Moving the Conversation Beyond Helmets

Wear a helmet, don’t wear a helmet; you choose. We just want you to ride.

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Wear a helmet, don’t wear a helmet; you choose. We just want you to ride.

It’s probably no surprise to our regular readers that by and large, the most contentious issue you write to us about is helmets. Helmet feedback floods our inbox, Facebook page, Twitter feed and website more than any other subject related to riding a bike. Each time we publish a photo of someone not wearing a helmet we either get yelled at or applauded. So it’s time we officially share our opinion on the subject with you.

We don’t believe the law should require helmets for people over the age of 16. We believe that adults should have the right to choose whether or not they wear a helmet. It feels wrong and repressive living in a city where cyclists are targeted by the police and looked down on by other citizens for not wearing a helmet. Making people who choose to respectfully travel by bike, while following the rules of the road, become the victims of attacks and fines is unreasonable.

At best, helmets may reduce the consequences of collisions, but they cannot stop a crash from happening in the first place. Helmet arguments focus much-needed energy away from what really matters in making cities safe for cycling: lower (and enforced) speed limits and separated and connected bike infrastructure.

We understand that our readers often have personal stories of loved ones who feel that they were saved by wearing helmet. We definitely won’t argue that helmets don’t save lives when people fall and hit their heads. In some cases we are sure that helmets have saved lives.

But we don’t need to police helmet use; it is a waste of resources and a waste of our time as promoters of safe, everyday cycling for transportation. Before you write us about helmets, please first write a letter to your local representative asking for better bike infrastructure and separated bike lanes. We need to move the conversation forward. We need to unify our voices and put our energy towards lobbying for infrastructure and enforced universal lower speed limits. Tell your friends why we need better bicycle infrastructure. Write more letters to local politicians. Don’t remain silent when it comes to making cycling safer for everyone.

Momentum Mag will continue to publish photographs of people biking with and without helmets because we proudly promote the bicycle as transportation and present everyday people riding bikes in everyday situations in whatever clothing and accessories they choose to wear. We need more role models and we need to take more action towards better cycling conditions. Encourage, don’t discourage. Our cities need the voices of people who ride bikes to unify and fight as allies, not judgmental enemies.

Please help us move the conversation beyond helmets. We all have much more important things to talk about.

Mia Kohout & Tania Lo


Momentum Magazine


  • Olivia

    Yes, my 13 and 15 have both been talked to by a police officer for joy wearing a helmet. I feel them without them is the beat choice for them. Just get on your bike and ride helmet or not nobody care. My choice for my teens is no helmet. My choice for my newborn down the street is wear a helmet till you are 16. It doesn’t matter, just ride and enjoy.

  • J Williams

    As an everyday commuter my helmet has saved my skull twice; both times at relatively slow speeds.

    Anecdotal? Totally but I’ve yet to hear a reason other than personal vanity for not wearing one. Dissuading others from riding bc they have to wear a helmet? Perhaps but I can tell you personally that this is a safety issue and that trumps pretty much everything else unfortunately. Maybe you will never fall (or be bumped as I was) but helmets (demonstrably in my case) can protect your head and efforts to minimalize that are not helpful to those who will ride not knowing the full dangers out there and that you should seek to mitigate those – even at the price of fashion and vanity.

  • Mike Brown

    I ride a recumbent trike (Terra Trike Rover) and generally don’t wear a helmet. I have taken spills on regular bikes where I was wearing a helmet and in that moment was quite glad I was wearing one (that van bumper would have HURT my old noggin!).
    Gnereally, I think some kind of head protection is a good plan, but I rode a bike for years when I was a kid and we didn’t HAVE helmets back then…
    I agree we need far more cycling infrastructure to make riding safer. That just makes sense. Wearing a helmet is your PERSONAL choice for YOUR OWN safety. Safer broader infrastructure is the best way to generally make cycling safe for ALL riders.

