I don't usually wear a bike helmet. Does that make me an idiot?

I don't usually wear a bike helmet. Does that make me an idiot?

This is the video I didn’t want to make. For a long time, I’ve chosen not to wear a bike helmet on my daily bike commute because I didn’t feel I needed one. But people ask me about it so often that I started to doubt myself. So I decided to take a deep dive into that decision. And to do so, I enlisted some help to explore the big questions around bike safety and helmets. This is our conversation.

Big thanks to Cailynn Klingbeil for exploring this issue with me. You can find her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/cailynnk

0:00 Introduction
2:42 How helmets became so ingrained — the roots of helmet fundamentalism
12:14 How effective are bike helmets anyway?
16:13 What do we miss when we focus only on helmets?
21:51 How do we properly assess the risks of riding a bike?
25:49 How can I make a better decision about wearing a helmet?
30:27 My personal re-assessment: Am I an idiot or not?

If you’re looking for some of the sources that Cailynn cited in this video, here are some links: https://www.youtube.com/post/Ugkx9yGzMZ7bYeh6PayaS_d7N6EflmbZ_S89

#cycling #bike #commuting

Buy my book Frostbike: The Joy, Pain and Numbness of Winter Cycling: https://rmbooks.com/book/frostbike/

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  1. Melinda Oberman on May 4, 2023 at 8:41 am

    After a crash, i was okay, but my helmet was smashed up. It would have been my head badly damaged without the helmet. Same with my ex husband. His helmet saved his head from major injury.

  2. pjmixer on May 4, 2023 at 8:42 am

    I’m enjoying your channel Tom. Thanks for looking at this topic so thoroughly – it definitely helped but things in perspective but as you summarize – risk assessment is critical. I was curious if you consider the distractions of holding and talking to the 360 camera adds to the risk of a fall?

  3. Neal Hamamura on May 4, 2023 at 8:43 am

    This video sounds like a lot of rationalizations. Statistics can be bent to fit any narrative you want. I think as a content creator it is irresponsible to not wear a helmet. Even though it is not your intention, it can be seen that you are promoting the non use of helmets. Your reality may not be the same as your viewers. I have heard another content creator say this…”what if kids happen upon my videos.” I respect your choice to not wear a helmet but I think as a content creator you have a bigger responsibility. Just another food for thought.

  4. Christopher Welch on May 4, 2023 at 8:44 am

    How did I, and all of Generation X, ever survive the 70s and 80s not wearing bike helmets and riding in traffic? The cycling culture in the United States is ridiculous. I have watched this my whole life get so expensive and for what? The clothes alone are absurd. And $8 to $13k for a bicycle?? A bicycle. Tom, you’ve got it figured out. That bike you’re on in all of your vids is great. That’s all you need to ride a bike.

  5. Ralph Cusick on May 4, 2023 at 8:47 am

    Work in an emergency room for a week, and you will choose to wear a helmet. The 3 lb brain in the 20 lb bowling bowl called your head deserves a little TLC.
    Agree that bike infrastructure is awful in this country, but that is a separate question. Just because a road is well-built does not mean you take your seatbelt off.

  6. Aleksandar on May 4, 2023 at 8:47 am

    LOL. I was the same. Most of my biking life I never wore a helmet. I bought my first helmet in 25 years…..but it wasn’t for my bike! It was for my e-scooter that goes 40kph. What held me back? Comfort. Fit. COST! And guess what? The helmet I was sold I absolutely hate wearing….it’s horrible. There’s 100 bucks down the drain. We need to improve how helmets are sold!

  7. morzh1978 on May 4, 2023 at 8:50 am

    31:10 "the risk is about the same as going for a walk" – WRONG! The risks are fewfold greater, you should compare falling of your mountain skis versus falling off the saddle of your sledge on the same track, if such analogy is any telling to you. Or you should compare your "Dutch" bike with a running man, tripping and hitting his head against something (lower height but greater speed than you at your bike). Not a walk, no.

