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Bicycle Helmets: Good or Not? (Bike Helmet & Skate Helmet Safety)

Jack's picture


roadskater's picture

My Experience Leads Me to Wear My Skate Helmet. Always.

Hey Jack! This is a great topic that surfaces now and then and inspires thought, and even anger!

I'm glad Scientific American's website included this:  

New York City released a report on bicycle deaths and injuries: 225 cyclists died between 1996 and 2005 on New York streets; 97 percent of them were not wearing helmets.

However, I wear my helmet based mostly on my experience and what I've seen, plus what I have heard from people who had accidents. My experience in falling once led me to believe there was nothing I could do (or little) to stop my head from snapping against the ground if my chest or back landed mostly flat, and maybe not if I landed on either side. It happens incredibly fast even at slow speeds and the head is like the end of a whip it seems at that point.

Three of four falls that are memorable for head movement happened at slow speeds: one slowly slaloming down a very mild hill, where my feet went out from under me due to gravel or similar; another when a music-listening dog-walking jogger's dog ran out the extender leash in front of me chasing a dog on the right without the jogger noticing; another at skatedc standing at a light where I did not hit my head but came very close to falling backward and knocking my head against a traffic light pole; and once where I was still not going that fast but was trying to at a skate workshop. In the first case the helmet didn't help because my chin and teeth took the hit. In the other cases, my helmet saved a really bloody mess and I believe reduced pain and injury significantly (except when I came very close but didn't hit).

As for doing crazier stuff because I wear a helmet, I don't believe that in my case at least. The truth is that the only time I really noticed a helmet was when I started wearing one, and yes it felt strange then. Now it hopefully feels strange when I'm not wearing one when I've simply been too distracted, or at the skating rink when it's not fast laps and no one would be caught dead wearing one, especially not some old walrus with fat ankles. I secretly wish I had the courage to wear it all the time in the rink, ha.

I see the point of the research that motorists give less room to people who look like they know what they're doing, but as a motorist, I am much less bothered by someone who seems under control, skillful, riding or skating single file, and mostly trying to get from one place to another like I am.

In fact, my experience in skating has been that if 2 or 3 or more of us are out there in team clothing, people seem to think we are out there with a purpose and usually (not always!) respect that. It also seems to help if we still have race numbers on our packs or helmets from some previous charity event. I haven't taken surveys of course, but these are my impressions from skating in various situations.

One thing I think is very anger producing and dangerous is to have bicycles riding behind a line of skaters where the bikes are riding side-by-side to "protect" the skaters. Quite the contrary, this makes the motorists seethe, and not at the cyclists, who were doing this without our knowledge, but at us! If there are cyclists behind us two or wider, the driver usually assumes it is only because we are in the way.

I've noticed in the T2T training rides that cyclists have been riding 2- or 3-wide more than in past years, or so it seemed early on at least. I hope the staff reminds everyone about this as it is a certain way for bikers or skaters to make motorists very angry. Once they've honked at us, things change a bit, but we're still out there representing our sport and trying to be safe, so I need to keep in mind that calm and alive are both good.

So I understand people have many reasons for not wearing a helmet. I just don't want to skate with them. It is the most difficult when it is a friend you haven't seen in months and everyone's together at a festival that requires helmets, but they're not doing what they agreed to do. Then I wish we weren't even skating and we could just sit and hang out. I usually just skate elsewhere in the group and look for them later.

I uphold their right to skate without a helmet (if there is no law in that jurisdiction), but also my right to not want to be any part of it. Even if they're not worried, I will be, and dampens my skatebuzz like a siren behind me. 

profjb2000's picture

Helmet and Common Sense Optional

     I read this article when it was released. It does not evaluate the risk versus benefit of wearing a helmet (risk analysis). Arguments for no helmets using this information is an outright red herring.


     The behavior of drivers is not shown to reduce the risk of injury relative to helmet usage. The information only shows the possible mindset of the drivers using clearance as the only parameter and assuming all else is equal. This assumption is flawed. Consider the differences in driver skills with a vehicle, variability in individual perceptions of distance, availability clearance for driver to shift over, and even the drivers awareness of the cyclist (I've been hit twice on a bike and once the driver said she just didn't see me). I am sure that we could all create of large list of factors not considered. We don't even know what percentage of falls with head strikes are related to interactions with automobiles.


     Regardless of the above discussion, the outcome has no real bearing on helmet safety. Data sited at the end of the article is just one instance of the overwhelming evidence that show wearing a helmet mitigates the risks of sever head injury in a fall.


     I have broken three helmets over the years including a backwards strike this spring that split my helmet. The study author is welcome to continue without a helmet at his own risk. I am not giving up my helmet until it is time for a replacement.


timv's picture

Helmets Tends to Be a Touchy Subject

Good link, Jack!


I'm on some cycling mailing lists where the list of forbidden topics is religion, politics, and helmets. Discussions of them typically lead to a lot of strong opinions and few if any changed minds. As with the others, I've broken my helmet in a crash and I'd hate to think what would have happened if my unprotected head had hit the pavement that hard. But I'll admit that I will sometimes do a short bike ride without a helmet on a hot day, and it feels pretty nice.


Here's a link to another article from Israel from about a week ago that goes through some of the back-and-forth that tends to develop on the subject:


Knesset to vote today on helmets for cyclists
The Knesset is to decide today whether to pass the second and third readings of a controversial law that would require bicyclists to wear helmets.
Those in favor of the law say it will reduce the number of bicyclists injured. Those opposed, which include a group representing bicyclists and organizations in favor of increased use of public transportation, say helmets should be voluntary, and that less people will ride bicycles if required to wear a helmet.


One of the parties quoted makes the point--which seems valid as far as it goes--that fatal cycling accidents tend to happen to low-income riders on busy city streets being struck by cars, and that helmets might not have helped them because of the speeds and the mass of the vehicle involved. Helmet wearers tended to be more affluent and to ride in parks and on bike paths, where a helmet could do more good.


None of which matters much to me. I'm not too worried about whether passing cars give me 3 or 4 inches more or less as long as they don't actually hit me, and I'll generally have my helmet on in traffic or not, and always when skating.

Jack's picture

I couldn't agree more with

I couldn't agree more with the majority on this one. I too have had the low speed head (helmet) bangers and am convinced of their worth. Thanks for the feedback.

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