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Yet Another Helmet Thread

post #1 of 25
Thread Starter 

To Encourage Biking, Cities Lose the Helmets

 

In the United States the notion that bike helmets promote health and safety by preventing head injuries is taken as pretty near God’s truth. Un-helmeted cyclists are regarded as irresponsible, like people who smoke. Cities are aggressive in helmet promotion.

 

But many European health experts have taken a very different view: Yes, there are studies that show that if you fall off a bicycle at a certain speed and hit your head, a helmet can reduce your risk of serious head injury. But such falls off bikes are rare — exceedingly so in mature urban cycling systems.

 

On the other hand, many researchers say, if you force or pressure people to wear helmets, you discourage them from riding bicycles. That means more obesity, heart disease and diabetes. And — Catch-22 — a result is fewer ordinary cyclists on the road, which makes it harder to develop a safe bicycling network. The safest biking cities are places like Amsterdam and Copenhagen, where middle-aged commuters are mainstay riders and the fraction of adults in helmets is minuscule.

 

“Pushing helmets really kills cycling and bike-sharing in particular because it promotes a sense of danger that just isn’t justified — in fact, cycling has many health benefits,” says Piet de Jong, a professor in the department of applied finance and actuarial studies at Macquarie University in Sydney. He studied the issue with mathematical modeling, and concludes that the benefits may outweigh the risks by 20 to 1.

post #2 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by jc-ski View Post

To Encourage Biking, Cities Lose the Helmets

 

In the United States the notion that bike helmets promote health and safety by preventing head injuries is taken as pretty near God’s truth. Un-helmeted cyclists are regarded as irresponsible, like people who smoke. Cities are aggressive in helmet promotion.

 

But many European health experts have taken a very different view: Yes, there are studies that show that if you fall off a bicycle at a certain speed and hit your head, a helmet can reduce your risk of serious head injury. But such falls off bikes are rare — exceedingly so in mature urban cycling systems.

 

On the other hand, many researchers say, if you force or pressure people to wear helmets, you discourage them from riding bicycles. That means more obesity, heart disease and diabetes. And — Catch-22 — a result is fewer ordinary cyclists on the road, which makes it harder to develop a safe bicycling network. The safest biking cities are places like Amsterdam and Copenhagen, where middle-aged commuters are mainstay riders and the fraction of adults in helmets is minuscule.

 

“Pushing helmets really kills cycling and bike-sharing in particular because it promotes a sense of danger that just isn’t justified — in fact, cycling has many health benefits,” says Piet de Jong, a professor in the department of applied finance and actuarial studies at Macquarie University in Sydney. He studied the issue with mathematical modeling, and concludes that the benefits may outweigh the risks by 20 to 1.

 

 

Pardon me for saying, but...so what?

 

Are we actually pretending that the cycling environment in any US city whatsoever constitutes a  "mature urban cycling system"?  

 

I agree that un-helmeted cycling is ridiculously demonized in the US, and I could easily argue that it comes from everyone wanting to preach to the next guy.    

 

That said,  the majority of the population riding bikes, the majority of conditions and distances over which they ride them, heck even the majority of the bikes themselves are different  from those in Europe.    When there is a large number of urban commuters riding upright city bikes with flat pedals over distances of 5 miles or less,  and when there is a large number of motorized road users who are familiar with bikes on the street, then the ^above becomes relevant to the US.   

 

Heck, I would bet that in the US more than half of all commuters use clipless pedals, for example.   And falling off when learning to use those is anything but rare.

post #3 of 25
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by cantunamunch View Post

 

Are we actually pretending that the cycling environment in any US city whatsoever constitutes a  "mature urban cycling system"?  

 

There are definitely "urban cycling systems". I guess "mature" is relative, but you gotta start somewhere.

 

That said,  the majority of the population riding bikes, the majority of conditions and distances over which they ride them, heck even the majority of the bikes themselves are different  from those in Europe.   

 

Hard to argue that.

 

When there is a large number of urban commuters riding upright city bikes with flat pedals over distances of 5 miles or less,  and when there is a large number of motorized road users who are familiar with bikes on the street, then the ^above becomes relevant to the US.   

 

As to numbers, that's really all a bit of a chicken and egg thing, and that's the crux of the biscuit, isn't it? For sure there are some urban environments (San Francisco, New York, Portland, etc) where I suspect it's common to see people riding bikes with "flat pedals over distances of 5 miles or less".

