Helmets Attract Cars

I just found this article about an experiment on how close cars will come to you helmeted versus without a helmet. This was conducted on a bike and may not pertain to us unicyclists, as people tend to give us a lot of room regardless, but still an interesting read:


I’ll continue wearing my helmet when I go for a ride.

I’m not even bothering to make this a long post: It’s bullshit, that researcher should be made responsible for everyones suffering from brain damage after a crash.

Dustin may be right, but his argument in support of his conclusion is hardly persuasive on the basis of its logical structure! :roll_eyes:

Firstly, the article is a typically poor piece of journalism. It is poorly argued, and belittles the subject with unnecessary “humorous” words like “noggin” instead of head. The actual factual content is thin, and is obscured by the poor writing.

As a survey, I would call it “technological” rather than scientific. He has a lot of data, but the data were not derived from a proper scientific experiment. There is no “control” and no “blind” for example.

Perhaps the researcher felt safer in the helmet, and rode further out from the kerb. The car drivers kept their usual distance from t e kerb, and were therefore nearer to the cyclist. The explanation fits the facts, and requires only one person to change his behaviour instead of many.

Perhaps he had a point to prove, and (unwittingly) moved a little closer to the cars. When I’m in a bad mood, all the other drivers drive worse. When he feels the drivers are more dangerous, perhaps he subconsciously exposes himself to more risk to “prove” it.

The “long wig” effect may well be true. Most drivers are male. Most males notice attractive women and behave towards them in a manner somewhere along the spectrum from “chivalrous” to “patronising”. Anywhere on that scale would involve givng the attractive woman more room to ride.

The helmet effect is less likely to be real. It implies that the driver sees the male cyclist, carefully assesses his vulnerability, taking into account the helmet, and reacts accordingly - disregarding the risk of damage to the car, or to the cyclist’s legs, torso and arms.

My relevant experience is 35 years cycling (including tandeming and unicycling), 25 years driving, sometimes up to 35 000 miles a year, 15 years motorcycling or scootering, and 25 years working in insurance claims - including investigating motor accidents, reading police and Coroner’s reports, interviewing drivers and witnesses, visiting accident scenes and attending civil court cases.

Most drivers out there have little or nothing in the way of hazard perception skills or hazard management skills. But men always notice pretty girls.

…or men in pretty wigs.

Thanks for your expert opinion on the subject Mike. I agree that the study wasn’t nearly as scientific as it could have been and didn’t take into account the riding of the cyclist, especially his distance from the curb. I think it is true though, coming from a driver’s point of view, that a person who looks like a cyclist (spandex, helmet, etc.) and not just someone going from point A to B on a bike with a basket would raise many fewer alarms in my defensive driving and therefore I wouldn’t give them quite as much room. As unicyclists we get so much room because, despite how in control we are, to the non-unicyclist our method of travel just inherently looks unsteady and has a high potential for sudden movements (like falling). Looking like a pro may get you more respect, but I don’t think it’ll gain you any room on the road.

In my opinion the article is poorly written. I have read the article published by Dr. Walker in the past and his research methods are quite controlled but he really needs more people to ride more bikes to gather more data before coming to the conclusion he has.

Another point is that the experiment was preformed in the UK and the results may or may not be significant in other parts of the world.

Walker’s helmet research(?) was discussed(?) last year on RSU (are they the correct words to use :roll_eyes: )

i highly agree. i suggest he measures the distance from the kerb as well and uses percentage differences rather than distances.

UK roads are narrow so other countries, especially the US where roads are pretty wide for the most part, will probably have different results.

To quote the final paragraph of the article:
‘Walker, whose much-publicized report may inspire a new generation of bareheaded riders, won’t make any specific recommendations to other cyclists … “If people read the research and decide a helmet makes them safer, they should wear one; if they read the research and decide it doesn’t, perhaps they don’t need to,” Walker says, adding the caveat, “But they do need to read the research!”’

You’ll see that he doesn’t advise against wearing a helmet. And let’s just repeat that caveat: “But they do need to read the research!”. He’s not referring simply to his own research, and those who want to read the research could do worse than to start at http://www.cyclehelmets.org/

For those who have suggested that he should have measured the distance from the kerb and taken that into account, he did. It’s just not mentioned in the Scientific American article.

just ask this guy…


I bet he’ll continue to wear a helmet.

It took alot of convincing and threats to get my 15 year old to wear a helmet on his MTB. But he has seen the light, and has been religiously wearing it for the past few months. Good thing, as he gets crazy air and big drops. Just the other day he commented that it probably saved his life, after he lost it on a ladder bridge and smacked his head on a tree while fallling down to the ground. And I witnessed him smacking the back of his helmeted head on the ground during a failed 180 attempt.

He has even convinced a couple of friends to start wearing theirs.

