Coming home last week I saw a neighbor with a bandaged wrist and a neck brace. When asked what had occurred he said that he had been struck by a car while he was biking home on his new bike that night. The helmet saved his life he said. (And he was proud to say his bike was ok.)

Montague Boston riding the rails

Recently Massachusetts made the public commitment to triple the share of non-car travel by 2030. That makes for cleaner air and less traffic. Sounds delighful!  Part of this plan is to increase the number of cyclists on the roads. Much of which has been accomplished via bike sharing – here in Boston we have the Hubway system.  For us here at Montague it also means Park and Pedal. Bicycling groups at the local, municipal, and national level are all working toward a common goal of bicycle transit and a healthier populace.

One thing we all keep running into is the helmet controversy. For us here at Montague, it isn’t a controversy at all,  we’re big fans of wearing helmets. My neighbor couldn’t have said it better. But all around the world, from Australia to Ireland to Asia and beyond, this helmet situation seems to be a deal breaker. Or at least a few people are trying to make it out as such.

Why to Wear It

Ray Keener of Bicycle Retailer recently published an op-ed on helmets. He relates the story of his 19 year old son going over the handlebars of his fixie in an intersection and being saved by his helmet. This same son who, earlier in his teens stopped wearing a helmet due to peer pressure, but later decided on his own to embrace it. Helmets are manditory for those under 13 (here in MA – but it differs by state), and are optional for those of us who are older. Mr. Keener argues for helmet usage to be mandatory for everyone, adults too.

Bike shares voting yeah or nay

Australia – The Land Down Under has adopted some trial bike shares. These are not seeing the overwhelming success demonstrated in Europe and America. And the nation’s press asks, Why?  A major Sydney news publication argues that this lack of success is due to mandatory helmet use. An article in the New York Times last week summed up the program in Paris and helmet trends across Europe – or lack thereof. The Paris and London bike shares, both pointed to as poster children for the success of cycling, do not require helmets. New York’s upcoming bike share does not require helmets. Technically Boston’s does require helmets and it has enjoyed tremendous success. In Australia everything from neighboring stores to helmet kiosks at the bicycle terminal have been tried.

Whether or not the helmet requirement is a factor, Europe has been and continues to be more bicycle-aware in both its infrastructure decisions and percent of the populace that uses bicycles for transit. It has been argued that in a more bicycle-aware climate it is not as dangerous as places such as the U.S. and Australia where the populace is just coming back into cycling as transit; and therefore helmets are not necessary. In the effort to continually make streets safer for all forms of transit traffic calming and other municipal level decisions are also being examined and called upon to better support cycling. Until these become the common sense of the nation (and even after), helmet use makes a lot of sense.

How to Find the Right One

Finding the right helmet, for your riding style, budget, and aesthetic style may seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. There are resources for just what you’re looking for. This Oregon publication put together a great article on bike helmet selection.

On helmet fit:

“Once the dial on the back of the helmet (a feature of many helmets that offers a more precise fit) is adjusted, the helmet, when unbuckled, should not come off when the rider bends forward. When the chin strap is buckled, the rider should be able to fit two fingers between the strap and the bottom of the chin. […] The helmet, he said, should sit down on the rider’s forehead. […][P]ut your two fingers above the eyebrow, and the bottom of the helmet should touch (the top finger) […] Riders can use two fingers to make a “v” and place them so that one finger rests just in the front of the ear and the other just in back, with the bottom of the “v” touching the bottom of the ear lobe. That models how the straps that run along the sides of the face should fit.” – Bend Bulletin

Helmet usage makes a lot of sense, especially here in the U.S. where cycling as transit is still in it’s infancy. The joy of cycling should be safe for all. Hope and change abound, there are even programs to help get helmets to those most in need. The Boston Cyclists Union, for example, has a subsidized helmet program for inner city youth. More programs exist across the country – let’s keep our kids and ourselves safe as we travel the roads of the world.

Still think it’s not cool to wear a helmet? Check out this guy’s moves – if helmet wearing was passe before it shouldn’t be now.

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