A much recycled and repeated debate. This article is a usefully dispassionate take on it. Personally I wear a helmet when I perceive the risk of injury to be higher. This is either because I’m riding on road where pedestrians and people driving cars will do unpredictable things that I may not be able to avoid, or mountain biking when I’m out to ride fast and jump things. I often don’t wear a helmet off road (sometimes on the same trails) if I’m riding with different intent and more slowly.  On tour I very rarely wear a helmet unless required to by law.

Off The Beaten Path


In the U.S., most “responsible” cyclists wear helmets, yet when I cycle in Europe or Japan, I see many cyclotourists who ride without helmets. The Europeans or Japanese don’t seem like dare-devils or poorly informed. What is going on here? I’ve thought about this a lot, and I’ve concluded that helmets don’t matter all that much.

As an individual cyclist, safety comes from being able to control your bike and from being able to anticipate traffic’s often erroneous moves. On a societal level, safety comes from having so many cyclists on the road that cycling is normal and accepted.
A helmet is only the last line of defense when everything else fails.

What about the arguments in the “helmet wars”? Let’s look at them one by one:


1. Most cyclists who died didn’t wear helmets (used as proof that helmets save lives).

This analysis assumes that riders who wear helmets…

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