Regular visitors to this column may have noticed that the editor has been away on his holidays. To Brittany to be exact where the sun seems to shine a little bit more than in the UK and everybody but everybody rides a bike.

And here’s the bit you might not already know – absolutely nobody wears a helmet.

That last bit isn’t entirely true because I did encounter a few Brits and a group of Americans who had their lids on, but when it came to the locals there wasn’t a scrap of polystyrene in sight.

Being used to London roads it’s the complete opposite. Everyone wears protection these days, so much so that my French encounter was like step back in time.

There’s no obvious reason for the difference in attitude. Brittany has a considerable number of bike lanes but in holiday season the roads, especially in the towns, are every bit as crowded as in Britain. And they start them young. It made me nervous watching pre-school kids wobbling along the bike lanes with their parents.

Are the French simply reckless or is it that we’ve become risk obsessed this side of the channel?

Robert Garbutt is editor of Cycling Weekly

  • Mike

    Looking through all these comments, the pattern seems to be that those riders who have had the personal experience of falling and hitting their heads on the road think that you should wear a helmet.
    Having hit my own head on the road and split my helmet when a car pulled out in front of me during a fast club training ride, I think anyone who does not wear a helmet is insane, particularly if they have a partner or dependants. Statistics are of no interest at all when the accident happens to you rather than to someone else. OK, a helmet is no protection if you have a collision with a car, but there are many more kinds of accident than that. The only time that I wouldn’t wear a helmet is when tootling along a cycle path where there are no cars. As for helmets putting people off cycling, surely such people can’t be very keen on cycling in the first place if that’s all it takes to put them off!

  • BIggles

    Hello,

    I have 43 years of cycling under my belt and proud of it. On Good Friday, I toppled off my bike on the way back from the pub and suffered a grade 2 AC seperation (collar bone dislocation) while not wearing a helmet. Despite being totally whammed I didn’t even scratch my head, never mind bang it . Helmets make your head considerably bigger and therefore more likely to hit the ground in sideways falls. I first noticed this on the boys bi-annual MTB weekends where I do where a helmet just to avoid any discussion. Whenever we have a mechanical, everyone crowds round to see if they can help and guess what, I end up taking my lid off to avoid all the clanking together of over sized polystyrene heads that are too close together. Then one by one, the rest of the boys take their lids off and the problem gets fixed with no more head banging.

    And don’t even get me started on the time I got pulled over the back of my bike on one of my regular rides when my helmet snagged in a low hanging branch in the woods….with the boys … just to avoid any discussion!!!

    I’d like to add that I live right out in the sticks and DO NOT recommend getting whammed and cycling in town/traffic.

    Happy Cycling.

    Biggles

  • Tony

    If a cycle helmet is required to prevent damage after falling over at 12 mph why don’t marathon runners and track athletes wear them?
    Like many of your correspondents, I have fallen off many times during my life, as children we used to do it deliberately; I have never injured my head. Knees,elbows,thighs,hips- yes, but never the head.

  • Peter Reed

    I moved to the south hams of devon in 1994 never having worn a helmet in 46 years of competitive/commuting cycling. when some local clubs began insisting on a hard shell helmet in TT’s, that was enough for me. I am now 75 years old and I admit in all my time I have had some nasty crashes but I have never hit my head for some reason or another. I am very fortunate that in this locale the traffic density outside school holidays is minimal, on some mornings I may meet 2 or 3 vehicles in the first hour of riding. The biggest problem here is the agricultural machinery that blocks the narrow lanes from hedge to hedge.

  • Gorse Bentham

    I ride with a club in the South of France. One guy does not wear a helmet. We call him casquette. The argument about personal freedom and personal choice seems to justify just about any lame behaviour. Like not wearing seatbelts, smoking anywhere they wish, eating anything they fancy, and having a few drinks before they drive. I find it a very sad argument. Kind of like a kid who says I don’t wanna, because, well, they don’t wanna. Still, when an organ donor does not wear a helmet it very slightly increases my medical costs. Not by much though. And maybe it helps someone get a new kidney or heart.

