41 votes

A friendly reminder: If you own a bicycle, you must own a helmet

I shivered at the thought of being severely brain-damaged after being hit by a car while cycling about a month ago. I am now extremely humbled by the fragility of the human body. The vehicle that hit me was going really slow--a hard requirement of the lane. An apt cyclist can easily achieve 30 MPH (48km/h). That's enough to do a lot of damage itself. Now imagine a shock with a vehicle coming in the opposite direction at a mere 20 MPH (32km/h) (that’s not what happened to me BTW. I have no recollection of the accident, and no wish to get in touch with the driver. I don’t resent him at all, in fact he was extremely caring and wanted to ride with me in the ambulance but my mom was already occupying the only spot).

I'm terrible at physics but you guys and girls are probably not, so you make the calculations. To sum up, without a helmet a ridiculously "benign" accident at low speeds can literally impair you for life.

After the crash, my helmet went into pieces. I wish someone had got it so I can visualize the extent of my luck. It was an old helmet that should have been replaced at least 2 years ago. It cost me about 30 bucks and probably saved my life or cognition.

So, cyclists: own a helmet and use it whenever you're on the bike even if there are no cars around. A skilled cyclist can still crash all by himself/herself. And a car could appear from nowhere.

Some people get brain damage by falling in the bathroom. Why would you be safer waltzing around on top of a metal frame?

32 comments

  1. heavyset_go
    (edited )
    Link
    The most common cause of accidental deaths are falls, and not just any falls, but falls from standing height. If you're simply sitting on a bike while stationary, losing your balance and hitting...

    The most common cause of accidental deaths are falls, and not just any falls, but falls from standing height.

    If you're simply sitting on a bike while stationary, losing your balance and hitting your head can kill you. With that fact in mind, imagine how much riskier it is to be traveling fast and falling, or hitting something.

    edit: I just want to edit and clarify that my stat is about accidental deaths on the job. Overall, poisonings and motor vehicle accidents are the most common causes of accidental deaths, which are then followed by falls.

    11 votes
  2. [5]
    mat
    Link
    Last time I crashed my bike, which was probably at somewhere near 30mph, the first I was aware anything was happening was when I noticed my helmet - with my head in it - bouncing off the tarmac....

    Last time I crashed my bike, which was probably at somewhere near 30mph, the first I was aware anything was happening was when I noticed my helmet - with my head in it - bouncing off the tarmac. Because I was attached to the bike at the time and at full sprint I had pretty much thrown myself at the ground as hard as I could. I tore every item of clothing I was wearing, quite a lot of my skin and picked up a decent number of bruises. But I walked away (hell, I rode away and did another 20km before I got home). The bike was fine, which means I managed to get my body between it and the road, which was great because flesh heals but Campagnola rims don't come cheap...

    Top helmet tip - at least in the UK, all bike helmets have to pass the same certification process so the expensive ones are no safer than the cheap ones. You're paying for the style or the colour or most likely - the logo.

    Also, always replace your helmet after an impact even if it doesn't look damaged.

    10 votes
    1. NoblePath
      Link Parent
      Sometimes you are paying for comfort. Pricier helmets sometimes have better straps, cushions, and vents. There’s also the mips and crushed straw things.

      Sometimes you are paying for comfort. Pricier helmets sometimes have better straps, cushions, and vents.

      There’s also the mips and crushed straw things.

      5 votes
    2. [2]
      wundumguy
      Link Parent
      What caused your crash?

      What caused your crash?

      3 votes
      1. mat
        Link Parent
        Idiocy. Specifically mine. I shifted gears, up onto the top chainring, while accelerating and the chain overshot and as such mechanically decoupled the pedals from the rear wheel. As I was pushing...

        Idiocy. Specifically mine. I shifted gears, up onto the top chainring, while accelerating and the chain overshot and as such mechanically decoupled the pedals from the rear wheel. As I was pushing down and pulling up on those pedals with all my strength at the time, you can imagine how that went.

        Funnily enough my last crash, several years earlier, was very much the same mechanic although it was the chain snapping that time, not me causing the issue.

        Both times I was lucky to just be involved with the road, not the cars driving on it. Although the most recent crash I was in the middle of a busy, multi-lane junction so lots of people saw. One person asked if I was OK, which was nice.

        6 votes
    3. knocklessmonster
      Link Parent
      And see if the manufacturer wants your busted helmet. Giro and Bern, for example, have a program where you send the busted helmet with an incident report, it'll contribute to their research, and...

      Also, always replace your helmet after an impact even if it doesn't look damaged.

