Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A hopefully rare post about helmets

You may have noticed I didn't point out in the previous post that the woman isn't wearing a helmet. First of all, it's obvious and speaks for itself.

Second, I don't want to be the guy saying 'see, don't wear a helmet'. I do want to be the guy saying 'make choices based on adult powers of risk assessment'.

Third, I don't want to talk much about helmets on this blog, because then the same arguments go around and around. It's boring and no one convinces anyone of anything.

With that said, ok, this is more good and sensible ammo for the next time someone says, 'hey, where's your helmet'?

Why does the perception of bicycle safety seem to differ so much with the reality? One reason is this notion that you have to be wearing ’safety gear’ (aka ‘danger gear’ – helmets, fluoro) which any normal person looks at and thinks… “Gee, that MUST be dangerous. I wouldn’t want my husband/wife/child/mother/father doing that. You must be so brave… etc etc”.

I cycle over 5000km per year for commuting and every other trip I would normally take a car for. I haven’t ‘fallen off’ since I was 10 years old. I don’t wear a helmet for 99% of these trips. I’d like to not have to break the law.


  1. Your "if you don't" link and "full article" don't work (as I can see)

  2. Thanks for letting me know, try it again now!

  3. You portend to have a laissez faire attitude about helmets in every post you mention them, but you should be aware that your posts on the subject are generally condescending and pretty judgmental in tone.

  4. Sorry if it comes across that way. If you'd like to point out an example I could respond. Otherwise I'd just be repeating my position on helmets generally, which I think I've made clear. Which is that I prefer not to wear one, power on to those who do. I'm pro-choice about it.

    As I usually say, I think it depends on how you ride. So-called citizen cycling seems pretty safe to me. I do and will push back against those who paint all cycling as so dangerous that wearing a helmet is always necessary. That's untrue and hurts cycling.

  5. Thanks for your reply. Here are some examples in which you've started/closed a post with a laissez faire perspective on helmets, but advocate a perspective otherwise. You insinuated in your posts that people that wear helmets are: 11/30 afraid or unable to thing for themselves; 10/6 reckless or (via link) uninformed; 12/15 contrary to 10/6 - arguing a zero sum perspective by saying "this is more good and sensible ammo for the next time someone says, 'hey, where's your helmet'?"

  6. Well, without going back into each of those particular posts in depth, I'd rather respond to your characterizations.

    "afraid or unable to think for themselves", "reckless or uninformed"

    I think this is a negative, defensive spin on my message. People of course can think and decide for themselves. Including those of us who don't wear helmets - but we're the ones who are not entirely permitted to make that choice, at least not without an awful lot of people piling on with their accident horror stories and why I am/we are stupid and crazy. Or in some places, not permitted by law.

    I say let me think for myself too.

    About 'afraid', well, I think there is a lot of fear-mongering surrounding helmet use. Some would have you think that cycling is dangerous enough to require a helmet every time you put your butt in the seat, at any speed or manner of riding. Because you know, 'anything could happen'. Or, 'I know someone who stopped to look at the Grand Canyon, put their foot down in some loose gravel, fell backwards and hit their head, now they're relearning the alphabet'.

    While understandable, I think that's a fearful position, and not one I subscribe to or promote. BUT (and this seems to be where you get bothered) I ALSO have no problem with those who wear helmets for their own parameters/sense of safety.

    A young woman I know slipped and hit her head on a sidewalk, which horrified me but didn't make me advocate for pedestrian helmets.

    So yes, I advocate for one side which tends to be underrepresented (pro-choice for helmets, factoring in HOW one rides), while fully allowing for the other side. I don't see why that's a problem or hard to grasp but I'm sorry if need to make myself more clear.

    'Reckless' - In the helmet debate online, I often see plenty of examples of people who chime in with something like, 'but a helmet saved my life! I got t-boned by a taxi and landed 40 feet from my bike!'. That strikes me as fairly reckless, and not relevant to a discussion about the helmet needs of slow, urban citizen cycling.

    'Uninformed' - There is a lack of balanced information at times. I think the mixed facts about helmets are often obscured by a one-sided semi-hysteria in this country. Or at least by an ingrained mentality that is a perhaps natural result of the kinds of cycling most practiced here (sport/racing/recreational/long/fast). If I rode like that I'd wear a helmet too, and I would never intentionally suggest someone shouldn't.

    Thanks for reading and I hope that this answers your questions.