There is a lot of discussion lately about helmet wearing.
Some say our mandatory helmet legislation discourages people riding a bike, and that if we want the health benefits of a large percentage of folk riding, it is better to abandon the helmet rules. Many doctors also believe in this argument.
Of course, the other side of the story is that head injuries are greatly reduced in a helmet wearing population.
With the rise of social, urban bicycling which occurs mainly on dedicated cycle-paths at sedate speeds, I think there may be an argument for not wearing a helmet.
However, for me that is where the story ends. I live in Wollondilly, a semi-rural shire south-west of Sydney that is magic for cycling. Our cash-strapped council has difficulty maintaining the roads in our vast shire, and although cycling infrastructure is on the agenda, it will be many many years before there are cycling shoulders, little alone cycle-ways throughout the shire!
I wear a helmet, and like wearing a seat belt in a car, it feels wrong if I’m not wearing one when cycling. It was even strange when I first attended a spin-class not to wear one!
Riding at speed on road or in the bush on a mountain bike, where I fall off far more frequently, would be personal madness NOT to wear a helmet. Sure it would be lovely to feel the wind in my hair, but I’d much prefer NOT end up in the brain surgery ward.
Being the secretary of BARBUG, I meet many cyclists who ride with us either regularly or on a visiting ride. Over the last few years there has been 5 incidents that have reinforced my need to wear a helmet.
- A friend’s daughter was a very keen triathlete. She was training in the Blue Mountains and was hit from behind by a car traveling in the same direction. Her injuries were quite serious, and she was in hospital for many months. She did incur brain injury, but her doctors said that if she had not been wearing a helmet she would not have survived. As it was, she could go back to practicing law within a year.
- One of our group was riding with two others in the rain to my place. Her front wheel slipped on a ridge between the shoulder and road. She came down onto the road. Thankfully a truck was able to swerve around her, so, although frightening, it was not a serious accident. A kindly passing driver popped her bike in his ute and gave her a lift to my house. Apart from being shaken, she was none the worse for her incident. I gave her a cup of strong, sweet tea and we talked about how lucky she was. We did not realise just how lucky! On examination of her helmet she found it was cracked right through! Caroline did not even think she had struck her head when she fell!
This accident may not have killed her, but without the helmet she would have quite a serious head injury.
- 4. & 5. All are similar to Caroline’s story. Accidents which resulted in minor scrapes and abrasions and in one case a broken collarbone, but in EVERY case the riders were not aware they had hit their heads’, and yet their helmets were damaged or cracked through.
I’m no spring chicken, and glamor was never my thing, but it seems to me that if your interest is looking good as well as riding, a little injenuity is required. There are some nice looking helmets and helmet covers available.
Helmets must comply with the Australian Standard, which unfotunately limits our choice.
There are many brands available at your local bike shop, however although designed for brain safety and maximum air-flow, they are not considered cool in urban cycling terms.
Nutcase helmets comply to Aussie standard and are becoming accepted as urban head-ware. They come in lots of colours and fun patterns.
There is a European brand called Yakkay, which is a basic helmet, that comes with a choice of many different covers to suit every occasion. Unfortunately they do not as yet comply with Australian Standards, which is a great pity.
Until such time that cycle-ways are widespread and urban cycling does not require interaction with traffic, helmets are a necessary evil.
For the many other cycling disciplines, that require high-speed and risk, helmets should always be mandatory.