 

Heck, I would bet that in the US more than half of all commuters use clipless pedals, for example.   And falling off when learning to use those is anything but rare.

 

I wouldn't know. I'm a Luddite, and still ride with (loose) toe clips in my urban environment.  wink.gif

 

Pardon me for saying, but...so what?

 

My answer (and the spirit of the article) is that maybe more people would ride if the whole biking experience didn't seem so GD difficult/weird/inaccessible and yes, perhaps dangerous to the average person. When you have to put on the clown suit, clip in to your clipless pedals and throw a helmet on top like a cherry just to go for a ride most people are gonna pass.

post #4 of 25

The fact is that cycling in the US is fairly dangerous.  Hang out on places like roadbikeforum and you will see plenty of stories of motorists "targeting" cyclists.  There are a fair number of people killed while cycling in the US every year and in some places killing a cyclist while driving is not a felony but killing another motorist is.  There are plenty of people in the US who believe cyclists have no right to use the road and some even encourage running cyclists down.  That sort of attitude doesn't really exist in Europe.  I just came back from riding in the first annual Coeur d'Fondo in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.  I rode the 84 mile route and part of it was on the narrowest two lane road I've ever ridden.  There was a white line painted at the edge of a 12" drop into dirt and rocks.  I got forced off the road by an 18 wheeler in that.  I didn't go down but I thought I was going to.  I bike a couple thousand miles a year on the road and I survive because I pay attention.  The biggest problem cyclists face is the same one motorcyclists face, people do not see us.  

post #5 of 25

I'll put on a helmet if I'm going on a longer ride that's going to be on roads, or if I'm going mountain biking.

Otherwise, a helmet is just an inconvenience, because I'm not going to fall unless a car decides to hit me, and then a helmet won't help a huge amount either.

post #6 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by mtcyclist View Post

The fact is that cycling in the US is fairly dangerous.
 That sort of attitude doesn't really exist in Europe.

If we are fair, we can say it's not just in US ;) Cycling in cities is in my opinion one of most dangerous things, yes even here on our side of Atlantic, where, based on some comments here, we are suppose to have "mature urban cycling system". I don't know if this will make you feel any better or worse, we do have such attitude also in Europe. You have certain amount of people (quite big percentage unfortunately) that do think, roads are for cars and bikes don't belong there.

There was some discussion year or two ago here, that helmets should be obligatory (just as they are for big AND small motorbikes). And similar to these "arguments" from quoted article, many people here came out with same "arguments"... helmets will reduce number of cyclists. Personally I think this is total BS. If I look people more up north in Europe (Danemark, Sweden, Finland), majority of people in cities commute with helmets, even if they have normal city bikes. They go to work or to store, or just to hang in nearby coffee place with suite and tie and helmets on their heads. Men and women, who have normally more problems with this, since helmets "destroy their haircut" :) And there's not a single research showing number of cyclists would be smaller because of this. As a matter of fact, when I'm up north, I notice more and more commuters on bikes every new year. Sure this is not scientifically proven, and it might not even be true, but this summer I saw much more riders on streets of Helsinki, then let's say 2 or 3 or 5 years ago.

I do think you have way more chances to hurt yourself badly in city, then out in middle of nowhere. Yet, I never commute with helmet in city, while I always take it when I go out for a bike ride. But if someone would tell me, I have to wear it, I would wear it, not stop riding bike. So telling "I'm not going to fall unless a car decides to hit me" is a bit ridiculous. I have no intention to fall or crash either, yet I wear helmet skiing, I have car with airbags and I put seatbelt on when driving.

There's one more thing, which is probably not so important in USA, then it's here, due system we have here (free school, "free" medical insurance...). Thing is, that when someone crashes badly and dies, it's not just his problem. It's also my problem. Why? Simply, because country (and other tax payers) paid certain amount of money for him to finish schools (including university). We all "pay back" this money with taxes which we pay through our lives. So when you die at age of 30, you didn't pay back almost anything yet, so this burden is on everyone else. If you don't die, but just hurt yourself really badly, we all pay for his hospital bills etc. So, at least here, it's not just this person's business to protect himself, but also everyone elses.

post #7 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by jc-ski View Post

To Encourage Biking, Cities Lose the Helmets

 

In the United States the notion that bike helmets promote health and safety by preventing head injuries is taken as pretty near God’s truth. Un-helmeted cyclists are regarded as irresponsible, like people who smoke. Cities are aggressive in helmet promotion.

