The need for helmets is a matter of context


Whether or not you wear a helmet, clearly depends on the context. If riding slow on an upright style bike, it is unlikely your head will hit the ground, as demonstrated in the video clip at the top of this post. (We thank the clip’s maker for not going downstairs and alerting riders of ice on the path).

If you are riding fast though, in a forward leaning position, your head will almost certainly hit the ground when you fall. Let salacious compilations of filmed crashes in bike races, like the one I have pasted below, be a warning to all of you hipsters.


Australian helmet laws were devised at a time when almost all cycling was fast and froward leaning. The people making those laws could not have foreseen a Dutch style bike craze sweeping the world. If you know a politician, do send them this link. Many thanks to the incomparable Brian Jones for sharing the first of these clips via twitter.


  1. Hamish says:

    Ha Ha Ha. That first video was hilarious! I have been in stitches for 10 minutes just thinking about it! The inevitable just seems to happens in slow motion, doesn’t it? I also just love the weirdo in the window filming all the crashes and not doing anything about it. Maybe he had it planned all along. He probably watered the path the night before. Maybe he had an elaborate series of zoom lenses to capture the ensuing upskirts…
    But seriously, I think the dominant safety factor in these videos is speed rather than bike type. The slow riders of the dutch bikes kept their heads off the ground when they fell but those on the same style bikes going gangbusters seemed much more likely to bang their attractive heads. Nobody in the Tour de France goes slowly so when they crash they all hit the ground. Which is a good thing because they are probably all ugly.
    So don’t wear a helmet if you are riding slowly on dry, ice-free paths. But wear one if you intend to go fast or are in the Tour de France. I also suggest that you wear pants rather than skirts while riding to deprive the evil voyeur that made the first video of naughty pictures to add to his creepy collection.

    • Steven says:

      seminal thoughts, as we have come to expect, your right honourableness Hamish.

    • Jimm Pratt says:

      It’s clips like these that just re-enforce my decision to ride a recumbent trike- I can ride slow or fast *and* not worry about falls like these. In fact, I go out of my way to find the icy spots in the road – lots of fun! 🙂

  2. Hemp Bike says:

    It appears to be an advantage to have a sufficiently slack seat-stay angle that you can get both feet to the ground while remaining seated as proved by the chap at 1:35

  3. Paul says:

    Must be time to update your contact details Steven. I tried to cc you in on the following email to Christchurch City Councellor Aaron Keown* who has been making a pretty big media splash (15 minutes on prine time tonight) about reviewing the helmet law.
    Hi Aaron,
    I support a review of the cycle helmet law. I don’t know what is the right answer but it’d be great to impartially review the research. Cycle advocate & architect Steven Fleming makes the point that the style of bike makes a big difference to the probability of sustaining a head-injury in these videos . If you come off a traditional upright Dutch-style of bike you’ll probably land on your feet or bum. If you come off a head-forward, bum-up racing bike you’ll probably land on your head.
    I believe that a law ammendment exempting riders of upright bikes from wearing helmets would be a useful starting point.
    All the best, etc…

    • Steven says:

      well put, and I’ll update it right now. My email, by the way is steven dot fleming at utas dot edu dot au. I do hope the robots can’t read that

  4. Paul says:

    IF TVNZ On Demand works outside of New Zealand you’ll find the item here:
    Scroll fwd to part 3 starting at 15 minutes.
    I wonder if the elegant co-founder of Frocks On Bikes Isabella Cawthorn was originally Isabella or is her name something she changed in respect of the old “knock knock” gag.
    Knock knock
    Who’s there?
    Isabell who?
    Is a bell necessary on a bicycle?
    Probably just synchronicity. It’s very nice though, especially given the role of the polite, elegant, traditional and just downright cute Ding Dong bell* that is an essential accessory for every bike in the slow-bike, frocks-on-bikes, tweed, and other graceful (dare I say behooving) bicycle movements.
    Ding dong I say! And yes, I do mean that in the best Leslie Phillips tradition;-)

  5. Adam J says:

    This should be common sense really – centre of gravity forward and speed high = high chance of going over the handlebars.
    When I was learning to improve the safety of my riding (wobble a bit, stay far out from parked cars and turning buses), one thing I learnt a technique for doing an emergency stop on a bicycle. You ‘flutter’ your brakes hard (slam them on and you’ll only skid), hold your handlebars straight and steady, and THROW YOUR WEIGHT BACK (basically slide your rear end off the saddle). When you ride upright, your weight is already further back AND an upright bike being so heavy, it incredibly hard to go over the bars.

  6. So Dutchmen don’t know how to ride on ice and…
    Actually, so few of those racers hit their head too, hmm.
    Anecdotally, I’ve crashed many times mostly as a child (post helmet law) and I’ve never hit my head. I’ve grazed my face badly before though.

    • Steven says:

      I saw a lot of racers hit their heads very hard, and maybe one of two of the dutch cyclists hit their heads hard enough that, maybe, they were hurt. The challenge for policy makers is to strike the right balance. I think they’ve managed that everywhere else in the world but Australia and a few other outposts with mandatory bike helmet laws.

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