Coming out of the closet: I Hate Helmets

I’ve been doing a fence-straddling maneuver here at JustAnotherCyclist regarding the issue of bicycle helmets.  Again I will reiterate that I do not encourage folks to go about without a helmet.  Nor do I encourage you to ride with one.  It is entirely your choice (except for areas where specific laws apply.)  My frustration comes entirely from the dogmatic nonsense that the issue seems to instill in some folks.

I first started to become openly frustrated with the whole helmet situation when I was in the hospital for a broken collar bone due to a bike crash.  I distinctly recall one of the ER nurses asking me “Were you wearing a helmet?” I simply answered the question at first, but then I started to think a little more critically about the question.Does it actually matter, from the perspective of a health care provider, if I was wearing a helmet or not?  Will the hospital staff perhaps check for head injuries more diligently if they know that I was not wearing a helmet at the time of the crash?  Would I perhaps have been better served medically by answering ‘no’ to the question?

The same issue comes up in the mainstream media.  All too often a car driving at speeds where the helmet would do absolutely nothing hits and kills a cyclist, and the media reports that the rider “wasn’t wearing a helmet,” continuing to perpetuate this exaggerated belief in the helmet’s protective merits.

However, it was actually a comment about one of my own posts here at VeloReviews/JustAnotherCyclist that finally made me decide – yup, I hate helmets.  The article (which, incidentally, has somehow become my most popular post to date) actually had nothing to do with helmets.  It really had nothing to do with bicycle safety at all.  It was mostly about cities forcing cyclists into bike lanes.  The first video from that post featured a guy getting a ticket for riding outside of the bike lane from a NYPD officer.  He then went on – with what would seem a comedic approach – to film himself riding in the bike lane, intentionally crashing into the many obstacles that an urban cyclist will often find in those narrow patches of pavement.  I took the entire effort to be a “the law is silly, refund my fine.”

But this was a comment that I got:

You’re right.  Because he wasn’t wearing a helmet in his video, his point is invalidated.

Wait – what?  It is probably important to understand the context – the comment the above was a response to:

Did Mr Neistat have a helmet on at any point during his little movie?  I get the impression that he cares more about his precious $50 than he does about really being safe.  Nice try tho.

This is infuriating to me.  There are so many aspects of being safe while riding – but yet we (especially in the US it seems) hold the mighty helmet as the one and only idol of bicycling safety.  I do not choose the term ‘idol’ loosely there.  The helmet really does seem to have reached a religious significance to some.

Come on folks.  We need to think about these things objectively.  There is a whole slew of information available for the person willing to read and really understand what is going on.  The surprising fact to many is that much of that evidence actually seems to indicate there may in fact be greater risk to those wearing helmets.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t actually matter so much if you are chose to wear a helmet or not to every other member of the planet.  Or rather – it shouldn’t matter.  Helmets are a convenient distraction from the real – the only – safety issue: minimizing crashes in the first place.  If we are going to immediately invalidate folks opinions unless they drink the Kool Aid and put on a plastic hat, we are not going to get very far at all.