Friday, March 12, 2010

NYC and helmets

Helmets are such a touchy subject among bicyclists. I suppose it's like recycling. I do it. It can't hurt. It might help. But in the long run and in the big picture, it really doesn't mater what you or I do. Seriously. And unlike recycling, where ever little bit matters (a very little bit), there is no benefit to wearing a helmet if you don't crash. Seriously. Every time I arrive home safely, I think, "gee, I guess I didn't need that!" But of course you never know. Some people think it's good wear a helmet even if you don't crash. That's weird. And weird bike shit does turn people off who otherwise might be normal bike riders.

And then I see people with helmets on their head and the straps aren't attached. Or people with helmets so loose you know it would fly off in a crash. And if you aren't wearing a helmet for the small chance you will crash and hit your head, why are you wearing a helmet?

Or people who ride at night with a helmet and no light. If the choice really is between a helmet and a light, go for the light! The goal, people is to not crash.

But I do have a helmet. And if I'm riding a fast bike and/or leaving Queens, I wear it. If I'm riding my slow bike to the Trade Fair, I don't. I wish we lived in a city were there lots of bicyclists and none of us ever wore helmets. But I also know that if I were to fall or crash (which I do think is more likely when I do wear my helmet), I would damn well hope I was wearing a helmet. So I do. Much of the time.

Anyway, this all comes to mind because I got the "NYCycles" newsletter from NYC, and I have to say, I was really impressed at their semi-official position on helmets. It's well said and worth a read. I couldn't have said it better myself. Kudos to the author:
A debate has long raged in the cycling community - do helmets make cyclists safer or does the extra burden of wearing one discourage cycling? Here in New York, helmets are required for cyclists 13 years old or younger... and strongly encouraged for all adults. Helmets can't prevent a crash but studies show they can mean the difference between life and death if you have one.

DOT makes an effort to make bike helmets accessible to all New Yorkers, and has distributed over 23,000 free NYC Helmets over the past four years.
Always wear a helmet whenever you ride, and always buckle the chin strap. ... Make sure the straps are snug
Replace your helmet after any crash and whenever you see signs of damage.
To get the NYC DOT bike newsletter, click here.


John said...

I am with you on this. I always wear one since I saw a friend crack one in a zero mile an hour tip over. However, I don't think you have to wear one, or do I think any less of someone who chooses not to wear one.

Being a long time motorcyclist I am used to just putting on the equipment to ride. This is an on going debate in the motorcycle comunity too. I lived in a state that did not have a manditory helmet law a there were pleanty of riders who would ride without one.

I look at it this way; 98% of the time you may not need it or use it but there will be that one time you will. It is cheap insurance. I wear it because of my life experiences on the motorcycle and mountain biking. I DO NOT think it should be manditory. And I am not convinced that it is nessicary (for the bicycle), but like I said, cheap insurance.

Now the thought on helmets keeping people from riding because it makes bicycle SEEM more dangerous then it is a good debate. And one we could discuss for a long time. But like you mentioned, more cyclists would show more presence on the road, making drivers more aware (hopefully) and make cycling safer in general.

Adam said...

I had close encounters with low branches during mountain biking and with pavement during winter commuting (Queens to Manhattan) in all 3 or 4 cases helmet took most of the punishment saving me a definite trip to ER.

A helmet won't help if you get run over but a truck but such accidents are rare. Majority of bike accidents are minor and a helmet can mean the difference between a small bump on your head versus stitches and concussion.


Lawrence said...

Helmets in my mind are sort of like condoms; they're kind of annoying, but the consequences of not having one on when you need it are so great that it's (almost) always worth the annoyance. Plus I get really paranoid biking anywhere except a deserted rail trail without one on. To each their own...

PCM said...


How much safer do you think you ride when you feel paranoid about not wearing a helmet?

That feeling may do more to a prevent a crash than you think.

It's one reason why bike helmets do not reduce fatalities overall (but certainly do if you're in a crash).

Aunt Barb said...

