Training messgae on helmets

For discussions within the Cycle Training profession.

Training messgae on helmets

Postby Pete » 7 Oct 2005, 2:35pm

I'm increasingly worried that the current setup of training schemes seems to encourage uncritical use of helmets rather by default. They are seen as only positive and instructors get no briefing in their own courses as to the true state of current knowledge on their effectiveness.

Having found the BCF suggest new riders "don't even think about riding without one" it is, I think, important that the true state of their effectiveness is made better known: in much the same way as the public assume cycling is Terribly Dangerous, they also assume a helmet makes it much safer. Training is an excellent place to put the record straight with a proper rundown of the extent to which the jury is out on if they of any benefit at all, and the material for new trainers would be strengthened IMHO if such a discussion was an integral part of it. Given the importance of avoiding a helmet compulsion law I don't want us to slide into believeing they're always worth wearing by default, and with the above "advice" from the BCF that's all too possible :-(

I think it is important cycle trainees make the best informed choices possible for their own riding circumstances. Not really saying anything much about helmets doesn't really do this, because the default assumption that theyy are a Good Thing is pretty much bound to carried away if it isn't questioned to some degree. So, something more about it in the training materials please!



Re:Training messgae on helmets

Postby Cadence » 7 Oct 2005, 10:51pm

I have no doubt whatsoever that helmets offer significant protection in accidents. Three of my friends have suffered brain damage. One a CTC ride leader of many years. They where two of the few who do not wear and argued against them.
I have written off 3. Racing and on the road. I ride a lot of miles but feel that shortens the odds. I find the modern helmet hardly noticeable. In fact in France I find it cooler than without.
The Rider who is still able to ride will not ride without a helmet again and has written one off recently in a collision with a car. The car driver has accepted liability.


Re:Training messgae on helmets

Postby Pete » 8 Oct 2005, 10:09am

Cadence, you may have "no doubt" but the figures for serious injuries don't back you up. There has been no change in the trends for cyclists' head injuries with increasing use of helmets, and that has been true wherever people have looked at the data, including countries wth very steep increases of helmet wearing caused by compulsion.

Your anecdotes may convince you, but every anecdote put together make up the full statistics, and those show *no change*in injury trends from helmet wearing. The experiences you relate will be included in those figures, yet still there is no change.

Here's another (true) anecdote told me by a CTC member... a couple of older cyclists went over the bars in Reading and head-butted the road. The one wearing a helmet died, the one wearing a cotton cap was fine. That does not prove cotton caps are better than helmets!

People need to realise that anecdotal evidence isn't really any good for epidemiology, and what it tells you is not necessarily the true picture.



Re:Training messgae on helmets

Postby trike-lady » 11 Oct 2005, 6:53am

I dislike wearing my helmet and don't make the children wear their helmets when we cycle to school; the speed we cycle at is really not that fast (as you can imagine with a trike, two small children on the back) and two older children cycling solo bikes.
However, I have been trying to promote cycling at the primary school and have had adverse reaction from 'non-cyclists' who shoot me down in flames because I don't wear a helmet.
As a result, I'm going to wear my helmet, just to keep other people happy. I also think that even if the helmet doesn't do any real good, it makes the cyclist look competent and warns the motorist - 'don't mess with me'. Also, if the police were ever involved, you wouldn't get a lecture on helmet wearing and just looking the part would strengthen your case.

As far as safety goes, I think that hi visibility jackets and vests do much more than helmets - I like the vests because they make me look semi-official (something like a railway worker) - I often have to stop the traffic anyway to let the children wheel their bikes across the road, so perhaps I just like the whole uniform thing. Any comments?

Andy Tallis

Re:Training messgae on helmets

Postby Andy Tallis » 11 Oct 2005, 8:27am

Do these non cyclisyt parents make their kids wear helmets for the playing football and genral running around? (Far more likely to hit heads.) Do they always stick to the speed limit when driving? Or are they just thinking that because cycle helmets exist they must be important?