      And see if the manufacturer wants your busted helmet. Giro and Bern, for example, have a program where you send the busted helmet with an incident report, it'll contribute to their research, and you'll get a discount on a new one. I haven't done that yet because I typically need my helmet to go to work and school, so I get a replacement ASAP.

      2 votes
  3. [2]
    cfabbro
    Link
    Oh damn, I was taking a break from Tildes when you posted about what happened to you, @mrbig, so I missed it. I'm really sorry that happened to you, but am glad to hear you survived and are doing...

    Oh damn, I was taking a break from Tildes when you posted about what happened to you, @mrbig, so I missed it. I'm really sorry that happened to you, but am glad to hear you survived and are doing okay!

    100% second the recommendation of wearing a helmet (and not just for biking either). One of the most clearly illustrative and funny videos I have seen on this subject: "I Love Helmets"

    9 votes
    1. mrbig
      (edited )
      Link Parent
      Thanks! I’m really fine. I’ve had some bad moments but now the recovering is going fast and strong. It’s crazy how our body really is a machine. What got me the most were the not so little things....
      • Exemplary

      Thanks! I’m really fine. I’ve had some bad moments but now the recovering is going fast and strong. It’s crazy how our body really is a machine.

      What got me the most were the not so little things. For a period I was unable to close my eyes real hard because the nerve responsible for eyelid hadn’t regenerated yet. I couldn’t eat without dropping food on the table because my cheek and lip muscles were weak and I had to make the food move in my mouth using the hands—from the outside! Hahaha

      I still cannot handle straws, last week I made a mess in the car trying to absorb a milkshake.

      I think I’ll feel completely healed once I can drink a super thick milkshake. That’s my goal.

      The surgeon was very nice and skilled, but on a trauma center they don’t spend much time explaining things, there are burned and shot people coming non-stop, so I got paranoid with things that were completely normal. I’m now much calmer and confident in my recovery after an appointment with an specialist outside of the hospital that clarified things for me.

      9 votes
  4. Wulfsta
    Link
    This goes for skateboards too! Especially so if you're longboarding at higher speeds.

    This goes for skateboards too! Especially so if you're longboarding at higher speeds.

    8 votes
  5. [2]
    masta
    Link
    Ah man, I really need to get one. I ride quite a bit, and had an accident some time ago. So there's this street that's pretty narrow that two cars can just barely drive past each other. And the...

    Ah man, I really need to get one. I ride quite a bit, and had an accident some time ago. So there's this street that's pretty narrow that two cars can just barely drive past each other. And the street goes down a hill. So I'm coming down that hill, and I see one car coming in front from a far, no problem. Then I notice there's another one behind it, it's fine. We're coming closer to drive past each other, and when it's ~100m left, the first car decides to stop. The second car stops behind it as well, as you would do of course, if you see someone else (in this case me on a bike) coming the opposite direction, so all good. However, it waits only for like a second or two. Then it starts taking over the first (stopped) car, basically at the same time when I'm nearing them. So the situation becomes like this: two cars and my bike are all in parallel on that narrow street. I'm trying to fit between the car and the curb, and it looked like I'd make it. But I just ever so slightly touch my left handlebar on the side of the car, hit the curb, and go over the front wheel. I land very nicely on my stomach, getting to think "that's not too bad".. and a second later feel my bike hitting me on the head. Had to get a couple of stitches, but they didn't even want to cut the hair in that spot. Not sure if that's one of the reasons, but now there's a scar you can easily feel with your fingers.

    5 votes
    1. mrbig
      Link Parent
      Dude, buy it today. Don’t even think about it. You’ll spend 30-50 dollars to protect something so valuable you can’t even put a price on it. If you can spend more get a mountain bike helmet, cause...

      Dude, buy it today. Don’t even think about it. You’ll spend 30-50 dollars to protect something so valuable you can’t even put a price on it.

      If you can spend more get a mountain bike helmet, cause it protects your face too. If I had one of those I wouldn’t be drinking milkshakes with a spoon hahaha

      8 votes
  6. knocklessmonster
    Link
    I'm a huge helmet advocate, and try to keep it to two simple arguments: At low speeds, even if it won't damage the helmet, you won't hurt your scalp. At higher speeds, you're scalp should be okay,...

    I'm a huge helmet advocate, and try to keep it to two simple arguments:

    At low speeds, even if it won't damage the helmet, you won't hurt your scalp.

    At higher speeds, you're scalp should be okay, and your brain will be contained. You'll still get a concussion (probably even with MIPS), but that's easier to treat than a brain hemorrhage.

    3 votes
  7. [18]
    JackA
    Link
    I'm in no way advocating not wearing a helmet, but what does Tildes think about the argument that wearing a helmet puts you more at risk. By way of making you more confident, making cars more...

