by CycleChick on February 27, 2013

I hate to yell. You know I only do it because I care.

Every so often I am tempted to go for a ride, au naturalsans casque, like the stylish girls I see on Cycle Chic. And then something like this happens.My friends Ryan and Sarah were on a riding vacation in Scottsdale AZ recently, and Ryan hit a bad fault in the pavement and went down hard – right on his head. Sarah turned to find him in a crumpled heap on the ground, unconscious and breathing erratically. Ryan doesn’t remember the accident, or the trip in the ambulance. He suffered a bad concussion and some bleeding at the base of his brain.

The photos are shocking because this could have been his head.

That his helmet saved his life is undeniable. Thankfully he has the good sense to wear a good one that fits. There was no car or other riders involved – just a bad patch of road. If you ride on a road, which you probably do, this could happen to you. Anytime. Anywhere.

In addition to being a husband and father, Ryan is also a pretty big deal in the medical world. Of course I would never say one person’s life is worth more than anyone else’s, but let’s just say that we came very close to losing one of the best cancer researchers in the world. Thankfully he is ok and will make a full recovery.

We have a choice here whether to wear a helmet or not. Sure it would be nice to be chic sometimes, but it’s hard to look cute when you’re head is in a million pieces.

So please. You have a helmet. Wear it.


Awesome reminder.

We need more visuals like this about texting & driving. Epidemic.

by @josephRanseth on February 27, 2013 at 5:19 pm. Reply #

You know I’m part of the choir on this one, on many levels. I am also an intensive care doc, and I look after a hell of a lot of trauma. You post is true and irrefutable, so brace yourself on this one as I look over the fence to the other side.

For those of you who wear a helmet and ride, you are doing the right thing. Full stop. There is, however good evidence that for the casual cyclist, helmet use is a deal breaker. There is substantial evidence that daily activity, studied in the casual commuter has proven mortality and morbidity benefits. Thats when it becomes a matter of scale. The benefits of ridership out weigh the risks of non helmet use in the general population. It’s the reason I don’t support helmet laws, much to the chagrin of my colleagues.

In a perfect world we would have that 20% increase in ridership, independent of helmet use. People would also choose endorphins over nicotine and water over soft drinks. Right now, I just want to see them on a bike, so they get it.

by Darren Markland on February 27, 2013 at 5:49 pm. Reply #

In regards to Darren’s comment above, it’s not just folks who say “I’m not gonna ride if I have to wear a helmet” but that the constant “you must wear a helmet” (including posts like this) create/continue the idea that cycling is dangerous (it’s not! we all know that, right?) and that you’d be mad to do it – the people who do it are risk takers and deserve what’s coming their way. This gets into the heads of drivers who while driving are thinking “that guy is an idiot for cycling on this busy road and he knew the deal when he signed up so I’m just going to go round him through that narrowing there as I’m in a hurry” making it more dangerous still.

Society needs to “normalise” cycling where it isn’t an “equipment sport” or where the people who ride aren’t “Cyclists” (they’re people!) but where cycling is just a nice way to get around. I grab my bike and I go. In what I am wearing.

by jkeltgv on February 27, 2013 at 6:24 pm. Reply #

Thank you all for your comments. You raise some excellent points – helmet use is certainly a complicated and emotional issue.

This post was not meant to be a commentary on mandatory helmet legislation, nor was it meant to induce fear of cycling in the general public. I apologize if it appears that way, and admit it is confrontational.

My intent was merely to present personal and anecdotal evidence that, in the event of a crash, wearing helmet can save your life. It’s not like this situation is super rare – I have many cycling friends that have had similar experiences.

Which brings me to a point both Dennis and jkelvt bring up: audience. On this blog I assume I am talking to, for the most part, avid cyclists – whether they race, commute, road ride, randonneur, ride trails, or whatever – people who are at higher risk due to the amount of time they spend on a bike. Not necessarily people who are scared to ride, or who would not ride if it meant they had to face the horrible inconvenience or indignity of wearing a helmet. For my audience, cycling is not just “normal”, it is a way of life.

