Helmet: Yes or No?

A helmet or not?

While cycling in the Netherlands I am aware of the many looks I receive. Dutch don’t like to wear a helmet when commuting. Understandable. What is less understandable is that even racers often cycle without a helmet. I think we believe it is not cool to wear a helmet.

I never wore a helmet. As a Dutch I can say that we are too familiar with cycling. We hardly see it as a sport or as something extraordinaire. We walk. We cycle. Hardly anyone wears a helmet.

A helmet is funny. A helmet is for the very fast racers. Perhaps for the mountain-bikers. Except that we have no mountains in the Netherlands.

When I start cycling I think I wore a helmet. Mainly because I bought about everything I thought I needed as a world cyclist. Turned out I needed only half of all. So, I had a helmet and I remember I left it behind in Liberia because I did not wear it. I remember I wore it a few stretches in the Rif, Morocco. Here I noticed that a helmet doesn’t allow your hair to flow with the wind. A helmet makes you look like you’re afraid. A helmet makes you look less fierce. A helmet doesn’t make you look better. It’s like a cool-box on your head!

But is all of this important?

Going back to traditions and manners and way of dressing and thus appearance, it is. Every culture I cycle through has a tradition if it comes to head-wear. A hat does; it prevents the sun to hit your head. A piece of cloth stretched over my head does too. A turban idem ditto. An African cloth round my head has a reason. A headscarf, even a tightly secured hijab, makes perfect sense. But a helmet?

Helmet

Some helmet incidents:

A Nigerian police wanted me to buy a helmet and while he halted me, I said I was planning to buy one in the oncoming city. And I let myself speed down the hill, through the city where I was hit by a minibus and picked up from the incredible busy highway by people along the road.

In Iran I met two cyclists. One was wearing a helmet and a bright yellow vest. I thought that was a bit overdressed but now I can think how wisely that was. Wearing a helmet has just not sunk into my perceiving as normal. A helmet? Not for me. Doesn’t cycling with a helmet make you more easy-going and therefore bang into something or crash because you think you’re indestructible?

In India I bought a helmet when a man on a motorbike was smashed to a wall 3 meter further. Because he swirled over the road when he tried not to ride into me. Very unfortunately he was hit by a car when trying to avoid me. He was unable to move, a riksja was called and he was brought to hospital. I bought a helmet, wore it a few weeks and then I went without it.

I have a friend who fell off her bicycle while commuting through the village. She tipped over and has still serious troubles related to the nerve system. Then I met another cyclist with whom I was with for some time, and he advocates the helmet fully, always and entirely. He is always stared at, especially by children who thinks he is a clown. I would never cycle in the same jacket or shirt as the one I am with. But the helmet… it had me thinking.

Consider it: what will be the highest risk when cycling? What is the biggest danger? I think when you cycle enough you will have a high chance of eventually be hit by a motorized vehicle. Perhaps a helmet won’t help much but it will at least protect the quite delicate mass up there.

My family is happy with me wearing a helmet. And I? I think it is funny looking and therefore cool. Different. It keeps my head warm in cold weather and I don’t need to wear a hat with a rim. I wear my helmet every day. Mainly because it protects me!

The few time I wore a helmet it annoyed me. A speedy downhill would bang my head backward because of the helmet collecting wind, flapping on the back of my head. When I would turn my head left the helmet would swoop to the left too, with some time-lapse. Now I got a better one. One I don’t feel at all.

In an african car, do as the Africans

Compare it with seat belts in a car. I have always been recalcitrant to wear them, as they confine my freedom of movement. Over the years we learned to wear them, for a good reason. Now, the sporadic times I move in a car, I automatic try to pull the seat belt. Always to find out those belts are gone or so much hidden that I ask the driver: ‘What about seat belts? Do you wear them?’ The answer is always the same, except in Europe: ‘No, not necessary here.’ I think it only becomes necessary when something has changed in the people’s perception, why else do I see motor-bikers with a yellow helmet used for construction-work? Why else do children wearing dad’s helmet when they are carried on the motorbike?

Conclusion: a helmet suits cycling, like an African head-cloth suits when strolling through the sandy streets of Senegal. Like a headscarf loosely thrown over your head in a Sikh temple, like a mandatory hijab in Iran. Like a hood made of waterproof material suits in rainy weather. Like a turban in 50 degrees Celsius fits in a country where éveryone is wearing one.

Note, June 2016: remarkable, while commuting to and from work/supermarket/trips through the Netherlands… I do not wear a helmet. Oh! I guess it’s hard to forget about Dutch upbringing.

