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Dear Bicycle Helmet 50

BikeNoHelmets

Duo enjoying life – photo by EcoBicycle via RateMyVelo.com

Dear Bicycle Helmet

I know it has been a very long time since we went on a  ride together. It may sound cruel, but I honestly don’t miss you at all.

I never liked how you messed up my hair on my way to work.

It’s bad enough that the media labeled me a “helmet head”. The last thing I need is for my work colleagues to make fun of my “helmet hair” too.

Going in to work without a sweaty head in the summer is most liberating. And not needing to take a shower at work has made bicycling the most convenient, efficient and reliable mode of transportation for me.

I no longer need to carry a spare change of clothes with me and I no longer need to look like the “crazy office cyclist”. People look at me now as simply another person; one who happens to use a bicycle to get to work in the same clothes as I would use if I took transit or drove a car to work.

I know you always had good intentions, but sometimes when I wore you I felt invincible and rode on roads I probably shouldn’t have been riding on and took chances that I probably shouldn’t have taken.

Not wearing you makes me a more cautious and relaxed cyclist.

It’s not your fault that companies make you sound more important than you really are. They just want to make a quick buck, and fear is the easiest way for them to sell you.

They say that not wearing you is akin to suicide, even though you and I both know that you were only designed for low-speed falls, not for protection from cars. You are only made of foam and thin plastic after all, unlike your sturdy cousin, the motorcycle helmet.

I know people have said that you reduce head injuries by 80%, but you and I both know that this number is based on a faulty study and the safest countries in the world to ride a bicycle are the ones where virtually nobody wears a helmet.

In fact, we now know that a bicyclist in Canada is no more likely to get a head injury than someone inside a car, and I don’t hear anyone telling car drivers they should wear helmets.

I know you have tried hard to tell your diehard supporters that true safety  starts with prevention rather than a reactive band-aid solution like yourself.

After all, you would rather live a long happy life rather than being cracked or shattered in a collision.

To achieve a long, happy life, you have called for better bike infrastructure with “complete streets”, and more respect between bicyclists and drivers.

But these preventative measures have fallen on deaf ears. They won’t have any of it. But you know in your heart that this is how true bicycle safety is achieved.

If you happen to end up on another cyclist’s head, I will still be happy that they are out there riding. After all, the more of us there are out there, the safer it will be for all of us.

But if you cause a person to decide against riding their bicycle, adding another barrier to an already long list, then I won’t be happy about it.

Let’s work together to make cycling more convenient and safe for everyone by creating better bike infrastructure, educating our road users and promoting civility on our streets.

I don’t plan to ever wear you again, but I still appreciate our time together because you helped me realize that there is more to bicycle safety than yourself.

James D. Schwartz is a Transportation Pragmatist and the Editor of The Urban Country. You can contact James at james.schwartz@theurbancountry.com or follow him on Twitter.

i share the road

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  • http://www.fullfat.ca Octavian

    My spouse is adamant that I wear a helmet and I do it to help her “feel” that I’m safer. I don’t think I would wear one other wise.

    • http://www.theurbancountry.com James Schwartz

      If that makes her feel that you are safer, then it’s all good. It could be worse – she could force you to stop bicycling completely. :)

    • Anthony Cartmell

      What would she feel if she read cyclehelmets.org to find out what a cycle “helmet” is actually capable of doing? And that some research (especially on whole populations) show that “helmets” make cycling more dangerous for those wearing them?

  • http://www.fullfat.ca/ Octavian

    My spouse is adamant that I wear a helmet and I do it to help her “feel” that I’m safer. I don’t think I would wear one other wise.

  • Chris Chaney

    Unfortunately, while I agree with you, I think insurance companies are capitalizing on every opportunity they can where a cyclist not wearing a helmet is injured by someone else. Personal responsibility is a lost virtue.

    I agree wholeheartedly though, let’s expose the lie for what it is.

  • Chris Chaney

    Unfortunately, while I agree with you, I think insurance companies are capitalizing on every opportunity they can where a cyclist not wearing a helmet is injured by someone else. Personal responsibility is a lost virtue.

    I agree wholeheartedly though, let’s expose the lie for what it is.

  • Simon

    Great read :-)

  • Simon

    Great read :-)

  • http://profiles.google.com/har.3036 Har Davids

    I live in one of those cycle-friendly countries and it’s interesting to read articles about helmets and the way people feel about them. Fear is the key, indeed, as people in Holland found out when Volvo, the maker of tank-like cars, tried to make people wear a helmet for their own ‘safety’, so they could continue selling their obese cars. Anyway, the promotion of helmets lets the politicians of the hook; a couple of campaigns are way cheaper than investing in infrastructure.

