Helmets in bike photos: my position


The cover of the Bike to Work Book has photos of some cyclists wearing helmets, others not. Now, in Australia and some US states perhaps this laissez-faire attitude to lid-wearing might get the book banned but I feel it’s important to reflect reality.

In the real world, not every cyclist wears a helmet. In the Netherlands, hardly anybody does and there’s no epidemic of cycle-related head injuries in Holland.

This has nothing to do with cyclepaths segregated from motorised traffic. Cycle helmets are designed for slow speed crashes from a height of one metre, they are not designed to save cyclists in impacts from cars.

Helmet wearing ought to be a choice, not a stipulation. The photos on the cover of the Bike to Work Book, and inside too, will be chosen on artistic merit, not polystyrene quotiant.

I raise this issue because others have done so. It’s a subject long debated in cycle circles. Cyclists all choose to disagree! Want to read around on the subject? Over on BikeBiz.com I’ve published 90+ articles on the ‘helmet compulsion debate’. For the record, I’m a pro-helmet, anti-compulsionist. I wear a helmet when cycling but don’t wish to impose my personal choice on others.

Some argue that if helmet compulsion saved just one life, it would be worth it. This seems such a sensible position, but it’s misguided. If people were genuinely concerned about whole population safety they’d also argue for enforced helmet wearing for motorists. This is a measure that would save thousands of lives per year but nobody seriously argues for it because driving is perceived to be safe (it’s not) and is a ‘normal, everyday activity’ so car helmets would be a disincentive to driving.

Bingo! It’s the same for cycling. Many people don’t take up cycling because they think it’s unsafe (it must be, you need to wear helmets). As we all know, the health benefits of cycling far outweigh the risks. It’s far better to attract people to cycling in the first place, rather than deter them by telling them they can’t start cycling unless they wear headgear. This reduces the number of cyclists, increasing danger for the rest of us.

More cyclists equals more road safety, helmets or no helmets.

The Bike to Work Book will feature advice on buying and correct fitting of helmets. It will also list those countries and US states where helmet use is compulsory. There will be articles from both sides of the helmet argument. But there will be no policy that every cyclist must be shown wearing a helmet.