The pros and cons of wearing a helmet

By Jacqui Ma

By Jacqui Ma

I have been working in the cycling industry for quite a few years now and one of the most divisive topics remain to be the bicycle helmet. Recently I have noticed a lot of people changing their minds about helmets in both directions of the argument, which leads me to believe that people are really beginning to consider safety in more detail but actually having an opinion about helmets. 

So i have tallied up some of the reasons why people choose to wear or not wear bicycle helmets. Where do you fit in? Some of the reasons listed below could seem very vain or trivial, but believe me, in my research its often these kinds of things that people are basing their decisions on.

Why people DON'T wear helmets:

  • There have been studies showing that wearing a helmet makes people take more risks and therefore can lead to accidents
  • Wearing a helmet won't really protect against life-threatening injuries.
  • Helmets look uncool
  • Helmets mess up my hair or stop me from wearing the hats that i want to
  • Helmets are uncomfortable to wear
  • A French study in 2006 showed that pedestrians are 1.4 times more likely to receive a traumatic brain injury than an unhelmeted cyclist.
  • Mandatory bicycle helmets can deter people from riding bikes which in turn creates a less safe environment for cyclists

 Thousand helmets

Image: Thousand Helmets from Cool Hunting

Why people DO wear helmets: 

  • Higher visibility in general
  • Weather protection
  • Up to 47% of injured cyclists get head injuries
  • Wearing a helmet can provide up to an 88% reduction in the risk of head injury*
  • I want to set a good example to my children
  • It makes me feel less exposed and therefore safer

In a US study about the children and bicycle helmets, it was found that look and fit are the two main reasons why, despite helmets being proven to reduce brain injuries in kids by up to 85%, kids still don't want to wear them. 

Google trends is also a good way to get a snapshot on the search interest of a term over time. Below is a graph showing the interest in "bicycle helmets" over the last 5 years, as you can see there is a steady decline.

trends in bicycle helmets google trends

Graph from Google Trends

 Bicycle Habitat, NYC based bicycle company, illustrate their opinion using a nice list that also includes some more humorous reasons to wear a bicycle helmet

  • 900 People die each year in bicycle accidents, 75% of them from head injuries.
  • 88% of all cyclist brain injuries could be avoided.
  • It can help make you more visible.
  • Some people look really cool in a helmet.
  • You must wear a helmet on a Bicycle Habitat ride.
  • If you are under 14 years old the law requires it. (in the USA)
  • You won't have to listen to your mother say: "You should have been wearing a helmet," when you wake up in the hospital.   
  • A head injury can ruin your whole day.
  • Helmets are less likely to damage the asphalt.

Some of the other references from this article come from this fantastic article written by Howie Chong about how he consciously decided not to wear a helmet. 

Despite all the arguments for and against wearing helmets when riding a bicycle, i have to say that i am a helmet wearer. Its not to say that i don't acknowledge all these reasons why people don't. I think it comes down to people's general risk appetite. I admit sometimes i don't wear a helmet, or i forget it, but overall i think that the negatives are outweighhed by the positives. I'm still really careful when riding my bicycle around london and i don't think that because i'm wearing a helmet, i take more risks. The important thing for me is having the right fit. Right now my helmet is a little uncomfortable and i feel myself not wearing it more frequently. Just like other sports that have a risk of head injury involved like skiing, climbing and horse-riding, i am all for head protection. Also, with a bunch of new brands doing some really nice looking bike helmets and also helmets being more widely available, i don't think the wearing of helmets for cycling is going to go away any time soon.

Over to you, what are your thoughts? do you wear a helmet or not and if so, what are your reasons? 

Author - Jacqui Ma, Founder of Goodordering, East London bag company. We believe in wearing helmets! (and we make cool cycling bags, check them out!) 

1 comment

  • I’ve been wearing helmets since the 90’s. it has become second nature to wear one now although to be honest, I’d still rather not. But then there is always that seed of doubt in my mind about being out without it. My conscience makes me ERR on the side of caution!

    Richard Long on

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