What is your opinion?

16 responses to “Helmet: Yes or No?

  1. Cindy, I have the same oppinion like you. I think if you fall over the handlebars, you’ll reflexivly save yourself with your arms. So your arms and knees will get hurt, but not the head. But if your head is included, your neck spine isn’t saved if you crash against a tree or wall. But I’ll buy a helmet, because in Canada helmets are required. And I don’t like to get trouble there.

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    • Hi Felix,

      Right, usually when I fall, my first reaction is to stretch my hands out. I either fall on my knees and elbow but also on my head once. Cycling on tracks is not really risky, but I must say, now I cycle with a helmet, it feels more secure to cycle along roads with cars. I have quite now and then be bumped by a car…

      I think in years to come the Netherlands might as well require helmet to cycle. I really had to get used to it though.

      Regards Cindy

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  2. I agree there are safety principles more important than a helmet. I rarely go over 20 km/h (even downhill, I brake, what’s the point climbing/pushing your loaded bike up a mountain if you don’t enjoy the scenic downhill slowly?) and always look at the traffic in my mirror.

    On the other hand, I think wearing a helmet and speeding downhill on gravel roads is irresponsible: a pothole, a stone, a branch, a motorbiker, something on your panniers falling into the wheel, a screw getting loose from your lazy maintenance, etc, there are million ways to hurt yourself (and damage your bike) easily and stupidly.

    For me cycle touring is about traveling, not so much about cycling. I want to be able to step down the bicycle anytime and blend in the landscape in seconds, therefore a helmet, padded tight shorts and cycling shoes that make cow-boy clicks are not for me. A helmet doesn’t hurt, but it also doesn’t feel right to wear one when you don’t want to look like an alien while experiencing your new country (and if not worn, it takes at least as much space as 1 meal!)

    However, I felt very uncomfortable the few times my handlebar mirror was broken. I need to be aware of all the potential traffic surrounding me, and turning my head back is the best way to crash. I’ve also worn a reflective jacket in the fog or when the night caught me in rather urbanized areas.

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    • Hi JB,

      Nice to read again from you! Thank you for replying.

      I agree with you on the mechanic part. I check the wheels, bolt and nuts regularly to be sure that the wheel won’t fly off, panniers are always tightly secured because I love to speed down the hill. That is really my reward! I try not even to touch the brakes, meanwhile hoping to break my speed record ; )

      A mirror is a MUST. Even when cycling on my mom’s bicycle, all I do is checking the mirror. Of course, she hasn’t one, and that’s a big missing part. I use my mirror so often on busy roads that this is really a great point of safety!

      So, I agree, except for this one, it made me smile a… that with a helmet you look like an alien. Cycling (indeed more traveling than cycling!) in cultures differently from Europe, we ARE aliens! A helmet really doesn’t matter anymore. Me, as a lone woman (no way I wear cycle shorts -way too revealing-) on a bicycle is being an alien.

      On the other hand, when cycling through forest or being on unpaved rural tracks, I won’t bother because either the surface is soft enough (still got a huge egg on my head when I fell hard) or I am cycling very slow. Usually here are no cars either.

      When I do not wear the helmet, I use it as a kind of basket to put in food for little breaks, like fruit. I have been cycling on and off with a helmet though. leaving it behind each time I did not wear it anymore. Now I got a good one, I won’t even feel it when I wear it. When cycling in the USA I wore a bright pink T-shirt and when cycling in Iran in nighttime (forced) I would use my headlight…

      If I had to choose between a helmet and a mirror, I choose a mirror! But my speedy down hills choose the helmet ; )

      Regards Cindy

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  3. Hai Cindy,
    Zoals je weet zit ik in het bestuur van de Fietsersbond afd. O’hout, daarom wil ik reageren op je artikel over het dragen van de fietshelm.
    Een fietshelm geeft zeker bescherming bij een ongeval, echter is het niet verstandiger om die situatie, waar mogelijk, te voorkomen.
    Het dragen van opvallende kleding zodat je tijdig opgemerkt wordt door mede weggebruikers (citroengele jasjes met reflectiestrepen zijn hier zeer geschikt voor) , mijn fietsmaatje heeft hier al verschillende keren op het nippertje een aanrijding door een auto mee kunnen voorkomen.
    Tussen Breda en O’hout is een 60 km mountain bike parkoers, met veel hoge en lage heuveltjes, daar zie je nooit een biker zonder helm. Racefietsers zie je ook nooit zonder helm, bij wedstrijden mag je niet starten zonder helm, deze rijden vaak in groepen wat nog weer gevaarlijker is.
    Recreatiefietsers rijden plm 10 á 15 km per uur, daar gebeurd niet veel mee en die mensen zien wij ook geen helm opzetten, echter op de Nederlandse fietspaden en andere wegen rijden zoveel fietsers met verschillende snelheden dat het daardoor gevaarlijk wordt.
    Het grootste gevaar zit bovendien in de e-bikers, dit zijn vaak ouderen, die weinig fietsten en nu met ondersteuning makkelijk 20 á 25 km rijden.
    Hun reactie snelheid is ook niet hetzelfde als mensen, die regelmatig fietsen, dus een helm biedt een zekere bescherming bij ongeval, maar beter is dat te voorkomen, hoe dan ook, alleen onze minister wil echter de helm voor de fiets nog niet verplicht stellen.
    Leuk artikel en weer wat anders,
    Succes,
    WIM –Den Hout