I believe adults should have a choice. And we do. But I also believe that wearing a helmet is a pretty good idea, and thought I should share this story to illustrate that point.

In any case, I hope that the many, many other articles I write about the amazing joy that can be found on a bike, as well as articles I’ve written to promote and encourage safe commuting would far outweigh any fear or anxiety this post might cause the casual or potential riders who happen across this site.

by CycleChick on February 27, 2013 at 7:20 pm. Reply #

Great article, and the comments could prove to be even more interesting than the article. This is definitely one of those topics that can be open for endless debate, but I think Darren made a great point, if it’s a difference between riding your bike and getting some exercise, or not riding the bike at all because of the helmet issue, fine, just go ride and forget the helmet.

Not wearing a helmet has it’s own risks, but lack of exercise will kill you for sure.

The audience for that message is also important, the folks who might be riding the cruiser with a basket around town might not want to wear a helmet, and they may be fine to do so. Cruising around town or on bike paths at low speeds might be an acceptable risk level for some.

As I look at my own riding habits, I ride both skinny-tire road bikes and mountain bikes, so I tend to be on the end of the spectrum that frequents higher speeds on road and tree lined singletrack. For me, wearing a helmet is never an option. In my situation, riding without a helmet is not an acceptable risk.

The statistics are pretty solid on how much of a difference wearing a helmet can make if you do have an accident, but I do agree that if the all or nothing laws actually prevent people from getting into cycling, it’s not a good thing.

It would be nice to be able to leave the decision up to the individual to make the right call, but there will always be some that will choose to not wear a helmet, no matter the risk.

by Tyler Rogers on February 27, 2013 at 8:47 pm. Reply #

I’m sure you have seen this; http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/hovding-invisible-bike-helmet-hair-intact-head-safe/story?id=17049677
video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JTozVKGHilI
It’s a nice option for chic commuters but with a hefty price tag at $600. But for those who cycle as a lifestyle choice it may be a worthy investment.

by Vanessa on February 27, 2013 at 9:07 pm. Reply #

re well said that woman…
Had a similar fall my self a few years back and my helmet looked darn near the same…
It definitely saved what little grey mater I have…
Would be feeding through a straw now (at best) if I hadn’t been wearing me helmet for sure…

by N Mcguigan on February 27, 2013 at 10:46 pm. Reply #

Well I for one am glad you lived to fight (and chew) another day! Thanks for sharing your story. :)

by CycleChick on February 27, 2013 at 11:00 pm. Reply #

Thanks Vanessa! Yes, I totally saw that. So awesome I even wrote about it a while back! Here: http://winnipegcyclechick.com/?p=1151

by CycleChick on February 27, 2013 at 10:59 pm. Reply #

” I grab my bike and I go. In what I am wearing.” For sure, but with your helmet….It’s no different from wearing your seatbelt when using a car; nobody complains any more (do they?) about that. Sure, there are those who don’t wear seatbelts and we read about their deaths all the time. Well, as another one who cracked my helmet rather than my noggin last summer, I am a total believer in helmets and cringe when riding w/ friends who choose not to wear them.

by BEberhardt on February 27, 2013 at 11:01 pm. Reply #

Seems that freedom of choice is a deal breaker here. I would also imagine that being in a wheelchair or as earlier posted eating thru a straw would be a deal breaker as well. I do remember riding without a helmet, playing goalie without a mask,riding a motorcycle sans lid. We are far better off having the protection now. Having had the misfortune of being hit by a car. I vote for the helmet. It’s real hard for me not to protect my head now and laws have nothing to do with it.

by Phil on February 28, 2013 at 9:53 am. Reply #

I agree with just about everything here and certainly a distinction needs to be made between racing or “cycling for speed” (I wear a helmet) and getting from a to b (I don’t). I cycle in a safe way akin to the book “cycle craft” when I commute and continue to study cycle trainubg & risk mamagement…..so I find it strange that society prefers the guy that wears protective equipment and perhaps rides in a poor way (kerb hugging, never looking back, not communicating with other road users) to me. So, ask yourself if you’re doing *everything* to minimise risk or just putting foam on your head. Finally, as we know from when we were kids, cycling isn’t dangerous – it’s the interaction with other, heavier road users which is. Government needs to work harder to control them. If there were a spate of shootings would the answer be bullet proof vests?

