Helmet or Cap?

Thus far on this little blog of mine I’ve managed to dodge THE HELMET ISSUE. My main source of reluctance is that so many people have said so much about helmet wearing already that I probably have little to contribute to the morass of opinion and misinformation already clogging up the Internet.

However, some days the issue just rears its head (unintended). Today started with another cold, icy morning with slippery pavements and minor roads making the going, on foot, difficult. My wife Su was understandably concerned about my welfare and suggested that I wear my little used bike helmet rather than my now customary tweed cycling cap. This simple, well-meant suggestion sent me into a tailspin of rhetoric, contrary opinions, flawed reasoning and political posturing.

“There’s a greater statistical argument for wearing a helmet while driving or walking”, I spouted (one of those ‘facts’ may be true). I tried my sadly neglected Giro Hex helmet on (it is a nice helmet) and reacted like Huck Finn when Aunt Polly shoehorned him into church clothes. “It’s itchy and uncomfortable, only fits where it touches”, I moaned.

“My head will be too cold in a helmet this morning. I need my cap”, I protested, in an increasingly child-like way. Su cocked her head on one side, took a deep breath and said nothing (she didn’t need to, I was having a conversation all by myself).

“The whole thing is just a cooked-up conspiracy to sell stuff that people don’t need” – this was my wildest proclamation yet. Su’s left eyebrow raised, just slightly.

“Well you’re an adult, I’m sure you’ll make an informed decision,” she said. And with that, I put my uncomfortable, bulbous helmet down, donned my warm, cosy and minimalist tweed cap, gave Su a kiss and pedalled off to the station, promising to text here when I reached the station.

As I rode to work, I ruminated on a whole lot of questions. Did I make the right choice? Do I expose myself to unnecessary risk by not wearing a helmet? Am I irresponsible? Would I have enjoyed my ride less wearing a helmet? If I don’t wear a helmet, am I a bad role model to my children?

Your opinions, readers, would be appreciated.


36 thoughts on “Helmet or Cap?

  1. Ian

    I don’t usually contribute to helmet discussions ( in fact rarely read them these days ) I for obvious reasons but this seems like a sensible sort of place where the “nutters” seem in the minority.
    Yes I wear a helmet 99.9% of the time,the only exceptions being when I ride the Brompton around country lanes in Norfolk/Suffolk on holiday where I think the risk is minimal.
    I was a nurse in a previous life and I have seen many,many cases of brain damage, death and lives ruined caused by seemingly very minor head injuries ( not all road accidents).
    Yes the statistics may say that helmet wearing is all a waste of time but the way I look at it is that each incident is individual and if my head is heading towards the kerb/road I would rather it made impact with the helmet rather than my skull.I know about rotational forces but all the same as far as I am concerned the above applies.
    The argument that says pedestrians and car drivers would get more out of helmet use to me doesn’t hold water.A car driver is surrounded by a metal cage and pedestrians are usually moving very slowly wheras a cyclist has little protection and is moving at a moderate speed.
    Obviously a helmet is not going to do a great deal if you are shunted up the rear ( so to speak ) by an articulated lorry neither will it prevent brain damage from the brain being shaken/decelerated within the skull but cycle incidents can be low speed affairs in which,in my opinion,a helmet may be useful in avoiding external trauma.
    I know “helmet saved my life” stories are usually ridiculed but when it possibly happens it does make you think.We had an accident on our tandem in which my wife whacked her head on the kerb hard enough to give her concussion and headaches etc. for a week afterwards.If she had not been wearing a helmet then I dare say a depressed skull fracture would not have been out of the question,not funny.
    Personally speaking I think your wife was making a valid statement.
    I don’t find helmet wearing restrictive at all,it just feels the natural thing to do.
    I don’t wish to get into a slanging match as these discussions often do,this is just my two ‘pennorth.
    I will refrain from getting into the “helmets should be compulsory” argument.

    1. I agree with Ian for all the reasons he listed. I know that at high speed a helmet won’t do much, but at slow speed (for other driver’s fault or my own) if I am to fall from my bike, I rather the helmet takes the brunt of the fall than my head.