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hoi Wim,

      Gisteren fietste ik naar Breda en wat schetst mijn verbazing: één en al helm op de fiets. Ik kwam, geloof ik, een bekende tegen en hij had ook een helm op, maar dat is dan ook min of meer een wereldfietser. E-bikers lijken mij ook een behoorlijk risico inderdaad, zoals je omschrijft! En trouwens, in de zomer is het niet te doen om hier in Nederland te fietsen, het is te druk met allerlei. Of rolschaatsers, skeelers, slingerende kinderen, honden (die altijd wat bang lijken met al dat gedoe rondom hen), ligfietsen, E-bikes, zwaar bepakte wereldfietsers ; ) en wielrenners (zij denken vaak dat de weg van hun is hoewel er ook veel vriendelijkheid is, waarschuwingen dat ze eraan komen bijvoorbeeld : ) uitgelaten en opgefokte schoolinderen zijn trouwens ook lastig. Eigenlijk net India, en dat fietst dus niet fijn.

      Op zich is een val bij 15 kilometer per uur niet meteen risicovol, maar soms wél. Nu zit overal een risico aan. Ik drag de helm nu in Nederland plots wel?! Maar op zandwegen in de verlatenheid zou ik het niet snel doen. Hoewel ik die helm helemaal niet meer voel als ik hem op heb, het is net gewoon een petje. Misschien wordt ik gewoon ouder én wijzer. Mijn afdalingen in de bergen zijn vaak razendsnel (soms tegen de 70 km p/u) en een helm is dan echt wel een fijn gevoel, samen met een spiegel en werkende remmen.

      Ik denk dat binnen 10 jaar de helm verplicht is, net zoals in Spanje (is het niet?) en Australië. Er valt wat voor te zeggen hoewel het in Nederland een raar zicht zou zijn, al die fietsers met een helmpje ; )

      Groetjes Cinderella

      p.s. een 60 kilometer track tussen Oosterhout en Breda zeg je, zeer benieuwd waar dát is ; )

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  4. Hi Cindy,
    for a couple of years I have been wearing helmets. How else can kids, nieces and nephews take a leaf out of my book? How could I tell them that the helmet is reasonable and cycle without one when touring alone? After 1 year or 2 you get used to it, but there will never be a love attachment.

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    • Hi Helgah, if it comes to safety it is good to set an example. I not wore one until I met my lover. He wears a helmet (for a good reason) and so do I now. It would be quite stubborn not to because I don’t like wearing one. Now, I am used to it and wear it all the time. But as you said: not a love attachment : )

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  5. Helmets create a false sense of safety. Particularly for parents of children. In Australia almost no child wears a helmet correctly so the thing will come off anyway when they fall. And just as few adults wear them correctly either.

    A side effect of mandatory helmet laws is that fewer people cycle. This affects general health and well being.

    Personally, I think people who want to wear a helmet should be allowed to wear it. And people who ride like nannas or ride in relatively safe areas shouldn’t have to. If I am on a quiet cycle path near home cycling at 10-15kph I am moving no faster than a runner. Why not make the fast runners then also wear helmets.

    I never wear a helmet where it’s not the law. And I have no intention of doing so. It upsets Australians and those for whom life is about risk management. But that’s okay. It’s my choice

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    • Hi Andrew,

      You see, one of the reasons I start wearing a helmet was caused by my lover. His life is saved by wearing one when he was hit by a truck.

      I never wore one and had the same reasons you bring up. Also, I don’t like the sight of it, a helmet. I rather wear a turban in India than a helmet.

      But of course, wearing a helmet, in the correct way, could surely prevent from damage in quite a few cases. I do realize that would I crash down while speeding down a hill with 65 kilometers an hour, a helmet might save my brain, but not my tooth.

