Here's Why You're Not Too Cool to Wear a Bike Helmet

Beth Greenfield
Senior Writer
July 27, 2014

YouTube/”The Great Muppet Caper”

I always hated bike helmets: They gave me hat head during city commutes and felt restrictive during country joyrides, though I would wear one sporadically, depending on factors like my hairstyle and the perceived danger involved in a particular route. But I’ve become a full-time convert since a morning in May, when I face-planted onto the pavement in my first-ever bicycle crash, breaking both elbows, tearing up my wrists, and chipping a tooth. My head, though, remained blessedly unscathed, thanks to the black Skid Lid helmet I’d reluctantly strapped on that morning.

Sadly, I can’t say the same for my neighbor, who had a bike accident around the same time as mine — without a helmet — and wound up undergoing seven hours of brain surgery as a result. She now wears a small pink helmet 24-7, protecting her fragile skull until it heals, and while her battered memory slowly starts to return. When I see her walking around the neighborhood, taking tentative, shuffling steps, I wince. And feel very, very lucky.  

And when I see people biking helmetless — whether they’re alongside city traffic or sand dunes — I can’t help wanting to pull them aside and warn them to please stop worrying about their hair. But rather than act out in the streets or on the bike trails, I’ll take care of the warning here:

In 2010, 70 percent of bicyclists killed in accidents were not wearing helmets. That’s according to Insurance Institute for Highway Safety data provided by the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute, a consumer group. “Helmets spread the transfer of energy over space and time, which reduces tissue damage,” BHSI founder Gary Smith told Yahoo Health. “That’s the basic science of injury prevention.” He also points to a classic New England Journal of Medicine study, which showed that helmets were 85 percent effective in preventing injuries in a bike accident (though findings since have challenged that percentage). “That, I think, is the best we can do.”

Traumatic brain injury specialists (not to mention the CDC) think you should wear a helmet. One of them, Dr. Brian Im, is a clinical assistant professor at NYU Langone Medical Center’s Department of Rehabilitation Medicine. “I’m a believer in bike helmets. I think helmet wearing in general is good because it protects the skull, and a fracture can push into the brain and cause bleeding or exposure, which causes infections,” he told Yahoo Health. “It also dissipates the forces somewhat.” But Im’s endorsement comes with a warning: “It’s not the end-all be-all, and it’s still highly likely that you may suffer a brain injury [with a helmet] because of what goes on inside the head.” Traumatic brain injury and concussions, he explained, come from the movement of the brain inside of the skull, where it sloshes around in fluid before coming to an abrupt stop. This can cause a host of issues, from memory or speech problems to landing in an extreme vegetative state. Still — why wouldn’t you want to lower the risk of fracturing your skull? “I do think that when you’re not wearing a helmet, your chances of more severe injury are higher,” Im said, before adding, “I don’t ride my bike in the city.”

There are stylish options now. If you’re still not quite convinced it’s worth looking like a dork, check out one of the way-cool fedoras, newsboy caps, and jockey-type helmets at Bandbox, Yakkay, Bern, Lazer, and the oft-sold-out Sawako Furuno. My cute Skid Lid (now in the trash, as helmets are only made to sustain one accident in a lifetime) wasn’t so bad, either. But cutest (and most expensive) of all is the Hövding, an “invisible helmet” that’s actually an air bag for cyclists that pops out of a really attractive collar on impact. They’re only available in Europe, but are sure to be stateside any minute.