      I am all for freedom of choice, I wear a helmet but equally don’t begrudge people who don’t (and I get disheartened when non-helmet people argue with me that I shouldn’t!) . I don’t like the ‘war’ on helmets, possible laws enforcing it etc that are out there. Like you said we can all make informed decisions.

      It also depends where I am and how safe I feel. As much as I enjoy cycling everyday here, when I am about to get on my bike I always do a mental map of my route and wonder which bits may cause me more concern etc. When I have visited places with a healthy cycling culture and dedicated infrastructure (like Berlin and Copenhagen from the most recent trips) I didn’t wear a helmet and was very happy to do.

      My choices are certainly not scientific 😉 I always think that everyone should be allowed to make their own personal choice, whatever makes them feel happier/safer etc to enjoy cycling. The important thing is to give cycling a go, I guess, and not dismiss it because of one argument or the other.

      1. theeverydaycyclist

        Thanks LC – some great feedback there. The more feedback I get on this the more heartening it is. A big theme seems to be making a judgement call on the level of risk in particular conditions. Common sense wins! A first!

  2. I don’t have data, statistics, or a persuasive argument. My practice, however, is to wear the helmet when I perceive the risks pass my personal threshold, and not when I perceive that they do not.

    It is also my opinion that the tweed cap in the photo looks functional (though not so much for impact protection) and quite attractive.

  3. theeverydaycyclist

    You’ve got a wonderful knack of boiling issues down to their essence Chris.

    Posturing, self-talk and other nonsense aside, I suppose I do the same. I tend to wear my helmet when I’m mountain biking, and go bare-headed (or be-capped) when just pootling about.

    The cap is wonderfully comfortable, warm and traditional looking. It’s a Walz wool cap. It doesn’t meet with universal approval in these parts!

  4. I usually don’t wear a helmet. I will if I’m riding in the dark or if the road is wet or some other unusual condition exists, like ice. I will also wear one when my wife asks me to, just to keep her from worrying.

  5. Normally I’d say it’s a matter of choice, and to a certain extent your style of riding. With snow and ice on the ground, however, I’d definitely say wear a helmet – they are designed to protect you from the kind of slow speed impact
    with the tarmac that you are likely to encounter if you hit a slippy spot – I’ve tried it and let me tell you it hurts!

  6. I don’t where a helmet & don’t have a great deal of faith in them, but did laugh when you mentioned cycling across icy pavement & down icy side roads. I get off & push if it’s that dodgy, so when you quoted that there’s a greater statistical argument for wearing a lid for walking… ;>D

    In response to Ian’s reply, I think the reason that the statistics show what they do, is that in a car for example an occupant is closely surrounded by hard plastic – which is why many manufacturers install side airbags in addition to one in front. A cycle helmet is designed for low speed impacts – in effect for somebody standing upright to fall to the ground – a faster cyclist probably won’t gain a great deal at all, whereas as the Dutch show, cycling at slower speeds and reducing the likelihood of an accident in the first place renders the helmet argument almost mute.

    Of course, we don’t live in Holland (not fair is it?!) I’m for informed choice also.

    Nice cap btw

  7. theeverydaycyclist

    I wore my helmet today 🙂 Safe as houses but my head was freezing! I wore it as I pushed my bike down the lethal pavements of our side street, as well as on the bike itself. Like Myles said above, if wearing a helmet stops a loved one worrying, then it’s got to be worth doing when conditions are dicey! This is (thus far) the most sensible online helmet discussion I’ve ever encountered. Let’s hope the nutters don’t get hold of it!

    1. Ian

      Sorry,meant to say if your head is freezing then wear a Buff under your helmet ( oo er missus ).
      I wear a merino one,lovely and warm and very versatile regarding how you wear it.

      1. theeverydaycyclist

        I’m going to try my Walz cap under the helmet next time I go for a cold ride. It looks like temperatures are on the up now, so I’ll have to wait for another cold spell!

  8. I nearly always wear a helmet. I don’t expect miracles from it, but I do think it’s a useful safety measure, and I usually don’t even mind it that much. I guess I’m used to it, is the main thing. Also, it’s a useful place to mount a mirror.