  8. Little Nomster on May 4, 2023 at 8:51 am

    im getting back into cycling but i wear a high visibility vest all the time riding, theres no bike lanes and the sidewalks are trash, ive wrecked on them. the high visibility vest has saved me a lot of times when night riding.
    i also wear a helmet and its saved my life

    july of 2021 i did a jump onto angled pavement and crashed. I hit my head so hard i busted the helmet and left paint skids on the pavement. i had a mild concussion (did get checked) and i almost passed out. i was so dizzy i couldnt get up for 10 minutes or so.

    ive worn a helmet ever since even on short rides just in case it happens again.

  9. Yep6803 on May 4, 2023 at 8:51 am

    i don’t but is better…lika a car

  10. Ulrich Petri on May 4, 2023 at 8:51 am

    I still don’t understand the discussion. Even if the chance of a serious head injury is quite low the cost of wearing a helmet is near zero. Therefore it seems like the expected value of wearing a helmet is tending towards infinity.

  11. Jo Junker on May 4, 2023 at 8:53 am

    I wear a helmet regardless, but that’s just me. I had an incident where my gears slipped, and I fell under my bike hitting the ground splitting my helmet into 3 separate pieces. On Roads where Cars are, or if you do tricks, I recommend it, but otherwise, when on a bike only path, go with what feels appropriate to you.

  12. Dip Dip on May 4, 2023 at 8:57 am

    It’s easy to not wear a helmet until you actually crash. In my first month of cycling I started questioning the usefulness of wearing helmet. That was until my bike flipped on its side riding downhill. Had I not worn a helmet, half my face would be missing and a mild concussion could have been permanent brain trauma.

  13. tlop on May 4, 2023 at 8:58 am

    Something not mentioned here (unless I missed it) was how helmets don’t do a lot for what happens if a bike is hit by a car, which if often what leads to fatalities. It was touched on that only 25% of injuries are head injuries, but more specifically if a car hits an bike in an urban environment the person is far more likely to have serious body injury or be crushed under the car, where the helmet will do little.

    This is a big difference from say, a cycling race or mountain biking, where falling or crashing into another bike will be more likely to lead in bopping your head on the ground or a rock or something, which makes helmets “make more sense” in those scenarios. The higher speeds or less-ideal terrain also make falling more likely in general than how (most people) cycle in urban environments.

  14. morzh1978 on May 4, 2023 at 8:59 am

    21:03 "but not for cars" – in a racing car, you definitely need one. When you car begins tumbling down – no seatbelts prevent your head from bashing against the walls and ceiling.

  15. jimmy Ryan on May 4, 2023 at 8:59 am

    If I had to wear a helmet I wouldn’t ride a bike. It’s like a claustrophobia thing, I actually feel nauseous.

  16. visualpun650 on May 4, 2023 at 9:01 am

    Is there a link to the Risk Compensation psych study mentioned in 24:00. It sounds overly simplistic to say a cyclist will feel more safe wearing a helmet and thus take more risk…guess they are implying unnecessary risks. I feel there a more obvious reasons that cyclists take risks….mainly b/c they are marketed as fun machines and race machines and high tech toys. If you are out to have fun or trying to break a Strava record, you are more relaxed and reckless…than if you are out getting groceries. Unlike Copenhagen where bikes are mainly seen as utility, North Americans still see bikes as toys and recreation or exercise. Why do some motorists dislike bikes? Maybe it seems to them as folks just people out frivilously playing in the streets and preventing them from getting where they want to go. Practical cycling is still considered stupid to most people… motorists and cyclists alike😢

    I wear a helmet, but it doesn’t make me more risk taking at all…I know I can still break bones in other parts of my body. I know the helmet is basically styrofoam. It does lend a bit of confidence and that is a good thing.

  17. animehair05 silently on May 4, 2023 at 9:03 am

    5:30 first off, you don’t have to be incompetent to be uncomfortable sharing the road with 2 ton vehicles that can go at highway speeds on a whim, especially on busier roads. But SECOND, what about all the people who ARE children. Children ought to have safe cycling options available, both for recreating biking and for just getting around in general if they need or want to. Especially for 12-16 year olds who must people would still consider children, but generally straight up *can’t* have a car of their own because they can’t get a license, even though they’re old enough to often be afforded more independence in things. And also especially for families with younger children where the adults would want to go places on a bicycle with their children, but the adults aren’t comfortable putting their literal children on the road where not only are they less experienced and still face probably the same dangers as an adult, but they’re also *literally shorter and therefore harder to see*.