  • Tom Petrie

    Bravo Momentum! It takes courage to take the very reasonable position you have. Helmets are the LAST thing you need. Literally. If half the energy and money involved in helmets were focused on improving infrastructure, the cycling world would be a much better and safer place. Tom Petrie

  • Brandon

    I agree with two of those. No seatbelt? Your choice. Only hurts you. Back of the pickup? Sure. But DUI puts others at risk. That’s a good one to keep illegal.

    Mu guess is that insurance companies lobbied for seatbelt laws. Smaller payouts.

    I commute without a helmet, but I put one on my kid.

  • Simon

    Despite the fact that it’s now illegal, I still see drivers entering intersections with a phone pressed to their ear. The speed limits are fine – there’s no point in legislating them lower. For one thing, there is a tendency in this country to think that more legislation will fix a problem. For another, you will just produce more frustration amongst drivers, which will not help cyclists. It’s necessary for police to enforce the laws as they stand, starting with those that have the biggest bearing on public safety. Top of this list is phone use while driving, not speeding.

    • Duncan Hurd

      Distracted driving is absolutely a problem and a growing epidemic. However, speeding and speed limits that are far too high are absolutely at the root of danger to people on bikes and on foot. “At 20 mph, a pedestrian has about a 5 percent chance of dying if he is hit by a car. At 30 mph, the chance of dying increases to roughly 45 percent. If a pedestrian is hit by a motor vehicle traveling 40 mph, the risk of dying increases to 85 percent.” The speed limits are not fine.

      • Simon

        Of course you are right that there is a positive correlation between speed and damage done in an accident. No doubt there is also a positive correlation with the probability of an accident occurring in the first place. However, does this mean that if we want to make a step change improvement in road safety we should start by legislating lower speed limits? With the exception perhaps of certain provable accident blackspots, I would say definitely not.

        When phoning-while-driving was outlawed, it was potentially a game-changer. HOWEVER, so far as I can see, it is not being aggressively or effectively enforced. If we say that we are going to impose lower speed limits in an effort to reduce accident statistics, we are quite frankly ignoring an elephant in the room. As to why the Vancouver police are not setting up video cameras to get footage of people sailing through intersections while holding their phone, you would need to ask them.

        In any case, it’s not really an option to keep reducing speed limits. They are necessarily a compromise between allowing drivers to get where they need to go, on the one hand, and the safety of all road users on the other hand. There used to be a stretch of the Sea-to-Sky around Horseshoe Bay where the speed limit dropped to 60km/h. It was impossible to drive that slowly because it literally felt as if you were hardly moving. If you create a similar situation on a single-lane street, you will have a line of angry drivers behind the one who is attempting to adhere to the speed limit. Angry drivers=dangerous drivers. And as for the poor schmuck at the front, guess how much of his attention is going to be on the road in front of him. When drivers perceive that there is a large discrepancy between the speed limit and the appropriate speed for the road conditions, they don’t even try to meet it. If it’s just a bit slower than they feel is appropriate, you get more people trying to comply. I should say at this point that I speak as a cyclist, a driver and a pedestrian (also a motorcyclist, though not so much recently). Cycling is by far my preferred way to get around the city, all other things being equal. I have been hit by car while driving and while cycling, and I am painfully aware of the dangers to cyclists, particularly when they venture onto arterial streets. which I try to avoid. I wear a helmet 99% of the time, but I don’t think I should have to. In short, I say let’s have a meaningful effort to penalize careless and distracted drivers before we legislate frustratingly low speed limits, which in any case would not be adhered to.We have too many laws and bylaws in this country which, because they are too proscriptive, it’s ‘understood’ aren’t meant to be rigorously adhered to – rather people view them as guidelines, ideals or as something to be kept in reserve as a ‘gotcha’ in serious cases.

      • Francis noergaard

        Speed is the number one killer! how fast can you react an break depends in your speed, but also noise from cars going fast are known to kill people living close to roads. In high density areas, make the roads small and narrow, and the speeds will lower.

  • teddy

    I’ll do what I feel comfortable in doing. I tell you, I’m not comfortable riding in a car these days.