Anyway, rant over – it’s just that we “pro choice” folk feel the need to counter even the stuff that clearly isn’t pro-mandatory helmet but slowly changes society’s idea of risk. taking behavior.

by jkeltgv on February 28, 2013 at 2:08 pm. Reply #

It is a fact that one does not need a helmet while riding a bicycle….
One certainly needs one when one falls onto one’s head!
Can one predict this occurrence?
I didn’t.
I was wearing a helmet and survived
Without it, Cycle Chick might have only one parent.

by DOD on February 28, 2013 at 7:23 pm. Reply #

It’s true that in many places where helmet laws were introduced, cycling participation went down immediately thereafter, sometimes by 40-60%. I’m not sure if those who stopped cycling took up some other form of physical activity to compensate. I havent seen any studies on this.

Despite an initial reduction in cycling participation, cycling continues to grow in all places where helmet laws exist.

Head injuries do decline in cyclists where helmet laws are enacted, even after correcting for the reduced number of cyclists post helmet laws.

I’m not entirely convinced about long term suppression of cycling due to helmet laws, but helmet laws do tend to decrease cycling participation in the short term.

I’m also not convinced that our lack of physical activity public health concern is being driven to any statistically significant value by people choosing not to ride a bike because of helmet laws.

It isn’t as though the primary complaint of most sedentary people is, “yeah, I’d be really physically active.. riding a bike.. but I don’t because of the helmet thing”.

The most popular physical activity in Canada?

Walking, followed by gardening.

Cycling is a very distant 5th place, but believe it or not is more popular than hockey, as a leisure activity (Hockey is a more popular organized sport).

I have no preference in what activity people choose to do; I want to see more people active because of the physical and psychological health benefits.

I don’t have the answers, but my take is that this is a long term thing. If most people were physically active and most who rode bicycles wore helmets, we’d all be better off.

I think it will take us a while to get there.

For recreational riders I think separate from cars bike paths will help spur the popularity of cycling, and statistically helmets are probably less “needed” on separated bike paths. In traffic though, helmet use seems to be a no-brainer.

Personally a helmet has saved my life two times, both in accidents with cars, both times the drivers fault. One was a hit and run, the other the driver had his licence taken away and was criminally charged with reckless driving.

Both instances were instantaneous and I had no time to avoid the collision. Both occurred at a time when I rode about 20,000 km/ year and were a few years appart so the accident to kilometers ridden ratio was very low.. I don’t want people to get the idea cycling is dangerous.

I hope that people who ride wear helmets. Helmets make sense.

by Cris LaBossiere on March 1, 2013 at 4:44 pm. Reply #

As a casual trail rider I do wear a helmet when I ride. However, I also putsky around at the lake without a lid – at least I used to until I read an article in Dirt Rag Magazine. It terrified me so much that I now wear my helmet just to read your blog or anything else cycling related! I agree with @josephRanseth that we should see more of these visuals – not so much to scare folks into wearing a bucket or away from cycling – but to at least be a reminder that there is ‘some risk’ involved just as there is in any physical activity.

Hope it’s okay to post this link (I assume you’d have to approve this comment so you can remove of course!). It’s the story I mentioned earlier, complete with graphic novel-type illustrations:


by Browny on March 1, 2013 at 8:30 pm. Reply #

Hi Browny
Just had a chance to check out this article. Pretty scary stuff! It certainly shows that while the odds of a bad fall like this are low, the stakes are very, very high. Great illustrations too. Thanks for sharing it!

by CycleChick on March 3, 2013 at 3:12 pm. Reply #

I wear a helmet on even the most simple of small rides. It has saved me from very serious harm in the past.

