The Bike Helmet Myth: Slow Riders Don’t Need to Wear Helmets

Bike Helmet StudyThe Colorado State science fair judges were not the only ones who were impressed with Raleigh Burt, an 8th grader from Sargent Junior High School in Alamosa, Colorado. His first place, award-winning project caught the attention of many people who often wondered if they really needed to wear a bicycle helmet. After recording a podcast interview with Raleigh several weeks ago, I invited him to join me on 9News 4 O’Clock Show to demonstrate his ingenious contraption in person. Raleigh agreed to share his project write-up on-line to give people a chance to see the research and data behind his conclusion.

Download Dangerous Decision: The Consideration For Helmet Use At Any Speed (1.1 MB)

The project grabs your attention from the opening lines…

Would you voluntarily run at a full sprint headfirst into a brick wall? Now, think of sitting on a bicycle without a helmet, and then tip over with a little over a second to intervene before your bare head hits the ground. Which sounds worse? Despite the fact that bicycle helmets are considered the single best means of protecting cyclists from the leading causes of head injuries and death, many people still choose not to wear them stating that: “I don’t ride fast enough to need a helmet.”? That is the choice many riders make to become one of the 67,000 cyclists who will suffer a head injury this year. From the height of a recreational riding position, a simple tip-over fall can
create enough speed and energy to cause substantial damage to the human head and brain. In other words, it is the height of the potential fall and not just the speed the cyclist is traveling where the threat of injury exists.

Raleigh Burt was the 2005 Junior Division Best Individual Project Winner. If you want to know what it really takes to be a state champion, you owe it to yourself to download his full report. Oh, by the way, it doesn’t matter how fast you’re riding your bike… wear your helmet.

15 replies
  1. Dawn
    Dawn says:

    Thanks to Raleigh I’ll go back to wearing my bike helmet. I too thought I wasn’t riding fast enough or in traffic so I stopped wearing my helmet. Now I know it the height of the fall that will hurt me.

  2. Jack@Bike Paint
    Jack@Bike Paint says:

    The necessity to wear a helmet cannot be stressed upon enough. I have numerous friends who believe in the same mantra of not needing to wear because they dont ride fast enough. I will be sure to forward this link to them!

  3. mrs. b
    mrs. b says:

    It is so necessary to wear a helmet! When I was 14 I was being a “cool kid” and riding my bike as fast as I could down the same hill I rode down nearly everyday (first mistake), when out of nowhere jumped a big yellow lab from behind a parked car! I had no time to decide what to do and ended up hitting the dog and getting myself nice and knocked out. I ended up with a nice concussion, my brain bled for nearly 3 weeks, and permanent memory loss! So hey, for the sake of the dog and your cute head, put on a helmet already!

    P.S. Yes, the dog was fine.

  4. kaszi
    kaszi says:

    dear everybody,

    stop demonizing biking without a helmet.
    why not emphasizing paying more attention and not falling?
    pro / downhill / freeride /etc ( “extreme” ) cyclist should and do wear helmets, often full-face types.
    for most of the cyclist education how to avoid dangerous situations / places ( how not to get hit ) would help more to make cycling more popular with less casualties than making everybody…their pants if they ever dare to get on a bicycle without a helmet.

  5. Lyn@Helmet Cam
    Lyn@Helmet Cam says:

    Two sides to the helmet debate. On one hand I ask how many bicyclists are out there riding on a given day throughout the year? How many of them have an accident and sustain a serious head injury (a permenant head injury)? Could those people who’ve suffered from permanent head injury have prevented it through wearing of a helmet? I’d say it’s likely that wearing a helmet would prevent the injury, at least the seriousness of it would be reduced. On the other side of the debate, there is still such a thing as personal freedom, choice to make your own decision. I think educating people on the risks is a great idea, but I think adults have the God given right to make up their own mind about what’s best for them. Of course my opinion on personal freedom doesn’t extend to the kids. Not saying the law should mandate kids wear helmets, but I do think parents should always defer to the safest methods when allowing their children to participate in recreational activities. Wow, I think I could write about this for days. Anyway, I hope everyone has fun riding and stays safe!

  6. Nancy@Die Cut Machine
    Nancy@Die Cut Machine says:

    When my sons were growing up in the 80’s they started implementing the “helmet laws”. They did not want to wear a helmet because it “didn’t look cool”. Today, I see more and more bike riders wearing helmets, and I think it’s a good thing overall. Especially with the rising medical costs, this is just another way people can take preventative measures towards avoiding preventable medical issues.

  7. fixielover
    fixielover says:

    You’re right though Nancy… most cycling helmets don’t look cool at all.
    If your kids are worried about how the helmets look then get them skateboard helmet, like a protec or something. They still look great after all these years.

  8. M.G.
    M.G. says:

    We Never wore helmets as children in my generation (Grew up in 1960’s, 1970’s. Nobody ever died in a bicycle crash that I know of. I crashed many times with no helmet…no head injuries, road rash and bruises yes.

    I think helmets for children under 18 is a good idea, but let adults decide if they wear one or not.

    I wonder how many people die from bicycle crashed in Copenhagen…99% of those folks wear no helmets.

    I think mountain biking down big hills and in rough terrain, helmets are a good idea. Same with racing…helmets good, but if you crash at full speed on a race bike…good luck.

    If you think a helmet will save you when a car runs you over, think again. They are not designed for that.

    So let adult commuters decide if they want to wear a helmet or not, it is a risk we can take if we like. Stupid or not.

    Just my .02 worth.

  9. SnowyOwl
    SnowyOwl says:

    Very good. Been riding for 58 years…maybe I SHOULD wear a helmet, but no one should force me to. I’m not saying it’s not for anybody else, I just believe in my right to decide if the situation warrants my choice to do so.
    How many auto passengers, passengers riding in truck beds, law enforcement officers who do high-speed chases, joggers, toddlers in jogging strollers, window washers, scooter riders, skateboarders, surfers, and amusement park riders are required to wear helmets?

  10. Sam Daniel
    Sam Daniel says:

    Be it slow or fast, all bikers need helmets. NO EXCEPTION. You may be slow, but other objects might come to you at a very fast speed. Mountain bike helmets are very important and essential.

  11. lal
    lal says:

    I ride my bike slow and I am very particular. I am not going to fall off my bike sideways? Who does that? How do you even do that unless your very uncoordinated? I don’t go fast enough anymore to go over my bars from breaking. My biggest concern would be cars hitting me and well there are really no cars in my town of 800 and I usually bike on paved trails, otherwise if I’m off the trails I am going very slow on soft dirt/grass trails. Dirt roads can be tricky…I avoid them for this reason. Now my kids…that’s another story…they don’t pay attention to where they are going, they don’t obey traffic signals and they ride like little maniacs so they have to wear a helmet. Kids and teens are just more likely to take big risk on bikes and be distracted. I think over all if your going to be riding in traffic, rocky terrains, or riding fast a helmet is a really good idea…otherwise I think your just as likely to slip in the shower or fall down the stairs. I’m a medic and most of our trauma calls are falls from standing (like slipping on ice or in the shower) or car accidents. We do have the occasional bike versus car and these are very bad without helmets so city riding you need one absolutely but also probably a good living will if your riding in traffic because its just that dangerous.


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