Thinking Hard about Helmets

James Cracknell has created a video in which he makes a passionate plea for people to wear cycle helmets.  But is the helmet-wearing issue as simple as he makes it out to be?

As a bit of a lurker in social media’s cycle campaigning circles, I’m aware that the case for helmet safety isn’t complete, and I’ve wanted to try and counter tweets and inform people sharing the video that there’s more to it than meets the eye.

While my thoughts are far from complete on the matter, I’ve just posted this as a comment on the blog of an acquaintance of mine…I thought it was worth re-posting here.

My Response to the “Use Your Head” Video

I’m a bit confused, myself, on the helmet issue. There’s some quite vociferous pro-helmet-choice people and, while I’m not as passionate about the issue as some are, I do find reason not to like this video and it’s worth presenting some additional information alongside it.

1) This video makes cycling look like a dangerous activity and it will probably put some people off cycling. Which is a bad thing!
2) Cycling is, in fact, statistically, an incredibly safe activity. Anyone arguing for cycle helmets should probably also be arguing for pedestrian and driver helmets.
3) Not only is cycling safe, it’s good for your health, and the health benefits of regular cycling far outweigh the risks of potential accidents.
4) Cracknell’s experience is quite extreme. He was cycling across America. Not everyone is going to undertake such an activity, or cycle on the kind of roads that he was cycling on. Yes, for high-speed sports cycling on major roads, or for off-road cycling, your chances of having an accident are increased and helmet-wearing is probably advised.
5) The helmet science is not proven. Research has shown various things including:
– cars drive closer to people who wear helmets meaning that helmet-wearing makes you more likely to have an accident
– helmets can make some injuries, such as rotational injuries, worse
6) Cracknell hasn’t proposed such a thing, but it has been shown that introducing compulsory helmet laws will almost certainly result in a large decrease in numbers of cyclists – and presumably a corresponding increase in car use.
7) A far better approach to cyclist safety would be to reduce the potential for accidents in the first place. Better driver training, better road design, proper, safe cycle infrastructure.

Cracknell IS lucky to be alive, his helmet almost certainly saved his life. But he was also lucky. Cycle helmets are not designed to protect you in the event of a collision with a vehicle.

I’d like to see more people cycling, and I don’t think this video helps with that. There are better ways to improve cycle safety without frightening people off their bikes. Those methods generally involve making roads safer for everyone, not just cyclists, and I’d rather people invested in those methods.

For the record, I use my bike for both fitness and as a means of transport. If I’m out racing myself or the clock, I’m on-road, and yes, I wear a helmet. If I’m pootling around town running errands I tend to stay on cycle paths and quieter routes and I don’t normally wear my helmet.

If anyone wants to find out more about the helmet issue, can I suggest the relatively un-biased and well-written information at

I know that Cracknell’s intentions in producing this video, and peoples’ intentions in sharing it, are good, and any attempt to improve cyclist safety should be supported. I hope you don’t mind me contributing a slightly different take on the helmet issue.

With or without a helmet…happy cycling! :-)