  • Brad

    Here’s a newsflash. Life is a terminal condition and – everything – has an element of risk.
    Fortunately, cycling (even without helmets) on a regular basis can be relied upon to lengthen and improve the health of those participate, and that makes cycling a relatively safe activity.
    Promoting helmet use simply spreads the notion that cycling is extraordinarily dangerous, something that is not only not true, but also distracts advocates from taking more effective measures to reduce the already small element of danger cyclists do face

    • Dave

      Why Don’t we stop wearing seatbelts and allow people to ride around in the back of pickup trucks? Why don’t we let people drink and drive too? It is all the user’s choice right?

      • Chris

        Whatever ……

      • chris

        I’m not sure which “chris” wrote the “Pftt” note, but it wasn’t me. I wrote the “Ignorance” note below. There’s no need to be dismissive of each other’s ideas, we just need to make reasonable arguments. You can’t expect anyone to listen if you don’t intend to do the same.

        In response to “perhaps”… the answer of helmets vs. seat belts is this: seat belts have been proven to dramatically reduce fatality rates and health care costs, helmets have not. Seat belt laws do not discourage people from driving, but helmets do discourage people from cycling. Driving a car does not improve your health, but riding a bike does. That’s why we need seat belt laws, but not helmet laws.

  • Brent Cohrs

    CH1, I may have used the graphic of the helmet campaign, but my post was about how we’ve allowed the helmet debate to distract us from the real issue; safer streets. I pretty much said exactly what Mia said.

    “In many ways, that highly conspicuous bicycle helmet is like the presence of body fat on an overweight American. It is a very visible symbol for something that is not quite right, yet we’re uncomfortable pointing it out, let alone talking about it. It’s a symptom of a much larger problem. The bike helmet is really just a mask for a whole host of underlying and interconnected issues to hide behind.”

    I agree with you, more cyclists on the road is the answer! We need to move beyond the helmet debate and work on safer road designs that help us build critical mass.

  • ch1

    Brent, unfortuately helmet promotions discourage cycling. More cyclists on the roads improve not only road safety, but also makes cycling even safer. The effectiveness of bike helmets in real crashes are also very questionable. Riding safely on a safe road is the best.

  • Brent Cohrs

    Blog post at Chicago Now.

    I think of my helmet as a hard hat because we still have a lot of work to do to make bicycling safer for those who want to take it up.

  • Prattle On, Boyo

    Newsflash Brad, like driving a motor vehicle, cycling can be dangerous if you don’t pay attention or know the rules of the road. Wearing a helmet or not makes no difference if you aren’t aware of those basic tenets.

  • Bruce Alan Wilson

    . . . brains work better INSIDE the skull.

  • ch1

    alliwant, are you wearing your helmet for more dangerous activities than cycling as well?
    Like driving a car, being a passenger in a car, walking, showering, walking down stairs…

  • alliwant

    I prefer to use a helmet, mostly as a mirror holder. I really like being able to see what’s going on behind me, and a mirror on the helmet is the best way to do that. I’ve never taken any substantial impact to my helmets; I’ve gone over the bars once, slipped on ice a few times, skinned my shins on pedals but never really needed helmet protection. Still I am in favor of using the styrofoam crown, because when the head takes on pavement the head always loses. It only has to happen once.

  • Brad

    Kasper, Momentum Magazine runs a contrary position to yours and is unlikely to be swayed to your position.

    regarding your viewpoint, the words of BS NYC point out its problem:

    ” something like this has the potential to set the cause of cycling as transportation back at least 20 years. It’s hard enough for people to wade through the morass of bicycle marketing, so once they’ve actually gotten a bike you can’t then tell them, “Oh, one more thing, you have to wear this wooden turtle shell on your head so you won’t die.” That’s going to be a deal breaker, and their next stop is going to be the Hyundai dealership. ”

    Convincing people they need helmets convinces people that cycling is dangerous, and that just pushes people away from bicycles and into cars.