Personally my helmet has saved me at least twice from serious head injuries. One time was cartwheelling over the bars and landing on rocks on my back and head. That was a hard smackdown. The second time was when I botched a stairset jump and broke my clavicle. My full-face saved my head - my shoulder collapsed and hit my neck, which is a strange feeling, but the helmet prevented my head and neck from injury.

Anyway I will climb down from my soapbox. There are certainly enough examples of “why you should wear a helmet” on youtube (I can think of two really nasty big stairset falls. Ouch).

But as for the Uni, I confess that wearing a helmet often feels like overkill. I don’t do trials stuff, but I imagine a helmet would be quite good to have when playing on rocks and stairs.

I am Uni’ing after work on some flat bikepath stuff - no tricks on my 29" - and I don’t know if I will follow my own advice and wear my helmet. It does seem silly when just puttering around, particularly once past the beginner stage.

Sorry to ramble but this topic stirs up a lot of strong opinions.

Im just bumping this because there is a weird copy with most of the posts missing on the first page :thinking: and someone replied to it.

I noticed that… wierd. I’ll repost. :stuck_out_tongue:

Dude. It’s research. It was a question. An academic decided to research it. That’s WHAT THEY DO. It is their reason for existing to experiment on anything and everything. And, it is a completely valid question, and a completely reasonable thing to study, and publishing the results is entirely expected and required. That is not some “malicious act”. It isn’t an “attack on your safety”. It’s a freaking study. It’s his job to study things and publish the results.

Yeah, people should wear helmets. No, helmets won’t make you safe. They help reduce a certain subset of injury, a common and important subset but a subset nonetheless.
However, a lot of people seem to invest magical powers into them; just witness the television ads urging people to wear bicycle helmets so that they won’t get broken arms. They don’t solve the root problems. They won’t help you if you are hit by a car; they won’t help you when you land on your hands, they won’t help you in a lot of cases. The cases they help are really important, sure, but that doesn’t mean you can say “I’m wearing a helmet, i’m safe now”.

I think whether the cars come close or not is primarily dependent on who’s driving it.

Just a little side rant. Him catapulting over his bike to land in the road, is just poor riding. He should have noted the truck earlier, and took the right precautions to not be in the situation. And even if that was impossible, there is no reason to fly off the bike at all, unless being overly confident that your helmet would save you.

Helmets are NOT designed for this. It was partially a fluke that he didn’t get more hurt, and partially just the physics of the situation. People can get run over in acts and whatnot because there isn’t as much force on an inflatable tire as one would expect there to be.

If he had not been wearing a helmet, it’s very reasonable to come to the conclusion that he would have never gotten himself into that situation in the first place, and it’s also completely possible that he would have suffered the same injury sans helmet. It is also necessary to realize that this injury had very little to do with biking. A runner or inattentive walker could have gotten themselves into the same stupid situation.

There is absolutely no clear evidence that helmets help at all. People should actually do some research before responding. (I’m not talking about you, just using your quote of that article)

As JZ pointed out, “The cases they help are really important, sure, but that doesn’t mean you can say “I’m wearing a helmet, i’m safe now”.” Yet that’s what most people do. As I read on another forum, find a mtber that just bombed down a harry downhill. Not ask him to do the same run without his helmet on. He’ll either refuse, or do it much more carefully. And helmets are just not as well designed as people seem to think that they are. Many are not much more than toy store junk. There is also evidence that helmet users are MORE likely to hit their heads, as they are now much bigger and heavier. There is also evidence that helmet wearers have much HIGHER

And as another aside, why is it that in places where helmet use on motorcycles isn’t mandatory, half the riders don’t wear one, yet I can’t seem to find a single person on this forum that agrees with me that helmets are stupid? :slight_smile:

The “facts” at http://www.cyclehelmets.org/ look suspiciously different from the “facts” at http://www.helmets.org/index.htm. I won’t judge any of the sites yet. I haven’t read the research.

Read the research from as many independent sources as possible!

evidence that helmet wearers have much HIGHER risk for rotational injuries, which are long term. There is also evidence that helmets reduce vision and awareness. All of these factors combined with people riding harder thinking that their helmet will save them (which is just not the case), FAR outweigh the INSIGNIFICANT benefits of wearing a helmet.

sorry bout the need to double post, my edit time ran out.

I’m TRYING to be as unbiased as possible. Which for me is probably harder than for the average person. :slight_smile: But taking a quick look at both of the sites, and the latter seems to fall into the former’s definition of “Misleading Claims”. They quote statistics of injury and death. But never say if the riders are wearing helmets or not. Then pick a number at random of how many of these riders could be saved wearing helmets…whose to say that they weren’t in the first place, and whose to say that the helmet would have protected them? Helmets are NOT designed for impacts of the magnitude that cause most cycle deaths.

