It's a question I ask myself, more and more. I never wore a helmet until 5 years ago. Then, two months later, I got in an accident where the helmet protected my head from certain injury. But now I find myself questioning the wisdom of making helmets the one thing that will keep you safe on a bike. How many times, when the subject comes around to my biking, has someone asked "Do you wear a helmet?". Why this question, again and again? Perhaps more importantly, what is behind that question? You'd be crazy not to wear a helmet because cycling is dangerous!
I'm not going to suggest that cycling isn't without risks, but it does seem obvious that as long as riding a bike is seen as a high risk endeavor, it's not going to rise above the exclusive club of risk takers and become apart of the larger culture. And that would be a pity, because it has become obvious to me that the car culture that has grown to dominate our communities, is not a good one. I found this on David Hembrow's A View from the Cycle Path blog, on the trouble the Dutch are having finding places for people to park their bikes. Isn't that funny? Think about what, we here in America, have done to accommodate the the car. We have literally spread out our communities to make room for this mode of transportation. Just take a look at a suburban mall to see what I mean. The parking lot is bigger than the mall. If I have a problem finding a place to park my bike, it's because of all the space cars take up.
For me the helmet issue has become a question of, is it helping to knock down the car culture, or is it something that will continue keep the bicycle culture on the fringe? Copenhagenize.com has written much on this subject. In this article he talks about how a helmet awareness push may be causing a decline in people who ride bikes in Denmark. And this is in a country that is a generation or two ahead of us bicycle culture.
I'm not saying don't wear a helmet, but if you hear about a drive in your community to require helmets or even a just a "wear your helmet" drive, you should have some real concern about how that is going to affect the growth of your bike community. If you really want cycling in your community to be a safe pursuit and you want to see it grow, "helmet first" isn't going to to it.
What do I think will grow the bike culture into something wider? That'll be a future blog.