The bike helmet debate seemingly engenders more pro/con comments in online postings than an increase in the debt ceiling, gun control, abortion, immigration, gay marriage, and the death penalty combined–and sometimes more vitriol, too. I’m not trying to go there, although I’ll admit to getting into a Twitter quasi-debate on this just the other day with anti-helmet-guy Mikael, the guy who trademarked the term Cycle Chic.
I’m talking about the helmet in terms of what fashion options you have.
Before the debate starts in the comments, understand that I am quite familiar with all the statistics about how few bike injuries actually involve the head and I know those stylish folks in Amsterdam typically don’t wear them. They live in a far different context than what I encounter on the streets of Spokane.
I will avoid clever comments about how Dutch street surfaces must be a lot softer than ours when you take a tumble (oh, whoops, maybe I won’t). I’ll also refer you to a piece on Bike Portland that suggests the helmet debate diverts energy from other ways of improving bike safety and rider behavior. And I’ll suggest that live-and-let-live would be far more constructive within the bike community than divide-and-conquer.
Since the vast majority of bike-related injuries actually happen when you’re all by yourself (because you fall down or run into something) this isn’t about driver behavior. Personally, I’m simply not interested in testing the tail end of the bell curve when it’s my brain we’re talking about. They only issued me one.
Bottom line: I wear gloves to protect my hands in case I fall because falling would hurt if I didn’t wear them. When I drive I wear a seatbelt to help prevent a painful impact in the event of a sudden stop. I wear a helmet for these same reasons.
The real problem? Bike helmets are kinda ugly, most of ’em. By “ugly” I mean “really dedicated to sport but not very pretty and certainly not a fashion accessory.”
It was only very recently that some folks with fashion sense got involved in helmet design, resulting in some that don’t look totally geeked out, but some have a price tag that reflects the additional design value.
I’ve heard from people who have worn both the traditional vented helmet and the rounder “urban” style with fewer and smaller vent holes that the latter does make your head feel a bit hotter. Sounds great for winter, possibly a tad warm for summer, but I haven’t tested this personally.
What I’ve found so far, in descending price order:
- Yakkay: A helmet plus changeable hat covering, which is a cute idea; around US$175 usual retail price for a helmet plus cover
- Sawako Furuno: Rounded style (like Bern or Nutcase) with a lot of really pretty graphics options; around US$110-$130 or so depending on currency exchange rates
- Bern: Has some of those urban rounded helmets in bright colors; around US$60-$80
- Nutcase: This has the biggest line-up of graphic options, all in the rounded urban style, for around $60.
- Giro: Usually all about the vented aero look, but now has some “urban” helmets with a more businesslike finish (beige and black houndstooth, for example) and some pretty designs like a white-on-white floral and a wine paisley; around US$50
- Helmet cover over whatever helmet you have now! I wear a black velvet number whipped up by Hub and Bespoke in Seattle. Like Yakkay but for only $28.
Single most common mistake with helmets: Wearing them wrong!
You carry your personality in the frontal lobe–your forehead. If you tip the helmet back on your head, which many do, you expose that to impact. You should be able to put two fingers between your eyebrows and your helmet, not more.
The chin strap needs to be tightened enough that it will actually hold the helmet on your head. Many helmets have a back adjustment that tightens down the interior fittings. If I crank that down uber-tight the interior foam pads make my hair look as if it’s been marceled like a 20s flapper; I can feel it firmly seated on my head without overdoing.
My friend Deb of Roast House Coffee has a far different problem: A fantastic head of wildly curly hair that’s so thick she can barely stuff it under the helmet.
Which brings us to the other real problem: Helmet hair! A post with tips and a Blogspedition to follow one of these days.