• http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?article­id=778EF0AB-E7F2-99DF-3594A60E4D9A76B2

    Strange but True: Helmets Attract Cars to Cyclists

    Although you might not want to leave your protective gear at home, just know that if you do, drivers will be a lot more scared of hitting you.

    Spring is in full swing now, and a number of the straphangers (read: subway riders) in New York City, as well as citizens in other locales, are getting new tubes and tires and dragging their bikes out of storage. Bicycle riding is the skill you reportedly never forget, but there's a raging debate about whether or not you should forget your helmet when you hop on your two-wheeler.

    Last September a plucky psychologist at the University of Bath in England announced the results of a study in which he played both researcher and guinea pig. An avid cyclist, Ian Walker had heard several complaints from fellow riders that wearing a helmet seemed to result in bike riders receiving far less room to maneuver—effectively increasing the chances of an accident. So, Walker attached ultrasonic sensors to his bike and rode around Bath, allowing 2,300 vehicles to overtake him while he was either helmeted or naked-headed. In the process, he was actually contacted by a truck and a bus, both while helmeted—though, miraculously, he did not fall off his bike either time.

    His findings, published in the March 2007 issue of Accident Analysis & Prevention, state that when Walker wore a helmet drivers typically drove an average of 3.35 inches closer to his bike than when his noggin wasn't covered. But, if he wore a wig of long, brown locks—appearing to be a woman from behind—he was granted 2.2 inches more room to ride.

    "The implication," Walker says, "is that any protection helmets give is canceled out by other mechanisms, such as riders possibly taking more risks and/or changes in how other road users behave towards cyclists." The extra leeway granted to him when he pretended to be a woman, he explains, could result from several factors, including drivers' perceptions that members of the fairer sex are less capable riders, more frail or just less frequent bikers than men.

    Randy Swart, founder of the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute (BHSI), says that studies such as Walker's run the risk of misleading cyclists as to the effectiveness of helmets. "The cars were giving him, on average, a very wide passing clearance already," he explains, noting that most vehicles typically stayed well over three feet from the bikes, rendering the 3.35-inch discrepancy to be insignificant. "If you really want the greatest passing distance, you should wobble down the road," looking as inept as possible, he adds.

    Walker actually reanalyzed his data recently to counter this line of reasoning. "I assessed the number of vehicles coming within one meter [roughly 3.3 feet] of the rider, on the principle that these are the ones that pose a risk," he says. "There were 23 percent more vehicles within this one-meter danger zone when a helmet was worn, suggesting a real risk."

    Dorothy Robinson, a patron of the Bicycle Helmet Research Foundation and a senior statistician at the University of New England in Armidale, Australia, published a 2006 review article in the BMJ (British Medical Journal) about regions in Australia, New Zealand and Canada that introduced legislation that spurred an over 40 percent increase in bicycle helmet use among their populaces. The newly instituted laws, she found, did not have a significant effect on bicycle accidents resulting in head injuries, the primary purpose of the gear. Her conclusion was "helmets are not designed for forces often encountered in collisions with motor vehicles" as well as that they "may encourage cyclists to take more risks or motorists to take less care when they encounter cyclists."

    Coincidentally, around the same time as Walker announced his results, New York City released a report on bicycle deaths and injuries: 225 cyclists died between 1996 and 2005 on New York streets; 97 percent of them were not wearing helmets. Of these deaths, 58 percent are known to involve head injury, but the actual number could be as high as 80 percent. Comparing the helmet to a seat belt in a car, Swart of the BHSI says, "When you do have that crash, you better have it on."

    Walker, whose much-publicized report may inspire a new generation of bareheaded riders, won't make any specific recommendations to other cyclists (and neither will Scientific American), though he notes that when it comes to riding in traffic, motorists are the real problem. "If people read the research and decide a helmet makes them safer, they should wear one; if they read the research and decide it doesn't, perhaps they don't need to," Walker says, adding the caveat, "But they do need to read the research!" And watch out for cars.

