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Helmets. Do you wear one?<h3>Part 1: Cases For and Against</h3>

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Helmets. Do you wear one?

Part 1: Cases For and Against

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July 29th, 2016

At Ride25 we advocate wearing a helmet while riding, but this is one of the hottest debates in the cycling world and there are compelling arguments on both sides.

This post rounds up some of the reasons for and against, because although we recommend wearing one, our opinion is that the most important factor is to reach your own decision based on consideration of the facts.

We also spoke to our friend Martin Spiller who rides without a helmet, and asked him to give his thoughts.

So, should you wear a helmet while cycling?

Reasons to wear a helmet

At a glance, these are our reasons:

  • When worn properly, they protect your head from impact damage
  • The majority of fatalities in bicycle accidents are from head injuries
  • It sets a good example to other cyclists
  • It shows drivers that you are safety conscious
  • A helmet with reflective strips increases visibility
  • They can protect your head from the sun

Someone on Reddit with a lot of time on their hands found 5 scientific studies, all peer reviewed, that came out in support of these arguments. Thankfully they sifted through the statistics and data to find (relatively) digestible conclusions of each paper, saving us the hassle:

  • Helmet use was shown to reduce the risk of head injury when hit by vehicles, and to great effect (source)
  • Frequent helmet use does not correlate with getting major injuries (source)
  • Helmet use seems to lessen risk of death via cycling accident (source)
  • Helmeted skulls passed compression tests, including “catastrophic direct compressive force” where a skull alone would not: helmets may therefore help prevent traumatic brain injury (source)
  • There are large differences between helmeted and un-helmeted injury severity (source)


The jargon associated with scientific reports

In some European countries we pass through on our cycling holidays we get funny looks from local cyclists who aren’t used to seeing riders in helmets. This caught one of our team off guard in the Netherlands, where a group of children heckled them for having one.

But despite these flippant kids and the fact that some scientific papers seem to be on your side if you wear a helmet, there are reasons not to…

Reasons not to wear a helmet

Some frequently cited reasons focus on practicality or peer pressure:

  • My friends don’t wear them
  • It gives you a hot head
  • They’re uncomfortable
  • You have to carry it around with you all day or leave it somewhere safe

There are also more considered (and accurate) reasons relating to their safety:

  • Helmets don’t help in certain types of accident
  • When worn incorrectly they can cause more harm than they prevent
  • They may make drivers more reckless
  • They won’t offer protection in collisions at high speed and/or involving a vehicle
  • Car drivers and pedestrians are more likely to receive head injuries, but no one expects them to wear a helmet

Martin, who’s ridden with Ride25 many times and written on the blog before, chooses to ride without a helmet. He articulates his reasons well:


MartinAs a relatively recent convert to the world of road cycling I have chosen not to wear a helmet when I ride. A lot of people seem to think this is me being irresponsible and surprisingly my lack of a helmet causes a lot of discussion on many of the group rides I have participated on which I found a bit odd given that my decision doesn’t really impact anyone else but me.

The reason I don’t wear a helmet is not intended to be controversial in any way (even though I am known to do that from time to time) but as an avid motorcycle rider I am required by law to wear a helmet on my motorbike I felt I should consider my decision when I became a road cyclist. So prior to my decision I did some research on the efficacy of the typical cycle helmets and also the benefits of wearing them, including some very interesting research from Australia where cycle helmets are compulsory.

After considering it all I made my decision not to wear a helmet on three counts:

Firstly, the cycle helmets that most road cyclists wear do not provide, in my view, effective head protection for most accidents and can provide a false sense of security which prompts some riders to take undue risks as a result.

Secondly, as a larger gentleman from the north I have found that when I have ridden with a helmet on rides which make them compulsory (so yes I do own one!) I have suffered an issue with performance as a result of overheating which I found difficult especially on the longer 100+ mile rides.

Finally, it’s a personal preference as I like to be able to feel the breeze as I ride and it fits with my overall philosophy on life and fate given that I don’t wear a helmet when I ski and would, if the law allowed, not wear a helmet when riding my motorbike in town.

So there you have it. In the current world of road cycling I am a bit of an anathema it seems but so far I have traveled over 6,500kms, across a number of countries and in some pretty decent traffic and so far the only injury I’ve had was from my own rear spoke giving way and stabbing me in the leg which was probably my wheel’s way of telling me I’ve got too fat!

