Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Biking, Helmets and Risk Assessment

I don't wear a helmet when I ride my bike. Am I crazy? Probably not, but surely many people think I'm being stupid not to wear one. It can't hurt, they say. And it might save my skull.

True enough. But I don't see what makes bicycle riding more dangerous than, say, walking, and we don't think it crazy to go for a walk without wearing a helmet, even though it couldn't hurt. If the danger in biking is that one might fall off, then there is little danger if you are a competent bike rider. If the danger lies in the chances of being hit by a car, then biking is no more dangerous than any other mode of transportation, including walking.

But if we're going to actually get serious about risk assessment and being safe, instead of just exhorting people to wear helmets, then we should discuss every activity and determine what level of risk to one's health is too much to accept. Is skiing too risky? Driving? Flying? Walking? Rock-climbing? Walking at night? You get my point. People die in car accidents all the time, yet we don't think it crazy to ride in one. I think people are nuts to go skiing, yet if they have fun doing it, so much the better for them. I realize that it all depends on how competent one is about these things. There is nothing inherently dangerous about such activities. They only become dangerous when someone really doesn't know what they are doing.

I think people should take the same attitude toward biking. Of course you could fall off and die - but you can also die in a car accident. But many people never get into a car accident because they are defensive drivers, just as many bikers have been riding for years without falling off, and many of these bikers have never worn a helmet.

Chill out people. There are more important things to worry about than helmets.

8 comments:

Mandingo said...

"I think people are nuts to go skiing, yet if they have fun doing it, so much the better for them." ::

"I think people are nuts to shoot heroin, yet if they have fun doing it, so much the better for them."

To say that the chances of being hit by a car while walking are equal to those of biking I think you need to pick your road rashed ass off the pavement. Tell me, what do you think is safer? Riding your bike around the Uptown Zoo (between parked and moving cars on Hennepin or Lyndale) or sidewalk shopping in the same area? End of story. If you want statistics I'll grab them for you.

xtrachromosomeconservative said...

I bike to work every day and spend as little time on the road as possible. Drivers just aren't as conditioned to bikers as they are walkers. Further, the closing time between the car and you is generally going to be quicker than that of car and a walker. Throw cell phones in to the mix and fuck it all to hell.

archduke f. f. said...

Reasons for helmet:
Momentum=Mass*Velocity

Walking: Velocity = 5 mph (tops)
Biking: Velocity = 40 mph (tops downhill)

Your mass stays constant, so that means you're going to hit the ground with 8 times the momentum if you fall without anyone being the cause of it. It rises even more if you end up getting hit by a car head-on, since that car's momentum is likely 10 times what yours would be.

You've probably seen somebody fall and hit his head and get a bruised or even bloody skull, how much more with 8 times the momentum?

PiedPiper said...

Let's face it, Il. The real reason you don't want to wear a bike helmet is because it'll mess up that well-coifed hairstyle or yours...

Ilya said...

Archduke proves my point that if the danger surrounding biking is that of falling off, then people who are prone to falling off should not ride them.

I'll acknowledge that cars are not as accustomed to bike riders as they are to walkers as Xtra points out, and it is dangerous as Mandingo says to ride your bike in heavy traffic, weaving in and out of parked cars. Which is why I don't do that. I ride where possible on sidewalks and bike lanes, and only in the street when necessary.

These comments are typical of people who imagine the worst case scenario, and fail to realize that for most people, biking is a rather leisure activity, that does not entail biking down Hennepin Ave. during rush hour.

xtrachromosomeconservative said...

Zing!

Ilya said...

Please Piper, who do you think you're kidding? You think I'm so vain that I refuse to wear a helmet because of my hair. And I bet you think I refuse to wear a life jacket when I go swimming because it would clash with my trunks.

Mandingo said...

Zing, again! Ilya, en fuego.