7:37 AM on October 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


People, riding on the sidewalk increases the chances you will be hit by a CAR. It is MORE DANGEROUS than riding on the street. YOU ARE NOT SAFER FROM CARS RIDING ON THE SIDEWALK.

Well, if you ride smart you don't. The point is sometimes it's necessary to use the walk. If you do, ride accordingly. Totally different set of rules, including how you treat corners and the speed you're going. When I drive at speeds more like cars I'm on the road. When I'm on the sidewalk I'm travelling at a different speed entirely and using sidewalk-friendly rules because, you're right, it's an entirely different landscape with entirely different risks.
posted by mazola at 8:07 AM on October 31, 2011


As for helmets, bikes have been around since the 1800s.

Those people never wore helmets.

Now they're dead.

Think about that.
posted by mazola at 8:09 AM on October 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


Why should we accept that the Aussie study is precise enogh to measure a behavior difference in .5% of the population. The fluctuations between 1.1 and 1.6 and back again are just statistical noise.

Those numbers are from the (compulsory) Australian census, so the differences are likely real. Turns out cyclehelmets.org has more of this data and nice graphs. It's pretty convincing that helmet laws had something to do with Australians cycling less.

About 50% of cyclists report using helmets. In 91% of all cycling deaths the victim wasn't wearing a helmet.

Consider that there are differences between the people in helmet-oriented places that wear helmets and those that don't: income level, education, experience, age, neighborhood, etc. Here's one paper that shows massive differences in helmet usage rates due to income, and less usage by teenagers. I think it's safe to say that lower income goes not just with less helmet use, but also with worse bike maintenance, worse fit and equipment on bikes, absence of lights, etc. It's no stretch to think that those factors, or being young and reckless can lead to greater cycling injury rates. Correlation by itself is not enough to infer causation with just those numbers.
posted by parudox at 8:13 AM on October 31, 2011


Biking is 100% fatal for bicentarians!
posted by bonehead at 8:37 AM on October 31, 2011


But Mental Wimp, the study gets it wrong in the first line:

Crashes involving bicyclists are, however, common

By any reasonable definition it just isn't true.


Bicyclists suffer three times the mortality rate per mile that auto drivers do.

But Mental Wimp, the study gets it wrong in the first line:

Crashes involving bicyclists are, however, common

By any reasonable definition it just isn't true.
Here's a recent re-analysis of helmet safety studies that comes to a different conclusion than does the meta-analysis you cited.


Sorry, but both the Curnow and the Elvik papers (which are not studies) do not contradict the conclusions of the meta-analysis. They both try to use the "fatal-flaw" method to deprecate the meta-analysis, without producing any evidence that actually falsifies that analysis. This is a lawyer trick: if I can get the jury to doubt this evidence, then they will (erroneously) conclude that my story is true. However, this is not the way science works. You must present contrary evidence, which neither paper does.
posted by Mental Wimp at 11:22 AM on October 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Bicyclists suffer three times the mortality rate per mile that auto drivers do.

Neglected to quality that statement: it is true in the US.
posted by Mental Wimp at 11:22 AM on October 31, 2011


This is a lawyer trick: if I can get the jury to doubt this evidence, then they will (erroneously) conclude that my story is true.

Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, true. It is, however, absence of evidence. Here are some papers that actually produce contrary evidence.
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:34 AM on October 31, 2011


Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, true. It is, however, absence of evidence. Here are some papers that actually produce contrary evidence.

Yep, them are a mess o' papers. But none of them use a study design that addresses causal inference. The purpose of the meta-analysis was to synthesize those studies that did.
posted by Mental Wimp at 11:48 AM on October 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


Well, if you ride smart you don't. The point is sometimes it's necessary to use the walk. If you do, ride accordingly. Totally different set of rules, including how you treat corners and the speed you're going. When I drive at speeds more like cars I'm on the road. When I'm on the sidewalk I'm travelling at a different speed entirely and using sidewalk-friendly rules because, you're right, it's an entirely different landscape with entirely different risks.

Again, citing Mr. Forester, you are statistically more likely to by a car while riding on the sidewalk. You are also more likely to be in an accident. How much more likely? Twenty-five times more likely. Twenty-five times.
A 1996 study determined the likelihood of a bicycle accident by facility type. (This is the only major study that adjusts crash data for the number of miles bicyclists actually travel on these facilities.) The study found that riding on the road is not only safer—but much safer—than riding on these other types of facilities.

