Don’t I look ridiculous in my helmet!
Updated: Oct 13, 2020
Well, I assure you, I look even more ridiculous without one! Sorry non-helmet wearers, it's true … if you are someone who gets on a bike without a helmet, a proper cyclist will look at you like you’re the dumbest person alive. And that’s for good reason too!
I’ve heard all sorts of excuses:
‘I can’t be bothered to carry it on my commute’
‘hey I’m a good cyclist I know how to ride a bike!’
‘I get hot and sweaty wearing one’
'It messes up my hair'
and my favourite so far...
‘my Dr friend told me the brain damage you get from surviving a head injury is so bad, he’d prefer to be dead, so I'm going to take my chances'
I’m sorry, but what a load of nonsense! Ha ha yep, its fair to say that I am very strongly opinionated about this topic, however, if you feel that you have a sensible reason against wearing one, I would implore you to leave your rational reasons in the comments for me, I consider myself a fair and reasonable person to listen to both sides, but so far I just haven't been convinced. So before I strengthen my statement with statistics, I would like to tell you all a true life experience? We all like a little story, so …
T'was a cold winters night, when all through the streets not a creature was stirring not even a .... (oops wrong story) #nightbeforexmas
T'was a cold autumn morning in September 2019, I was commuting to see a client, ironically not in the the usual London commute that I did most days. But heading to Surrey.
It was school drop off, and I was cycling, in high visibility (I never go anywhere without my Proviz gilet), lights switched on at 23mph down a pedestrian heavy road. A lady, finishing her shift at Sainsbury's, was rushing home to care for her elderly mother, whilst waiting to turn right, she simply didn’t see me, and sure enough BANG. My wheel hit her left front bumper, I rolled (stunt woman style) onto her bonnet, smashed my head into her windscreen and like a rag doll landed on the ground.
So as I laid there, on the cold ground in nothing but some lycra <brrrr> worrying about the damage to my bike #priorities.
Its fair to imagine how the concerned crowd gathered, the lady who hit my sobbed in apology, the whole road blocked off waiting for the ambulance team to arrive.
I’m thankful to all of those who kept me on the ground , looking after me and preventing me from getting up, because naturally my typical British nature, just wanted to jump up from embarrassment and just be chipper (nothing to see here) but after being on the ground for 45 minutes, with a banging headache, I was finally transported to the hospital.
Now whilst I feel superhuman, taking on a car and not breaking a single bone, as it turned out, I kinda broke my head a tad. After a day of tests and CT scans, the doctor examined my KASK helmet and told us two things.
Firstly, congratulations for wearing a good quality helmet, because this has literally saved your life. You brain looks normal, but you are suffering from a severe concussion.
It was at this point my Mum actually said: "my daughters brain normal? Doctor could you please check again" #amothershonesty
Now if you haven’t had a concussion before, then may I enlighten you with my experience:
VOMITING like it's going out of fashion.
Imagine the worse hangover you’ve had, double it and add some sugar on top … then expect that to last for about 3 weeks.
A lump that made Quasimodo look normal, I looked fine for about 3 days, and then the lump started to grow and grow, my eye swelled, then the water in the lump was actually malleable (ever have one of those squish mouse mats … that was my head)
Bruising that lasts for about 4 weeks
And expect approximately 2 months for your head to return to a normal shape (as normal shaped as my head is of course)
Be prepared to be the amusement of all conversations with your friends thanks to months of forgetfulness and slower thinking:
New friend: “So Nic, how old are your kids?”
Nic: blank look at mate Helena
Helena: ‘I’ll answer this one should I …”
Client: ‘Nicola what's your approach to …”
Nicola: “my approach is … I have forgotten”
First date: “yeah you’ve told me that twice already”
I mean don’t get me wrong it had its amusing parts, mostly to my friends who enjoyed adding complexities to conversations to add to my confusion, but in all earnest, it scared the livings out of me. I kinda need my brain, and I enjoy my witty quick-thinking self, so I don’t intend to do this again anytime soon. But the reality is … it is out of my control.
If I get on a bike and cycle, there is a chance that I could be knocked off it again by someone who is simply if not paying attention at that time.
Trying to find the courage to get back onto a bike was also challenging, and if I’m being honest, I spent 2019 training really hard, eating really well all to ensure I had the fitness to follow my goals of criterium and track racing. Being very honest, I haven’t been back to either since, and if I was removing the bravado and excuses, I think I’m still finding some courage again to be able to forget this event that often wakes me in nightmare, so that I can try these competitive sports again.
Guys I WAS LUCKY! Really really really lucky … and this was hard enough. May none of you go through this or worse.
I can still hear the desperation in the ladies voice, who had hit me, begging and praying that I was ok … it will stay with people for a long time if not life. How much more traumatising could this have been to those witnesses had I not been wearing a helmet and my head splattered like a watermelon on the ground?
The local school had a special assembly to discuss the importance of wearing helmets as well as road safety and reassured the kids that the cyclist was ok.
My friend put it into perspective 2 days after,
‘Nic had you not have been wearing a helmet, I would not be sat here with you today, I’d likely be meeting and crying with your loved ones instead’
Sobering thoughts huh! How selfish would I have been, had I not worn a helmet!!!
As for statistics here goes some that I pulled from worldwide websites:
In 2016, 102 cyclists were killed, 3,397 were seriously injured and 14,978 were slightly injured on Great Britain’s roads
Head injury has been identified as an important cause of death and serious injury in cycling collisions
A major study of bike helmet use around the world from more than 64,000 cyclists has found helmets reduce the risks of a serious head injury by nearly 70%.
Cyclists who wear helmets reduce their chance of a fatal head injury by 65%.
Still not convinced, here's an illustration of what happens during a crash:
So what does a helmet do to improve things?
Bicycle helmets are manufactured from expanded foam polystyrene. In simple terms, whilst it's structurally rigid, it is easy to damage by crushing because it is full of tiny air pockets.
As the process of crushing absorbs energy, this means that an impact that hits the helmet will be significantly absorbed by crushing and expelling the air bubbles. What's more is the shell used is bonded with the liner, so it keeps the helmet's integrity intact on impact. The shell is also designed to glide along the road on collision easing impact and injury to the head.
MIPS technology (multidirectional impact protection system) mimics the brains protective structure by reducing forces caused by angled impacts to the head. It basically enables the foam and shell to do their job and prevents additional jarring to your brain. The way I understand this:
Our skulls are a hard casing that protects our brains, and our brains are floating around in fluid, this fluid reduces the chances of collision to our brain. A helmet works in a similar way, the the shell and foam mimics our skull, the MIPS acts like our brain fluid, thus giving us additional layers before an impact reaches our skull or fluid. This means that 5 protective layers absorb energy from an impact before reaching our brain (instead of 2). That’s a shed load more things in the way of our brains being damaged 😊
Finally, I would like to leave you all with a ‘proud mummy’ moment. My sons' father rides without a helmet! And the boys have the very best helmets I can afford, so when questioning their Dad as to why he doesn’t wear one, he gives them with the excuses like above. It is fair to say that in this case, my boys are rightly so outspoken and explain to their Dad politely that he's silly for not wearing one and he should wear one. Whilst I’m chuffed that I’ve rubbed off on the boys … may, in this case, their Dad never be proven wrong for their sake #nameandshamed.