  • The helmet is the last line of defence - u need to learn to ride the roads u ride and how to move around those roads safely for yourself and others before u even consider a helmet. I think it's silly, because the people u see in hi-viz jackets and sashes and huge helmets with lights all over them are the most dangerous of riders - too slow, hugh sweeping curves when they overtake obstructions on their left, and are often too busy trying to balance to look over their shoulders.

    I know I'm generalising but most of u must see cyclists like this every day that force u and cars to make more rash road positioning choices...

  • .

  • i can see where the article is coming from but I wear a hat, always. i feel bad whenever i don't, like i'm tempting fate. i know they're not cool but my cycling cap ain't gonna do jack in an acident. i'd also say that most cyclists i know and have ridden with in the past wear one whether they're going to the shops or doing a big ride.

    my view is every car driver is a potential twat so i need as much help as possible in case they hit me. depressing ain't it!

  • I wear one every day when I'm working. Haven;t had a serious crash in London luckily, plenty of them in the past. The occasions that you are really happy you did wear one, it's never your fault and you never ever saw it coming.

  • I've got a feeling that if u are a good cyclist then u wont get hit. If u do get hit then u aren't as good a cyclist as u thought u were.......

    I'm not sure whether those pearls of wisdom mean that u should wear a helmet or not :-0


  • Well when I fractured my skull couple of months back there wasn't a car on the road.....I was dicking around though.

  • Yeah, i agree with jonaent. btw how do you pronounce your name?

  • well, my name is Jon middle name is Alexander and my last name is Entwistle. So I'm not really sure how to say that, it's just a mixture of my names. I'd say JonEnt is a nice way to pronounce it.

    BTW thanks for asking, you're not that courier girl with a pink bike are u ?? ;-)

  • Maybe i is, maybe i is not.

  • Ok, not. Ok now i have to go to hackney with a frame/forks on my back. Hve 2 figure out a waY to attach it to my bag or something. good luck with the courier chick "married but very single..."


  • ............anyway................. back to helmets... :-)

  • jonaent I've got a feeling that if u are a good cyclist then u wont get hit. If u do get hit then u aren't as good a cyclist as u thought u were.......

    I'm not sure whether those pearls of wisdom mean that u should wear a helmet or not :-0


    I was training in Spain couple of years ago with my team at that moment. We were doing this quite coastal road, about 6 of us in a line, when all of a sudden we heard this skidding noise behind us. Next thing I know a car came skidding into the side of me. I managed to keep my bike upright at that time, talking bout being a good cyclist. But when he drove me out of the corner, unable to have any controle over the vehicle, and into another car I couldn;t keep it straight anymore.
    Since we were going slightly downhill and at a pace of about 30/35mph I rolled for about 15 yards through the shoulder at the side of the road and quite a substancial bit of it got stuck in what was left of my helmet.
    I was very happy to wear one at that time I can tell you that.

  • ArgH! It's the helmet debate.... RUN!!!

  • "vegetarian cyclist scum"
    haa, people shout that at me!!!

    my opinion in this debate is...do what you want, if you dont want to wear a helmet then dont, if you do then do.....we're all going to die one way or another aint we,i think i would rather do it on my bike then in a bed at 90

  • You missed the line... "It's all cycling, it's all good.".

  • It's the fixedgear equivalent of speaking about religion and politics in polite events. Don't Talk about helmets and brakes!

  • its all relivant

  • taboo:

    red light "jumping"
    chain tension
    brakes vs brakeless
    risers vs drops
    cycling forums
    spd vs toeclips
    lasagne vs curry

    hang on, I'm getting carried away..

  • I think you could you add veganisum to that list too.:)

    Whats left to talk about now the list writen?

  • ok,


  • ?

  • pasta all the way!!

    what about pescaterianism???

  • yeah, and what about Piscatorialism?

  • yeah, and what about antidisestablishmentarianism?

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Remember kids... always wear a helmet. (The almighty bikeradar helmet thread)

Posted by Avatar for ThisIsRob_(RJM) @ThisIsRob_(RJM)