Source: William E. Moritz, “Adult Bicyclists in the United States,” in Transportation Research Record 1636

Bicyclists are 25 times more likely to experience an accident when riding on a sidewalk than riding on a major street—even one that neither has a designated bike lane nor is designated as a bike route. And bicyclists are twice as likely to experience an accident on a multi-use trail than on an unmarked street.

. . . .Not only is there potential for a collision with a pedestrian. More importantly, motorists are not expecting a bicyclist, moving much more quickly than a pedestrian, to cross the street in a crosswalk. So, motorists often fail to detect bicyclists on sidewalks and strike the bicyclist in the crosswalk.
You put yourself at tremendous risk riding on the sidewalk. You may believe you are being safer, but you are not.

As for wearing helmets, it cannot hurt you to wear a helmet. Why one would not wear a helmet is beyond me.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:51 PM on October 31, 2011


But none of them use a study design that addresses causal inference. The purpose of the meta-analysis was to synthesize those studies that did.

That's not true, actually. The 2005 study of Scottish emergency room visits does address causality. Plus, you're ignoring the fact that Thompson's study was mostly covering a period when helmets used were totally different than the styrofoam helmets used in the US today. That's not a lawyer's trick: you're equivocating on what you mean by "helmet."

It seems like the real lawyer's trick is to look at a bunch of population-wide studies and say, "Yeah, but you can't prove that the cure didn't work this one time."

Fatal flaws like those in the meta-analysis are, in fact, reasons to discount the meta-analysis. (Though not to draw the opposite conclusion.) Re-run the meta-analysis without the flaws.
posted by anotherpanacea at 1:01 PM on October 31, 2011


Bicyclists are 25 times more likely to experience an accident when riding on a sidewalk than riding on a major street—even one that neither has a designated bike lane nor is designated as a bike route. And bicyclists are twice as likely to experience an accident on a multi-use trail than on an unmarked street.

It's important to note here that "bicyclists" isn't any random cyclist off the street. This is based on a 1996 self-report questionnaire of members of the League of American Bicyclists, a pretty hard-core cyclist group. "The 'average' respondent was a 48 year-old, married (66%) male (80%) professional (48%) who rode 4670 km in 1996." They are not representative of the cycling population then (nor of cycling injury populations), nor the cycling population now. And if they're riding nearly 5000 km a year, the vast, vast majority of that is at high speeds on roadways outside dense urban areas. Of course, per kilometre travelled any urban riding would be more dangerous. But the kilometres travelled on urban trips are also much smaller.

Hardly convincing evidence that urban roadways are such a safe place for regular cyclists to be. That's not to say that I think sidewalks are safe, but it's silly to claim that a sidewalk adjacent to a 70 km/h suburban highway is less dangerous than the highway. The danger is with intersections and driveways, and it is perfectly possible to go at pedestrian speeds and in an alert manner through those.
posted by parudox at 1:13 PM on October 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


Hardly convincing evidence that urban roadways are such a safe place for regular cyclists to be. That's not to say that I think sidewalks are safe, but it's silly to claim that a sidewalk adjacent to a 70 km/h suburban highway is less dangerous than the highway

I've ridden on 55 mph country roads and had semis pass me regularly back in the days when I would train.

the only time I've been hit by a car? When I stupidly decided the sidewalk would be safer. A young college girl pulled out to make a left turn out of a parking lot. I watched as she never even turned my direction and crushed my front wheel.

In many downtown areas, riding on the sidewalk is illegal, such as DC, where I'm at.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:17 PM on October 31, 2011


It's important to note here that "bicyclists" isn't any random cyclist off the street. This is based on a 1996 self-report questionnaire of members of the League of American Bicyclists, a pretty hard-core cyclist group. "The 'average' respondent was a 48 year-old, married (66%) male (80%) professional (48%) who rode 4670 km in 1996." They are not representative of the cycling population then (nor of cycling injury populations), nor the cycling population now. And if they're riding nearly 5000 km a year, the vast, vast majority of that is at high speeds on roadways outside dense urban areas. Of course, per kilometre travelled any urban riding would be more dangerous. But the kilometres travelled on urban trips are also much smaller.


so, the vast majority of their riding occurs on the roads, yet they are 25 times more likely to be in an accident on the sidewalks.

Listen, if you've got a study showing that a sidewalk is safer, that's fine. But there's a lot more than just that easily cited study out there. I suggest you read Forester's Effective Cycling. It is the bible of cycling.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:19 PM on October 31, 2011


so, the vast majority of their riding occurs on the roads, yet they are 25 times more likely to be in an accident on the sidewalks.