  18. Jane Dough on May 4, 2023 at 9:03 am

    6:22 Helmets with a smooth surface are the best bc they don’t have ridges to catch on bumps in pavement where the strap can injure the riders neck.

  19. Eryn Mac Donald on May 4, 2023 at 9:04 am

    The most common injury on bikes is broken collar bones. It is a nuanced decision to wear depending on your skill level, country you live in, road design and commute type. We trust your decision in that risk analysis

  20. Soapbox Sewer on May 4, 2023 at 9:05 am

    Great video, thanks for making this. I’ve never felt the need to wear a helmet, and the pressure to wear one definitely feels like "helmet fundamentalism". Similar to the fear people have of shark attacks after watching Jaws.

    I researched it a while back and discovered many of the things you discovered in this video. In addition to cars and pedestrians being just as dangerous as cycling (20:22), people are also statistically more likely to have a head injury in their own bathrooms, but no-one expects you to wear a helmet there either!

    And I agree that helmets create a false sense of security which can actually increase your chances of an accident. There was one study I found where researchers introduced mandatory helmets at a ski resort, and the number of head injuries actually INCREASED! Their conclusion was that people tend to take more risks when they wear helmets. And I agree that drivers give you more room too. I remember a documentary on the BBC once about this.

    I just feel more comfortable and more in control without a helmet. I feel much more focused on accident prevention and take far fewer risks. I don’t mind anyone who prefers to wear a helmet though. I just wish people wouldn’t judge me so much.

  21. Theo Teddy on May 4, 2023 at 9:05 am

    lets agree that if you have a basket on handlebar, you dont need a helmet😀

  22. Joel Marquez on May 4, 2023 at 9:06 am

    I just had a mountain bike crash. Luckily only two little scratches considering i was going about 20-25mph. I did a flip and got hit in the head if it was not for the helmeti would’ve been in the hospital right now.

  23. Najja Foluke on May 4, 2023 at 9:08 am

    I wear a helmet all the time, also bright colored clothes, which is more important to me. I also have my headlight on and tail light, even during the day. I was once hit by a guy running a stop sign. Luckily, he wasn’t going fast. He confessed that he didn’t see me. That particular day, I failed to have on a bright colored shirt. I’ll never make that mistake again. Every little bit helps because we’re so vulnerable on a bicycle. Nice video with some very good information. Thanks.

  24. maumor2 on May 4, 2023 at 9:08 am

    I ride fast in South West Florida were the drivers passionately hate bicycles (the ones that notice you) and there is almost no bike infrastructure.
    I wear my helmet each and every time

  25. morzh1978 on May 4, 2023 at 9:10 am

    0:30 "safe protected" – nothing is safe / protected against slips, trips and falls. All you need is black ice / slippery leaves, and ideally your chain catching your pants, too, to hit the tarmac hard enough for significant brain damage. Or you slip and crash your head into a tree, pole or a fence. Moreover, some helmets will not protect your ears when such a fall happens, only the upper half of your head and only partly. So these park lanes are not as safe as you think.

  26. CaptainToadUK on May 4, 2023 at 9:10 am

    My last comment aged like milk…

    I moved away from a big city – (real)London – and chose not to wear a hemet on my daily rides. On Thursday, I had an accident where the bike flipped over, smashing me into the ground at about 15mph, face first. I have a fractured eye socket and a hell of a road rash above my right ear, along with a black-eye that looks like it was done by a bad film makeup department. But, happily, there’s no spinal damage, brain damage or bleeding on the brain. I got very lucky and dodged multiple bullets.
    I got to spend a few (very long) days in hospital and I won’t be at work for a week or so and it’s pretty painful. But there were far worse ways it could have gone and I’m grateful that wasn’t that bad. I didn’t walk away from it, I was carried away on a gurney that I was strapped to with my head immobilised but I walked out of the hospital. Now begins the long road to recovery.

    All of which would almost certainly have been avoided by just wearing a damn helmet. I have no-one to blame but myself, but I am going to shout this from the rooftops, now. Please wear a helmet when riding. It’s not worth the alternatives.

    Now, in fairness, I did also break my left arm and that would have happened helmet or not. But I’d rather be sitting here nursing just a broken arm than nursing a broken arm AND a serious head injury.

