It’s drilled into most of us from a very young age; wear a helmet, or risk serious injury or death. Despite the warning, and figures to back this threat up, it’s still entirely possible to see dozens of cyclists going helmet-free every day. In fact, in a recent survey of 1,000 cyclists carried out by Halfords, 45% of participants said they don’t always wear a helmet when cycling and 13% said they never wear a helmet.
So why are many of us prepared to forego a piece of protective equipment when we cycle, but still remain happy to clip in a seatbelt, wear a lifejacket or put on a pair of safety goggles?
There really isn’t an argument when it comes to the statistics on bike helmets saving lives and preventing serious injuries. Helmets have been proven to reduce the risk of a serious head injury by 70%. Only around 17% of cyclists fatally injured on the roads were wearing a helmet at the time. Helmets can also go some way to reducing face and neck injuries.
But for every argument, there’s a counter-argument. Simply put, people just don’t like wearing helmets. Whether it’s a style thing or a comfort thing, having to wear a helmet is a big turn off, with organisations like Cycling UK taking the stance that helmets shouldn’t be compulsory – or even advertised. Their main reasoning is that helmets are putting people off cycling altogether, which is in turn causing more deaths from inactivity and poor health. They also reference that in countries like Australia, where cycling helmets have been mandatory since 2013, there has been a noticeable dip in ridership in cities like Perth. The figures seem to show that being forced to wear a helmet is causing cyclists to simply avoid it altogether.
The big question here is whether we can have the best of both worlds, with more cyclists on the roads and all of them wearing a helmet. What are the main reasons for some cyclists refusing to wear one in the first place?
What’s important when it comes to actually choosing a helmet?
We asked 1,000 riders what the most important factors are when it comes to choosing a helmet. Paradoxically, safety was the number one selling point, but that could probably be expected – it’s the reason you’d wear a helmet in the first place and respondents were keen to express that if they were to buy a helmet, it needs to be able to keep them safe.
However, the other factors point towards much more day-to-day reasons for the abandonment of helmets by cyclists from all walks of life.
20% of respondents said that comfort played a major factor when it comes to choosing a helmet. Many cyclists see helmets as cumbersome, heavy, uncomfortable or something that makes them hot and sweaty as they ride.
The next factor was price, with 12% of participants choosing this as most important. With helmets ranging from a reasonable £30 to a professional-level £70, could it be the cost that’s putting people off?
One surprising factor that came into play was aerodynamics, with a large 10% of participants stating that this plays a factor when choosing a helmet. As most cycle helmets are designed to let air flow around the rider’s head for cooling purposes as well as aerodynamics, using this one as an excuse not to wear a helmet is probably a bit of a push. However, if cyclists genuinely feel like their helmet is having a negative effect on their performance, then it could certainly be a reason for avoiding them altogether.
Then there’s the style and colour. It’s safe to say that vanity plays a part in many cyclist’s lives (why do you think manufacturer’s spend so much time making their bikes look pretty?) and helmets have got a reputation for being decidedly uncool in the fashion stakes. And it seems that looking cool outweighs the added protection factor significantly, with 10% of respondents mentioning that style and looks are important when choosing a helmet. With a tenth of all cyclists making this the most important reason for choosing a helmet, it’s likely that it rides high on the list for those who choose helmets based on different factors too.
Is it a bad idea to avoid wearing a helmet?
This is where you’re going to see a lot of arguments. On one hand, you’ll see die-hard helmet advocates who won’t get on a bike without one. Opposing them are the people armed with statistics that show helmets don’t play a factor in reducing cycling deaths, and that forcing people to wear helmets actually causes more deaths through obesity and inactivity.
In reality, it’s completely up to you. Helmets have and will continue to save lives, plus they’re handy when you misjudge low-hanging branches. Some will even argue that they’ll keep your head a little warmer on cold days, plus a it’s extra space for reflective strips or your favourite cycling brand’s logo.
If you aren’t a helmet fan, then there’s no pressure to get one. But you could be missing out on an opportunity to make calls, give other road users an indication that you’re there or even listen to music. Certain smart helmets even have a set of lights on the back that really do make riding a lot safer.
Whether you’re a staunch helmet-wear or a believe that they don’t add any worth protection, it’s worth checking out our huge range of helmets. You may find that the reason for not wearing a helmet in the first place has been addressed, with lightweight ultra-protective MIPS helmets and helmets with additional air vents for comfort and heat extraction, along with some designs that actually look pretty cool!
Whichever camp you’re in, we can all agree that taking extra care on the road is most important, so check out these tips to keep you safer as you cycle.