    Freedom of choice is not something to be degraded into doing whatever you fancy whenever you fancy.

  • Richard Batty

    It’s all about personal choice. As a youth I never wore a crash hat – only “danish hair nets” were available then – but I also never had a big off, and the roads were generally better maintained with far less potholes from my memory.

    My wife insists I wear a crash hat now and I’m glad I do. A few months ago I was thrown off on a busy but at the time empty road, no cars in sight, when I hit a dip and bump (poor road maintenance) in the cycle lane marked on the road. The road was flat, I had both hands on bars and was going along at about 20 mph, so not even that fast really. Not what you’d call a “technical” piece of road, or a riding error.

    The cartwheel over my handlebars as I was clipped in to my pedals must have looked pretty spectacular, the damage to my brake levers as they landed left plenty of tarmac embedded in the alloy bodies, the ripped lycra left an embarrassing amount of bleeding buttock on show, and the nine cracks across my crash hat bear witness to the fact that I would have been lying in a pool of blood until a passing motorist stopped and called me an ambulance.

    Wearing a crash hat might not look as cool as Robert Millars cotton Peugeot cap, but then I doubt riding a motorised wheel chair would look as cool as riding my 1989 Raleigh Dyna Tech.

    And French drivers are far more considerate than Brits when it comes to cyclists, probably because most of them ride every week themselves and realise how defenceless they are when riding, whilst almost every motorist here is far too important and in far too much of a hurry to be considerate to anyone else on the road.

    Good luck if you don’t wear a crash hat, I hope it never happens to you.

  • Phil

    I put it to the rabid helmet lobby that the main change when donning a helmet is in your perception of your own safety.

    Do what you like, but don’t presume to tell others what to do. It’s just possible we’ve thought our position through every bit as much as you have.

  • pierrequiroule

    So you went to Brittany and the only comment you could make was with regard to the non-wearing of helmets?

    Are British cyclists so obsessed that it makes them blind to all around them or that it’s hard to see much from the pocket of the helmet manufacturers?

  • Specialized Dave

    I have been a cyclist for more than 40 years and never had a fall of any kind until last summer. I went around a bend at about 25 mph not realising that my front tyre had punctured (due to the bumpy road disguising this fact) and the front wheel slid away and I hit the road hard on my left side. It left me with road rash and bruising on my hip and shin and a deep scuff on my helmet. I’m glad the deep scuff was on my helmet and not my head. If it had happended 3 years ago then I would not have been wearing a helmet at all and could have been nursing a serious head injury.

    It was a lesson learnt, and I now check my tyres regularly as I’m riding, and especially before turning, and in addition to riding defensively and expecting the unexpected.

    But you cannot be 100% sure that you are not going to have an accident when things such as rabbits, squirrels, pigeons, foxes etc choose to cross your path, no matter how cautious you are. And for those reasons I choose to wear a lightweight and unobtrusive helmet on all of my rides.

    My helmet was replaced for a new one – my head has to last me a lifetime. Skin and bone usually mend quite well, but a brain injury can be irreversible.

    And don’t get me started on the value of wearing glasses. They have also saved me from a few eye injuries from large flying insects that thud and splatter well.

    So I’ll be keeping my helmet and glasses on, thanks.

  • Graham

    Why stop at a helmet!
    Why not go the whole ‘Imperial Storm Trooper’ body armour route.

  • Greg Haworth

    Lee Robinson – why should wearing helmets be made compulsory because you are inexperienced and have been ‘unfortunate’ to come off three times in the last year. I don’t follow the logic.