    I'm in no way advocating not wearing a helmet, but what does Tildes think about the argument that wearing a helmet puts you more at risk. By way of making you more confident, making cars more confident, decreasing the number of cyclists, etc.

    I think this website makes a pretty good argument that while individually you probably should wear a helmet, it shouldn't be the focus of bicycle safety messaging or laws. Thoughts?

    2 votes
    1. [4]
      thistle
      Link Parent
      uhhh... when riding a bike, you never know when the moment will be that a car flies out of nowhere and fucking wipes you out. No amount of safety procedures or safe cycling will save you from that...

      uhhh... when riding a bike, you never know when the moment will be that a car flies out of nowhere and fucking wipes you out.

      No amount of safety procedures or safe cycling will save you from that moment.

      Proper safety equipment will also not save you from that moment, but it'll be the difference between you being in a coma for 20 years vs. walking home with some scrapes and bruises.

      I've been in enough crashes to know that it matters. The mere suggestion that you might be safer without a helmet is absolutely unfounded and patently false.

      8 votes
      1. [3]
        JackA
        Link Parent
        I don't mean to be the guy who says "well if you read the article..." but it doesn't really contest that helmets protect you in a crash. It more argues that wearing a helmet is more likey to get...

        I don't mean to be the guy who says "well if you read the article..." but it doesn't really contest that helmets protect you in a crash.

        It more argues that wearing a helmet is more likey to get you into a crash in the first place because it makes you overconfident in your safety and cars are less cautious around you. Although it does focus more against laws forcing helmets than against the helmets themselves.

        4 votes
        1. mrbig
          (edited )
          Link Parent
          That's a tough argument to defend. It's hard to quantify and influenced by culture, local regulations, etc. On the other hand, we know a lot about the physics of a crash -- the forces involved and...

          It more argues that wearing a helmet is more likely to get you into a crash in the first place because it makes you overconfident in your safety and cars are less cautious around you.

          That's a tough argument to defend. It's hard to quantify and influenced by culture, local regulations, etc. On the other hand, we know a lot about the physics of a crash -- the forces involved and how much pressure a human skull can endure. So yeah, I'm a skeptic about far-reaching arguments like this one. They're like a long chain that will hold on optimal conditions, but the links are made of paper.

          Besides, many of the author's claims are nothing more than general subjective impressions. I fail to see much value in this article. Looks like a lot of cherry-picking and confirmation bias to me.

          And it falls 100% for the perfect solution fallacy. No doubt about it.

          5 votes
        2. thistle
          Link Parent
          Yes, and I'm saying, whether that's bullshit or not, that kind of thinking doesn't help anyone. It's not useful to suggest it, because, even if you yourself say you're not against wearing a...

          It more argues that wearing a helmet is more likey to get you into a crash in the first place

          Yes, and I'm saying, whether that's bullshit or not, that kind of thinking doesn't help anyone. It's not useful to suggest it, because, even if you yourself say you're not against wearing a helmet, that kind of argument implies that wearing a helmet is a bad thing.

          I think the only argument for not forcing people to wear helmets by law is that a bicycle crash doesn't usually harm anyone but the cyclist (i. e. it's the harm principle), which is a reasonable take on it.

          1 vote
    2. [4]
      mrbig
      Link Parent
      I’ll leave the argumentation for the others, but I’d just like to say that a lot of this article seems to be built on top of the perfect solution fallacy.

      I’ll leave the argumentation for the others, but I’d just like to say that a lot of this article seems to be built on top of the perfect solution fallacy.

      5 votes
      1. [3]
        arp242
        Link Parent
        It really depends on what kind of cycling you do; you mentioned speeds of >48km/h here, and that's the kind of serious race cycling where a helmet is a good idea. With more casual "city cycling"...

        It really depends on what kind of cycling you do; you mentioned speeds of >48km/h here, and that's the kind of serious race cycling where a helmet is a good idea.

        With more casual "city cycling" it probably matters less, and as the article pointed out may even be harmful.

        Children should always wear helmets btw.

        2 votes
        1. [2]
          mrbig
          Link Parent
          You can get injured at slower speeds for sure, that was jut an example. And even a casual cyclist can eventually go downhill due to the geography of the location. But I do concede that if there no...

          You can get injured at slower speeds for sure, that was jut an example. And even a casual cyclist can eventually go downhill due to the geography of the location.

          But I do concede that if there no cars around, it’s generally a much safer environment.

          3 votes
          1. arp242
            Link Parent
            You can get injured anywhere doing anything, and helmets will make pretty much any activity "safer", including walking (they tried floating "pedestrian helmets" in the UK about 15 years ago). It...

