You Look Like a Dork in a Helmet

I have zero to offer on the helmet debate.

In fact, writing about it goes against the spirit of this blog because this is supposed to be about bliss and cycling, and not anger.

The helmet debate royally pisses me off.

You can’t have a rational debate when we don’t have any standards.

I think that a cost benefit analysis is a good start. Another standard would be to measure against all other aspects of our lives.

To be fair, I’ll post some.

What we need to know from this:

“Ninety-one percent of bicyclists killed in 2008 reportedly weren’t wearing helmets.”

So there you have it. Helmets save lives, right?

Not so fast. How many cyclists were wearing a helmet who did _not_ get hit?

Another way to look at it. Imagine a helmet offering zero protection. If this were so, and 91% of cyclists did not wear helmets then we could get the same stats from above.

However, I’ll say that I do think that helmets can protect a person in some cases. For example, if I fall in the shower, I’d rather be wearing a helmet. If I walk across a street and get hit by a car, I want a helmet on my head. Same thing for slipping on a wet floor at Dennies. Or if I get into another domestic dispute and my “princess” cracks me over the head with a wine bottle–damnit, you know it, I need a helmet.

That’s why when you see me at the bar tonight, I’ll most certainly be wearing a helmet. Not.

Unless it’s Halloween and I want a scary costume. 🙂

So just because something is safer doesn’t mean people do it.

But let’s just say that we accept the standard that if something is correlated then it makes it right.

This is really hard to explain so to do so, I’ll make up a stat so we can see thing clearer via search and replace:

“Twenty-six percent of bicyclists who lost hands in 2008 wore wrist guards.”

So we should wear wrist guards, too. Right?

Not so fast, I made up that last stat.

Below is the real one:

“Twenty-six percent of bicyclists killed in 2008 had blood alcohol concentrations (BACs) at or above 0.08 percent.”

Based on our above standard, this means that NOT drinking alcohol triples your chances of getting into an accident.

To rephrase: “Seventy-four percent of bicyclists killed in 2008 were not protected by drinking alcohol ahead of time.”

But that’s absurd. Because we all know that drinking makes you dangerous just as we “know” that wearing helmets makes you safe. Right?

Well, how do we know that if we just took a parallel set of stats and used it in one direction: helmets are safer, and another direction, alcohol makes you crash even though, you are more likely to crash if you don’t drink.

The reason is simple.

It’s called Common Sense.


It’s actually called Begging the Question

“Begging the question (or petitio principii, “assuming the initial point”) is a type of logical fallacy in which the proposition to be proven is assumed implicitly or explicitly in the premise”

That’s right. We _assumed_ that wearing a helmet makes you safer then we found some stats and hey, now it’s proved.

So basically, this stat says nothing, though I will sip a few beers before I ride my bicycle. _That_ stat I believe.

Here’s my favorite:

“More than 7 times as many bicyclist deaths in 2008 were males compared with females.”

Thus, the most dangerous thing you can take with you on your bicycle is your pen15.

So now we are getting to the nitty gritty. Overall, I think that statistics suck and ought not to be used when making a decision. Stats are always coupled with the nebulous and made up notion of “safety” which is a weak person’s way of taking away people’s fun. If you want to tell me not to do something; own your opinion and tell me you don’t like it, and that you somehow feel empowered to boss me around. Don’t manipulate me with fuzzy math.

Hey, I am a bit pissed here.

OK, how about cost benefit analysis?

One way to look at this is to ask how often are head injuries caused by cycling.

We’ll look at the Bicycle Research Foundation for answers.

“Cycling represents 7.1% of all head injuries.”

I’m not a stats expert, but to me 7% is almost none. To put it another way:

“93% of head injuries occur when someone is NOT on a bicycle.”

Seems like cycling is safer than not cycling.

What causes more head injuries than cycling?

Perhaps we should ask an expert physician?

“Automobile (motor vehicle) accidents results in over half of all head injury”

So we are spending all this money on bicycle helmets, mainly to appease skittish, non-cycling motorists, when it turns out that they are SEVEN times more likely to have a head injury than a cyclist. That is, for every major head injury a cyclist gets, seven motorists also get a head injury.

Why motorists not wearing helmet?

Because that would be crazy right? Because it would be unsporting?

I’d ask Dale Earnhardt Jr. first.

But cars protect us right? Therefore, when motorists get head injuries they are not as severe as cyclists who are “exposed”?


From the same article, 70% of fatal head injuries are for motorists.

For a motorists to whine about how cyclists bring headaches to themselves; it’s a bit silly when they have the greatest risk of a deadly head injury.

In fact, I’d postulate that if we want to maximize harm reduction, it’s insane to target those least likely to get head injuries.

Thus, from a cost benefit analysis, bicycle helmets shouldn’t be on the radar.

This leads credence to my belief that those who are most vigorous of their support for helmets just hate cycling and are afraid to speak their minds.

I know that this is getting long, but just to put things into perspective, what’s the leading cause of traumatic brain injury in the US?

If you have been following my point of view, you’d know one activity which is NOT number one.

The CDC thinks it’s falls which make up 35% of these terrible injuries.

Cyclists are not even on the list which means that they are buried inside some other stat.

But this raises the question, why, again, are people so gung ho about protecting cyclists against something that almost NEVER happens? That is, we almost never fall off our bicycles and hurt our heads.

So when I hear, “Why don’t you wear a helmet?” here’s what come to my mind.

“Why aren’t there mandatory laws for motorists to wear helmets when most of the deaths by head injury are in autos?”

“Why are helmets even on the radar when accidents never happen?”

“Are there cases where helmets actually put cyclists at risk?”

“If safety is so important, why are we not focusing on eliminating what kills us the most which is bad motorists?”

I’ll answer some of those questions as well as raise a whole bunch more in subsequent posts.


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