    That said, I do think the decision of whether or not to wear a helmet is a personal one, and I don’t favor mandatory helmet laws.

  9. theeverydaycyclist

    Agreed – once it’s on your head for a few minutes, you tend to forget about it. I’ve mounted a light on mine – wherever I look, the light does too…

  10. Regarding attaching things to helmets – does that not create another hazard should you fall?

    Lights, Cameras & Mirrors – particularly anything bulky surely runs the risk of burying itself into the helmet in an impact, and anything wedged within one of the vents in particular towards your head.

    Just an observation :>/

    1. theeverydaycyclist

      Excellent point lazyrider – I could end up with a Mini-Maglite shaped indentation in the top of my head, which isn’t ideal (it would give the surgeons a nicely lit area to work with, escpecially since the LED upgrade!). The particular mount on my helmet is just rubber and velcro and would no doubt shear off if the helmet hit the tarmac, so in my case, I don’t think it poses a risk. However, more sturdy rigid mounts could theoretically cause some issues.

  11. Ian

    Another advantageous point about helmet wearing,though I hasten to add it should NOT apply,is that should you be taking any legal action against another road user the fact that a cyclist was not wearing a helmet always seems to be bandied about when any compensation is discussed from what I read.
    I have not had any personal experience of this but media reports always seem to dwell on the helmet wearing/not wearing aspect of any incident.

  12. dexey

    I always wear a helmet whenever I am on a two wheeler. Twice in the distant past I have gone over the handlebars helmetless and hit the road with my forehead and eyebrow ridge.
    On my recumbent three wheeler I carry a helmet and wear it where there are steep, fast downhills. I suspect if I came off over 40mph it would be no better than a security blanket but I hope not to find out.
    I wear my Walz cap under my helmet when it is cold.

    1. theeverydaycyclist

      “hit the road with my forehead and eyebrow ridge.” – that’s not a nice thing to contemplate, never mind experience. You make a powerful point. Your point of ‘if it’s cold wear both’ is also a good one. The walz is pretty helmet friendly.

  13. Geoff

    Some interesting views here, and I must say unusually objective for the helmet debate – what a level headed lot you are!!

    I’ve never actually made a contribution to any such arena before, preferring to leave the usually observed ‘overzealous ranting’ to overzealous, ranty types. People’s views opinions are developed as a product of their life experiences and personality, and as we all appreciate, like fingerprints they are different for each of us.

    I’ve always consider myself a bit of a (now ageing) sporty, outdoor, fast living dare devil type. Into cycling (day rides/touring rather than racing), motorcycling, skiing (when I can afford the time and money), going up to the tops in the Lakes when the best advice would be stay down in the pub, sort of chap. I like to think I’m clever enough to undertake these activities safely, and always advocate personal responsibility. However…not being a spring chicken any more I’m finding that without really thinking about it I’m naturally taking it a bit easier, staying back from the cliff edge, and limiting my risk.

    Chris up above talks about personal risk threshold – mine appears to have headed south as I’ve got older. Why? Well it’s certainly not been a considered decision, more likely a subconscious acknowledgment that if I fall, I will bounce less well, hurt more, do more damage, and take much longer to heal than when I was younger.

    My views on cycle helmets are thus mixed. I have some alignment with the view that its all marketing b***ocks, selling us useless branded tosh that we don’t need and makes me feel like a pillock. When I were a lad I cycled to the ends of the earth and back and never considered the risk. Luckily, I never had a problem. Now? Well, like Chris says, if I think my ride is reasonably safe from traffic, steep fast bumpy down hills, stray dogs/sheep, lunatics, I’ll go au natrelle. This week off the beaten track in the dark on my own on the ice? Helmet.

    I could go on…but I won’t.

  14. Jammy

    I too only wear my helmet when mountain biking, strangely enough it’s the exact model you have. I thought I looked the business.

    Being bald, I find helmets especially uncomfortable unless I’ve got a bandana or cap under it. In my off the bike life I’ve given myself multiple concussions because lack of ‘head feelers’. On the stairs, on pipes, on doors, etc… I’d be better of wearing a helmet off my bike!