  27. morzh1978 on May 4, 2023 at 9:11 am

    30:10 "bad irresponsible idiot" and drunk also, crashing into you head on. Fellow idiot cyclist, 30 to 60 km/h combined speeds, knocking you into nearby tree. And you have no helmet at the moment, what a luck! Happens more often than some riders would think.

  28. morzh1978 on May 4, 2023 at 9:11 am

    29:10 "ride with your baby on your bike" – the first head to hit the tarmac or curb as your bike falls with you – is your baby’s. Your toddler is definitely not the one who has "safety first" dogma ingrained in his mind, and would not behave evasively / defensively. So, even in special saddle and helmet on – the baby normally gets his helmet dented and suffers a headache.

  29. Almightyy Otto on May 4, 2023 at 9:13 am

    I don’t really where a helmet but I have one simply cause I live in New Orleans. There’s so much wind by the lakefront as well

  30. morzh1978 on May 4, 2023 at 9:14 am

    15:55 "other injury prevention" – sure sure, sturdy gloves, knee and elbow protection are quite handy, too. These body parts are often full of scars due to neglect and carelessness.

  31. Icecreamtruck Og on May 4, 2023 at 9:15 am

    I have had a crash on a bike and a helmet would of saved me a couple of stitches and rather long term headache, and I did not hit a car just fell. How much is your head worth?
    When testing a new Motorcycle the first thing I test is the breaks. Everyone should do that before getting on a bike, motorised or other.

  32. Mange2 on May 4, 2023 at 9:18 am

    We don’t wear protection for the most common injuries like hips, knees, ankles and wrists. But people go nuts over wearing a helmet to address a much lower risk.

  33. Christopher Alden on May 4, 2023 at 9:18 am

    Once I slid out when I was leaning into a turn a wet/oily street. My head bounced three times like a basketball. If I wasn’t wearing a helmet I’d have some serious brain issues right now.

  34. Dmytro Danylov on May 4, 2023 at 9:19 am

    When I’m riding on the road, a helmet is a mast. To many carf#ckers on the road. Once even had a serious accident. But when in the country side or on the bike lanes, then I don’t need helmet

  35. R Johnson on May 4, 2023 at 9:20 am

    Years of a motorcycle as my only transportation in a big city – Houston – and the one bad accident was at 5 mph making a turn on a quiet side street. Hit a patch of wet leaves and in a flash I was down. Back of my head took a hard hard hit on the pavement, but I was wearing a helmet and that’s the only reason I didn’t end up in the ER, assisted living, or possibly the morgue.

    Helmets suck but they matter a lot at slow speeds in safe environments. Up to you but if you go down without a helmet – gravel, wet spot, pot hole, dog, tire blowout… (forget about cars) I’m not sympathetic to your head injury. And I don’t think society should pay for your decision. Freedom. Freedom to decide to wear a helmet and freedom from paying your medical bills.

  36. Bengt Sviu on May 4, 2023 at 9:20 am

    Many misconceptions here. Bike helmets should protect against head injury in single accidents that are more common. And they are common, I had two, one with and one without. I know which I prefer. In society it is important to add value for example by the opportunity to bike, which can be done in many ways, and this needs analysis of attitudes. The argument that people using helmets have almost the same risk of head injury is moot because the reason may be many beneficial reasons. I do not believe a week adjusted helmet will contribute to accidents by itself. It is also important to isolate issues like infrastructure quality and helmets and prohibition of riding without. These should not be mixed unwarranted. Although the main reason for helmets today is infrastructure quality as is. Unfortunately I don’t believe helmet is much help if you are hot by a car on the road, you will be so damaged the difference is little. Feeling safe due to a helmet is good and worth a lot of money, acting on this feeling by increasing risk is not very good and should be avoided unless the increase is due to increased cycling. The issues are complex. But helmets are a good choice. Making helmets compulsory should start for soft people in traffic that travel at high speed, specifically people in cars.

  37. John Lee on May 4, 2023 at 9:21 am

    Use your common sense.

  38. Mario Gallardo on May 4, 2023 at 9:23 am

    It’s called the social media Police. They all feel the need to tell everyone what they think is the right thing to do. Look at photos of Marco Pantani and you will see he didn’t wear a helmet.