Re:Training messgae on helmets

Postby Pete » 11 Oct 2005, 11:30am

Trike Lady, some of the issues you raise illustrate my issue very well: helmets are getting worn to go along with inaccurate preconceptions rather than because they do any good, but that in turn tends to reinforce the preconceptions.

And while I have lambasted the over-reliance on anecdotes, here's one I heard recently (first hand, not from "a friend of a friend") to make you think more about the "don't mess with me" issue...

Cyclist is progressing along the road with a car behind him, honking the horn. Cyclist asks driver at next traffic lights what the problem is. Cyclist is admonsihed for (you'l love this!) "If you'd been wearing a hlemet I could have squeezed by you safely". No, I didn't make that up.

IME Motorists think you mean business if you are cycling in a businesslike way, as illustrated in Cyclecraft. Follow those rules and you get a lot more room and respect than you'll ever get by wearing a helmet, especially from those drivers who think you're magically safe specifically because you're wearing a plastic hat.

If people are describing you as irrepsonsible for not wearing a helmet then learn some of the background to reply with well researched confidence. Factoids like you're in more danger per km as a pedestrian than a cyclist, and it would probably benefit car passengers more than cyclists to wear them, so why aren't *they* using them? And so on. Only by getting the message across of what the real effectiveness of cycle helmets are and what we can expect of them will we stop being hounded to wear them on the (apparently quite incorrect) assumption that they are an entirely positive thing.

If you don't want to end up being forced to wear one at some point in the future then you owe it to yourself to find out how well they really work and pass that information on to those who don't know it. Which is rather where I came in here with the Ready Steday Bike training cards...



Re:Training messgae on helmets

Postby mbadmin » 13 Oct 2005, 11:18am

I found this document rather interesting . . if you have about 20 minutes to spare . . .



Re:Training messgae on helmets

Postby herrmann » 15 Oct 2005, 5:05pm

Trikelady, the speed at which you and your children travel is immaterial. The key speed is the impact speed between head and other object (e.g. car travelling at - ? - m.p.h.)


Re:Training messgae on helmets

Postby MLJ » 21 Nov 2005, 3:14pm

Do remember that the test for a cycle helmet is for it to survive a 12mph collision with a flat object, ie the road not kerb! The helmet MAY help in a collision with vehicle, but is NOT designed to do so!

Andy Tallis

Re:Training messgae on helmets

Postby Andy Tallis » 22 Nov 2005, 8:47am

The helmet issue is not clear cut enough to say "don't think about going out without one." What if someone folows that advice, and overheats, loses concentration and ...bang. What if as a result of someone wearing one a driver is less careful and ...bang. What if someone is put off cycling for life and gets obese as a result?
It's one thing to recommend one but to insist on one for all cycling just seems counter productive and not really right when the evidence for their effectiveness is so contradictory. The high price tag of a well vented, lightweight model could also be a hinderance to taking up cycling.


Re:Training messgae on helmets

Postby Pete » 23 Nov 2005, 2:15pm

But we need to be careful with even recommending helmets. If as trainers we are seen to suggest something like a helmet it will be assumed that, as with the typical public perception, they contribute a meaningfully useful amount of protection from serious injuries. And as far as can be told from current evidence that is not the case.

If we are going to say we think you're better off using something, even if it is just by implication, we should say why and to what extent we expect them to help. That is very much not done at present with the Ready Steady Bike materials, and remains my concern.


Andy Tallis

Re:Training messgae on helmets

Postby Andy Tallis » 24 Nov 2005, 9:47pm

I think you're right Pete - even a recommendation must involve explanation of what they will and won't do.
I'm concerned how many schools would obsess about helmets too. Mine certainly did, as did my parents. Both thought I should wear a navy blue jacket to ride to and from school though - interesting.