    I simply don’t see why there should be any obligation when I cycle on a dry sunny day on one of my quiet training routes. I see a majority of people with helmets, fair enough, but many of them also use ipods (duh!) or cycle two abreast on narrow roads – don’t insurance companies also take those factors into consideration when assessing negligence? They probably will even want to look at the tyres you were using and check whether your replica Bic jersey is high vis enough.

    Do we seriously want a situation where an impatient overtaking driver coming at you on your side of the road is somehow less at fault should he hit you because you might choose not to wear a helmet? The comments about the tendancy to blame the victim would suggest that we are already there.

  • Andy

    My word. Very clever arguments for not using helmets. Clever, clever you. Well done. Being new to cycling and hearing your arguments I think I’ll not bother with one of these silly, silly helmet contraptions because, as you explain, my doing so will put other people off cycling, decrease the effect of ‘safety in numbers’ and therefore make me less safe! Glad I didn’t fall into that obvious trap. Thanks also for pointing out the health benefits of cycling to me, can’t believe I’d never realised that before, previously I’d always thought cycling was a veiled excuse to wear lycra and an unnecessary and expensive helmet.

  • Paul Emerton

    Requiring cyclists to wear helmets will cut the number of cyclists. It appears that the more cyclists there are, the less risk (see the CTC website for details). Ironically, those demanding helmets are therefore arguing for cyclists to be injured.
    The argument for compulsory helmets also ignores the damage caused by loss of exercise and activity. If we have to wear a box, might as well use the motorcycle or the car (increasing traffic and causing more risk to cyclists).
    The argument that the debate over helmets is similar to that over seatbelts is flawed and desperate. The issues are unrelated if only in terms of speed (cyclists can choose to go slowly – you’ll be stopped by the police is you drive at 10 mph everywhere).
    Insurance companies are pushing for non-helmet wearing to be regarded as contributory negligence but I believe the issue has not yet reached the higher courts so it is not settled law.
    Lastly, if you’re going down the Glandon, it is a technical descent either way (for which read, dangerous). Go down it too fast, your loss ….. there was a reason the Glandon was neutralised in this year’s Marmotte.

  • Alan G

    Hospital doctors have a name for cyclists who don’t wear helmets: Organ donors.

  • Richard Brady

    I always wear a helmet as a parent I lead by example, and why not wear a helmet for road or offroad it all helps to minimise small injuries do to whatever reason, some accidents or incidents are a result of several minor things that could or could not be within our control.
    also modern helmets are well made and are comfortable if you bother to get one that fits you, they look fine and they are some where to hang your sun glasses if you are inclined!!!
    its funny really I heard all the same type of comments when the wearing of seat belts in cars became compulsory. lets face it we love to be indignant about something – Always in sport Richard

  • Stu Harper

    I echo quite a few comments on here. I was in Brittany for 2 weeks over the summer and all the “serious” cyclists were wearing helmets – young and old. This was in the Pont Avon area. Were you cycling round the campsite?

  • Alan Kinsey

    Brittany must be a case apart, and as I’ve never ridden there I can’t comment, but I live in the south of France and can guarantee that about 95%, me included, of “serious” riders wear helmets. Anyone who doesn’t is considered a bit bonkers. Cyclists aren’t alowed to participate in any kind of “sportive” or “randonnée” in France without a helmet and most clubs won’t let you participate in club runs without a helmet either.

  • Tom McLaren

    I wonder how many people who have had an accident involving a head trauma would claim that helmets are unnecessary? And how many of them were expecting to have an accident?

    Helmets is to cycling what seatbelts was to cars.

  • John Cowley

    Mostly valid arguments on both sides, but I would suggest that there are two points to add:
    a) Ron Stuart’s post demonstates this country’s increased tendency to blame the victim, although you would rightly be ripped to shreds for suggesting the a rape victim is to blame if she was wearing a short skirt (same argument as the insurers put).
    b) My experience of cycling in France is that drivers are far more considerate of cyclists, despite their more aggressive attitudes to other drivers. I have always felt less threatened in France and this would seem to be the issue. A helmet makes you feel safer, reagrdless of the reality of any protection that it may or may not provide.
    If a helmet might reduce damage done by 10% then I FEEL it’s worth the inconvenience and discomfort when commuting – I get to work less stressed. However, who isn’t tempted to go bareheaded on a sunny day out in the hills (especially if the kids aren’t going to see you riding without)?