  • http://profiles.google.com/har.3036 Har Davids

    I live in one of those cycle-friendly countries and it’s interesting to read articles about helmets and the way people feel about them. Fear is the key, indeed, as people in Holland found out when Volvo, the maker of tank-like cars, tried to make people wear a helmet for their own ‘safety’, so they could continue selling their obese cars. Anyway, the promotion of helmets lets the politicians of the hook; a couple of campaigns are way cheaper than investing in infrastructure.

  • Rob Wane

    Not risking my life because helmets can ruin my hair day. I am not risking my safety because it is a great hindrance in mt style.

    best giro helmets

  • Philoplume

    It makes no sense to spend more resources on bike infrastructure when something as simple as a helmet can address much of the head injury issue.

    • burttthebike

      But you’re missing the point: nowhere with a helmet law or massive rise in helmet wearing after propaganda campaigns can show any reduction in risk to cyclists, despite more than twenty years of whole population data. It’s quite simple: helmets don’t reduce risk to cyclists, and the biggest ever research project found a small but significant increase in risk with helmet wearing. Why would you bother wearing something which at best makes no difference and at worst increases risk?

      If that were the only effect of helmet promotion and laws, no-one would be particularly bothered, but the only demonstrable effect of such measures is to deter a significant number of people from cycling. Since those people then lose the huge health benefits of cycling, the overall effect is large and negative. You’re hundreds of times more at risk from not exercising as from cycling, and in the middle of an obesity epidemic largely caused by reduced exercise levels, helmet promotion and laws are literally insane.

      Actually, there is one other effect, which is that the manufacturers make obscene profits from a product that’s cheap to make and ship, and can’t be taken back when it fails. They don’t even need to advertise because the helmet proponents do it for them.

      Check out cyclehelmets.org for the facts rather than the endlessly repeated helmet myths.

    • Tallycyclist

      If you want to make conditions safer for cyclists, then it makes complete sense to build infrastructure that does just that: keep them away from motor vehicles. For clarification, I only mean the properly-designed bike infrastructure such as what they have in Denmark and Holland. So let’s not get into a debate about quality control issues because those only exist in the crap that is so abound in the English-speaking countries.

      I won’t rehash what burttthebike already said; instead I’ll address another angle. Even if we assume helmets are as good as people like to advertise them to be, the issue with using that as a way to improve safety is that you’re throwing the responsibility solely on the cyclists. It’s no surprise so many politicians in NA want to support this. It means no change or money-spending needed to improve our roads, no responsibility towards safety of cyclist (not even financial because they pay for their own helmets) and if society as a whole buys into the concept and points fingers at cyclists who don’t wear one in an accident (even when they are not at fault and died because their internal organs were flattened), then even better for the elected officials. They can continue to operate under status quo indefinitely.

      Bottom line is, many of our roads are not safe. The action of others (especially motorists) affect those around them. You can be the most careful person and follow all the rules and still get into an accident due to another’s fault or carelessness. So to believe that getting people to bike carefully and throw on a helmet will solve the issue is just wishful thinking. That’s not treating the root cause (cars).

    • http://bicyclestc.blogspot.com/ Ryan

      So why should be invest more money into roads for cars? They can easily address many issues if they too wore a helmet (or actually drove the bloody speed limit).
      Likewise with pedestrians. Until they start wearing helmets lets stop adding sidewalks.

      You’re under the impression a helmet is going to make a lick of difference. I’ve fallen off plenty of times while riding, and if anything I would need knee, shin or elbow guards/pads.

      • http://www.theurbancountry.com James Schwartz

        Philoplume doesn’t want to have a discussion. He/she is just trolling ;) But I like all the responses anyway :)

        • http://bicyclestc.blogspot.com/ Ryan

          I seem to have a bad habit of responding to people like that…I did the same thing on Treehugger with your story that was posted.

          I’m sick to death of the comments (on Treehugger) where people use the speculative stories on “how a helmet saved my life”.

  • Philoplume

    It makes no sense to spend more resources on bike infrastructure when something as simple as a helmet can address much of the head injury issue.

  • Jeff

    I think it depends on where you ride. I ride mostly on rural roads. I wear a helmet. Cars and trucks are passing me at 60+ mph. I believe a helmet could save my life. I’m a former paramedic. In a truly sharing environment like Amsterdamn, then they are not needed. A young man was just killed on a bike trail near here when ran off into the trees with no helmet! You can argue all day about what’s right, but don’t be dead right!

    • Simon

      I don’t think he was talking about sports (Mtn biking, road racing etc) in those cases it would be stupid to not wear one.

    • http://bicyclestc.blogspot.com/ Ryan

      Ironically enough, if a car or truck hits you 60+ mph, a helmet won’t do anything anyways. Even at 60 kph a helmet would do nothing…Unless you are wearing a motorcycle helmet, then you might stand a chance.