What is with all the people riding in the snow even with children on the back and no helmets?? This was shown in the photos of Oulu by WCC.

by Michael Lewallen on March 2, 2013 at 2:17 pm. Reply #

Hi Michael

I agree, as many of the stories in the comments show, you really should wear a helmet all the time when you ride. In places like Oulu or Copenhagen, helmet use is very low. Perhaps because bikes are a such a large part of their culture. Bikes in Copenhagen actually outnumber cars in traffic. Can you imagine? It’s not to say that accidents can’t or don’t happen, but I think the fact that drivers accept cyclists as “normal” traffic, they are much more aware. And of course cycling is an integral part of the infrastructure in these places – they simply have safer places to ride.

by CycleChick on March 3, 2013 at 3:24 pm. Reply #

Thanks for this post Andrea, and for your kind words. I’ve also enjoyed the comments and discussion.

I do feel lucky to alive and know I’m fortunate not to have permanent disability (though I will definitely be off work for a few weeks). Oh my, this has been an ordeal for many people – including my lovely partner.

While I definitely feel that that people who bike bikes like I do, or who ride in Winnipeg traffic, should wear helmets, I also feel that helmet legislation is not the answer to our problems. Improvements in cycling infrastructure is absolutely crucial, as our safe passing laws, and public education – both regarding cycling and helmet use.

…I need a new helmet!

by LUCKY TO BE ALIVE! --Ryan Z on March 3, 2013 at 4:10 am. Reply #

Absolutely Ryan. We are all so relieved you are ok.

And I agree, of course. A helmet is not a panacea for the problems and dangers cyclists face in traffic. It certainly may help in the event of a crash, but there is far more that could be done to prevent crashes that happen as a result of poor cyclist/driver interaction.

As your accident shows, not all crashes are “traffic” related (although the poor condition of the road was certainly a factor).

I hope you continue to recover – and of course get back on the bike so we can ride together this summer, complete with your fancy new helmet.

by CycleChick on March 3, 2013 at 3:19 pm. Reply #

If there were more cameras in showers then we could write a similar piece showing the extreme dangers of showering while not wearing fall restraint gear. Heck we could find many examples in life and show pictures of what ‘could’ happen. And while it’s good to see what ‘could’ happen to you in life so you can factor it into your personal risk analysis, it’s also good to know the odds of the event happening.

With this particular accident, (landing on head & splitting helmet) are my chances one in a thousand or one in a million? It makes a difference.

And I shouldn’t have to point out that basing public policy decisions on ‘evidence’ like this is not a good thing.

My (always evolving) opinion on bike helmets,….


by Zeptepe on March 5, 2013 at 1:44 am. Reply #

Thanks for your comments. All valid. A few notes in response:

1) Cameras in showers? Interesting. Sadly, this is not Winnipeg Shower Chick. I’m sure there are all manner of ways we fragile and clumsy humans can kill or maim ourselves and each other. However, I find them less interesting and tend not to blog about them so much.
2) Your odds of falling on your head are probably dependant on many factors, including where you live, what sort of bike infrastructure you have (or don’t), how well you maintain your bike, how well you ride it, how visible you are (clothing, lights, etc), the weather, time of day, road conditions, part of town… I could go on. But to be serious for a moment, we all have to assess our risks vs. stakes. While I do not know the actual numbers, I find both the odds and risks too high to not wear a helmet. It’s not like it’s hard to put one on or anything, and my hair is always a hot mess anyway.
3) No, I would hope that public policies and laws are not based strictly on anecdotes. If they are I’ll stop paying my taxes immediately.