      On the other hand, a helmet could save you from brain damage even while you ride 15 kilometer an hour and fall with a soft motion down the pavement.

      Most children wearing a helmet is rather unnecessary, as children are accompanied by their parent, I guess. Usually their helmets are a joke, I agree. Completely wrong fitting.

      I think wearing a helmet as a mandatory (like in Australia) does not prevent people from doing something they love, that’s really more of an excuse not to be active. If you like cycling, a helmet can not prevent you from doing so! Right?

      Well, Andrew, time to start getting ready and cycle off!

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      • Actually, since mandatory helmet laws were introduced, the rate of cycling amongst children, teenagers and young adults in Australia has dropped significantly. This is due to two factors: parents believing cycling is a dangerous sport because you need to wear a helmet and young people thinking helmets are uncool. That said, there has recently been a surge in cycling amongst men of a certain age, largely due to high rates of divorce and unemployment so men turn to race cycling (mostly triathlon) as an outlet for their expression and recapture of masculinity.

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  6. Andrew,

    It’s funny, talking about helmets and all, when I am not about ‘security’ so much. I take enough risks, yet always quite knowing what I do though.

    Coming back to the parents issue, they should know what is dangerous and what not. Cycling really is not!

    Think about the seatbelts in cars years ago, in many countries they are still not used, and see how normal most of us find them now! Besides, they really protect, and how dangerous is riding a car? If you ask me, quite a few people think they’re driving a toy at a fairground.

    By the way, here in Greece, most motor bikers (also the crazy loud fast ones) wear NO helmet! Sometimes they have them dangling on their arm though, probably same reason as youngsters in Australia (= not cool).

    Enjoy Turkey!

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  7. Nice to find your blog. My view on helmets is becoming quite militaristic as I get older. I used to feel “to each his own” but slowly over the years, I’ve found that many cyclists, the ones you see out there all looking like identically dressed Aliens from the planet spandex, that they more and more often feel empower to stop me and demand why I don’t have my helmet on. That has slowly shifted me towards despising those contraptions, those beer coolers, and it’s now my line in the sand. If cycling is such a fearful activity, I’ll stop start touring in my car instead. I refuse now to join any audax club as they demand I wear one and when planning a US tour, will not set foot into any state that forces people.

    But I’m willing to be reasonable and go along with the times, so I will start to wear one always, as soon as the laws progress further along the same line and everyone is made to wear insulation on their heads at all times while outside. Just in the US alone, there are over 6000 pedestrian deaths per year. Should these people not have to be saved? And don’t get me started on how many good souls we have lost due to that silly habit of showering without good headgear. And for what good? A mere seven days without, none of us could smell anything anymore anyways! Habits must change. Perhaps if we increase the volume of the helmet to four or five times the currently unsafe levels, we may even save many people from drowning. I’m starting to see the other side’s point, I think. 🙂

    But until then – I’m going to chose when and where to wear em. I do carry one on long trips. Not for safety, but for warmth. Sadly I live in the Humid South West of the USA, and temperatures of 34 to 40 celcius are averagel summer days here, along with humidity approaching the density of fog, and I’d rather drink warm light beer at home than endure the results of following the spandex’d crowd.

    But seriously, if I ever feel so nervous about cycling, that I feel compelled to tell myself that half an inch of styrofoam will save the day against the 4000 pound cars whizzing by – it’s time to hang up the dangerous sport of living free under my own power, and retire to a good pub.

    THAT, if you ask me, is the real cyclists greatest problem. The lack of good affordable pubs. Spread out at regular 30 kilometer intervals, our ranks would swell, and the danger of dehydration would lessen. Besides, it takes me a few pints to get over the trauma of witnessing middle aged guys go by in spandex.

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    • Hahahahaha!!! Funny!!!

      First, I hate to see men wearing padded cycle shorts, it is SO ugly! The whole spandex and cycle dress code is funny, unless you ride the Tour de France, or any other tour which is of a serious length, because tight clothes on the saddle do help chaffing. But the helmet, I do not wear it anymore. I just don’t like it, it looks funny on me and I never speed that hard, except on downhill’s. Danger is everywhere and most of all on busy roads. A helmet can save your life, but won’t do so in all cases. If a car hits you good, a helmet won’t be much of a life saver…

      I do not agree on pubs, alcohol and cycling do not match in my case.

      I do agree on habits which could change. A shower each day is nonsense. But in our society it is a must. Imagine if your colleague show up at work without being washed, for 7 days, hahahahaha!!

      Regards Cindy

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