Helmet wearing and risk mitigation

The first-time I rode a bike a helmet was firmly placed on my head before I started fumbling along with my training wheels. Every child put on a push bike is also clad in at least this minimal safety gear. As I got older and more capable the helmet stayed on and I’ve never ridden a bike without one.

These days the news is filled with rage about helmet laws. People say they will reduce ridership and discourage riding, which is something I’ve never understood. Wearing a helmet is easy and simple. For me it is a part of getting on a bike just like wearing a seatbelt is part of getting in a car. Yeah, I have never been in a car crash but I still wear it every time just in case. Sometimes it can be a tad uncomfortable but once you get used to it you don’t even notice it’s there.

Perhaps it’s my highly risk adverse mother — she worked in risk management where it was her job to see the worst case scenario in things and plan for mitigating various risks — or maybe it’s that I have never found my helmet to be uncomfortable or uncool or too hot or a bother. I trucked it with me to Copenhagen and asked for one at the bike rental place in Amsterdam (who snickered and were confused by the concept).

In Denmark I was one of the rare people who insisted on riding with a helmet. This was partially because moving quickly on anything with wheels has always freaked me out a little bit, rush hour in downtown Copenhagen is nuts and because it’s easy. It takes about five seconds to put on a helmet. That’s it. That’s half the time people spend complaining about them.

Another common argument is that they’re not stylish, which is confusing. There are several brands that make very nice helmets. Bern is a personal favourite. My current one is a baby blue road riding style one that I picked out because it is my favourite colour. That’s a good enough reason to wear one.

The debate about helmets is not a debate about cycling. In situations where cars hit cyclists at high speeds helmets may provide minimal safety. In the event of doorings or those unpredictable falls involving gravel or who knows what they may be beneficial. As we add more protected cycling infrastructure, which helps to reduce the risk and severity of injury, helmets stand to provide more protection as opposed to becoming obsolete. Removing one form of risk doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to mitigate another.

If I fall my skin or bones will heal. My brain will not, that’s the whole reason helmets exist. I like my memories, personality and intelligence. I’d like to keep them. I dated a guy who worked in a long-term care facility and he saw first hand what happens to people with permanent and severe brain injuries. He always wore a helmet too. All of the spills I’ve taken while riding were totally unexpected and happened in relatively calm situations — although two were caused by poor infrastructure. They were all relatively minor and at worst resulted in skinned knees as a kid. I will never be unhappy to have a helmet on my head if I fall.

The next time you complain about how uncomfortable or uncool it is to wear a helmet think to yourself would I think the same thing about a seatbelt.

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