The Chainlink

I am sure many of the other threads here touch on this topic to some degree but I would like to see this thread focus on the topic specifically.  Why do you feel that aside from what the rest of the world  sees as the norm, riding sans helmets, that all of the US feels inclined to always don a brain bucket and condone others when not doing the same?





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I'm currently typing this from Warsaw but I just spent the past several days in Copenhagen. My observations and ramblings, in no particular order and only some of which pertain to helmets:

  • More people wear helmets there than I expected. I was expecting to see very few but I'd guesstimate 10-15% of riders were wearing one. Also, only a few people I saw on road bikes were wearing clothes that were obviously cycling specific. Most people just wore their regular clothes. 
  • People are way more chill about how they get around whether it be bike, car, or walking. It's really cool to see when coupled with how narrow and "shared" the public spaces are. Seriously, cyclists and pedestrians are constantly rubbing shoulders and I didn't see a single instance of anyone getting even the slightest bit aggravated. Same with drivers. Almost are were really patient and gave cyclists plenty of space. 
    • Cyclists pass oftentimes within a foot or even a few inches of you. But it didn't bug me at all even though riders passing that close here in Chicago would've definitely bugged the crap out of me. 
    • On the flip side I saw very few cyclists running red lights or failing to yield to pedestrians. 
  • I didn't see a single cyclist take a lane to make a left turn. Everyone I saw boxed their left turns. 
  • There are a lot of cobble or brick paths and streets. You'd think that would encourage helmet use since they pose a higher fall risk especially when it's raining and slippery but I guess not. 
  • Bike lanes or cycle tracks are sometimes on the street and sometimes on the sidewalk. 
  • Almost no one locks their bikes to anything solid. Almost all bikes were locked to themselves allowing anyone to literally pick up and walk away with a bike. 
  • People don't ride as fast as they do here in Chicago. That may be a factor in the lower helmet usage. 
  • Riding in Copenhagen's Monday evening rush hour was a lot of fun! The mini critical masses are super cool! 
  • The elevated cycle track is really cool too. 

Now back to vacation! 

Thanks for the report.  It's always interesting to hear about how cyclists operate in other countries.

Nice synopsis!

Interesting about the helmets. On my visit, about a month ago, in the space of 3-4 days I saw maybe 10 people total wearing helmets. Otherwise my observations match yours, and it was a mind-blowingly excellent place to ride in. I believe that boxed left turns are the law, which likely explains why everyone does it. Doesn't apply to small streets, though. I rode up to the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art one day, and it was easy as could be, and a beautidul ride.

In Stockholm, on the other hand, I saw a noticeable minority of people wearing helmets. It was still a small percentage, but significantly greater than in Copenhagen. Stockholm has a noticeably greater car focus than Copenhagen, while still being low by US standards.

I believe that, contra Denmark and the Netherlands, Germany is somewhat of a helmet-wearing country. I have noticed that most people in London seem to wear helmets.

In addition, I believe helmets are required in Australia.

I will suggest that in the US, the helmet focus has come about largely from these factors:

-extreme focus on cars for transportation and infrastructure reduces actual and perceived safety of cycling

-cycling is frequently considered to be a recreational / sporting activity requiring specialized gear

-the US generally seems to have a safety culture that prioritizes injury mitigation / protection over structural decisions that reduce the risk opportunity in the first place

-the US has a strongly individualist society where personal 'ownership' of choices (e.g. wearing a helmet) is prioritized over collective measures (e.g. designing roads and paths for the safety of all users)

Great follow up! I had this discussion in the back of my mind while riding around there so I may be slightly inflating. I certainly did not carry a pen and paper to tally helmet vs. not! :) 

I'm in Krakow now and I'd say 1 out of 7 or 8 are wearing a helmet. 

I also completely forgot to mention that I did not wear a helmet in Copenhagen while I wear one in Chicago about 95% of the time during summer and 100% of the time during winter. 

I spent the summer riding around another "bike friendly" North American city- Montreal, and Id say more than 1/2 of the riders wore a helmet, even when they were clearly commuting (in dresses, business suits).

perhaps it is just a North American thing.

Personally, my helmet use is really tied to the weather. I typically put on a helmet at the same time I put my rain /snow gear in my bag- 

(hypocritically, I also NEVER let my kids ride without a helmet)

Great topic.  On any days that I've taken to counting Americans with and without helmets, it's about a 50% split.  So the suggestion that all Americans feel the need to wear helmets is a misnomer.

As bikes were pinched out of American road infrastructure by the car industry (and advocates), we're still a relatively new phenomenon to modern times and are trying to make transgresses out of space that drivers have owned for many decades.  I think helmets have become an added safety precaution to account for sharing space with distracted drivers and swifter speeds by all.  I always wear a helmet while commuting on my bikes or on group rides.  Interestingly enough, I tend to not wear a helmet when I Divvy.  I think because I'm mentally in more of a cruise mode.  Those bikes have a wider berth, move more slowly and I'm more upright.  Someone hypothesized that cars may drive more safely around bikers without helmets.  I'd be curious to know if that's been substantiated.

I ride safely, but others do not; I can control what I do but not what other drivers and riders do which is why I always wear a helmet.

Consider what happens to your head at 19 miles per hour when a driver or rider does something stupid and you crash ....

I never did like watermelon.

Definitely personal preference when it comes to this, I always wear my helmet. I am lucky to report my worst bike accident to date involved me and a pothole the size of the grand canyon that I wasn't able to avoid, fell off my bike, and hit my noggin. Luckily, said noggin was in a helmet and I had no serious damage besides a raging headache. Sometimes it's unavoidable - so I prefer to be prepared. 

I am guilty of occasionally catcalling dudes on bikes with a "You'd be sexier with a helmet!" comment. Because I like brainzzzzz.

I would either be dead or have suffered major brain injury if I had not been using a helmet while riding my bike. Once I hit something on a dark unlit highway and broke my collar bone and in the other instance I was struck by a car and was knocked 50 feet across the intersection (when I hit the pavement I could hear my helmet scrapping on the asphalt). If someone does not want to wear a helmet, so be it, but I can guarantee that after they fall and injure their head they will run  (if they're able) to the buy a helmet.

In some of the less affluent countries, people are just busy trying to survive; they don't have time nor money for all that fuss. And maybe the other people are less precious with themselves than Americans. Also, there Is more of a biking culture, with the wider lanes and greater masses of riders. - My comment probably should have gone in the main thread, oh well. But I liked your Michael Moore quote. - This didn't end up under that anyhow.


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