Nonsense. The very data you're referring to shows only 5% of crashes occurring on sidewalks (Table 4). You don't get very far on a sidewalk, so yeah, trip lengths on sidewalks are short. Though I have my doubts that they're only 0.3% of the kilometres ridden as the self-reports claim - I can see members of the League of American Bicyclists under-reporting sidewalk riding.
posted by parudox at 2:00 PM on October 31, 2011


I can see members of the League of American Bicyclists under-reporting sidewalk riding.

This comment could only be found on a site like MetaFilter.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:37 PM on October 31, 2011


Wasn't this said, and still said!, to fight against using birth control (as well as motorcycle gear)?

1) "It makes it look ugly."
2) "It's not as comfortable during the ride."
3) "Well I haven't worn one in _so many years/months_, and I've never had an accident!"
4) "Oh poo poo on your examples! Just because you have two data points containing accidents doesn't mean that'll happen to me/people I know."
5) "They're so awkward to carry around / be seen putting on."
6) "There's not enough conclusive evidence for me to think that wearing protection will keep me any more safe than when I DON'T wear protection, so I'm not going to use it."
7) "If people use it, they're more likely to take part in *gasp* risky activities *dun dun DUN* so we shouldn't promote using this safety equipment lest they think they're invincible!"

(That last one brought to you by the Fundamentalist Anti-Protection Agency.)

Minus the fact that for birth control there's enough conclusive evidence that it helps prevent "accidents", this is -exactly- that kind of conversation.
Seriously, people.
Just wear a fucking helmet (any other protection you need to stay as safe as possible).
posted by DisreputableDog at 10:49 PM on October 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't understand what it is about this issue that forces people to substitute GRAR and snark for evidence and respect, but it's embarrassing. This is a public health question: either the evidence is there, or it's not.

Either cars are more likely to hit you if you're wearing a helmet, or they're not.
Either the general population are less likely to bike if they're obligated by law to wear a helmet, or they're not.
Either styrofoam "soft" helmets prevent serious head injuries, or they don't.

These are the same kinds of questions we take up when we challenge the prevailing psychiatric model of the mind that prefers to use pharmaceutical interventions rather than talking therapy. These are the same kinds of questions that we take up when we compare the costs and benefits of prostate cancer screening. These are the same kinds of questions that we take up when we think about the public health effects of legalizing drug use.

None of these questions requires you to signal your distaste for people with evidence contrary to the apparent "common-sense" and "folk wisdom" by parodying it, pretending it's bad science or statistics, ostentatiously proclaiming that you care more, or branding it propaganda. All of these questions are still live, and still actively being researched.

What's more, we all care: some of us care because we bike a lot. Some of us care because we believe that bikeable cities are the best places to live. Some of us care because we want to make sure our children are safe. But we all care! Caring is a prerequisite for engaging in this conversation at all.

For my part, I'd like to apologize for the comparison to homeopathy. On the one hand, I think it's an apt comparison: some people fervently believe in homeopathy despite the absence of evidence, and the placebo effect is strong enough to make it look effective if you perform a biased study. But on the other hand, I understand that it feels insulting to have your reasonable care and concern compared to obvious cranks (who also have reasonable care and concern, but never mind that) and so I apologize for making the comparison.
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:02 AM on November 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


gompa: "The next time you see a broken helmet, suspend belief and do the most basic check – disregard the breakages and look to see if what's left of the styrofoam has compressed. If it hasn't, you can be reasonably sure that it hasn't saved anyone's life."

So by this logic, in the header I took in 2007 (came down on my front tire coming off a jump and kept rolling forward) my helmet was helpful in preventing serious injury. Because there were depressions all over that thing from the sharp-ass gravel I landed in; it looked like someone had hit the helmet several times with a meat tenderizing mallet.

I acknowledge that the helmet didn't fix everything, obviously. I tore the hell out of my neck and shoulder, ripped a hole in my earlobe, ended up with a big (but thankfully not really obvious) scar out of the deal down the side of my neck, had some temporary nerve damage that left me with a half-functioning diaphragm (and thus reduced lung capacity) for a month or so afterwards.

So I wear a helmet. For two reasons. First, because I value my brains, and anything I can put between my brains and something sharp and/or solid coming at me at high speed is a good thing. Second, and most importantly, because I don't want my two-year-old son growing up thinking he doesn't need to wear one, because I value HIS brains and want him to grow up sans traumatic head injury. Safe riding practices is a part of this. So is the helmet. He already knows he needs his "bike hat" when riding. Mom and Dad wear them, and so does he.
posted by caution live frogs at 7:59 AM on November 1, 2011


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