Helmets, yes, usually. Helmet laws, no.

Here’s me on the left, no helmet! I’m riding a coaster bike. I think it’s likely my top speed was 15 km/hr. it’s a beachside rental on a small island in French Polynesia. It was the kind of cycling environment where a helmet would have seemed out of place. There were parents and kids sharing a single bike. Not a helmet in sight. It was also very hot. Susan and I biked to the beach and I loved it.

I’ve also ridden bikes without helmets in Amersterdam, Bremen, and Montreal. What these cities have in common is well developed cycling infrastructure and lots of everyday people on bikes. Love riding in their protected bike lanes.

In the other photo, there’s helmeted me on bike commute to work through traffic in my usual hometown. Definitely wearing a helmet. I also wear helmets on longer, faster rides through the countryside.

My preference is for no laws requiting helmet use for adults. Why not? Well, helmets make cycling seem special and scary and put people off riding. I am concerned about cycling safety. When it comes to bike safety, numbers matter more than helmets. If fewer people ride if they’re required to ride a helmet, that’s less safe overall.

It’s one of those situations where your goal, increased safety for cyclists, is undermined by the means you choose to achieve it. You aim for all cyclists to wear helmets, increased safety, but the effect is fewer people riding. Numbers of people riding matters more to cycling safety than helmets.

For prudential reasons, I usually wear one. But there’s no need to force me.

Here’s my thoughts:

Here’s the Guardian on why helmet laws don’t save lives.

cycling · fashion

Too Vain (or Cool) for a Bike Helmet? Go Invisible!

hvdingairbagcollarA disclaimer: I’m probably not the best one to write this post because I really couldn’t care less what my bike helmet looks like or what it might do to my low-maintenance hair.

But, I am a big believer in bike helmets (and hats in the winter, for that matter!) because I have only one brain, I depend on it for my livelihood, and I’d rather have a few people think I look dorky (I guess that’s a thing with some people) than risk a head injury.

Sweden has come up with an alternative to the traditional helmet, called the Hovding. It’s an invisible helmet, more like a collar. The company calls it an “airbag for bicyclists.”

Many Swedes ride bikes as primary transportation but only 20% of the adults don helmets. If vanity is the reason for staying away from helmets (which I can understand because, based on my experience, Sweden has a high proportion of beautiful people), then this alternative might solve it. No more helmet head!

This article explains how it works:

It’s an air bag — one that’s tucked away in a collar that cyclists fastened around their neck. When the collar’s internal sensors detect a specific combination of jerks and jags signifying “ACCIDENT HAPPENING,” the air bag deploys, sending out a head-hugging, air-cushion hood in a tenth of a second.

The video that accompanies the story is really worth watching to see what happens when the airbag deploys. At that point, vanity will go out the window for sure.  But the helmet doesn’t just appeal to vanity:

In tests by a Swedish insurance company, Hovding was shown to be at least three times better at absorbing shock than conventional helmets (at 15 mph — this is a product aimed at urban cyclists). Hovding’s weakest point may be that it can’t protect riders from “direct hits” like overhanging branches and street signs, an issue that hasn’t prevented the company from winning Europe’s.

The article cites a couple of other downsides besides the lack of “direct hit” protection.  In warmer climates, people aren’t going to want an extra collar around their necks.  The company is working on a cooling mechanism to address that.  An added cooling mechanism will drive the price up from its current $535.  Oo la la!

I’m impressed by the safety testing.  But I would be wary of accidental deployment. I wonder what the cost of getting it “re-set” is? And the initial outlay of over $500 seems a tad excessive. I’ll take my helmet, thanks.

And also, re. the vanity issue. The Hovding may be invisible as a helmet, but to me it looks a lot like a neck brace.  Neck braces while necessary at times, aren’t much of a fashion statement either.

I’ll reserve making a definitive judgment on which is more hip–bike helmets or neck braces–but me, I’m leaning towards the bike helmets because at least they’re sporty.

To read more about the Hovding and see the video of the crash test, go here.