    • chris

      As a physician with a keen interest in this topic let me share my understanding of the published evidence on this topic. I”ll make 3 main points:

      1. Injuries and Helmets: if you fall off your bike for any reason, a helmet probably reduces the risk of minor/moderate head injury somewhat. This is particularly true for younger brains (more susceptible to concussion), and less experienced riders (more likely to fall). Unlike seat belts, the risk of fatal injury has not been conclusively proven to be reduced by helmet use. What has been proven to save lives is reduced speed zones and better cycling infrastructure. What is also clear in studies, is that the more people there are riding, the safer the streets become. The lowest fatality rate in the world (by far) is in the Netherlands, where helmets are generally only worn by tourists.

      2. Helmet Laws: there is ample evidence around the world that mandatory helmet laws dramatically reduce the cycling modal share. Since it is still healthier to ride without a helmet than to not ride at all, helmet laws negatively affect overall population health (not to mention carbon footprint, economic development, community connections, and other cycling benefits).

      3. Personal Choice Vs. Public Policy: the crux of the helmet issue is this – everyone should have the choice to make themselves a little bit safer by wearing a helmet, but from a broader public perspective mandating helmet use (in adults) leads to worse population health overall, not better. The evidence clearly supports the position taken by Momentum – if we really want to improve the safety (and QOL) in our cities we need to work with local governments to change speed laws and build more cycle-friendly infrastructure.

  • Kasper

    This magazine should help making the helmet a standard, just like the safety belt in a car is.

    Wearing a helmet should be for granted in a couple of years. That takes time, and image building is part of it. By displaying nice fotos of well known people with a helmet in bicycle magazines, we can get there. Children and even adults need role models.

    So please alter your ignorant opinion regarding this matter, and publisch only pictures of people with a helmet.

  • Brad

    To further my point re helmet use being thrust upon cyclists, here are three typical stories from Google news saying helmets prevent cycling deaths, public interest groups aggressively targeting cyclists without helmets, and the logical next step which is the implementation of helmet laws

    Again, if the conversation is not brought to me, I will not argue it, but when cyclists are told they need to wear helmets a debate will start

  • joe cyclist

    I agree, its fair to let adults choose whether or not they want to wear a helmet. However, bike races and organized bike rides (grandfondos) should enforce a helmet rule; higher risk of crashing.

    Personally, I almost always wear a helmet, its my choice. Although every time I’ve gone down on the bike, never once has a helmet helped to prevent any of the road rash, scrapes and bruises I’ve suffered – it did however protect my head that one time my front wheel fell on my head when I was 15 and doing something stupid on my bike. A helmet doesn’t help those who break their collarbones (most common injury amoung cyclists, professional and recreational), arms, legs, wrists….which all cases require medical attention, irresponsibly sucking up our tax dollars as some comments imply.

    Wearing a helmet doesn’t make cycling any safer, only when every individual out the roads takes responsibility to be safe (stop at stop signs, look before you turn, etc) and be AWARE. Riding a bike is as safe as you make it.

  • Norwegian

    I love your statement on helmets! In my opinion it all depends on the infrastructure and speed. If it’s safe leave the helmet! Momentum is read all over Europe!

  • Karyn Climans

    Totally disagree with you and I think your magazine is in a great position to be great role models for helmet use. Also, how do you explain to your kids why they have to wear helmets, if you don’t?

  • Brad

    From the NY Times

    “Pushing helmets really kills cycling… because it promotes a sense of danger that just isn’t justified…”

  • Sam

    I want to share this horrible tragic story with you about how my aunt rode that one time and then tripped on a log and then fell and landed on her head and then died a slow, bloody death because she wanted to be all “chic”. My uncle was with her and went down with her and yet miraculously survived because he was wearing a foam force field on his head that kept him alive. Today his head is that much more stronger because of his foam force field.

  • Brad

    How about the publishers represent people on bicycles as they are? Is 50/50 an accurate representation? I suppose that depends upon where you are, but I believe in most places it is not.
    The publishers statement is reasonable, “Momentum Mag will continue to publish photographs of people biking with and without helmets because we proudly promote the bicycle as transportation and present everyday people riding bikes in everyday situations in whatever clothing and accessories they choose to wear.” If less than 50% wear helmets, why should Momentum misrepresent reality by showing more cyclists wearing helmets than they do?