  39. Shifter on May 4, 2023 at 9:24 am

    I know this can be an emotional issue for a lot of us, but my goal here is to get us thinking about what really makes cycling safer. If you choose to wear a helmet or not wear a helmet, the world is a better place if more of us choose to ride a bike more often. ❤

  40. Lighthunter on May 4, 2023 at 9:25 am

    Honestly, just wear a helmet. What’s the big deal? It definitely prevents injuries in some types of accidents. This is statistically proven and not worth taking the risk.

  41. morzh1978 on May 4, 2023 at 9:28 am

    12:25 "in a crash… will helmet protect you?" 1) full-face sort definitely will, but 2) expect no protection whilst crashing your head into a wall, pole or tree directly at speeds 20-25 km/h and above. Evasion is key. I personally prefer heat-insulated horse-riding helmet for cold season, as I managed to get sports-grade protection for free recently.

  42. Shaun S on May 4, 2023 at 9:29 am

    Maybe visit a hospital and see the trauma patients with head injuries go though, and also their loved ones are traumatised forever too. Neuro intensive care units and brain injury units and rehabilitation can cost society millions – that could be spent on bike infrastructure for example, or many other things. Wearing a helmet doesn’t just affect you. And the notion as a bicycle guide and self appointed adviser on YouTube that your example doesn’t influence others is naïve. Set the example, at least for your videos but ideally in your daily life, and be the change that is needed not just another part of the problem. Otherwise love your content, but this is a much bigger issue than you seem to appreciate.

  43. Poo Ninja on May 4, 2023 at 9:30 am

    So is a long blonde wig almost as much protection as a helmet?

  44. AJ Stars on May 4, 2023 at 9:30 am

    This was a very interesting video. I was totally pro-helmet before watching. I still feel like wearing one doesn’t really hurt. But I think if I didn’t ride an ebike I’d feel more comfortable wearing a helmet situationally now. Maybe it’s not required for every ride, and we should be more educated on how to make these decisions for ourselves instead. And definitely add more bike safe infrastructure! 😂

  45. 68cristian on May 4, 2023 at 9:30 am

    I live in Australia, and Ive worked in the training of police in adjusting to death – eg when arriving at a scene where someone had died. We used to show recruits an audio visual presentation title ‘death without smells’ which started off with still images of dead people that later progressed to video footage. I remember one of the stills was of a male cyclist who had simply fallen off his bicycle, hit a rock with his head (no helmet on) and died. It is a rare event for sure, and you have to be pretty unlucky to be riding a cycle path, fall just the right way to hit your head and die, but if a helmet can prevent this, it seems a no brainer to me. I have always quoted this to anyone not wearing a helmet since. and yes, here in Australia you cannot legally ride a bike without a helmet…anywhere. that said, I think we all make decisions on a daily basis to manage risk. I respect people’s freedom to make these choices, where the law permits this… Nice video, this really made me think about the issue…thanks for all your work. 🙂

  46. Montana White on May 4, 2023 at 9:32 am

    Helmets are great for falls you don’t expect. Ask lots of people, or professionals. The worst falls are the ones you didn’t expect. Like doing a double backflip over a gap, landing it, then 2 seconds later while riding away your front tire lands in a hole and you go over the bars not ready anything. Ask medical professionals, you might think this never happens but they probably see it weekly. Broken bones and scrapes can heal. Brain damage isn’t as forgiving.

  47. Scott Bachmann on May 4, 2023 at 9:33 am

    I am a recreational cyclist, enjoying FLAT rail trails, greenways and river walks. The risk is minimal. I own a helmet but rarely wear it. The only thing more annoying than the helmet is the insistent cries from helmet fundamentalists that I simply must wear one.

  48. Recalcitrant Prophet on May 4, 2023 at 9:35 am

    I have been hit by a car on a bike. It broke my ankle. I was wearing a helmet at the time. Helmets are good for people that need a warning label on hot coffee.

  49. Maven Yeshua on May 4, 2023 at 9:36 am

    Trust me, if you value yourself, you’ll wear a helmet. You never know.

  50. Why Mate Why on May 4, 2023 at 9:40 am

    Not only are helmets mandatory in Australia but police enforce it quite aggressively. Australia as a while is one of the most aggressive places on earth towards cyclists.