My very simplistic argument about bicycle helmet use

One of the most long-lasting debates in cycling is how mandatory should be the use of the bicycle helmet or if the helmet actually prevents head injuries in cyclists or not. There is one neuroscientist who claims that Helmets are useless while in the same country an other one believes that helmets save liveshelmets save lives. If you want to base your decision on science you have to search hard for the truth, but even then you can’t be certain. For years I was commuting around the city without a helmet as I thought the Danes who commute every day helmet-less must know more about the subject than me. But later on, a simple accident changed completely my view on the matter. While I was slicing bread, my girlfriend rushed into the kitchen and said something loudly. The unexpected sound made me jump and as a result my head hit the corner of the open cabinet door. If that ever happened to you, you know the incredible sharp pain that shuts down your whole body.

Now, one can take that experience and change some things to fit better in a bicycle accident scenario. Replace the wooden cabinet door corner with a similar shaped object made out  of concrete. Like the edge of a building or a sharp-edged curb. Ofcourse, the forces in an accident are way greater also. You can imagine a huge slingshot flings you head-first towards an immovable object. Do you think the 6.5 millimeters bone of your skull can sustain such an impact? I don’t think so. I am not an expert, but common sense tells me that a helmet would do a decent job preventing the concrete from penetrating your skull.

I had a horrible experience few years ago that attest the truth behind the argument.

Few years ago I was working on a helicopter as the guy controlling a long boom that sprays demineralised water at high pressure onto the insulators of the powerlines (you can see me in action here). The helicopter had two crews; two boomen and two pilots. One day, while the other crew was washing some power lines and I was getting ready to start my shift a horrible accident happened right before my eyes. As the helicopter was approaching the land side, its skids tangled on the low-voltage lines close to earth and the boom engine caught fire (that was 15 m above the ground). A second later the helicopter crashed violently few meters from where I was standing. Both men from helicopter crew were my friends (you can see the state of the helicopter here).

To make a long story short, the impact of the crash made the pilot bounce around the cockpit like a rag doll in a metal box. He smashed his knee and the head on the metal instruments of the helicopter roof. When the ambulance came and took him, the other pilot went and checked his helmet. It had a huge hole on it. After two weeks in a coma, he made it alive with a broken face,  a blind eye, a metal stick inside his knee (that now he holds as a souvenir) and few other injuries. If it wasn’t for the helmet, he would be definitely dead.

So, Instead of driving yourself crazy with all that contradictory info about bicycle helmet, I suggest to use common sense and decide.


14 Comments Add yours

  1. Mike says:

    Good to make a soft recommendation to wear a helmet but please do not ever
    make it an obligation.

    I firmly believe that making helmets obligatory will lover the amount of people cycling (check the Internet for the numbers in Australia) while the higher number of people cycling, the safer cycling is per person, i.e. safety in numbers.

    NB: People crashing in cars also do have often head injuries 😉

    1. bgddyjim says:

      I agree. Suggest but not require. I won’t leave home without one though. My mush is too important.

      1. Cycling Rambler says:

        Protect the mush!

      2. bgddyjim says:

        Or don’t, and let Darwin change your diaper! Chuckle.

        I made the mistake of reading some of the other comments.

      3. Cycling Rambler says:

        Ah.. yeah I didn’t even bother. Has helmet use always been such a hot topic?

      4. bgddyjim says:

        Well, now that depends on who you listen to… It has, really. If you listen to the engineers you get the “people take more risks when they ride so helmets actually make riding more dangerous” crowd. They’re nuts.

        Then you listen to the paramedics and police officers who are scraping the brains of those who listened to the engineers off the sidewalk because they didn’t wear a helmet… They’ll obviously tell you a helmet is a wise choice. 😀

      5. Bicyclosis says:

        I never understand why this became such a big debate and make people arguing like hooligans (not here ofcourse-in forums). Very strange!

      6. bgddyjim says:

        Ah, the need to be right mixed with a hatred of helmets mixed with a little bit of ego in terms of sounding a little smarter by presenting an argument in an unexpected way.

        Shorthand we call it politics.

      7. Bicyclosis says:

        I think you are right!

    2. Bicyclosis says:

      I didn’t know about the case in Australia. Interesting! As long as the debate between scientists continues, maybe the helmet use should be non-obligatory. As it is in Europe and US. We ll see in the future!

      1. Mike says:

        No, the the helmet use should be not >maybe< non-obligatory, it just should not be 😉

        The Australian data shows things are not that simple[*] but also have a look at Safety in Numbers, for example

        So if you want to be safer, get more people cycling. Apart from the chance of injuries going down likely, the life expectancy will go up because every hour of cycling, or medium exercise in general, does increase your life expectancy by an hour according to some sources.

        [*] There are reports that people wearing helmets take more risks and even that cars are passing closer by cyclists wearing helmets versus cyclists not wearing helmets.

      2. Bicyclosis says:

        My views in the article were about individual helmet use. I wouldn’t argue that more people cycling in the streets would make urban cycling safer. Helmet is great if you are concerned about your head’s fragility in the event of an accident. That was the argument of the article. In a bigger scale, if you want to make your citizens safer, you have to educate them. Ofcourse, I agree 100% with that.

  2. Michael S says:

    To start with, I’d like to ask you, if you are wearing a helmet at home since your girlfriend triggerd this event, where you smashed your head? That would be the logical consequence.

    I’m afraid, you are only adding one more “use common sense” story here to a debate, which cannot come to a reasonable conclusion based on that.

    As you say: “my very simplistic argument”.

    Use a helmet, whenever you feel you are better off with it, but don’t suggest, people who don’t wear one have no common sense.

    1. Bicyclosis says:

      If my head inside the house was moving with the velocity as in bike accidents, ofcourse I would wear a helmet (I am not sure if I understood your question right).

      The whole article could be summarized in one sentence: If you want to make your head less fragile in the case of an accident, wear a helmet.

      It’s that SIMPLISTIC.

      And by the way, I’ve never understood why this subject make people aggressive. It is just a personal opinion about safety! Would you be equally upset if the article was suggesting that wearing reflective jacket in the night hours makes cyclists more visible to the drivers?

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