Helmets prevent injury from what causes 80 or 90 percent of all bicycle related head injuries....people falling off their bikes and cracking their heads.

I wouldn't ride my bike without a helmet. I've already broken one helmet falling, and if I hadn't been wearing it I would have broken my head instead.

Anybody who wants to be a rebel and not wear a helmet, knock yourselves out. (Please pardon the pun.)

Marlene Morris- Memories by Marne said...

My thinking about helmets is that they are like insurance whatever kind you want to think about. The point is that one never knows when disaster may hit. Every time you get on your bicycle, an accident may happen. I know from personal experience!

I usually do not write on blogs, but when it comes to helmets and bicycles, I become activated to say more than my two cents worth. . I know from personal experience!

I was on a newly repaved road, a sunny, weekday for a pleasant ride. For me when you go out of the "city limits", it's the country with fields of wheat and corn. I was 'in shape' after participating in the "Ride for Roswell" 33 mile leg. I do believe in safety so I had on my helmet with little visor, sunglasses and gloves. To keep myself hydrated, I used a platypus. That is all I remember!

I was found on the side of the road. Although my helmet was cracked in three places and flattened on the right side, I did not break a bone. I remember nothing about the accident and even quite a bit before the accident. Since my accident many things are a blur. I had to stop working because of my problems with short term memory. I had to work on my walking and writing. Although I knew what I wanted say, it did not come out correctly for quite a while. I still have problems with words but I can get my thoughts across when speaking. Writing like this blog takes me longer to make my sentences coherent. Thank heavens for spellchecker, because my spelling has greatly deteriorated. The computer helped me in many ways. I have trouble with concentration. I have other problems, but I think that anyone reading this can start to understand my issues.

Like I said, It was a beautiful day, new road and I was in great condition. Did I need a helmet? Some people might say, "Why bother"? My thinking about helmets is that they are like insurance whatever kind you want to think about. The point is that one never knows when a disaster may hit. Every time you get on your bicycle, an accident may happen. I am not trying to be dramatic.

I get upset when I see children wearing improper helmets, wrong for their head size; when the helmet is sitting far back on their head or improper adjustments. I get upset seeing parents riding with their children, but the parents are not wearing a helmet. “It is the law”. “They have to, but I don’t.” What does that teach their children? Do as I say, but not what I do.

After all accidents are “an undesirable or unfortunate happening that occurs unintentionally and usually results in harm, injury, damage, or loss; casualty”. No one plans for accidents or any disaster. No, helmets do not prevent a crash, nor does seat belts in cars, but they have saved lives.
Not wearing a helmet is like asking for trouble. Why take the chance? Like one commercial says, “Safety pays.” Like brushing your teeth or washing your face, if you are going for a ride,short or long, slow or fast, put the helmet on.

PCM said...

Thank you for writing that and good luck on your continued recovery.

But I read this while sitting in Amsterdam where pretty much everybody bikes and nobody wears a helmet. So I don't know what to think. I'm certainly not going to be the only person in Amsterdam wearing a helmet.

Of course riding a bike here is undoubtedly safer than in an American city because Amsterdam is designed for bikes, Amsterdammers are used to bikes, and more people are biking.

Anonymous said...


PCM said...

Right you are and I'm all for people reading that.


The world ain't perfect. But given the choice between a city where lots of people bike without helmets and live... and a city where fewer people bike with helmets and more die. I'd take the former.

Now the choice isn't always clearly one or the other. But at some level it is.

I'm not against helmets. I wear one in New York because I don't want to die or leave my wife with a brain-damaged cripple of a husband. But to focus on helmets where there are better ways of keeping bicyclists safe... well to me that's crazy.

Look, a biking individual in Amsterdam would be better off wearing a helmet. (We all would be, right? Even while walking.) But Amsterdam is a city with no helmets and (I think but cannot confirm) a lower rate of bike fatalities.

So I have a dream... somewhat like Amsterdam is... of safe biking. And I know of no city where biking is safe and bikers wear helmets.

Doesn't that count for something?

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