Saturday, 24 August 2013

My take on the "helmet/no helmet" debate

A couple of days ago I read an article about a 16 year old lad who was knocked off his bike by a van. He wasn't wearing a helmet because he did not want to mess his hair up. The accident happened 5 weeks ago and he is still in a coma.

Now I could start ranting and raving and demanding everyone who owns a bike should have a helmet, that the government should make it a law, or even that today's teenagers are too fashion conscious for their own good. But that would do absolutely no good at all.

Cycling popularity

Let's look at this rationally. The number of cyclists killed or seriously injured on the roads today is on the increase, simply because cycling's popularity is on the increase worldwide by 7%. In the UK alone this number is 17% over the last decade. The Olympics and Tour de France victories from Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome and even stage wins by Mark Cavendish have endeared cycling to the British public and there has been a boom in cycle purchases. The high street store Halfords makes cycling affordable and easily achievable to beginners with budget lines. People who are wanting to start cycling are not likely to be scared off by buying a bike at Halfords - I think Halfords demystifies cycling and makes it seem less "specialist".

Killed or seriously injured (KSI)

The facts

  • The number of cyclists killed increased by 10 per cent from 107 in 2011 to 118 in 2012.
  • The number of cyclists reported to the police as seriously injured in a road accident increased by 4 per cent to 3,222.
  • Pedal cyclist traffic levels are estimated to have risen by 1.2 per cent over the same period.
  • Cyclists have the second highest KSI rate per billion passenger miles travelled of any road user group. 
The facts you see to the right are taken from the Government website, Think!, which aims to raise awareness for a whole range of road-related campaigns. I think it can be put simply that the more cyclists there are on the road, the more chances there are to be accidents.

Compulsory helmets?

There is a debate raging as to whether helmets are worth it or not. Some people call for helmets to be made mandatory and some people say the choice should be with the cyclist. This quick Google search shows this opinion-dividing topic perfectly. A study in Western Australia showed that a mandatory helmet law actually had a negative impact on cycling, from increased admissions of cyclists into hospitals to a decrease in cycling in general. When you look at cycling in Amsterdam or Copenhagen, you'd struggle to see a cycling helmet amongst the thousands of cyclists.

My conclusion

I always wear a helmet. I have done since I was little, my Mam made me! Now I'm older and can make my own choices, I still wear a helmet. Why? Today's helmet materials and designs make helmets light, comfortable and airy. They are affordable too.
I wear a Specialized Tactic for every type of riding I do. It's highly adjustable, the peak is removable and it doesn't stand out and there's plenty venting to keep me cool.

Specialized tactic - peak on
Specialized tactic - peak off
When I lived with my parents, our neighbour was always out on his bike, with no helmet. My Mam always told him he should be wearing a helmet. He kept saying no, until he came off and had a bad crash. He wished he was wearing a helmet then, and has ever since. That must have been 5/6 years ago. That's not a massive revelation, but it was enough reinforcement for me to keep wearing mine.

Now I'm a bicycle commuter, I need to take a bag and my helmet into the office. This could be a lot to put people off, carrying lots of extra stuff about. The answer is simple: a backpack with lacing or a net to hold the helmet.

I use a Deuter Bike 1, which isn't available anymore. I've linked to an equivalent. This solves the problem easily and doesn't take much space under my desk.

Rucksack and helmet combined
Easy to store


 So that's my take on the helmet debate. I choose to wear one. I think that if compulsory helmets were introduced, I think we'd see similar to Western Australia. Some people hate wearing them and if the law was properly enforced, they just wouldn't ride. The key is awareness; not just from drivers, but cyclists themselves.

How about yourself? Which side of the fence do you stand? Let's hear it in the comments below.


  1. Until we evolve to handle collisions with our heads, I'll keep mine on.

    I'd rather not wear it, but the win it gives me in the event of smashing my head on the floor is worth the effort to put it on and take it with me.

  2. It is and always should be a personal choice.

    I don't normally wear a helmet, unless there is a heightened risk - it's wet & slippery or snowy and icy. I do wear it if I go mountain biking though.

    The one thing most helmet campaigners miss is that cycling is NOT a dangerous activity on it's own and that most cyclists don't just fall off for no reason. I always cycle safely and alert so I don't hit things though my fault.

    The main risk is when in collision with things like motor vehicles. People need to campaign to prevent collisions, not mitigate one possible type of injury. That's daft. Also compared to the overall numbers, cycling doesn't count for a lot of injuries. The most common sources are falls, assaults, and being drunk.

  3. BishopAucklandBiking26 August 2013 at 17:08

    Fully in agreement with you Jamie...bone is hard but at the impact at speed on concrete/tarmac, bone is just going to crack or shatter. And skin is going to tear so easily! A helmet won't protect everything, but it will certainly be more effective than going without.

  4. BishopAucklandBiking26 August 2013 at 17:13

    Agreed Gary, a lot of people on my post over on Google+ have been saying the same thing too. It's a personal choice and dependant on the circumstances. My personal choice is to always wear one, regardless of whether I'm flying through the forest or riding a mile to see my parents for Sunday lunch. I don't mind if other people don't wear a helmet.

    Raising awareness for cyclists is the obvious step, but I think that is going to take a long time before the government or councils get their heads around the idea that cycling should be seen as a real alternative to driving.

  5. I'm definitely in the "helmet" camp. I'm not going to pontificate at those who don't, but to me, after the risk-benefit analysis, it just seems like a good idea. There's essentially no risk to me (some people might say I look like a dork; I'm not worried about that) and the potential benefits are worth it. Then again, I am a youngish guy with poor impulse control but also wise enough to recognize that fact -- so I know I do stupid stuff on my bike sometimes (Taking a corner too fast, wiping out dramatically, and crashing into a cast-iron street lamp? Check! Sprinting on a slippery cycle path and crashing like a meteorite? Check!). It's worth it even if my helmet only protects me from myself!

  6. BishopAucklandBiking15 November 2013 at 20:50

    Definitely! Confidence can get the better of most of us at some time in our lives and if we're better protected when it does, then that's got to be good.

  7. I have convinced myself, rather humorously with my wife that I look so much more handsome in a bike helmet than any other clothing accessory. "Honey, have noticed how many looks I get from gals while we sit in front of the coffee shop." : ) Be safe, enjoy your ride.


Find us on Google+