      I can also use many examples locally where a cyclist was killed when they were in fact wearing a helmet. Problem is the media sensationalizes a death of a cyclist when they don’t have one on.

  • Jeff

    I think it depends on where you ride. I ride mostly on rural roads. I wear a helmet. Cars and trucks are passing me at 60+ mph. I believe a helmet could save my life. I’m a former paramedic. In a truly sharing environment like Amsterdamn, then they are not needed. A young man was just killed on a bike trail near here when ran off into the trees with no helmet! You can argue all day about what’s right, but don’t be dead right!

  • Jeff

    I think it depends on where you ride. I ride mostly on rural roads. I wear a helmet. Cars and trucks are passing me at 60+ mph. I believe a helmet could save my life. I’m a former paramedic. In a truly sharing environment like Amsterdamn, then they are not needed. A young man was just killed on a bike trail near here when ran off into the trees with no helmet! You can argue all day about what’s right, but don’t be dead right!

  • http://twitter.com/Zander1977 Zander77

    Declaring yourself a “transportation pragmatist” is stunningly conceited and smug, and causes this reader to reflexively write off your thoughts and opinions. Most of which I’d probably normally agree with.

  • Simon

    I don’t think he was talking about sports (Mtn biking, road racing etc) in those cases it would be stupid to not wear one.

  • Alan Todd

    I have the misfortune to live in a country where the choice you make is illegal. Only yesterday I was fined A$153 for making that choice, while traveling at some absurdly low speed (about 5km/h) in a quiet Australian country town. Having said that, I loved your quietly whimsical post. I rode a bit in Toronto when I was over on holiday a couple of years ago with my partner and children. We enjoyed the generally courteous behaviour shown towards our unhelmeted selves by most Canadian motorists, and also liked the relaxed mix of cycling tribes. I know things are far from perfect for cycling in Toronto, but you really have to experience Australian conditions (especially in Victoria) to see how bad it can get, and to appreciate what you have there.

  • Alan Todd

    I have the misfortune to live in a country where the choice you make is illegal. Only yesterday I was fined A$153 for making that choice, while traveling at some absurdly low speed (about 5km/h) in a quiet Australian country town. Having said that, I loved your quietly whimsical post. I rode a bit in Toronto when I was over on holiday a couple of years ago with my partner and children. We enjoyed the generally courteous behaviour shown towards our unhelmeted selves by most Canadian motorists, and also liked the relaxed mix of cycling tribes. I know things are far from perfect for cycling in Toronto, but you really have to experience Australian conditions (especially in Victoria) to see how bad it can get, and to appreciate what you have there.

  • burttthebike

    But you’re missing the point: nowhere with a helmet law or massive rise in helmet wearing after propaganda campaigns can show any reduction in risk to cyclists, despite more than twenty years of whole population data. It’s quite simple: helmets don’t reduce risk to cyclists, and the biggest ever research project found a small but significant increase in risk with helmet wearing. Why would you bother wearing something which at best makes no difference and at worst increases risk?

    If that were the only effect of helmet promotion and laws, no-one would be particularly bothered, but the only demonstrable effect of such measures is to deter a significant number of people from cycling. Since those people then lose the huge health benefits of cycling, the overall effect is large and negative. You’re hundreds of times more at risk from not exercising as from cycling, and in the middle of an obesity epidemic largely caused by reduced exercise levels, helmet promotion and laws are literally insane.

    Actually, there is one other effect, which is that the manufacturers make obscene profits from a product that’s cheap to make and ship, and can’t be taken back when it fails. They don’t even need to advertise because the helmet proponents do it for them.

    Check out cyclehelmets.org for the facts rather than the endlessly repeated helmet myths.

  • Tallycyclist

    If you want to make conditions safer for cyclists, then it makes complete sense to build infrastructure that does just that: keep them away from motor vehicles. For clarification, I only mean the properly-designed bike infrastructure such as what they have in Denmark and Holland. So let’s not get into a debate about quality control issues because those only exist in the crap that is so abound in the English-speaking countries.

    I won’t rehash what burttthebike already said; instead I’ll address another angle. Even if we assume helmets are as good as people like to advertise them to be, the issue with using that as a way to improve safety is that you’re throwing the responsibility solely on the cyclists. It’s no surprise so many politicians in NA want to support this. It means no change or money-spending needed to improve our roads, no responsibility towards safety of cyclist (not even financial because they pay for their own helmets) and if society as a whole buys into the concept and points fingers at cyclists who don’t wear one in an accident (even when they are not at fault and died because their internal organs were flattened), then even better for the elected officials. They can continue to operate under status quo indefinitely.