Voices in the scientific community support these arguments too. For the first point there are papers which found that helmets may lead to rotational injuries which can be just as harmful as impact injuries, and that cyclists without helmets may take more risks.

And, in an oft-cited case, the famous neurosurgeon Dr Henry Marsh said that bike helmets are “pointless”.

What do you think? 

We’ve included links to scientific studies for two reasons. Firstly to back up arguments, and secondly to show how much conflicting research there is!

As we said earlier, weighing up the facts and making your own decision is the best bet. We’re curious to know what you think – do you wear a helmet or not, and why? Let us know below!

This is the first in a two part series; next week we’ll look at safety standards and what happens in areas that force riders to wear helmets. The results on both are probably not what you expected! 

If you’re interested in further reading in the meantime, the BHSI are strong helmet advocates; are the opposite.

12 Responses to “Helmets. Do you wear one?

Part 1: Cases For and Against

  1. Nick Dorey Says:

    Its a no brainer. I have had at least 4 accidents which have involved severe blows to the head. I have no doubt whatsoever that without a cycling helmet i would most probably be dead by now.

  2. golya Says:

    Bike helmets: an emergency doctor’s perspective
    By Michael Dinh – May 7, 2013

    “The risks of severe head injury were more than five times higher in cyclists not wearing a helmet compared to helmeted ones, and more than three times higher in motorcyclists not wearing a helmet at the time of injury.”

  3. Robert Glantz Says:

    During the 70’s, when I started riding, helmets were not much talked about so I didn’t consider wearing one. Now 40 plus years later and not a single accident, I still choose not to wear a helmet. I did try to wear one on a recent ride and found it annoying, uncomfortable and I just didn’t feel the freedom that a ride has always given me. I abandoned the idea after the 1st day.

  4. Ian Robson Says:

    I used to ride daily into London before all the cycle highways etc. I have been knocked off my bike several times by cars and perdestrion and like Nick my head has hit the ground. My helmet on those occasions has taken the full impact to the point of binning it and buying a new one and preventing serious injury. For me it’s a no brainier and would never leave the house for a cycle ride without wearing my Helmet but respect that people in this country do have a choice.

  5. paula knight Says:

    im in a cycling club,so consider myself an experienced rider.
    never the less out on a club ride, myself & 3 other club members were knocked off our bikes by a motorist who claimed she did’nt see us,i took the impact ,being thrown up in the air still clipped in on my bike, came crashing down head first onto the windscreen damaging my helmet saved me from severe head injury, unlike my legs which took the full impact.i would never ride my bike without a lid.they should be made law.

  6. Darias Says:

    In 2015, across the USA there were 56,000 deaths from simple falls by people aged 65+. Most deaths were due to brain injury.
    Compare with 43,000 deaths on the road, a smaller proportion of which were on a bicycle.

    Should we conclude that it be mandated for elderly people to always wear a helmet around the home?

  7. Rene Nortje Says:

    after my fall my dr said if i wasnt wearing a helmet i would have been either dead or severely brain damaged.
    cycling with no helmet is as stupid as swimming with sharks with a cut on your body. You will get eaten its just a case of when

  8. Rick Bingham Says:

    In my opinion anyone chosing not to wear a helmet doesn’t have anything worth protecting anyway.

  9. Marc Gross Says:

    It’s simple really, how many people who have crashed their bikes and had a head impact, have regretted wearing a helmet.

  10. Norm Maly Says:

    Depends….. what I’m riding where I’m riding and how I’m riding. In certain situations the risk would be so low as to be comparable to the safety benefit of wearing a helmet while running. In other situations I wouldn’t ride without a helmet and still others I wouldn’t ride at all. Good judgment ( in my opinion ) of your environment and capabilities is the best piece of safety equipment you will ever have.

  11. Jimmy Says:

    It appears that the respondents that choose to wear helmets have had multiple incidents and have not apparently learned to ride more assertively.

    Also I make the point that maybe riders that are “clipped onto the bike” are more at risk of a head injury as they are unable to use their legs to any advantage to attempt to support themselves in the event of an incident.

  12. Paul R. Briley Says:

    While riding on cycle everyone should have the protective materials, helmet is one of them…..I never go for cycling without my helmet.

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