Of all of the things I’ve written about here on JustAnotherCyclist, few subjects tend to spark as much disagreement – from both cyclists and non-cyclists alike – as my posts regarding bicycle helmets. Many seeing me roll up to work or wherever without my helmet on have referred to me as reckless, stupid, crazy, nuts, or even… well, you can probably imagine. I’ve been told I’m an irresponsible parent, setting a bad example for my children. I’ve been told I make drivers on the road nervous, thus increasing motorists/cyclist contention. I’ve even been told I “deserve to crack my skull open” because I opt to sometimes ride without a helmet.
I’ve never once encouraged anyone to ride without a helmet. Instead, I’ve spoke of my own opinions and ideas on the subject, encouraging others to find out the facts and make an educated, reasonable decision on their own.
I have not yet had the opportunity to travel abroad nearly as much as I would like. But in all my reading, conversations, and writings I’ve come to believe that the United States, along with Australia and New Zealand, seem to have a near religious vigor for encouraging helmet usage. Almost every cycling club I’ve come in contact with has some sort of helmet clause in their waiver or bylaws. I’ve heard of some racing teams that will actually expel members from the team if they are spotted riding without a helmet – weather in team kit at the time or not. While no jurisdictions in the United States (that I am aware of) require the use of bicycle helmets by adults, the pressures are there nonetheless. I recall one member of my old club that told me, point blank, that he’d refuse to go on a group ride if one of the riders showed up without a helmet because it “made him too uncomfortable.” Every news article regarding a cyclist being injured or killed in an accident seems to make a comment pointing out if the cyclist was or wasn’t wearing a helmet at the time. Unfortunately, this is true even if the cyclist died from injuries that would not have been prevented with a bicycle helmet.
So it was with some surprise that I found the New York Times, of all publications, would publish an article expounding the benefits of not wearing a cycling helmet. While the focus of the article is on bike share programs, and how helmet use (either required by law or societal expectations) can hinder their effectiveness, it touches on many of the same concepts and topics that those labeled “Anti-Helmet” often cite. Again, I encourage you, my readers, to look at the information, think, and decide for yourselves.