European Cyclists’ Federation (ECF), spells out its position nicely with research. This is what I find helpful – yes wear a helmet – but understand that its actually of marginal benefit.

From ECF:

  • They discourage cycling by portraying it as abnormally dangerous-you are less likely to be killed in a mile of cycling than a mile of walking (Wardlaw 2002).
  • A well respected literature review states ‘When the risk of injury to head, face or neck is viewed as a whole, bicycle helmets do provide a small protective effect. This effect is evident only in older studies. New studies, summarised by a random-effects model of analysis, indicate no net protective effect.’ (Elvik 2011)
  • Injured cyclists are less likely to have head injuries than injured pedestrians or car occupants (ONISR 2005).
  • They portray bicycle helmets as offering far more protection than they do. Bicycle helmets are only designed to withstand minor knocks and bumps, not being hit by motor vehicles; see more here On Bicycle Helmet Standards.
  • Countries that have penalised people for normal cycling (without helmets), have failed to reduce head injury rates despite increased helmet wearing rates. See an ECF factsheet on the case of Australia and its helmet laws – Australia and cycle helmet laws
  • The health benefits of cycling far outweigh the injury risks (de Hartog et al, 2010)
  • Reduced cycling reduces health and environmental benefits.
  • Reduced cycling reduces Safety in Numbers, thus increasing the risk of injury to remaining cyclists (Jacobsen PL, 2003)

And that’s it. Its not that helmets are evil, but that they have an impact (see what I did there?) on the perception of cycling which in fact ends up being safer than walking on a per mile basis. If someone said to you: “Hey, before you walk to the corner store, put on your helmet.” You’d look at them as if they were nuts. Ditto joggers wearing iPods. The issue is relative safety, and while I’m happy for you wear a helmet, just realize that its a marginal benefit.

European Cyclists’ Federation – Helmets and reflective vests