As a daily bike commuter I am often scolded by colleagues and strangers for not wearing a bike helmet, especially considering I ride around a city filled with cars and pedestrians who all seem to think bikes should yield to them under all circumstances. I have actually had many more incidents trying not to run down pedestrians that I have had run-ins with cars. And this is riding in the street, not on the sidewalk.
There are many reasons why I don’t wear a helmet. One of them, of course, is I have cute hair. Honestly I would say my hair is one of my best features and I don’t want it smushed under a helmet for my 30-minute ride to work, leaving me with flat helmet hair for the rest of the day.
Also riding with a helmet makes my head hot. Riding to work each day with a messenger bag on my back, stuffed full with a change of clothes, shoes, lunch, a water bottle, a book or two, and anything else I might need for the day makes me hot enough. I need the breeze on my head to keep me cool and allow me to arrive at work only minimally sweaty instead of dripping.
Superficial reasons aside, one of the main reasons I don’t wear a helmet is because of the way I ride. I think not wearing a helmet makes me a more cautious rider. There are many times that I have debated whether or not to cross the street at a red light between cars or weave through a few lanes of traffic. There is only a second to make these decisions. You either stop, or ride as fast as possible. That moment of hesitation is what will get you hit. In general, I stop at red lights and don’t cross unless I know I am safe. I think that if I wore a helmet I would give myself the illusion of invincibility and would take a lot more risks, and probably have a lot more accidents.
A traffic psychologist named Dr. Ian Walker did a study to see how riding a helmet affected the way cars drove near cyclists. He collected data from 2500 cars in the UK by riding a bike equipped with a computer and distance sensor device. According to his results cars passed cyclists wearing helmets three inches closer than bikers not wearing helmets. Three inches may not seem like a lot, but it can be the difference between whether you get hit or not. He also found that if you are a female, or look unsteady on your bike, cars would also go out of their way to avoid you. As a female without a helmet, the odds are better in my favor.
Helmet or not, some accidents cannot be avoided and that’s the risk I take every day.