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Cycling Helmets: The Great Debate

Recently, the press has been full of statistics, quotes from leading neurosurgeons and everyday cyclists discussing the hot topic about whether a cycle helmet is a useful piece of safety gear or not. There are quotes that explain that ‘in the first 80 years of cycling, no one ever wore a helmet and it’s only a recent thing, so if it was fine for 80 years, why is it so important now?’ or the more headline grabbing statement from neurosurgeon Henry Marsh of St George’s Hospital in London explaining that cycling helmets are ‘too flimsy’ to provide any kind of protection at all.

Here in the UK, we are quite lucky and we as cyclists have the choice whether we wear a helmet or not, although the government strongly recommends wearing one. If the government says one thing and brain scanning professionals are saying another, who should we believe?

The only person who can really answer that is the person riding the bike.

The Debate

After reading numerous press clippings and scouring through the cycling forums, it seems that no-one has a definitive answer: so the choice to wear one or not is really up to you. Before you join either one camp or the other, let’s take a look at some of the ‘for’ and ‘against’ arguments and try to draw some conclusions.

In the ‘for’ camp, the arguments are pretty standard and the same ones that we’ve heard for years:

  • In the event of an accident, you’re likely to hit the ground either hands first or head first and anything that can help absorb the shock is a benefit.
  • Wearing a helmet makes you more visible and other road users will be able to see you more easily.
  • Having a bump on a helmeted head is far superior to having a bump on an un-helmeted one.
  • All of the professional cyclists wear helmets.
  • Helmets are ideal places to mount sports cameras; in recent years many cyclists have filmed accidents and altercations that have been used as evidence in court.
  • Promoting safety by wearing a helmet has a knock on effect and reminds other people to take care and prioritise their personal safety.

As you can see, it’s a pretty short list. As we’ve searched the web and talked to other cyclists, it seems that the vast majority of UK cyclists aren’t that supportive of wearing a helmet and struggle to produce many ‘pro’ factors.

The ‘against’ camp has a fair few points with some pretty interesting counter arguments, let’s have a look at some of the most popular ones:

  • In the event of an accident which involves your head connecting with the ground, a cycling helmet does not have the integrity to prevent serious injuries. In fact, wearing a helmet increases the area of your head that could potentially make contact with the ground.
  • Wearing a helmet makes other traffic on the road assume that you are better protected and will therefore be more willing to put you at risk. For example, an overtaking car may pass you at a closer distance when you’re wearing a helmet than if you weren’t.
  • Granted, wearing a helmet may help you against a minor bump but rather than feeling protected from minor injuries, cyclists should focus on riding safely and avoiding these ‘small bumps on the head’ in the first place. Any accident that results in a minor injury could probably have been avoided altogether by cycling properly.
  • The helmets worn by professional cyclists are manufactured differently and cost a lot more than the cheap helmets sold in shops. An expensive helmet that CAN prevent an injury is far too expensive for the average cyclist.
  • Rather than mounting cameras to your helmets, you could just ride safely and avoid the accident altogether.
  • Prioritising safety is actually detrimental to a cycling and a cyclist’s safety in general. Making cycling appear to be dangerous discourages people from cycling, meaning there are less cyclists on the road; if there are less cyclists on the road, then motorists will drive as if the remaining cyclists didn’t exist and put them in danger.
  • Helmets ruin your hairstyle (this was actually a major argument against wearing a helmet – google it for a laugh!)

What Does It Mean?

What does this actually mean then? It seems that the arguments ‘against’ seem to outweigh the arguments ‘for’ but that shouldn’t affect your decision to wear one or not. From what we’ve learned, it seems that a cycle helmet can prevent minor injuries but is fairly useless when it comes to major incidents. So, unless you’re wearing an expensive cycling helmet or an equally expensive motorcycle helmet, there isn’t really anything you can do to protect your head in a major accident scenario apart from ride in a way that would prevent the accident altogether.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is fairly simple: if you concentrate on riding safely and carefully rather than depending on your safety gear to protect you, you should come out on top. However, wearing a helmet can protect you in the event of a minor accident. It seems that there is a happy medium to find between both camps: wear your helmet if you want but don’t rely on it to save your life, rely on your safe riding skills instead.

Despite trying to keep a balanced opinion, wearing a helmet is recommended by the government and we believe that you should take as many steps as possible to ensure your safety when you’re out on the road…but the decision is yours. Wear one, don’t wear one just make sure you stay safe out there!

 

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