The Helmet Debate. Again

On the last day of August I fell off my bike. Again.

Parental Advisory - No Helmet, No Problem

A graphic I never ended up using in the promotional material for an event I organised. (It was designed by a former colleague of mine)

I had driven to Sledmere to meet up with a couple of friends for a 30-mile loop. (The weather forecast was – as so often is the case – far more pessimistic than reality, but it did rain almost continually all the time we were out.) I was freewheeling down Settrington Bank when it dawned on me I was going too fast for the conditions. There is almost always a patch of gravel at the bottom of the hill and, I suppose, I had been thinking ahead to that and ignored the more immediate threat of the twisting road and its wet, greasy surface.

If you view the 'Player' you can see where I came to rest at the nine mile mark

Last year the rear Mavic Open Pro rim on my Kinesis bike shredded on a long North York Moors descent when I had held the brakes on for too long. Perhaps with that in mind I had let the bike gain too much momentum on that hill last August rather than avoid unnecessary wear on the braking surface. (Mavic Open Pro rims are notoriously thin. And, yes, I replaced the worn-out rim with another Open Pro...)

I have been reading about the effectiveness of disc brakes found on an increasing proportion of road bikes, but the combination of my long drop Shimano BR-650 calipers and those Mavics worked well enough to lock up the rear wheel. Perhaps disc brakes offer greater modulation. Dunno...

Ouch

Alongside the bruising that later came out there was abrasion of the skin beneath the surprisingly resilient fabric of my Endura FS260 Pro bibshorts

I landed heavily on my left side. My hip seemed to take the biggest knock. I didn't have time to put out a hand to break my fall; the knuckles on my left hand were skinned and thankfully afforded some protection to the costly STI lever. I picked myself up, inspected the bike and limped across the road to pick up my water bottle and tool box that had been dislodged in the fall. I could barely walk, but finished the ride as I was less than ten miles in to a thirty mile route.

Cracked helmet

Although the helmet is a bit worse for wear I don't think I shall replace it. The RRP is £100 and I reckon between the (unscathed) outer shell and my head the polystyrene will be largely held in place if I should fall again. What do you think?

More than any other accident it did make me think about my safety on the bike. My head took quite a bang. If I hadn't worn the helmet would I have done little more damage than grazing my ear because the impact wouldn't have been so great – the thickness of the helmet might have meant my bare head wouldn't have come in to contact with the road surface? Certainly I had a sore neck – and head – for days afterwards. The right side of my neck suffered something like whiplash.

Luddith Road aka Grimston Brow

Fortunately I was able to get back on the bike and complete the hilly loop, including the gentle uphill stretch of Luddith Road aka Grimston Brow

Was I going so fast because I was wearing a helmet? Without one would I have tempered my speed? I don't know, but I have come off my bike three times since upgrading to mainly Shimano 105 kit and now both shifters are badly scraped.

Anyway, since my accident the following popped up on road.cc – it was written in response to an apparent newbie and his seemingly innocent question on whether or not he or she should wear a helmet. It made me chuckle...

'Otis Bragg' wrote:

Just to save everyone else the time and effort as well as repetitive strain injury I am going to summarise the entire crux of how these responses will go:

Someone will kick off with an anecdote about how they or a friend's life was supposedly saved by wearing a helmet.

This will be followed by a post saying it isn't much use wearing one when getting driven over by a HGV.

Someone else will then link to the University of Bath research.

Following again with another anecdote where a helmet was ineffective or lead to more injury.

Now someone is going to come and call everyone else morons and telling the other posters to stop pressing for mandatory helmet wearing- despite the fact no one has done so.

Someone else will now make an observation about why car drivers or pedestrians don't have to wear them.

Mr "Stop-making -me-wear-a-helmet-despite-no one -actually-calling-for-it-to-be-law" will then quote the Australian experience before again insulting those imaginary posters no one else can see who want to make it illegal to ride without a helmet.

Someone who hasn't read the previous comments will again post a link to the University of Bath research.

A sensible post will then mention Chris Boardman but this will be ignored as the pro and anti-helmet debate hots up.

Someone makes a reference to "noddy hats".

Someone makes another sensible statement about not forcing anyone to wear one, that it should be personal choice and they choose to wear one. That will then be ignored as the rest of the posters get nasty and call into question each others moral and intellectual standing, again despite NO ONE ARGUING IT SHOULD BE COMPULSORY.

Another person again posts about making pedestrians wear helmets.

These same comments will then be repeated ad nasueum until suddenly there are hundred of posts all saying the same thing and mirroring the exact same helmet threads that seemingly appear every few days which no one then reads because once you have read one, you have read them all.

Apologies if this is flippant (and welcome to Road.cc by the way!) but do a wee search on the site and you will see what I mean.