 

But many European health experts have taken a very different view: Yes, there are studies that show that if you fall off a bicycle at a certain speed and hit your head, a helmet can reduce your risk of serious head injury. But such falls off bikes are rare — exceedingly so in mature urban cycling systems.

 

On the other hand, many researchers say, if you force or pressure people to wear helmets, you discourage them from riding bicycles. That means more obesity, heart disease and diabetes. And — Catch-22 — a result is fewer ordinary cyclists on the road, which makes it harder to develop a safe bicycling network. The safest biking cities are places like Amsterdam and Copenhagen, where middle-aged commuters are mainstay riders and the fraction of adults in helmets is minuscule.

 

“Pushing helmets really kills cycling and bike-sharing in particular because it promotes a sense of danger that just isn’t justified — in fact, cycling has many health benefits,” says Piet de Jong, a professor in the department of applied finance and actuarial studies at Macquarie University in Sydney. He studied the issue with mathematical modeling, and concludes that the benefits may outweigh the risks by 20 to 1.

Great article.  Totally agree.  I recall when Melbourne started their bike sharing program it was a bust...main reason?  You had to carry a helmet around due to the helmet laws.  Is it right?  Wrong?  No opinion...but that is what the research into why the program was not as successful as expected found.

post #8 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by mtcyclist View Post

The fact is that cycling in the US is fairly dangerous.  Hang out on places like roadbikeforum and you will see plenty of stories of motorists "targeting" cyclists.  There are a fair number of people killed while cycling in the US every year and in some places killing a cyclist while driving is not a felony but killing another motorist is.  There are plenty of people in the US who believe cyclists have no right to use the road and some even encourage running cyclists down.  That sort of attitude doesn't really exist in Europe.  I just came back from riding in the first annual Coeur d'Fondo in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.  I rode the 84 mile route and part of it was on the narrowest two lane road I've ever ridden.  There was a white line painted at the edge of a 12" drop into dirt and rocks.  I got forced off the road by an 18 wheeler in that.  I didn't go down but I thought I was going to.  I bike a couple thousand miles a year on the road and I survive because I pay attention.  The biggest problem cyclists face is the same one motorcyclists face, people do not see us.  

 

Man I laughed when I read this.  Exaggerate much???????????  You make it sound like riding a bike is comparable to BASE jumping or flying in a wing suit.  Just proves the Dr in the article is correct.

post #9 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by jc-ski View Post

To Encourage Biking, Cities Lose the Helmets

 

In the United States the notion that bike helmets promote health and safety by preventing head injuries is taken as pretty near God’s truth. Un-helmeted cyclists are regarded as irresponsible, like people who smoke. Cities are aggressive in helmet promotion.

 

But many European health experts have taken a very different view: Yes, there are studies that show that if you fall off a bicycle at a certain speed and hit your head, a helmet can reduce your risk of serious head injury. But such falls off bikes are rare — exceedingly so in mature urban cycling systems.

 

On the other hand, many researchers say, if you force or pressure people to wear helmets, you discourage them from riding bicycles. That means more obesity, heart disease and diabetes. And — Catch-22 — a result is fewer ordinary cyclists on the road, which makes it harder to develop a safe bicycling network. The safest biking cities are places like Amsterdam and Copenhagen, where middle-aged commuters are mainstay riders and the fraction of adults in helmets is minuscule.

 

“Pushing helmets really kills cycling and bike-sharing in particular because it promotes a sense of danger that just isn’t justified — in fact, cycling has many health benefits,” says Piet de Jong, a professor in the department of applied finance and actuarial studies at Macquarie University in Sydney. He studied the issue with mathematical modeling, and concludes that the benefits may outweigh the risks by 20 to 1.

 Have you ever been to Amsterdam? It's not like any other place and certainly not typical of a normal cycling environment. Cyclists outnumber motorists and there are dedicated lanes all over the city. There are bike parks everywhere with thousands of bikes. The culture towards bikes is unique and the law backs it up. You touch a cyclists with a car and you'd better have a good lawyer and deep pockets. My daughter livedthere and now lives in The Hague. The Netherlands truly respects cyclists unlike the UK where they are just about invisible!