  • Lee Robinson

    I have only been riding for just over one year and in that time I’ve been unfortunate enough to have three accidents and on each occasion I have hit my head on the road. Luckily on each occasion I was wearing my helmet and I can safely say that without it the outcome would have been much worse than it was. I truly believe that it should be law for all cyclists to wear a helmet just like motorcyclists.

  • Chris R

    Just been for a long weekend in Brittany and everyone I saw was wearing a helmet, except the lady on a shopper with a basket onnthe front. I thank that “absolutely nobody wears a helmet” is a bit strong.

  • Ron Stuart

    Tim Beadle is so right, I was run down by a hit and run driver whilst out on my bike earlier this year, a hit and run driver the Police never found. So I sort compensation through the CTC solicitors, they contacted the Motor Insurers Bureau. The first questions that were asked were you wearing a helmet and visible clothing.
    This has a solid bearing on whether a claim may be successful or not and direct result of the North American suing culture that is so much part of our life here in Britain these days.
    I fear it’s too late for GB to think for itself, the system we have enables those that already have enough money to make even more and if you don’t know that check some of the insurance premiums and compensation figures.

  • Tim

    It’s all about freedom of choice. What is right for one is not necessarily right for another. It’s worth taking time to look at facts relating to not only road deaths but deaths in general, read them, study them, consider them, reflect and decide, but not necessarily act. For road accidents, those facts show that pedestrian deaths are higher than cyclists yet cyclists are always targeted, why? There’s absolutely no logic to the helmet debate at all. Why on earth impose helmets on those who don’t even rate as number one on the death scale on roads when number one isn’t even targeted? It completely baffles me why cyclists are constantly being singled out.

    Cycling is not dangerous but it’s fast becoming thought to be so by those who don’t cycle, even by some who do. This is not good for any cyclist.

    Let’s just enjoy this wonderful form of transport in the ways we each feel confident to do so.

  • Andy Walker

    I was surprised at your comments as I had the opposite experience last week in Brittany. I was riding on a Sunday morning, without a helmet, and was caught by a group of 15 club riders who were heading home to Auray. The first guy in the group muttered ‘casque’ to me as he rode by and sure enough everyone in the group was wearing a helmet. I interpreted his quip as ‘ you should be wearing one mate!’ . Maybe I got the wrong end of the stick but all the other club cyclists I saw that day seemed to be similarly shod. Previously this hasn’t been my experience in France.

  • Aurélie

    As a French woman I can tell you that making helmets compulsory for cyclists wouldn’t be very welcome in our country! Tell Latin people how to behave and they will do the contrary…

    Anyway, the truth is that casual cycling (casual cycling means cycling in casual clothes at a slow pace, I’m not talking about sportive riders in their Tour de France-like ugly polyamide-lycra tight shorts) is one of the safest mode of transport; it’s far safer than driving a car.

    If you are so obsessed with road safety in the UK then why don’t you force pedestrians and car drivers to wear safety helmets, too?

    With kind regards, Aurélie.

  • Dave

    It’s amazing.
    Your parents never wore helmets, their parents never wore helmets, yet somehow they never died, nor suffered head injuries.
    Fewer cars, yes, but a helmet is only designed to protect against a fall onto the road at 12mph, not being hit by 1.5t of metal travelling at 30mph.

    If you want to wear a helmet, carry on. Don’t insist everyone must, or those who don’t wear one will start to insist that no-one must.

    Freedom of choice.

