I’ll admit it. I don’t always wear a helmet when I ride. In fact, I only wear one when I’m riding on the road with traffic. Are you gasping? Don’t. Cycling is not inherently dangerous. If you fall while riding, chances are you’ll be fine. Just like you were when you were a 5 year old learning how to ride and you fell over. Let’s be realistic; watch an episode of America’s Funniest Home Videos, and you’ll see a ton of people take impacts or falls way worse than someone falling off their bike.
Now, obviously it depends on what kind of riding you are doing. If you are a hardcore trail rider, you should wear a helmet because there are tons of ways you could find yourself in a high speed impact with a tree, rocks, or dangling off various precipices. Are you commuting to work on surface roads with automobiles – yes, absolutely wear a helmet because it could be the difference between life and death – though admittedly it won’t save you from breaking every other bone in your body.
However, if you find yourself out for a training, or leisurely ride in a closed setting like a national park or a greenway or a bike path? Then no, you don’t need a helmet. Be honest folks, what’s going to happen that’s going to cause you traumatic damage to your head? The worst thing I can think of is you collide head-on with another cyclist – but that takes a lot of bad things all happening at once and the chances are so slim why even bother.
The “you gotta wear a helmet” mentality is just another part of American society doing it wrong. Remember all those pictures and videos you see of civilized biking communities in Europe – like Denmark for example – none of them wear helmets, and they ride their bikes everywhere. In fact, there are more bikers than motorists it seems. Granted they have bike infrastructure and we don’t, but the fact remains they are riding their bikes on streets with cars, and hundreds of other cyclists, and they aren’t wearing helmets. Not to mention they bike at a leisurely pace in regular street clothes – not clad in spandex and racing as fast as possible from A to B. It’s just another example of how Americans have taken something and created this whole other persona that people are supposed to conform to. I’ll never wear bib shorts, and the only time I wear a proper biking jersey is when I ride in certain events and wear my company’s logo jersey, but that’s only some of the time. Otherwise, I’m either in regular shorts and a t-shirt or pants.
So if you’re one of those people who freaks out at people who don’t wear a helmet; stop. Worried about trying to set a good example for your kids? Sit down and talk to them about bike safety and how there are many different situations and once you safely know how to ride your bike you don’t always need to wear a helmet. Just like you don’t always need to wear a lifevest when you’re in a boat. And that argument about not wearing your seatbelt doesn’t work because when you’re in a car you are inherently always in a dangerous situation. You’re not when riding a bike.