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Happy bicycle commuting sans helmet

Posted Jan 11 2009 4:22pm
Image of helmetless bicyclist
From Reuters, 01.05.09 :
More than half of U.S. cyclists forgo helmets
WASHINGTON (Reuters)-More than half of Americans admit they never use a helmet while bicycling and more than a quarter skip the sunscreen, even when they are in the sun all day, according to Consumer Reports National Research Center.

The risks of cycling without a helmet are even higher -- the group cited the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety as saying 92 percent of bicyclists killed in 2007 were not wearing helmets. Helmets reduce the risk of head injury by 85 percent.

Similarly, sunscreen can prevent skin cancer, which is by far the most common cause of cancer, although the two most common types are rarely deadly. The American Cancer Society estimated that more than 1 million new cases of basal and squamous cell cancers were diagnosed in 2008.

The survey of 1,000 Americans has a margin of error of about 3 percent. It found that 58 percent of Americans never used a helmet while cycling and 27 percent claimed they never used sunscreen.( Read more .)
Helmets are an often heated topic among bicyclists. The proponents of strict helmet use and the proponents of helmet-optional cycling offer intense arguments in support of their respective positions.

And articles such as this indicate a clear bias in favor of helmet use: "cyclists admit riding without helmets...tsk, tsk." The media perpetuates a popular perception that bicycling is in itself a dangerous activity, and that riding without a helmet is wanton recklessness .

Of course, this is complete nonsense. Bicycling is safe . Bicycle-related fatalities each year are relatively few, and easily avoidable with proper riding technique (stay sober, ride with traffic, use lights when riding at night, etc.) Certainly bicycling kills fewer people each year than sedentary lifestyles.

Helmets are not, repeat not, necessary to happily bike commute. In much of the world where bicycling is more prevalent, helmets are rarely used . Bicyclists should use their own judgment; if they feel safer with a helmet, fine. Helmets are certainly justified in higher-risk cycling activities, such as high-adrenaline racing or mountain biking.

It is important to stress, however: helmets merely mitigate the consequences of a crash, they don't prevent a crash. Many of the minimal risks of bicycle commuting can be avoided or mitigated through effective maintenance, proper bicycling technique, attentive riding, and street smarts.

Image: Web capture.
Visit: Helmet on Your Head or Egg on Your Face , Streetsblog San Francisco
Visit: 7 reasons there's more to bicycle safety than helmets , DC Examiner
Visit: Is it wrong to show a cyclist without a helmet? Denver Examiner
Visit: The Mailbag-Brain buckets, confessions and bike fit , VeloNews
Visit: The Mailbag-Readers write on helmets , VeloNews
Visit: Wearing a helmet is good resolution , Redding Record (CA)
Visit: Study: More cyclists means safer cyclists , Bike Commute tips Blog
Visit Cyclists should be proactive about safety , Bike Commute Tips Blog
Visit: Wearing helmets 'more dangerous' , Bike Commuting Tips Blog
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site
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