    Bottom line is, many of our roads are not safe. The action of others (especially motorists) affect those around them. You can be the most careful person and follow all the rules and still get into an accident due to another’s fault or carelessness. So to believe that getting people to bike carefully and throw on a helmet will solve the issue is just wishful thinking. That’s not treating the root cause (cars).

  • http://bicyclestc.tumblr.com/ Ryan

    Ironically enough, if a car or truck hits you 60+ mph, a helmet won’t do anything anyways. Even at 60 kph a helmet would do nothing…Unless you are wearing a motorcycle helmet, then you might stand a chance.

    I can also use many examples locally where a cyclist was killed when they were in fact wearing a helmet. Problem is the media sensationalizes a death of a cyclist when they don’t have one on.

  • http://bicyclestc.tumblr.com/ Ryan

    So why should be invest more money into roads for cars? They can easily address many issues if they too wore a helmet (or actually drove the bloody speed limit).
    Likewise with pedestrians. Until they start wearing helmets lets stop adding sidewalks.

    You’re under the impression a helmet is going to make a lick of difference. I’ve fallen off plenty of times while riding, and if anything I would need knee, shin or elbow guards/pads.

  • http://www.theurbancountry.com/ James Schwartz

    Philoplume doesn’t want to have a discussion. He/she is just trolling ;) But I like all the responses anyway :)

  • http://www.theurbancountry.com/ James Schwartz

    If that makes her feel that you are safer, then it’s all good. It could be worse – she could force you to stop bicycling completely. :)

  • Agustin

    Nothing like a helmet discussion to get the comments going, eh? :)

    I like to wear one myself but I don’t think they should be mandatory. At the end of the day I admit that the main reason I like to wear one is that it makes me feel safer.

  • Agustin

    Nothing like a helmet discussion to get the comments going, eh? :)

    I like to wear one myself but I don’t think they should be mandatory. At the end of the day I admit that the main reason I like to wear one is that it makes me feel safer.

  • http://bicyclestc.tumblr.com/ Ryan

    I seem to have a bad habit of responding to people like that…I did the same thing on Treehugger with your story that was posted.

    I’m sick to death of the comments (on Treehugger) where people use the speculative stories on “how a helmet saved my life”.

  • Anthony Cartmell

    Bicycle “helmets” must be one of the world’s biggest health-related frauds of our time. It’s nice to see that people are starting to wake up to this fact!

  • Anthony Cartmell

    Bicycle “helmets” must be one of the world’s biggest health-related frauds of our time. It’s nice to see that people are starting to wake up to this fact!

  • Anthony Cartmell

    What would she feel if she read cyclehelmets.org to find out what a cycle “helmet” is actually capable of doing? And that some research (especially on whole populations) show that “helmets” make cycling more dangerous for those wearing them?

  • mspaintdiary

    I think “transportation pragmatist” is a brilliant term! :)

  • mspaintdiary

    I think “transportation pragmatist” is a brilliant term! :)

  • Nick W

    I wear a helmet (and don’t find helmet head to be much of a problem!), but don’t support any legislation telling others to do the same. However, reading this post made me wonder about children (in current-day North America – we’ve all seen kids in Copenhagen without them, but this isn’t there) and where anti-helmet commenters stand on their wearing them, particularly if they’re their own children, both as a passenger and as a novice rider. I know, I know, many people grew up in an era riding without helmets and didn’t hurt themselves, so is it as easy as saying “I did it, my kid won’t ever wear a helmet either?” I don’t have children of my own, so I’m genuinely curious.

  • Nick W

    I wear a helmet (and don’t find helmet head to be much of a problem!), but don’t support any legislation telling others to do the same. However, reading this post made me wonder about children (in current-day North America – we’ve all seen kids in Copenhagen without them, but this isn’t there) and where anti-helmet commenters stand on their wearing them, particularly if they’re their own children, both as a passenger and as a novice rider. I know, I know, many people grew up in an era riding without helmets and didn’t hurt themselves, so is it as easy as saying “I did it, my kid won’t ever wear a helmet either?” I don’t have children of my own, so I’m genuinely curious.

  • http://www.facebook.com/chu.francis Francis Chu

    thank you James for the nice chat with your helmet :D

  • http://www.facebook.com/chu.francis Francis Chu

    thank you James for the nice chat with your helmet :D

  • http://www.facebook.com/jasonkucherawy Jason Kucherawy

    A bicycle helmet saved my life. I will continue to wear one.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jasonkucherawy Jason Kucherawy

    A bicycle helmet saved my life. I will continue to wear one.

  • ufa

    I wear a helmet just when I go Montain bike. Rarely wear it on my comute to work or momy’s house.

  • ufa

    I wear a helmet just when I go Montain bike. Rarely wear it on my comute to work or momy’s house.

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