 

I was called just yesterday by my distraught younger daughter after she'd received a call to say her partner had been in an accident on his bike. He was hit in a CYCLE LANE! Fortunately aprt from cuts and bruises and a problem with his knee and wrist, there are no serious injuries despite hitting the windscreen. His helmet was split where his head had made contact with the windscreen. We would have been feeling very differently today had he not worn the helmet. This is almost quite literally a 'no brainer.' Doctors at the A&E call cyclists without helmets organ donors.

 

There were all the same arguments in the past about wearing seatbelts and when breath tests were introduced. Years on it's almost inconceivable that we were ever stupid enough to oppose these things. Not sure how to change the cultural thing though. Despite the UK being curretly the dominant cycling nation and sweeping everyone aside at the Olympics there has been no apparent change in atitudes.

post #10 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by Skidude72 View Post

 

Man I laughed when I read this.  Exaggerate much???????????  You make it sound like riding a bike is comparable to BASE jumping or flying in a wing suit.  Just proves the Dr in the article is correct.

 

Next weekend I am due to ride my third memorial ride in a month.    But, hey, maybe Ed's widow is exaggerating. 

post #11 of 25

Interested to know the source of the research that suggest helmet wearing discourages cyclists. If it does then it will only while it's an issue. Get it sorted and make it compulsory then it's just normal behaviour to wear them and riders are safer.


If it's a civil liberties issue, I'm the last person to advocate unnecessary legislation but I'm not allowed to drive my car the wrong way up the road and have to conform; I have to stop at traffic lights etc. etc. Some things are jsu sensible.

post #12 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by Skidude72 View Post

Man I laughed when I read this.  Exaggerate much???????????  You make it sound like riding a bike is comparable to BASE jumping or flying in a wing suit.  Just proves the Dr in the article is correct.

 

Bike much?  I doubt it.

post #13 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by jc-ski View Post

To Encourage Biking, Cities Lose the Helmets

 

...

 

On the other hand, many researchers say, if you force or pressure people to wear helmets, you discourage them from riding bicycles....Piet de Jong, a professor in the department of applied finance and actuarial studies at Macquarie University in Sydney...studied the issue with mathematical modeling, and concludes that the benefits [to not requiring helmets (text in brackets added by poster)] may outweigh the risks by 20 to 1.

 

These are pretty brave researchers, but they also are stating something that's basic:  increase the cost of something, like forcing bicyclists to ride with helmets, and you get less of it.  When the thing you get less of is a healthy, safe activity, like biking or skiing, it's easy to end up with people who are collectively much worse off as a result of "safety" measures.

 

As for people going to memorials, the fact that some person died in a bike accident doesn't mean that other people need helmets.  I know people who do some types of riding with helmets, and others without, for instance.  Leatt-type neck braces would also help keep a certain number of road cyclists from paralysis were they widely adopted, but you don't see roadies wearing Leatts, and they don't need to.  Being able to make rational and individual choices is a very good thing.

post #14 of 25
Never heard of a Leatt neck brace. Is it inexpensive, lightweight, comfortable, non restrictive, easily available? Is this really a comparable argument. Do you drive a car? is it safe? Is it as safe as a military tank? I would guess not but that would be just a silly argument wouldn't it?
post #15 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by Adie View Post

Interested to know the source of the research that suggest helmet wearing discourages cyclists. If it does then it will only while it's an issue. Get it sorted and make it compulsory then it's just normal behaviour to wear them and riders are safer.


If it's a civil liberties issue, I'm the last person to advocate unnecessary legislation but I'm not allowed to drive my car the wrong way up the road and have to conform; I have to stop at traffic lights etc. etc. Some things are jsu sensible.

 

Compulsory? I certainly hope you are kidding when you say that. Much like skiing we can all make our own choices in this area.

 

Sensible to you is simply ridiculous to me. I don't care what your choice is and you should respect mine as well.

post #16 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by mtcyclist View Post

Bike much?  I doubt it.

 

I do. Well, a moderate amount anyway, about 3k a year. Have been for many decades.

