By: Michelle Dalton
As summer progresses and more people start to venture out of their houses, especially after being locked up for so long, I see more people out and about on their bikes. And that’s great to see, both from enjoying the summer perspective but also from a healthy one!
However, every year I am shocked to see the vast majority of people not wearing helmets. When I started learning to ride, many, many years ago unfortunately, helmets just weren’t a thing. Then in 1990, Australia came out with a law that said you had to wear a helmet while riding your bike. Anyone. not just ‘proper’ cyclists but any person who swung their leg over their bike had to strap on. And after the initial push back, it just became a thing. And this was before I took up triathlons. Everyone wore a helmet. You never saw any different.
Leap forward to 2011 and we arrived in the US. Like so many other new experiences we came across, the lack of helmet wearing cyclists was the norm. It was so strange to us. As I continued my love affair with triathlons I would religiously wear my helmet and saw the same everywhere I went with my fellow triathletes. However, what changed with us was that my husband (also a triathlete) and I became more relaxed about wearing our helmets while riding recreationally and especially when out with our children. There was no conscious decision to not wear one, and we always made sure the girls were wearing theirs whenever we went out. We just slapped on a cap and off we went. It wasn’t until a gentlemen came upon us riding one day that we reverted back to our helmet wearing ways. As we cycled along he yelled at us to “put your helmets on Mum and Dad”. At first I was outraged at being called out for not wearing a helmet when so many others don’t. In my most obnoxious Aussie accent I told him to go mind his own business and stop scaring my kids. Then he said, “Well if you don’t wear one, take them off your kids”.
Hmmm. That got me. I wouldn’t put my kids on bikes and have them ride on the road without one. Ever! So it got me thinking, whilst I would protect my children with everything I have, why wouldn’t I display the same behavior myself. And to my fellow riders point, if I don’t wear one, how can I ask my children to wear one?
Fast forward again to 2020. My little kids who dutifully wore a helmet are now teenagers and are still required to strap on the helmet while riding their bikes. Even since our run in with our stranger years ago, we have also been very diligent in wearing helmets no matter where we are riding. And very conscious of the fact we are in the minority among recreational cyclists. Our teenagers know they can’t fight it. But on almost every occasion love pointing out that they are typically the only ones among their friends who are ‘forced’ to wear them.
So it made me wonder, should I wear a helmet?
When I am on my own riding, or with my husband we are typically on the road and going at faster speeds than with my children or friends. We are riding with the traffic and sometimes the roads are busy. When I am on the Fatty on trails, I am on uneven ground and being an upright challenged mountain bike rider, often getting up close and personal with a tree root. I wouldn’t risk the ride without a helmet. I believe that they offer a better chance of protecting my head should I have an accident that might result in a head injury. And obviously you have to wear them when you race.
But what about other times? So I did some research. What are the statistics for helmet vs non helmet injuries? What do the experts say? What about countries outside of the US? I read a lot and learned alot. Here are a few links about the stats: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and Bicycle Helmet Statistics
Whether from US or other countries, I learned depending on the research that 50-79% bike accidents normally involve head injuries. The New York research gave the worse result of 97% fatal accidents were not wearing helmets.
Accidents on bikes can happen if you are 100 miles in or 1. If you are riding to a friends or on a solo training ride.
Not every road has a sidewalk, not every path is free from debris. Whilst my children have ridden enough miles with us to know the rules of the road in relation to safely riding a bike, others have not. I also know that accidents can happen if you are riding 40 miles per hour or 4. I know that not everyone who rides a bike will be involved in an accident. I know that some accidents are just little scrapes and some are deadly.
But I also know that I am not willing to take the chance with my head and especially not that of my children. I have adopted the phrase, the only reason to not wear a helmet is if you have nothing to protect between your ears. My kids hate hearing it. But I don’t care.
I know that my stance on helmets is not for everyone. I am not trying to change anyone’s mind. It’s just a topic that has arisen again as we are out riding more and something that I was wondering about more and more. I will admit that I think it’s stupid to not want to protect your head from something that could have a serious impact on your life. I choose to protect the brain I’ve got. And am ALWAYS proudly wearing my helmet!