And finally, I am not in favour of mandatory helmet legislation for adults (for a variety of reasons that I’m sure I don’t have to spew off here). In the closing of this post, I say we have a choice. I hope it stays that way. Next thing you know, we’ll be wearing helmets in the shower.

Thanks again for adding to the discussion.

by CycleChick on March 5, 2013 at 2:14 am. Reply #

My comment about showers was to show that many things in life are dangerous. And believe it or not, the risk of falling in a shower is higher than being in a cycle accident.

It’s interesting,…like many people y0u “don’t know the odds” but yet you say the “risk is too high”. Hmmmm,….no comment on that one. :-)

But again, the odds actually matter to those of us who wish to live a life free of needless worries. I mean,.if we treated the rest of life as scary as pro-helmet people make cycling to be then we’d all be stuck in our houses afraid to face life. But to get through life, we each have to assess the risks of our activities. Because I’ve taken way too many math courses, i tend to look at the actual numbers, not willy-nilly “my friend hurt themselves so therefore you will too” statements. Now i understand many people don’t want to look the actual numbers and that’s fine,..i guess. But it’s difficult to do a proper risk assessment if you don’t know the odds of an event happening. Simple as that.

And just so we’re clear here,..there is a HUGE difference between 1 in a 1000 and 1 in a 1000000! That is,..if it’s the former then you should worry,..if it’s the latter,..you’re silly to worry.

And I also never take pro-bike helmet people seriously unless they’re also advocating helmets for car drivers. A person in a car has higher chance of a head injury than cycling. :-)

Disclaimer: My daily bike commute to work is 4km. I meet on average 2 cars a week so my commute is incredibly safe! :-)

by Zeptepe on March 5, 2013 at 2:36 am. Reply #

While I don’t know the actual number (but that would be cool), I can estimate my risk based on the kind of riding I do (racing, road riding, trails, commuting), the volume (about 7000 km/year, give or take) plus the number of anecdotes like this I hear from people who ride similar volume in similar conditions and situations. The number is alarming, I would estimate at least 20 (of varying severity).

Oddly, I do not know a single person who has suffered a head trauma in the shower. And I’m pretty sure the people I know shower on a regular basis – let’s say daily or every second day. Same goes for head traumas as the result of a car accident. Can’t say I can name more than one or two. Of course that doesn’t mean these things don’t happen. But I do know way more people who shower and drive cars than ride a bike regularly. Curious.

Like I mentioned in a previous comment, I always assume the majority of readers here are avid cyclists, so I do take that into account when I write. My audience isn’t policy makers, politicians, bike haters, or the general public.

Ride safe and keep the rubber side down.

by CycleChick on March 5, 2013 at 2:56 am. Reply #

Well according to the Brain Injury Association of Canada, motor vehicle accidents account for over HALF of all head injuries. Which is interesting when you think about it because as you mention, you only know two of them. I think i might know 3 or 4. But here it is,..the act that accounts for the overwhelming majority of head injuries and barely anyone is aware of it. Well,..i am and i sold my car and bike everywhere instead. Much safer,..even without a helmet. Anyway, sorry to trouble you, If I had known your audience was only cyclists then i would have kept my facts to myself. :-)

by Zeptepe on March 5, 2013 at 3:37 am. Reply #

But what is the ratio? The number of head injuries per driver vs. per rider? In any case, I guess we’re both just lucky we don’t know more people who’ve had head injuries in car accidents.

Not only cyclists. I said the majority. I can’t entirely tell whether you are being sarcastic with your last comment – such is the nature of non-verbal communication I suppose. I will assume so since you indicated you commute regularly and do not own a vehicle. As long as they are respectful of others and contribute to a positive dialogue, your facts and comments are welcome.

by CycleChick on March 5, 2013 at 4:15 am. Reply #

Yes actually I was being sarcastic at the time. But I apologize, no need for me to do that. Sorry. :-|

by Zeptepe on March 5, 2013 at 5:24 am. Reply #

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