Why it makes sense to bike without a helmet

This sub-forum all discussions about this "lively" subject. All topics that are substantially about helmets will be moved here, if not placed here correctly in the first place.
Stevek76
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Re: Why it makes sense to bike without a helmet

Postby Stevek76 » 27 Aug 2016, 4:28pm

Labrat wrote:people are now trying to justify an argument that *for an existing cyclist* not wearing a helmet is safer than wearing a helmet.


I'm not sure why this is a nasty path, it's a very valid point to make from the available data.

Where helmet use has increased, head injury rates and injury rates in general have gone up.

Now this could all be down to the resulting lower participation reducing herd protection effects or leaving only the naturally more risky cyclists (although this latter one is perhaps countered by the fact that if you look at fatalities in London for example, they are more often than not the timid 'casual' cyclist getting stuck up the left of an hgv and less the Lycra clad brigade).

Or it could be a case that wearing a helmet does genuinely put an individual at greater risk. This could be from the individual subconsciously taking more risks due to feeling safer, or from drivers behaving differently to helmeted cyclists (passing closer etc).

I don't see why exploring the very real possibility that wearing a helmet might actually increase risk is such a problem.

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mjr
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Re: Why it makes sense to bike without a helmet

Postby mjr » 28 Aug 2016, 10:54am

Labrat wrote:We seem to be sucking ourselves down a nasty path whereby instead of making an argument against compulsion (as it has effects on participation etc), people are now trying to justify an argument that *for an existing cyclist* not wearing a helmet is safer than wearing a helmet.

Why is this a nasty path? Firstly, helmet users being the minority is one of the strongest arguments against compulsion accepted by the government.

Secondly and more importantly, it does seem like helmet use is bad for remaining cyclists in general. Although the mechanisms aren't yet known, how else can we explain an item that offers demonstrable physical protection is some controlled tests doesn't offer an improvement in real world outcomes? Are they increasing crash frequency (putting areas other than the top of the head at risk), actually increasing crash severity (due to increased target size/weight) or what?

In my personal experience, I crashed more often in my dozen years of helmet use than in the dozen years before or six years since, plus the crashes since have been more trivial. It also feels like most of the crashers I read about on social networks are helmet users, despite them being a minority. Is this typical? Why is this?

So, if you care about the wellbeing of any cyclist, it's only moral and ethical to improve their outcome probabilities by opposing helmet use, isn't it?
MJR, mostly pedalling 3-speed roadsters. KL+West Norfolk BUG incl social easy rides http://www.klwnbug.co.uk
All the above is CC-By-SA and no other implied copyright license to Cycle magazine.

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Mick F
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Re: Why it makes sense to bike without a helmet

Postby Mick F » 28 Aug 2016, 11:09am

mjr wrote: .......... helmet users being the minority ............
Can you put some meat on that statement please?
Is that helmeted cyclists numbers overall are in the minority, or is that it's helmeted cyclists per mile ridden are in the minority?

I reckon that if you take it per mile, helmeted cyclists are by far the majority.
Mick F. Cornwall

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mjr
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Re: Why it makes sense to bike without a helmet

Postby mjr » 28 Aug 2016, 11:25am

Mick F wrote:
mjr wrote:.......... helmet users being the minority ............
Can you put some meat on that statement please?
Is that helmeted cyclists numbers overall are in the minority, or is that it's helmeted cyclists per mile ridden are in the minority?

Sure. It's from the ETSC PIN Flash on cycling safety, I think flash 29, table 15, near the back, showing helmet % by country and year, but I'm not near my copy now. I think it's a relatively helmet-enthusiastic report but still contains that data, shoved near the back.

I'm not aware of any data cross-referencing miles by helmet use and I suspect once you exclude all the cyclists who don't have a free choice (those doing BC sportive rides or riding with helmet forcing clubs), then users are probably in the minority by miles ridden too... but our perceptions may be different because of the very different places we ride. It's not unusual for me to ride a day without seeing a helmeted adult now.

Could you tidy up the quote marks, please?

By Mick F - Done!
Sorry.
MJR, mostly pedalling 3-speed roadsters. KL+West Norfolk BUG incl social easy rides http://www.klwnbug.co.uk
All the above is CC-By-SA and no other implied copyright license to Cycle magazine.

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pjclinch
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Re: Why it makes sense to bike without a helmet

Postby pjclinch » 28 Aug 2016, 11:45am

Labrat wrote:We seem to be sucking ourselves down a nasty path whereby instead of making an argument against compulsion (as it has effects on participation etc), people are now trying to justify an argument that *for an existing cyclist* not wearing a helmet is safer than wearing a helmet.


Given the remarkably uncertain game that this is, caused by having far too many variables to isolate that affect the available data, I don't think it's safe to argue much more than "the overall effect of helmets on serious injury is around zero, plus or minus error bars". However, I haven't seen anything to suggest that isn't just as applicable to existing cyclists as newbies.

Newbies (particularly children learning for the first time) are often brought up as examples of a group that are more likely to fall, and thus potentially benefit, but this is "common sense" rather than real evidence-based protocol. The same "common sense" about children falling applies to them learning to walk, and although you can get a Thudguard (Google it...) for your toddler their use hasn't exploded because there hasn't ever been a period when parents have lost faith in the safety of established methods to get crawlers to being toddlers. Tim Gill's excellent analysis in Cycling and Children and Young People (well worth a download and read) concludes that the case for promoting helmets for children hadn't been made when he wrote it in 2005, and it's only got muddier in the decade since.

While it is entirely possible that we have an ecological fallacy in our data (that meaning that just because the effect on a large group is something, it doesn't follow that all sub groups are affected in the same manner), what we don't have is any real evidence-backed info on what subgroups might actually reduce their serious injury rate through helmet wearing. And until you know that it's disingenuous to suggest that existing cyclists might somehow be different in their need for a helmet to prevent serious injury (if they need it for something else, like conforming to racing rules, or sticking a camera on, or whatever, is a different question: always make sure you understand what the question being asked means before answering!).

Pete.
Often seen riding a bike around Dundee...