Warranty Disclaimer

Today I rode my artisanal singlespeed to the forbidding Trails Behind The Mall:

On the way there, I racked up one (1) notable wildlife sighting, that being a wild turkey accompanying a poult.

What is a poult? Why, it’s what you call a baby turkey. Did I know that already? No, I did not, for I am not a Fowl Fred. (Though I am a Foul Fred.) But I know it now, and I’m a better person for it.

Alas, I did not get a photo of the turkey and its poult, but it was not for lack of trying:

Meanwhile, in news that should surprise nobody but probably does anyway, Giro admits that their bicycling-specific foam hats are not designed to protect you from cars, buses, and trucks:

However, cyclists should not rely on cycle helmets to offer protection against smashes with cars, trucks, or other large, heavy, and often fast road vehicles.

“There are many misconceptions about helmets,” Richter told British trade magazine Cycling Industry News on July 6.

“We do not design helmets specifically to reduce chances or severity of injury when impacts involve a car,” said Richter.

But don’t worry, because a bicycle helmet will at least prevent you from getting a concussion.

Oh, wait, no it won’t:

The CPSC stresses: “No helmet design has been proven to prevent concussions.”

Outdoor sports attorney Jim Moss, a member of the ASTM helmet committee, agrees: “No cycling helmet is made to prevent concussions. Period.”

So when is a bicycle helmet effective? Well, according to the article, the helmet sweet spot is hitting trees or falling off your bike at slow speeds:

While bicycle helmets may offer little protection against impacts from motor vehicles, and cannot offer guaranteed protection against concussions, they can be life-savers when worn in the crash scenarios for which they were designed, such as slamming head-first into a tree branch or falling to the curb during a slow speed tumble.

This has always been my gut feeling about helmets, which is why if I do wear one it’s generally when I’m mountain biking–though even then I’ve been known to raw-dog it, which I did today, because it probably won’t surprise you to learn that I’m not exactly getting all Hans Rey out there:

There’s no way that’s real, he couldn’t possibly have done all that with rim brakes.

So what does all this mean? How many cyclists are dying from falls and trees as opposed to motor vehicles anyway? Well, according to the National Safety Council, in 2018 approximately 66% of cycling death in the United States involved motor vehicles:

Of the 1,024 bicyclist deaths in 2018, 682 died in motor-vehicle crashes and 342 in other incidents, according to National Center for Health Statistics mortality data. Males accounted for 87% of all bicycle deaths, over six times the fatalities for females

Rounding that percentage down so it’s more catchy-sounding, and also being inappropriately facile about what is in fact a serious subject, this means that the answer to the eternal “Will a helmet save my life?” question is 60/40 “Nope”/”Maybe possibly.”

Of course the calculus changes considerably if you zoom in on a specific region; consider, for example, that here in New York City last year we lost 29 cyclists. I was paying particularly close attention to these deaths because I was doing my radio show and talking about them a lot, and I’m pretty sure that, with the exception of one rider who fell off an ebike in Central Park, every one of these riders was killed by a driver.

Therefore, using the same facile reasoning, the answer to the eternal “Will a helmet save my life in New York City?” question is, quite simply, “Nope.”

And before you get all bent out of shape, please note that, as I pointed out, I’m being facile here–maybe even glib! Also, I’m obviously not accounting for serious injuries. Still, as the article points out, the myth that a helmet will save you from motor vehicles is the source of much shaming, which is precisely why it’s so pernicious:

It may seem obvious that lightweight bicycle helmets—usually made from expanded-polystyrene—offer little protection against multi-ton motor vehicles traveling fast, yet many helmetless cyclists report that some motorists shout at them for not wearing helmets.

And that’s not even addressing all the newspaper articles about cyclists killed by motor vehicles that include the gratuitous phrase, “The victim was not wearing a helmet.” (Given the inefficacy of helmets against multi-ton vehicles, they might as well say, “The victim was not wearing a condom.”)

It is noteworthy that companies that sell bicycle helmets are not required to emblazon the packaging with notices such as NOT DESIGNED TO PROTECT WEARER FROM MOTOR VEHICLES or WILL NOT PREVENT CONCUSSIONS, though it is in keeping with our culture’s “Slap a helmet on it and call it good” approach to bicycle safety, and I’m sure that every one from policymakers to helmet companies would simply prefer we not think about it.

Incidentally, while we’re on the subject of Giro, I’m old enough to remember when we weren’t supposed to buy their products because guns:

Aaron Naparstek liked his “obscenely expensive” Giro helmet. He said it once even saved him from a concussion. But in the wake of last month’s mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, the cycling advocate and Streetsblog founder swore off the brand. His reason: He learned that Giro’s parent company, Vista Outdoor, is one of the largest gun and ammunition manufacturers in the country and a vocal supporter of the NRA.

“When I buy bicycle gear, I don’t want my money going to the NRA,” Naparstek told Bicycling.

Wait..the helmet saved him from a concussion?

*Rewind sound*

The CPSC stresses: “No helmet design has been proven to prevent concussions.”

Outdoor sports attorney Jim Moss, a member of the ASTM helmet committee, agrees: “No cycling helmet is made to prevent concussions. Period.”

*Fast forward sound*

Anyway, we did finally solve that pesky school shooting problem–not by banning guns, but by banning school. So I guess it all worked out in the end.

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