To view the (inevitable) comments go to road.cc – remember to click on the 'All' button to read those comments in the correct sequence :smile:

7 comments on “The Helmet Debate. Again”

  1. MJ Ray wrote:

    I'm a helmet sceptic, but leaving that aside, I think you should replace the helmet after a collision because there may be damage you can't see. I don't see the point of wearing a damaged helmet. It seems like you get all of the drawbacks and possibly none of the benefit. If you're going to listen to helmet advocates and wear one, then listen to them and replace it after a crash.

  2. Kern wrote:

    That knee looks like an image of deep space taken from the Hubble. Kneepads should be mandatory, perhaps :) .

    I'd replace the helmet. They're designed to take one knock and that's it. Glad you made it back safely.

  3. Chris wrote:

    Thanks for your comments, chaps. I have been thinking about this a lot since the accident. I'm not going to replace the helmet straight away.

    This accident – and the previous one in similar conditions – came about as a result of the same two factors: my disinclination to hold on the brakes on a descent, and the wet surface. I think my money would be better spent replacing the front rim to give me more confidence when braking going down hills.

    I don't believe that the helmet will offer no protection should I need it again. And I don't think there are any real disadvantages to wearing one – this one. Sometimes I have to reach up to double check that I'm still wearing it. That's how light it is.

    No, what I will change – or try to change – is the speed at which I go down hills. I think the helmet gave me false confidence, a sense of invulnerability perhaps. I will endeavour to ride as though I'm not wearing a helmet. But thanks again for taking the time to leave your advice.

  4. Jeffery Tne allerman wrote:

    I really think you ought to replace the helmet as I can't imagine it would now protect properly. I think a much cheaper one is not that much heavier and after a while you would not notice the weight. I always try and wash the rims before the next ride and wipe the brake blocks; when I have the wheels out I remove any debris from the blocks and clean them up with abrasive. I hope that this prolongs rim life. I seem to recall hearing a grating noise when you brake so perhaps undue wear is being caused.

  5. Chris wrote:

    Jeffery wrote: I seem to recall hearing a grating noise when you brake so perhaps undue wear is being caused.

    These days if there is a grating noise when I brake it can only be from crud picked up on that day's ride. The combination of that rim failure and the workstand I now have means that I do pop the wheels out and give them a good clean. I can also winkle out those little metal shards from the brake blocks with a finely bladed screwdriver.

    I think a much cheaper one is not that much heavier and after a while you would not notice the weight.

    I wouldn't have got my Uvex helmet if it hadn't been a present. At the time I thought it was slightly extravagant – so too did the bloke in the bike shop; he was trying to sell me a cheaper one, I think – but as soon as I put it on I knew it felt right. It is 256 gms and I really do have to check that I haven't left it in a café or somewhere when I set off sometimes. So I can't imagine going back to a heavier helmet. The headaches have gone and any lingering neck ache is probably caused the intermittent nature of my cycling – not getting chance to get accustomed to my position on the bike.

    The RRP of my Uvex helmet was £100. I had a 15% discount for entering the Heart of the Wolds Sportive and I told my parents – who bought it as a Christmas present – that it was £60. So it only cost me £25 at the time. I have more pressing demands on my finances at the moment, and I am not prepared to buy a cheap helmet. I've already got one and that's why I got the Uvex in the first place.

    No, I think that being cautious on descents and keeping up a regular maintenance regime are more important factors, but I do appreciate the advice and concern.

  6. Hilary wrote:

    Sorry to hear about the crash Chris, that kneee looks painful, I hope its recovered now.
    Your experience of a splitting Open Pro has got me worried! I have them on my Roberts and generally need to replace the front rim every couple of years, the rear one lasts longer. You may have noticed from our Yorkshire ride that I do not go fast downhill :) . I have an (un)healthy fear of coming off so my brakes get used rather a lot but the hills here are shorter so less wear to the rims.

  7. Chris wrote:

    I rode that bike yesterday for the first time since I fell off it back I August (I've had a couple of other rides on my jazzy bike in between). Ironically it was again from Sledmere (same lousy weather) although this time I rode a third of the route and reversed it. So I meant to keep an eye open for the pump that I hadn't realised I must have lost until I was about to put the bike in the back of the car. But I forgot as I was distracted by the local hunt following me up Settrington Bank. I wasn't too bothered about the few loose hounds that were sniffing about, but on the lower slopes I had visions of the entire hunt bursting over the low hedges and me coming off again. But it didn't happen.

    Kern wrote: That knee looks like an image of deep space taken from the Hubble. Kneepads should be mandatory, perhaps

    Hilary wrote: ... that kneee looks painful, I hope its recovered now

    The bruising has gone, thanks, but if you guys think that area of my body is a knee I think we should be grateful that neither of you took up a career in medicine 😯

    I keep checking on the front rim, Hilary, 15 months after the rear one came off like a strip of metal ribbon. I should probably measure it with some fancy tool...

    Open Pro rim

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