    1. theeverydaycyclist

      I too am a bald man and find wearing a helmet uncomfortable and scratchy, at least for the first few minutes. Like the idea of hair being ‘head feelers’!

  15. The Velo Hobo

    Although I would love to have a sporty tweed Walz cycling cap, while on the bike I have a hemet on. My wife and I foster teenage boys, and here in the States, if you’re under 16 a helmet is manditory (not to mention the liability if one of the little rascals got hurt while in our care). So being a good role model is one motivation for me to put on the magic styrafoam hat. Also I spent a week in the hospital with a concusion, broken jaw and obvious drain bamage following a bike crash as a youngster…not to mention I just look so damn good in the thing.

    Anyway, personal choice, I like em. Great post, Jack

  16. I wear my helmet in group rides, pace lines, and any place I’m riding race style. ie: clipped in, sprinting, challenging the road etc. Also when friends who are more comfortable with folks wearing helmets. I have no need to make a statement to anyone.

    On flat pedals out riding my bike in blue jeans or musa pants etc, I don’t wear a helmet. I enjoy it more.

    Statistics.. well 700 people in the us died of head injurie’s .. 85% didn’t have helmets… so I’m 1 in a million to die… odds are in my favor. In last 10 years I’ve bounced my head once.. OUCH but still riding.
    My best use of a helmet is in the car, the golf course, or in the shower.. statistically.
    One more food for thought.. the only experianced cyclist I see rubbing it with the ground are riding racing style. Casual riders “experianced” have very little chance of falling.. much less hitting head.

    1. theeverydaycyclist

      Chuckling at the notion of the shower helmet – would make hair washing difficult but safe! Thanks for your insights. Another sensible soul who weighs up the risks on a case-by-case basis.

  17. Alcyon

    Yay! No flame wars! I generally wear a helmet when out and about, no delusions about it protecting me should a bus roll over me, it’s the stupid slow speed slips and knocks where it might help. I always wear a cap under it; absorbs perspiration in the heat (ever tried wiping the brow whilst wearing a helmet?) and a wooly cap keeps me warm in the winter.

    When I go for pleasure trips, this inner-city boy has one rule: when I smell cow manure, the helmet is off!

    Works for me…so far,

      1. Stephen

        My helmet fits various hats and caps underneath so I never have to make the either or call.
        For me:-
        commuting I always wear the helmet.
        Mountain biking I always wear the helmet
        popping to the shops where the helmet becomes a potential nuisance, then maybe a cap only
        towpath goes either way
        up hills on hot days – helmet dangles from handlebars and is returned to head for descent. Combating heat stroke wins out on those days

      2. Stephen

        Update on my 2.5 year old comment. I came off the other day during my commute, on a bend during a descent which I have navigated without incident many hundreds of times over the past 16 years. I hit the ground hard and so fast I had no sense of falling. I have fallen off sideways before, usually more slowly and never before hit my head like that (previous head strike was over the handlebars whilst mountain biking). Examination of the helmet in the light later on revealled a crack where I hit the road (they are sacrificial on impact, I know) — glad I was wearing it and it wasn’t my head directly. My choice to wear and I will continue doing so most of the time.

  18. Anna

    Sitting in Australia here, with compulsory helmets, I just go with the law – doesn’t bother me much. On the cold point though – you could try a ski helmet? Mine’s pretty toasty.

  19. Pingback: Always Wear The Helmet

  20. Chris

    Personal preference. I’m leaning more towards “sans helmet” these days. Albeit, it all depends on the potential risk. Single track or heavy traffic = Yes, probably. A casual ride on a bike path, or non-busy road = No. I agree with Grant Peterson’s ideals in his book “Just Ride”

  21. I always wear a helmet for the same reasons outlined by Ian at the top of this thread. I commute along fairly quiet Vancouver roads to work, and motorists here are generally considerate. But given that it takes just one lapse in concentration, or one driver’s mistake, and I only have the one head, I consider it prudent to protect my bonce, however ineffectually. That said, and I’d be interested to see the stats, but from my limited knowledge it seems that places where cycling is the norm (Netherlands, Copenhagen), helmet wearing is less common.

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