Re:Training messgae on helmets

Postby ASTA » 4 Jan 2006, 6:37pm

In my 40th year of cycling one small incident on a recent clubrun prompted me to do what I had known was best for many years - buy and wear a good quality helmet.
I guess an uderlying sense of guilt and feeling of irresponsibility towards my family eventually led to me using a helmet.
The statistics may not prove that helmets prevent serious head injuries in every case However, on balance a helmet could prevent minor injury or even reduce the risk of being knocked unconcious and thereby unable to help yourself to safety after an accident.
I do hope, as a matter of policy, instructors advise the wearing of helmets and leave actual practice to the discretion of the individual or a parent, if appropriate.


Re:Training messgae on helmets

Postby Pinky » 5 Jan 2006, 12:37am

I wear my helmet whenever I mount my bike -- however short a journey I am going to make. I have my own reasons and indeed opinions in doing so.
However I am not a supporter of compulsary wearing of helmets.


I do believe that children, especially in the "learning stage", should wear one until they are competent and mature enough to be safe cyclists.

It is just the time when a helmet will give maximum protection in a slow speed tumble, in an unexepcted bump, in "fooling around"

I just wish the "anti helmet brigade" would concede that there times when thye might just be useful.

I find mine is useful in many ways. It holds a bright LED light which I can direct at oncoming traffic. In winter, covered most of the time with its yellow rain cover, it makes me a bit more visible -- and helps keep my head warm as well as dry.

I also find that I forget that I am wearing it and it doesn't inconvenience me at all.

Finally in an insurance claim situation the opposition cannot bring up the " and he wasn't wearing a helmet" red herring!

Like it or not -- like seat belt in cars and helmets on motorbikes I suspect it may become law -- even though I do not support compulsion -- it is a result of an increasing litigious society.

Even my dentist now insists that I wear goggles when he is drilling my teeth!

Apologies for any typos

Trevor A Panther


Re:Training messgae on helmets

Postby Pete » 6 Jan 2006, 2:16pm

ASTA, though a helmet can save against minor injury, such injuries are, well, minor.! If it's really worth your while avoiding them at all costs it should be worth your while wearing one as a pedestrian or around your house, where you have plenty of chances of coming a cropper (look at A&E admissions if you don't believe that).
If being knocked unconscious will make a significant difference to you chances of problems and helmets will reduce those possibilities then that should show up in the figures. It doesn't.
The responsibility to your family is basically unaffected, because serious injuries are unaffected.

Why should instructors advise wearing helmets? They have not proven to do any useful good, cost money and reduce comfort. And if an instructor advises it then that puts a degree of pressure on the students to wear them, by implying that they are effective beyond the real evidence. Would you think they should be worn while walking? If not, then why cycling? It isn't particularly more dangerous or productive of head injuries. There was no major carnage problem with head injuries over and above others before cycle helmets were available: they are a solution looking for a problem, but by suggesting they are worn you create a problem from nothing.

Pinky, children never used to wear them because they didn't exist. That did not cause huge problems. In the NL a greater proportion of kids will be learning to cycle than do here, and they do it without helmets for the most part. There isn't a hole in the Dutch child population because they're all getting their heads mangled in cycling accidents. If Dutch kid can manage, why not British kids?

The "anti helmet" brigade, for the most part, does not exist. I own and use a helmet when I'm on my MTB doing slow technical stuff, for example. But my point isn't an anti-helmet one, it's to put helmets in the true perspective of what they can do. And there is no evidence that they save lives, yet that is precisely why many people wear them and think they should be worn. The more people wear them the more assume there must be a good reason, and so on.

There is no conclusive evidence that they improve safety, so there should be no great push to get people into them, or (like you suggest) they may become compulsory. Everywhere that has happened cycle numbers have gone down, and that is a Bad Thing, both for cyclists still on the roads and for public health.

It is precisely the spectre of compulsion that makes it so important that what can really be expected of helmets is broadcast by trainers, and if they wish to then to demonstrate that safe riding does not require a helmet.