Why it makes sense to bike without a helmet

Saturday, July 18th, 2015

While explaining why it makes sense to bike without a helmet, Howie Chong notes the risk of head injury per million hours travelled

  • Cyclist – 0.41
  • Pedestrian – 0.80
  • Motor vehicle occupant – 0.46
  • Motorcyclist – 7.66

If we’re so concerned about head injuries, he asks, why aren’t we wearing helmets all the time?

With that in mind, a light, convenient, hat-like helmet might be better than nothing — at least if it doesn’t create a false sense of security:

A recent study from the National Ski Areas Association found that, despite a tripling of helmet use among skiers and snowboarders in the United States since 2003, there has been no reduction in the number of snow-sport related fatalities or brain injuries. On the contrary, and 2012 study at the Western Michigan University School of Medicine found an increase in head injuries between 2004 and 2010 despite an increase in helmet use, while a 2013 University of Washington study concluded that snow-sports related head injuries among youths and adolescents increased 250 percent from 1996-2010, a timeframe that also coincides with the increased use of head protection.


  1. Cassander says:

    I imagine the severity of head injuries received while biking is considerably greater than that received while walking.

  2. Isegoria says:

    I believe many of those injuries “while walking” are from getting hit by a car.

  3. Alrenous says:

    The real fudge is the fact the same distance takes longer in a bike. As individuals we consider trips, not hours.

    But there’s also huge conscientiousness/attentiveness fudges. The greatest protection is not to get into an accident in the first place. These accidents will be concentrated power-law style into people who are not like the kind of people who dispassionately consider stats on an often-political and rarely-graphical blog.

    There’s an unknown health factor. Biking necessarily gets you exercise, which is believed to increase life expectancy, and certainly increases well-being.

    In other words, with the exception of motorcycling, these numbers are negligibly different. They are around the level of noise. What we want is all-cause mortality and morbidity associated with choosing to primarily travel by car vs. bike, and that will be something like 0.8% +/- 1%.

  4. Bob Sykes says:

    Helmets pretty much eliminate lacerations and reduce skull fractures, but they do not greatly reduce concussions.

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