The first site just seems to be much more well put together and better informed and researched. Where-as the second site wants to hype helmet use, and has “fudged” it’s numbers to fit its premise.

Thumbs up to you for trying. I wasn’t trying to paint anyone as biased. The extra link was just there to help make my point about being critical and reading from more than one source.

This isn’t really relevant to the original topic, but…

I used to be extremely sceptical of the merits of bicycle helmets. I rode many years and tens of thousands of miles, including racing, and never had a serious head injury despite several high-speed wipeouts. I was convinced that you just naturally stop your head hitting the ground (at least on a smooth road) - I’d skinned every part of my body EXCEPT my head.

Then I got into mountain biking and race organisers were insisting on helmets, so I started wearing one for off-roading. I was still very anti-helmet on the road.

Then when I moved to Dartmoor, a bit more than ten years ago, I started wearing my helmet for winter commuting when there’s a high chance of ice, wet leaves and sticks on the road (and sheep for that matter). It just became a habit and before long I was wearing it all the time.

In the last three years I’ve had two crashes (both on bikes on the road) where I’ve hit my helmeted head on the ground hard enough to cause a crack in the helmet. One time I had a slight headache and stiff neck for a couple of days, the other time I was unconscious for 20 minutes but had no lasting effects. The argument that “I only hit my head because it was bigger because of the helmet” is clearly not true - if my head was travelling fast enough towards the ground to knock me out on impact, I don’t believe it would have stopped in the next inch or two (helmet thickness) and that crack could well have been in my skull rather than the helmet. People will say that the helmet “failed” because it cracked, but the very fact that it cracked shows it absorbed enough energy to crack it, which then didn’t have to be absorbed by my head. OK, it means that the accident was on the limit of protection offered by the helmet, but bicycle helmets are a compromise between protection and practicality (comfort, weight and ventilation).

A bicycle helmet won’t save you from all head injuries, and there are probably some cases where you’d genuinely be slightly better off without it, and most of the time it’s just a useful place to mount lights, but I’m very glad I’d been in the habit of wearing mine when I had those two accidents.

Having said that, I always wear the helmet for unicycling as well, but I’ve never yet had a fall where I’ve hit my head hard. But it could happen - in fact, on the spiky rocky trails I usually ride a road bike helmet probably isn’t the best thing anyway, but I still reckon it’s better than nothing. I agree with your comment about the downhillers though; a helmet is there to protect the brain, not as a substitute for it.


Responding to the comments about helmets giving a false sense of security; I’ve got to say that be it false or not, I like it. One of my biggest challenges in becoming a better unicyclist is overcoming a strong inborn dose of caution. When I’m all suited up, I’m willing to push it that much further, have more fun and I improve more quickly. For those of us who don’t experience such bouts with self-preservation, then go on riding without a helmet. For me, I’m going to continue wearing one because a.) I feel more confident in it and b.) …uh well… to put it simply: it protects my head, an essential part of my body. It may not do the job perfectly, but it protects a heck of a lot more than just my skull and hair do. And lastly, I don’t buy the idea that cycling helmets restrict vision or make it bigger by a significant portion to cause more trouble than they protect against.

I like my brain.

Clearly the jury is still out on the average improvements, or lack thereof, in accident rates for bicyclists with and without helmets. In fact, since the people dishing up the data are usually on one obvious side of the helmet debate or the other, it’s hard to imagine they are being objective in their choices of how they present it so I remain skeptical.

However in unicycling we don’t have that problem. We have no scientific data at all, so there’s a lot less to argue about. Mostly we just have anecdotal data, often from people we know and trust. This proves nothing in a statistical sense, but it shows that people we actually know have been protected.

Also much of what the unicyclists on these forums do is pretty hardcore. Whereas riding around your neighborhood sidewalks poses minimal danger of brain injury, gapping high stack of palettes or riding down steep slopes of pointy rocks are obvious places where uncontrolled falls can happen and wearing a helmet shouldn’t really be a question. BTW this applies to pretty much anything involving railings as well…

Because my helmet also provides the protection from the sun my balding head requires, it’s not a question of whether I’m going to wear one for road or mountain riding. I probably will continue not to wear one for Freestyle, or riding my 12" unicycle, or riding my giraffe.

Exactly. Those people don’t know what they’re talking about. In fact, your helmet “succeeded” because you walked away. In keeping road helmets lightweight, they’re not designed to survive multiple major impacts. They’re designed to protect your brain.

Not even. It just means that impact was somewhere between a light one, one that might not require replacement, and a much more severe one where you still survived. Your helmet could probably have taken a much bigger knock and still protected you.

As Rob mentioned, if you’re riding on pointy rocks or otherwise doing rough or high stuff (technical MUni, Trials, Street with big obstacles), a skate helmet will be better, and longer-lasting protection than a road helmet.