  • John

    Last year i came off on the col du glandon, daft mistake on my part, into a rock face from 46 mph, my face was a mess as not protected, my head was protected by a helmet and not a mark to my head. If i was`nt wearing one very likely i would not be alive now. Been riding for 30 years without incident, you never know when it may happen to you. Dont wear one if you dont want to but dont ever think it will never happen to you because it might and then you will wish you were wearing one. I was able to return this year and continue to ride.

  • lee

    In response to the Nurse – Are you having the best laugh ever? I’ve had 3 crashes in 20 odd years of riding 2 being not my fault… I’ve worn a helmet pretty much from day one…ride like a haven’t a helmet on…SOO its down to swing safe and wanting to love, basically!

    Lee, Liverpool.

  • crydda

    Anyone who doesn’t wear a helmet while negotiating British roads and its moronic drivers, needs their head examined. All this crap about personal choice; try telling that to your nurse as she spoon feeds you, because your brain is too damaged to make your hands work, or your grieving family as they lower you into the ground.
    And don’t get me started on that supreme act of lunacy; listening to your Ipod, whilst cycling.

  • Downfader

    We need to look at helmets rationally. Most head injuries are caused by behaviour that could have been altered to prevent injury prior.

    Its also sad that the very pro-helmet/pro-compulsion people do their best to shout as loud as they can to wear them yet remain remarkably silent on those preventative measures. You are more at risk at work or as a pedestrian to head injury than whilst cycling (backed up via stats, look at the CTC website), infact you’re more at risk from stroke-related brain trauma than cycling related.

    We need to move on. There has been no unequivocal proof either way, and groups such as head injury charities and the NHS dont help matters when they quote discredited studies (the dreaded 88 and 85 percentages)

    Frankly unless you can prove something outright you have no right to lecture non-helmet wearers (put your energies into asking why the research hasnt been forthcoming perhaps?).

  • Chris

    Simon:

    “I ride as part of my commute and going over Blackheath and along Deptford high street have to ride alongside trucks, bendy buses and juggernauts. I always wear my helmet and although it’s personal choice simply cannot understand anyone in similar conditions who would choose not to.”

    Fair enough, it’s your view and your choice, but do you really think a helmet is going to help you survive being crushed by a truck? It’s just a flimsy piece of polystyrene designed to crush (not break) under impact from a 12 mph blow with a blunt surface.

  • James Cornish

    Perhaps if I’d been wearing a helmet it wouldn’t have hurt so much when I banged my head in the cupboard under the stairs this morning. Facetious? Not really.
    Yes, a helmet will protect your head whatever activity you happen to be doing. But are there reasons for cyclists to wear helmets that are more compelling than, say, for pedestrians or motorists? Surprisingly it would seem that pedestrians, on a per Km travelled basis, are more prone to head injury than cyclists. What’s more, several recent studies, including four papers published in peer-reviewed medical journals, cast significant doubt on the supposed benefits of cycle helmets (see CTC website for more details http://www.ctc.org.uk/DesktopDefault.aspx?TabID=4689).
    We wear cycle helmets out of lazy and uncritical acceptance of what has become the received “wisdom” that it is a sensible and responsible thing to do. Let us not deceive ourselves that a helmet can provide any meaningful protection, especially where collisions with motor vehicles are concerned. Ride defensively (a subject in itself), be alert, and use the fear of falling off to keep you from taking thoughtless risks.
    My argument is more extreme. To wear a helmet is positively irresponsible. It sends out the message that cycling is a dangerous activity which requires body armour. It does not. This popular but ill informed view discourages many potential cyclists from even venturing out on Britain’s roads. There is safety to be had in numbers. As cycling numbers in London have increased significantly in recent years, so too has it become safer for cyclists, with or without helmets. So I can only cheer the Boris Bikes initiative to flood London with bicycles as this makes it safer for me.

    PS. I would be intrigued to see a study into accidents in the professional peloton before and after compulsory helmet use. I suspect the accident rate has increased due to increased risk taking / lowered perception of risk. One only has to think back to this year’s Tour de France.