 

Compared to many things you do every day, I think cycling (at least in my environment) is extremely safe. I only begrudgingly don a helmet for certain organized group rides that sadly mandate there use.

post #17 of 25
Rossi. Like I say I don't advocate compulsory measures lightly and a big part of me doesn't like saying it but I believe this is essential. Choice like I say is limited in other areas. I take it you do drive on the compulsory side of the road. I don't know what the legislation is like over there regarding seatbelts but I assume you have to wear them. No helmets for motorcyclists as well I take it if the argument is consistent. My daughter's partner was told in no uncertain terms that had it not been for his helmet he would have been killed yesterday. Sadly this is not an isolated case. There were 3 other cyclists in A&E in Leeds at the same time yesterday. I don't know where you ride. You may be lucky and have quiet roads to use but that is not the case for the majority.
post #18 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by Adie View Post

Rossi. Like I say I don't advocate compulsory measures lightly and a big part of me doesn't like saying it but I believe this is essential. Choice like I say is limited in other areas. I take it you do drive on the compulsory side of the road. I don't know what the legislation is like over there regarding seatbelts but I assume you have to wear them. No helmets for motorcyclists as well I take it if the argument is consistent. My daughter's partner was told in no uncertain terms that had it not been for his helmet he would have been killed yesterday. Sadly this is not an isolated case. There were 3 other cyclists in A&E in Leeds at the same time yesterday. I don't know where you ride. You may be lucky and have quiet roads to use but that is not the case for the majority.

 

That's the point, decide what works for you and what makes you comfortable. Don't tell others how to choose.

 

No, here motorcyclist can choose too. ( I've been riding a m/c for over 35 years)

post #19 of 25
Maybe a densely populated country like mine has different needs. I suppose neither of us really understands the imperative properly!
post #20 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by Adie View Post

Maybe a densely populated country like mine has different needs. I suppose neither of us really understands the imperative properly!

 

The imperative as you call it, is to not become a total nanny state in our lifetime. It's bad enough already.

If you are more comfortable with other defining your choices, I fear for the future.

post #21 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by mtcyclist View Post

 

Bike much?  I doubt it.

Not so much anymore, but I was a very competitive road racer for many years.  So I know what I am talking about.  For the record...yes I DID where a helmet whenever I rode...but that is not the point.  My point, and the point of the article is....cycling is a safe sport, and while it does have some risks, those risks tend to get way over blown.

post #22 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by CTKook View Post

These are pretty brave researchers, but they also are stating something that's basic:

 

Exactley...and isnt what is really going on here?  No one, is willing to speak up and state the facts because they go against the mob.  Easier to just go with the flow.  Its why ski helmets became so prevelant so quick...people who knew, where too scared to speak up.

Quote:
Originally Posted by CTKook View Post

As for people going to memorials, the fact that some person died in a bike accident doesn't mean that other people need helmets. 

 Or more to the point, just because someone died doing it, doesnt mean its a dangerous sport.  I know a guy who died walking across the street!  We should BAN IT, or all people must put on a helmet to cross the road.  Heck, he was hit in PEDESTRIAN CROSSING!!!!!!!!!!!  Its life or death out there!!!

 

Life by its very nature is risky.  The point of the article is we should spend more time worrying about what matters, and less on the 0.1% chance.

post #23 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by Adie View Post

Interested to know the source of the research that suggest helmet wearing discourages cyclists.

Done for Melbourne Australia.  Its easy to see first hand thou, they have the community bikes...I've seen them there, sitting there....and I thought, I just need to a go a few blocks or a kilometer or two, I could just hop on one of those bikes...oh wait, no I cant...no helmet.  Keep walking.

post #24 of 25
Rossi. I won't bore you with my political and philosophical standpoint, suffice it to say that few could be less in favour of a Nanny state. There are silly fights and important battles. Those that wish to impose their will in matters triumph at the distaraction of the silly fights. It's somewhat like political correctness , it distracts from important matters of prejudice and intolerance. That's my opinion anyway!
post #25 of 25
Quote:
Originally Posted by Skidude72 View Post

...My point, and the point of the article is....cycling is a safe sport, and while it does have some risks, those risks tend to get way over blown.

Yes.

 

And, given the "bike much?" questions, it's actually surprising to me that people who do actually bike a lot don't realize that riding a bike is really lots of sub-activities.  Riding a beach cruiser on a boardwalk, or a similar bike in a quiet cul-de-sac, is very very safe; and trying to stay on aero bars on a narrow country road with heavy commuter traffic and no shoulder is very risky. 

 

Going back to the basic economics, if people were actively compelled to ride bikes -- say, fined if they didn't ride a certain amount -- then little hassles like helmets might not discourage use too much.  Because there is no current compulsion to ride, increasing the cost of riding in any way -- discomfort, hassle, etc. -- does in fact lead to less riding. 

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