  • sarah heyman

    If you REALLY want to get beyond the helmet issue, then make 1/2 of your photos in any issue helmet wearers. This should be especially true for the posed photos or the photos you have to set up. THAT would really get behind the helmet debate, at least in terms of your magazine.

  • Xander

    All a matter of personal choice where legal and permitted. Make a choice and move on to better and safer infrastructure. (that can also be peanut free ) 😉

  • Rowan De Bonaire

    So this is moving beyond the helmet debate is it?
    Marc, I will remember your statement if you happen to fall ill due to any self-inflicted aspect of your lifestyle. If you injure yourself by slipping in the shower, without a helmet, byt tripping on the footpath, without a helmet, or by driving or travelling in a vehicle which is involved it a collision, without a helmet. All of these carry the same amount of legal compulsion to wear a helmet (none), and carry greater sirks statistically, of sustaining the particular, narrowly defined kinds of injuries which helmets are designed to protect against.
    Surely your contributory negligence is similar if not greater in those cases?

    I deplore these irresponsible people who walk around, climb stairs, take a shower, and travel in vehicles, unhelmetted! how DARE they?!

  • Brad

    I believe there are many that refuse to see more than half the story.
    Certainly there is research that shows many benefits from helmet use, the trouble is, there is just as much research that shows no benefit. Further, my initial point stands, there isn’t any conclusive evidence that cyclists suffer injuries to any greater degree that that of the general population.
    I agree it doesn’t take much effort to put a helmet on, so the question is, why should a helmet be removed when one gets off a bike if the risk of head injury is still there? Why single out cycling? Isn’t that being discriminatory?

  • corrie

    For examples of research on helmet use and decrease of injury:
    1. Thompson D C, Rivara F P, Thompson R. Helmets for preventing head and facial injuries in bicyclists. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 1999. 4CD001855.
    2. Royal S T, Kendrick D, Coleman T. Non‐legislative interventions for the promotion of cycle helmet wearing by children. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2005. 2CD003985.
    3. Macpherson A, Spinks A. Bicycle helmet legislation for the uptake of helmet use and prevention of head injuries. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2007. 2CD005401.

  • corrie

    To respond to Brad:
    Sure, bicycling has overall health benefits but I stand by my statement that helmets should be used. I’m not misinformed or ignorant; I have read research that clearly correlates helmet use with decreased severity of injuries. They may not prevent them entirely, but there is a world of difference between a concussion and brain matter leaking onto the pavement (if you think I’m being graphic, it’s just reality). I have seen these injuries and they almost always occur from unhelmeted riders vs riders with helmets.j
    As far as the slippery slope, I understand your point. It always has to be a consideration of burden to the individual vs good to society. And really, is it that much of a burden to put a helmet on?

  • Brad

    The comments by corrie and Marc are also what I wa referring to when I posted a misinformed public is bad.

    Cyclists (even bre-headed cyclists) on average live longer and healthier lives which require less medical care than that of the general population, yet these two commentaries are of the opinion that cyclists who ride without helmets are a cost burden to society. They are anything but.

    Corrie and Marc are also of the opinion that helmet use decreases costly injuries cyclists suffer, yet data shows this is far from the case.

    Ignorance is not bliss, in fact it can be quite destructive at times

  • chris

    The comments by Corrie and Marc are so typical of what you hear in this debate. A very simple extension of this logic is government intervention in all aspects of our health care. Why should my taxes go to pay for someone who chooses to live an unhealthy lifestyle? How much money is being wasted treating problems brought on by obesity? Do we want government intervening in our food choices? I imagine Corrie and Marc both probably do. How about people who injure themselves skiing? Why pay for their health care? It’s a short trip to this slippery slope argument. I thought it had been brushed aside by more logical arguments.

