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So, I shouldn’t wear a bike helmet?

March 12, 2013

And she’s okay!

Now they’re telling us not to wear bike helmets??

Check out this article in The Atlantic called “The Bike Helmet Paradox.”

The gist of the story is that:

  • No one really likes to wear bike helmets,
  • Pressuring and/or requiring people to wear them could just make them not ride their bike, and
  • Bike helmets’ impact on bike safety has yet to be proven.

Well, we certainly don’t want to deter any more people from riding their bikes, do we?

Everyone talks about how lovely and safe cycling is in Amsterdam and Copenhagen, where there are tons of bike lanes, tons of bike-aware motorists and almost no helmets. But Denver—capital city of the fourth most bike-friendly state in the U.S.—still has multi-lane, shoulderless boulevards  and negligent, ignorant and aggressive motorists, which definitely make helmets feel like a smart move here.

Will cycling ever gain universal popularity if you have to wear a dorky helmet while doing it?

I don’t know, but any article that works in the Wayne’s World video clip where Stacy flips over the car on her bike is worth a read.


P.S. Thanks, Tom, for one more article recommendation!

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Clay permalink
    March 12, 2013 12:15 pm

    Torn on this subject for sure, because I do not like wearing a helmet and never did as a kid. I feel like sometimes this world is too safe.

    I almost busted my skull walking across the street when there was ice on the ground. Maybe I should of worn a helmet, just in case.

    There is always this though.

    • avaerewyck permalink
      March 13, 2013 9:07 am

      Yeah, I didn’t wear a helmet when I biked as a kid either … but I also didn’t ride on busy streets. Plus, I wonder if motorists are more cautious with kids than with adult cyclists. But our heads are vulnerable, too. I’ve never heard of the invisible helmet before – that’s amazing! Wonder how much they cost …

  2. Steven permalink
    March 13, 2013 3:06 am

    It depends on what speed you’re riding at (or the kinetic energy involved). If you search “pedestrian fatality vs speed” (on for graphs such as this:

    you can see that the risks start climbing at 20mph / 30kph. Here, we’re talking about cars hitting pedestrians. Of course, pedestrians typically do not wear helmets when they get hit by cars. And head injuries are the most deadliest. So it makes sense to wear helmet if you’re riding around 20mph / 30kph or higher.

    But for me, I always wear helmet, regardless of the speed.

    • avaerewyck permalink
      March 13, 2013 9:12 am

      Thanks for sharing the info graph, Steven! Isn’t the graph talking about the speed of the car though (since pedestrians probably average closer to 3-4 miles per hour? :). I generally travel at about 14-15 miles per hour when commuting by bike, but the cars around me are going AT LEAST 20 mph – often more like 50. I think you’re smart to wear a helmet all the time.

      • Steven permalink
        March 14, 2013 9:23 am

        Put on your lab coat and take a trip into my theoretical physics lab (ie, my insane brain).

        OK. Think of collisions between a big object (a car) and a small object (me). It doesn’t matter if the big object runs into the smaller object at rest, or vice versa. The energy transfer will be the same.

        Basically, if I was running 35mph into a parked car, I’m going to feel the impact just as much as a car running 35mph into me standing still. It’s all about the energy transfer. (Also, pedestrians are so slow compared to cars, that for all intents and purposes, they’re basically standing still.)

        Likewise, a cyclist riding into a tree at 35mph will feel the impact the same as if a tree (the fast moving kind from The Lord Of The Ring) running into the cyclist waiting at a red light. It’s all about the energy transfer.

        This energy transfer is based on the relative speed just before collision. So, those “Car vs Pedestrian” graphs should look identical to a hypothetical “Non-Helmet Cyclist vs Tree” graph.

        It gets dangerous for cyclists to crash into trees (the stubborn trees that refuses to get out of the way), because the chance of death starts to rise when speeds reach 20mph or higher.

        The moral of the story is that, if you’re expecting a tree to run into you at 20mph, you should put on a helmet.

  3. May 12, 2014 7:06 pm

    I highly recommend checking out information at and, two comprehensive sites on the helmet debate.

    Not to choose sides, because I do wear a helmet (mostly for longer distances and for fast paced rides) because it’s a very complex issue, but an experiment done in the UK suggests that motorists are more likely to drive closer to you when you have a helmet on ( This also correlates to the anecdotal evidence (and I’m sure there has been some studies done but I haven’t looked into it) that people take more risks with safety gear on.

    (edit: looks like the atlantic article pointed this study out, sorry!)

    Another comment I was reading recently (sorry, anecdotal again) is that a rider in denmark notes that there is no danger riding in the city, so choose not to wear a helmet, but when cyclists want to do spirited exercise they will use their helmets.

    It should also be noted that the CPSC (consumer product safety comission), who gives helmets their rating and their sticker adorns said helmets, do not rate bicycle helmets for vehicular collisions. They are rated for impact from falls off of your bike, not from an SUV hitting you at 30 mph.

    There’s also information on the net about “torsional rotation” being a common bicycle injury as a direct cause of helmet wear, but I think it needs more looking into before I’m convinced it’s more of a threat than wearing a helmet. Checkout for information about that.

    There’s even a tedtalk from the owner of about how helmets are a deterrent of America embracing cycle-culture: in particular how the idea of having to “gear”
    up expresses the inherent super-dangerous risk of cycling at a casual pace to go get some groceries:

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