  • armitage shanks

    for 20 years of cycling I have never wore a helmet except for a brief period – it was the cheshire cat sportive – and that was the last time. Cycling is about freedom and helmets feel horrible and on that ride it was just too hot and to annoying, I want o to feel the wind in my hair and not a strap round my chin. The best protection is to never come off, which sounds glib, but I am a firm believer that experience and riding defensivley is the best protection. I never ride too close to cars in case their doors open and I am always thinking one could so I ride safely, and I always slow down at junctions when cars are there etc etc. I have ride nearly every day and have never had an accident with a car or a pedestrian. Yet I know people who seem to come off three times a year, every year. And it is not as if I don’t know what head injuries are like – I fractured my skull in skiing accident as a child – and it was my fault. As a nurse I have also seen my fair share of head injuries at A&E, and yes sometimes the helmet saved them from worse injury – but what kind of cyclists were they, how much risk did they place themselves in, unwittingly or not. I once saw a cyclist hurtle down a hill on the inside, between stationary cars and approach a junction. The cars were stopped to let a car out at the junction, it was a potentially lethal scanario and yes the car pulled out and into the side of the car went the cyclist. He easily could have been killed, but he somersaulted over the bonnet and landed on his feet. It was, however, the cyclist who put himself in this dangerous scenario and he was very lucky. So for me everying is based on a ‘What if’ and we all know people who have accidents, and some have them more often than others, but does that mean we should all reach for the helmet. There is probably as much risk as falling in the shower, slipping on the floor at work, crashing on the motorway. Fashion and consumer trends also have a big part to play and cyclist are a very fickle bunch. So what is best, to be an inexperienced, potentially risk taking cyclist in a helmet, or an experienced, cautious cyclist who minimises risk who enjoys the freedom of never wearing one.

  • john

    It is always very annoying to read articles and the follow up comments about safety measures.
    Helmets are a personal choice and should be so.
    Pro helmet people should wear them and shut up if others don’t want to wear them.
    If you wear a helmet do you eat fats, drink alcohol, take drugs, cross roads – if you do think about the fanatics who could tell you what to do to live a safer life.
    The think – it’s your life!!!!

  • Jim Cassidy

    Living in France for many years and riding south west of Paris most days it would be unusual to see any serious riders without a helmet. This also applies when we go riding in the Alps, Vosges/Jura and Pyrenees. The only time that you will see riders over here take off their helmets is when they ascend a big climb and I also fall in to that category. Do not be fooled for one minute that helmets are uncool or not required over here. Risk acceptance does not come in to it……..

  • Bob Allerston

    I wear a helmet when cycling although not convinced of it’s neccessity until I recently had acrash at about 20 mile /hr and landed heavily breaking my collar bone and general cuts and bruises, but no damage to my head which hit the road pretty heavily. My helmet was severely damaged, ie. broken, but not a bruise on my head just the merest feeling of a bang. I now will not go out without a helmet as I consider it possibly saved me from a serious head injury. I should be back on the bike by mid September ready for the autumn sportives.
    Yours in sport Bob Allerston

  • Simon Quicke

    I ride as part of my commute and going over Blackheath and along Deptford high street have to ride alongside trucks, bendy buses and juggernauts. I always wear my helmet and although it’s personal choice simply cannot understand anyone in similar conditions who would choose not to. When you can pick helmets up at reasonable prices it is a bit of kit that people should choose to wear.

  • Tim Beadle

    The French seem to have, in general, a healthier attitude to risk.

    We visited Pau last year; there were some roadworks in the pedestrianised centre of the city, which had no safety barriers around them. I assume that people are expected to take responsibility for their own safety, rather than being mollycoddled and/or encouraged to sue when things go wrong as in the UK and the US.

    The sooner we become more influenced by our European neighbours than by the US, the better.