thelawnet wrote:Any thoughts on these? There seems to be a strong case that the standard bicycle helmet is a poor compromise. In particular, hazardous activities such as professional cycle racing use a rather feeble device
Are there any sort of reasoned attempts to justify a standard bicycle helmet over the full-face ones you'd use for practically anything else involving wheels, beyond 'I don't like wearing full face helmets'?
The standard cycle helmet was developed as a "better hairnet". If you're not familiar with a hairnet, this is the sort of thing...
Hairnets were used exclusively in sports cycling, and the rationale is not saving lives but in the event of coming off and taking a minor knock to the head you can get on your bike and get back in the race rather than seeing stars for a couple of minutes and abandoning. This isn't much, and was pretty much an optional extra that most did without even for bunch sprints.
As you say, there's compromise involved, particularly in professional racing: weight is Bad
, and with athletes performing incredible feats of sweat production insulation is Bad
. The simple fact of the matter is that if you're labouring up a mountain the rider with no helmet will easily beat the rider with a heavy protective one. Take out the weight and sweat options by mainly going downhill for a couple of minutes and upping the danger and you see with downhill MTB and BMX that full face is the standard. Comfort is clearly not an issue in either of these sports.
In the "real world" of the everyday cyclist head injuries are not obviously more of an issue than they are for e.g. users of stairs, and in fact the greatest contributor of serious head trauma to A&E departments are car occupants involved in crashes. The assumption with them is that their seatbelts, airbags and crumple zones will save them, and they often do, but still they account for nearly half of all serious head injuries. Given the car is climate-controlled and driving requires very little power it would be easy enough to wear far more protective helmets in cars than is reasonable on a bike, but everyone considers it's safe enough
. When you look at the actual numbers, rather than the general public's perceptions, it turns out cycling is safe enough
for most of the people most of the time without any helmets at all. The full-face helmets used by downhill MTB and BMX are available to anyone that wants to buy them, but their use on the road is mainly limited to kids who want to look like a Stormtrooper that does dangerous stuff. Even the "helmets are essential" brigade shun them for road use because they're simply not practical for everyday cycling.
Beyond head injuries you have the more general issue of public health. Cycling is good for public health, so any people that are put off doing it constitute a public health own goal. If people have to wear a helmet at all you already start scoring these own-goals (in Australia there is quite a pile of evidence that the ~30% fall in serious injuries after helmets were made compulsory for all was caused by a ~30% drop in cycling), so while you're free to wear a motorsport crash helmet if you think it's good for you as an individual, it is counter productive for the population overall to promote or require helmets for general cycling.
Cyclists on the roads are, like pedestrians, vulnerable road users in terms of their lack of protection from motor vehicles and there's more to protect than just a head. As for pedestrians, the way to protect yourself from traumatic injury (head or otherwise) is by not colliding with moving motor vehicles. Anything else is window dressing. As a Bikeability Scotland instructor the main safety lesson I teach at Level 2 (what most people think of as "Bikeability") is the Safe Cycling Strategy of COPS
: in order of importance that's Control, Observation, Position, Signalling (the last one's really Communication, but we already have a 'C'). Helmets don't affect any of those. They're not actually very important.
Cyclists on race courses are a different matter. For a start the rules these days typically require helmets, and the culture of racing cycling these days is such that most riders wear them in any case. There are exceptions: hill climb TTs may be exempt, for example (you're not going that fast and you're on your own so there is little risk of head injury). But back to the Safe Cycling Strategy, the first thing for the everyday cyclist is "Control" and that's the first thing that's compromised by being in a race: it is inherently less safe than everyday cycling. On the other hand, outside of unusually high energy impacts (like hitting a tree head on at terminal velocity on a downhill MTB course) the sort of falls you'll get in a bike race aren't often the sort that kill people, but a lot of the goal is keeping you in the race, not keeping you alive. There are exceptions, but the same is true of falling down stairs.