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Grind-My-Gears

Helmets or heartbreaks?

A friend recently asked me my opinion of posts on Facebook about studies finding helmets don’t provide real protection.

His question made me revisit the helmet argument that comes up frequently and typically results in a stalemate between the “let me live me free” crowd and the “you’ll die otherwise” group.

When I moved to Kelowna, through my advocacy, I discovered Braintrust Canada. It is committed to helping people understand the risks around head injuries and support those who suffer from traumatic brain injury.

They got my attention quickly.

I ride with a helmet all the time. My daughter has three helmets; my wife has two helmets, and we have another couple of helmets for guests.

I have ridden without a helmet, but I can count on one hand the number of times that has happened in the last few years. I’ll admit that it happened because I was being lazy.

From that statement, you might conclude that I am in the camp that everyone should wear a helmet or they might as well be doing something equally as foolish like playing games on train tracks wearing earphones blasting away with death metal.

Nope! 

I think people should have a choice. After they legally become an adult.

Before the age of 18, you should wear a helmet because (yes, I expect teenagers to egg my house after this sentence) young minds have not developed enough to know how to weigh the risks involved with all behaviours.

Back to the topic of these studies.

Taken at face value, the studies conclude that helmets don’t provide a level of protection that is useful for cyclists and are harmful because they create a false sense of safety.

But you have to look beyond the words and apply it to the psychology.

Helmets are tested to an average of 10 km/h. A person might fall at this speed from a standstill, but what about getting hit by a car from behind going 50 km/h? Easy to see why someone might conclude that helmets aren’t built to standards we need when riding on the road.

Everyone who has ridden a motorcycle knows that the reason for full-face helmets is because the worse damage happens to your face and jaw and not the very top of your head. Why do bicycle helmet only come in the “brain pan” style?

While there was a study that concluded cars give more room to cyclists not wearing helmets, this conclusion has not been recreated and is the subject of many questions, possibly being discredited.

The message from this information? A helmet will not keep you safe on a bike. The studies conclude that just by putting one on your head, you’re more inclined to think yourself “armoured up” and take risks you wouldn’t otherwise.

We also have to remember that helmets prevent 85 per cent of brain injuries when you look at collisions impacting the head. More people live from brain injury than die from it, but that injury can be disastrous and affect more than just the injured.

When something happens, a fall, a collision, a momentary lapse of judgment — the helmet will do all it can to minimize the impact to our noggins.

When something happens, a helmet keeps our precious brain matter from getting jostled too much or worse, coming out.

While no one would question wearing a helmet to go out and hit the trails on a mountain bike, it seems like smooth pavement is not seen as dangerous. I’d agree that pavement isn’t a hazard to worry about.

The rest of the urban environment in most North American cities is where the danger lies.

If you’re an adult, I hope you choose to wear a helmet.

If you’re under 18, you have to wear a helmet, otherwise you might end up not enjoying your adult years the way you should.

The helmet needs to be part of our arsenal of “personal protective equipment.”

Other parts of our PPE will be:

  • visible clothing
  • bright lights
  • awareness of our environment.

As a whole, these will keep us safe, maybe not unhurt since we can’t control other road users, but it’s the best we can do to make sure we have a fun and safe ride.

Promoting helmet use while cycling should not give you the idea that riding a bike is dangerous. Cycling is healthy and safe at its core. Using a helmet is a nod to the fact that the environment is dangerous, risks exist in the current infrastructure design.

A helmet can never hurt us, it can only help us. Forget about your hairstyle, carry a brush, live a little longer with all your faculties.

Braintrust Canada needs our support, we don’t want to be a person who needs theirs.

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About the Author

As a youngster on two feet, a teenager on two wheels, then a young adult on four wheels, Landon has found that life is really about using all modes of transportation. Currently a cycling advocate with the Kelowna Area Cycling Coalition he tries to lower road rage on both sides.



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The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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