Do Bike Helmets Do More Harm Than Good?


Every time I learn of another tragic Brooklyn cycling accident, I think, “I really need to strap on the helmet—every time.” Especially when there’s a hit-and-run mere blocks from my front door. The nearer the threat the realer it feels. Similarly, each Ghost Bike I come across is another bright white smack upside the head.

But maybe I’m paranoid? And maybe my fear perpetuates the danger?

That’s what Elisabeth Reosenthal seems to suggest in an article in the Times last weekend. Particularly, she focuses on how helmets interfere with city bike-sharing programs. Helmets, she argues, promote an “unjustified sense of danger.” The idea goes something like this: helmets = (unjust) fear = less cycling = lack of infrastructure = danger.

But riding in New York can be scary. Between gaping potholes and rain-slick roads, rush-hour traffic and parked-car doors relentlessly swinging into bike lanes, and pedestrians who wander across the street with eyes glued to their phones, it’s a minor miracle any of us get around unscathed—especially for those who abhor helmet-hair. That’s how it feels sometimes, anyway.

Rosenthal extols successful European Bike Shares (Paris, Amsterdam, Copenhagen) where seemingly everyone rides safe and sound without headgear. In the U.S., she says, “Un-helmeted cyclists are regarded as irresponsible, like people who smoke.”

Hopefully, the NYC Bike Share program launching next spring will inspire new cyclists and kickstart more bike paths or even—dare I hope?—cycling highways like they have in Europe. Until then, I’ll take the helmet ‘do. For the most part, anyway.