  • corrie

    OK, I do believe people should have the right to make decisions when it impacts only themselves. In that vein, if you have good health insurance, by all means don’t wear a helmet. But if you don’t, guess who pays for your ICU stay and extensive recovery (to whatever extent that may happen)? Society does, and that is a considerable burden. I work in a hospital and I frequently see people with serious head injuries. You may be the safest rider out there, but it doesn’t matter if someone in a car makes a bad decision; you are definitely going to come out on the worst end of it.

  • Marc

    You don’t have to wear a helmet so long as I don’t have to pay to scrape your uninsured brain off the pavement.

    Except that I do. And so you do. Welcome to shared responsibility.

    I’m fine with my side of this bargain. I think it’s fair. I think you deserve treatment, even if you’re uninsured, if you get hurt in spite of taking completely reasonable precautions. I’m even fine with you shirking your side (wearing a helmet) so long as it’s implicitly understood that I get to shirk my side (covering the cost of your treatment, should you be amongst the far too many uninsured) in the event of your need.

    I’m also more than a little put off by your having followed “don’t impose your will on my headgear” with “everyone on the road should slow down in order to accommodate my self-imposed risk of injury”.

    It’s kinda one-sided, don’t you think?

    Look. Helmets are sweaty. They almost all look silly. We wear them because it is part of both a collective and individual good.

    And because Gary Busse.

  • Brad

    Personally, I rarely evoke the H issue unless it is first brought to me.

    If the H issue wasn’t raised, if it wasn’t touted as the “single most important preventative measure in reducing injury”, if I wasn’t questioned for my choice in head gear, I don’t think I would discuss helmets at all.

    I applaud the publishers stance, but I think it’s a bit of a dream. The H issue is here because it has been brought to us. Promotion leads to laws. Debate is good, a misinformed populace is bad, that said, if the merits of my choice is not questioned, I will not breach the subject.

  • Erik

    Yes! This is what it’s about!

    What if everybody who wanted to ride a bike could simply get on one and ride it?


    Thanks for this statement editors!
    I find it hilarious that people can’t make their kudos without giving their personal opinions about if they wear helmets or not. So I will not tell you my preference.

    I just get so fed up with every six month on every bicycle infrastructure list I am on the helmet debate flame war coming up again. Maybe this statement will travel far and wide and we can focus on something more worthwhile!

  • Steve

    I applaud making such a statement. As someone that likely will always wear a helmet I personally believe that the sum total health risks and and costs to society will be most positively impacted getting more people on bikes so,.. and if that is assisted in any way by removing the helmet restrictions, I’m for it.
    I am not, however, against policing other aspects of cycling safety such as lights. Huge pet peeve of mine when someone comes ripping around the the roundabout on a stealth fixie smoking pedestrians in the West End (yes seen this), or almost colliding with me on 10th. I say lets go full on draconian there, but let people choose about the helmets.

  • Brad

    Until I see good, unbiased evidence that cyclists receive more head injuries than that of the general population, I will continue to see the promotion of helmets for cyclists as discrimination against cyclists.

    If one wants to ride in the back of the bus that’s fine, but to be told to go there, when there is no will or need to go to the back of the bus is wrong.

  • CD

    *affixes large piece of styrofoam to head with duct tape*

    Am I adequately encumbered to go on my daily bike ride now, AB? After all I would hate to think I lack your approval before plopping down on the saddle.

  • AB

    Well you know what they say about brains; If you don’t use it you lose it. Thanks for tidying up the gene-pool guys!

  • sarah heyman

    Please then, PUBLISH AS MANY PHOTOS of RIDERS W/ HELMETS. (btw/ I have done, do and always will be doing the important lobbing you wrote about. I do it on a local, state and federal level at every chance I get. And yes I ALWAYS were a helmet, even when it is 110 degrees out. I just stop, take it off and pour water on my head in the shady parts of my ride. I ride every day)

  • Peter Smolinski

    not gonna wear one riding a bicycle, living in a state where motorcycle riders don’t even require to have one

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