I feel like this is an age old question debated by many including myself and as it is International Helmet Awareness Day today and tomorrow (admittedly this is more in the equine area) I figured why not ask the question again from a cycling perspective.
I cycle a reasonable amount and ever since I started I have worn a helmet – why would I not as it can save your life so in my mind is an essential part of my cycling kit that I would not be without. I am a part of a cycling club and we have a rule – no helmet, no ride – this is not uncommon for clubs to insist on and the same is said for most sportives/events also. We follow the rules of British Cycling and although it is not a legal requirement they do quote:
‘British Cycling recommends wearing a correctly fitted helmet while cycling however we also support the right of each individual to choose whether or not to accept this recommendation and recognise the limit to the protection that helmets provide.’
This is a similar position to that of The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) who quote:
‘There continues to be much debate regarding the effectiveness of cycle helmets and whether the wearing of them should be made compulsory. RoSPA’s position is that we strongly recommend that cyclists wear a cycle helmet. However, it is important to remember that cycle helmets do not prevent crashes from happening. It is therefore vital that through infrastructure improvements, supported by education and training that we reduce the primary risk factors.’
When I first got kitted out in my cycling gear I admit I felt like a bit of an idiot head to toe in lycra, which is not the best look for most, finished off with a dashing helmet. Does anyone look good in a helmet? Probably not, but does it matter? Is the main intention of wearing a helmet to look good or to increase your safety? For me, I appreciate that it is down to the individual whether or not they choose to wear a helmet though I choose not to cycle without one.
I have been involved in two incidents where I can say with certainty that without wearing a helmet my injuries would have undoubtedly been far worse than they were. I know others who feel the same also from personal experience.
I see people with those material cycle caps – how will they help you should you have an accident?
I see people with the straps undone – really?
I see people with helmets attached to their back packs or their handle bars – not really serving the purpose is it?
Some tips for helmet wearing:
- they come in different sizes so you will need to make sure you have checked this depending on the brand and have the correct size.
- when you put your helmet on it should be positioned correctly – be careful not to have it so low it obstructs your view or so far back it is not covering your whole head.
- the straps should sit under the ears and be secured in place under the chin – you should not be able to fit more than two fingers between the strap and your chin, if you can then it is too loose.
- handy tip for making sure your helmet is secure is to put it on and adjust as necessary but before you do the straps up you should be able to bend forward without the helmet coming off.
- only buy a helmet which is CE approved. CE marking is a certification mark that indicates conformity with health, safety, and environmental protection standards for products sold within the European Economic Area.
Helmets also have a lifespan – different retailers quote different time frames but these are generally between 3 and 5 years.
A lot of retailers also offer a crash replacement discount. Now I know the intention is not to crash but should this happen and the integrity of the helmet has been compromised by an impact this is a great way of ensuring that the manufacturer can review how the helmet handled the impact for future improvements. Different retailers will offer different discounts but I have always used Kask helmets and they offer a 50% discount when your damaged helmet is returned (with necessary paperwork).
There are arguments that there is no scientific evidence to support the effectiveness of a cycling helmet and it is very true that simply by wearing a helmet will not make the act of cycling any safer and I think that often this is the misconception of the argument. I wouldn’t argue that a helmet would stop the chances of you having an accident, however, if you were to have an accident I would say from an injury prevention perspective it is really hard to argue that a helmet does not assist. There are lots of studies that can be found online relating to this and the results show that on average there is roughly 65% reduction of serious/fatal head injuries when wearing a helmet.
The debate will long continue I am sure and Cycling UK make a good point when they say:
‘The evidence on this question is complex and contradictory, providing as much support for those who are deeply sceptical of helmets as for those who swear by them.’
There are lots of websites online that offer advice on choosing a helmet and you can find a blog post here by the awesome Paddle Pedal Pace where she discusses this.