            You can get injured anywhere doing anything, and helmets will make pretty much any activity "safer", including walking (they tried floating "pedestrian helmets" in the UK about 15 years ago).

            It all depends on the road, infrastructure, speed of cars, how used drivers are to cyclists, etc.

            1 vote
    3. [3]
      knocklessmonster
      (edited )
      Link Parent
      That site is utter nonsense. Unfortunately, I had to write this comment three times, as that site was every bogus argument I've seen against wearing/requiring helmets, and I was quite irritated...

      That site is utter nonsense. Unfortunately, I had to write this comment three times, as that site was every bogus argument I've seen against wearing/requiring helmets, and I was quite irritated upon reading it.

      There are some concerns, but they aren't the cyclists. People passing too close is a driver problem, the cyclist can't control that. The cyclist can control their behavior. I think it would be wise to warn people about dangerous riding, and the potential for feeling safer with a helmet, and encouraging them to behave as if they weren't wearing one.

      I'll pick a few gems I've seen people take seriously:

      It makes your head bigger

      Any crash I've been in, my neck was fine. Nowhere near end range of motion. I can lay on the ground, on my side, and get my head to the floor no problem. It's safe to say my head will hit without a helmet. Anytime my head hit the ground, typically around 16-20mph, my neck never even got near end range of motion. If your helmet hits, that's a hit your head would have taken in a slightly different spot.

      Helmets provide a false sense of security

      Then let's bang that drum. "Wear a helmet, don't be stupid." That's like in "Premium Rush," when Wiley says "brakes are death, you'll go to stop when you should maneuver" (paraphrasing), or even more akin to saying seatbelts will encourage street racing. It's a behavior issue that needs to be corrected by each individual, but is definitely not a systemic issue.

      People will pass helmeted cyclists closer

      This is a systemic issue. We don't punish people harshly who intentionally run over cyclists, forget those who do it by accident. Every juror in these cases thinks they could be the one to hit a bicyclist that "came out of nowhere." Driver's education and testing is utter BS in much of the country (US) as well. The best thing a cyclist can do is hog their lane and force drivers to use the next lane to pass them, at least where legal to do so. I've found, at least, that's the best way to ensure your safety. In any environment, there will still be the few hyper-aggressive people you need to dodge, but I haven't found a single method of behavior that makes their prevalence better or worse.

      Mandatory helmet laws decrease cyclists

      The US generally only has mandatory helmet laws for kids and motorcycles. Where are the adults? Oh yeah, they're trying not to die on the abysmal American bicycle infrastructure. It's something of a "If you build it, they will come" system: Make it safe for people to ride bikes in the city, and people will ride bikes in the city. And honestly, I'm opposed to adult helmet laws for non-motorized vehicles, I figure each adult can take the risk, but I encourage people to wear helmets because I'd rather you bonk your helmet or go for a walk for exercise than have your family argue about whether or not to disconnect your life support.

      4 votes
      1. [2]
        JackA
        Link Parent
        Most of my disagreements with you would be semantics except for the last point. It could be argued there that the "If you build it, they will come" system hasn't been built because not many people...

        Most of my disagreements with you would be semantics except for the last point. It could be argued there that the "If you build it, they will come" system hasn't been built because not many people cycle right now.

        As the website said "Reductions in cycling by 33% to 50% are typical in places where helmet laws have been passed." Which could be construed as a major reason there are not many cyclers in America even in the urban areas. It's could be argued that it's a cycle (pun intended) keeping cyclers down in America: Dangerous roads leads to helmet laws leads to less cyclers leads to dangerous roads. We'd almost need to sacrifice the safety of the first wave in order to up the numbers and get the infrastructure required for the masses.

        1 vote
    4. ClearlyAlive
      Link Parent
      I’m generally against any strong advocacy of helmets because it discourages cycling. According to the federal office for territorial development bicyclists save 3,7 centimes for every kilomètre...

      I’m generally against any strong advocacy of helmets because it discourages cycling. According to the federal office for territorial development bicyclists save 3,7 centimes for every kilomètre they cycle, this is a very high societal benefit and every fewer cyclist means society is losing out on at least 10 centimes per kilometre (assuming the take the bus instead; more for a car). With such great benefits on the line, we really should not make cycling appear less safe or accessible by mandating helmets.

      4 votes
    5. heavyset_go
      Link Parent
      Accidents don't care about how careful you are, and small mitigations like helmets can save your life even if you were to fall slightly more often.

      Accidents don't care about how careful you are, and small mitigations like helmets can save your life even if you were to fall slightly more often.

      2 votes
    6. [4]
      wirelyre
      Link Parent
      From the website you linked: In what possible scenario would one's head be close enough to the pavement that it would make contact with a helmet but not without a helmet? You have already fallen....

      From the website you linked:

      How helmets HURT: […]

      • Head size is increased, making potential impacts with pavement more likely

      In what possible scenario would one's head be close enough to the pavement that it would make contact with a helmet but not without a helmet? You have already fallen.

      Frankly I think there is a lot of begging the question here. Though I appreciate the site for what it is ("How to Not Get Hit by Cars") and its criticisms of "Effective Cycling" are absolutely valid.

      Actually, this is making me really angry to read. "drivers passed an average of 8.5 cm (3 1/3 inches) closer with the helmet than without". If 8.5cm makes a difference then the casualty has basically already happened. Riding a bike on a road with cars is DEADLY serious.

      Linked from the original website:

      Even if helmets are effective, it does not follow that all cyclists should wear them. Racing car drivers wear helmets, but not people driving to work. The difference is the level of risk. For the same reason, racing cyclists and mountain bikers often choose to wear helmets, but riding down a quiet road to the corner shop is a generally safe activity.

      There are plenty of scenarios with risks somewhere between "no cars in sight" and "face-first down a cliff". It seems very weaselly to me that the commentators are using this thought experiment combined with snarky formal logic to dismiss the original paper's conclusions. About head injuries.

      With some trepidations, I've actually been wearing a bicycle helmet for recreational road biking, However, [a recent car-bike] accident points clearly to one of the problems with helmet usage: I can no longer hear cars coming up behind me since I've started wearing a helmet. It's quite unsettling to be biking down a quiet rural road and suddenly have a giant, noisy pickup blast by completely unanticipated. There's something about how the wind passes through the air vents that greatly attenuates sounds from the rear (and perhaps otherwise).

      THEN GET A NEW HELMET?!

      2 votes
      1. [3]
        JackA
        Link Parent
        I agree with you on everything but the very end, I'm an avid skier and there really is quite the difference in how well you can hear with or without a helmet regardless of what helmet you get. I...

        I agree with you on everything but the very end, I'm an avid skier and there really is quite the difference in how well you can hear with or without a helmet regardless of what helmet you get. I still wear a helmet because of how much you fall while skiing but I think it is a valid point for biking.

        1 vote
        1. knocklessmonster
          Link Parent
          I wear Bern helmets, they're big, but I can hear everything I can without a helmet. When you're bicycling at a decent clip you mostly get wind noise anyway, with or without a helmet, so cycling,...

          I wear Bern helmets, they're big, but I can hear everything I can without a helmet. When you're bicycling at a decent clip you mostly get wind noise anyway, with or without a helmet, so cycling, or even driving, by ear is basically useless except to be somewhat aware of a car somewhere behind you because you hear it, but don't see it in the 140 degrees of forward vision.

          2 votes
        2. wirelyre
          Link Parent
          Most ski helmets I picture cover your ears. Is that what you're talking about? Most bike helmets I picture sit on top of your head, with some reaching down to the nape of your neck. It definitely...

          Most ski helmets I picture cover your ears. Is that what you're talking about? Most bike helmets I picture sit on top of your head, with some reaching down to the nape of your neck.

          It definitely is important for biking to be able to hear.

          1 vote
  8. ohyran
    Link
    Thank you for the reminder! Me and my husband bike year around to and from work, store etc and have for years. And no helmets... which is, lets be honest kinda dumb but its always one of those...

    Thank you for the reminder! Me and my husband bike year around to and from work, store etc and have for years. And no helmets... which is, lets be honest kinda dumb but its always one of those yearly "oh we should buy helmets" thoughts that is quickly forgotten. Adding it to the calendar now.

    Now, I want to add that we live in a city with insanely good roads and bike paths which is one of the best ways to ensure biker safety.

    2 votes
  9. science8logic
    Link
    Sorry to hear about your crash. My bro was in one and even with a helmet it caused some permanent nerve damage in one of his arms. My uncle also almost died and was also wearing a helmet. I am...

    Sorry to hear about your crash. My bro was in one and even with a helmet it caused some permanent nerve damage in one of his arms. My uncle also almost died and was also wearing a helmet. I am grateful both were wearing helmets as they could have been dead if they were not.

    I myself used to never wear a helmet. Then one day, a while ago now, it became obvious to me for numerous reasons that I should wear one, one of them of course being the realization that falling from a bike going 30 mph could cause permanent injury if not death.

    I also used to find it silly to wear a helmet. Now I think I feel silly not wearing a helmet.

    2 votes