to helmet or not to helmet???

So here’s a question?? Are helmets required for Ragbrai?? I don’t generally wear one as they are hot and uncomfortable. Now I know that they are supposed to prevent brain damage (I haven’t got any to damage) and protect your noggin. But when I did some research, statistically(in Australia, I know gravitational pull is different on that side of the world) they have been found that since the introduction of a law requiring helmet use, head trauma has gone up but the number of bikers has gone down. Makes you wonder why? SO, lets start this conversation. To helmet OR, NOT to helmet?

89 Replies

Jboz, June 24, 2017 at 8:00 pm

Maybe I’m in the minority here, but I feel strongly that if a rider decides not to wear a helmet, it should be his or her decision and they shouldn’t be chastised or ridiculed. Their friends and family can and should weigh in because they have a vested interest, but a bunch of strangers on an internet forum? I kind of think it’s none of my business. I don’t walk up to strangers smoking cigarettes and lecture them about the dangers. If a smoking stranger asks my advice, I will say “do whatever you want dude – no skin off my nose.” They are adults, and can make their own decisions. So, that’s my answer to the OP’s question. If a rider doesn’t want to wear a helmet, and if they have researched, weighed the risks and decided to do it anyway, I say “go for it”.

I put riding without a helmet in the same category of other behaviors that I personally risky. Motorcycles for example scare the crap out of me, and I would never ride one (with or without a helmet). My choice is to avoid motorcycles, but many people ride them and enjoy them immensely. I will of course wear a helmet on RAGBRAI, and I choose to do that simply because of the sheer numbers of riders out there and the possibility of a tangle. But if someone chooses not wear one on RAGBRAI, I won’t judge them here, nor will I judge them on the road in Iowa. I will look upon them no differently than the person who chooses to hang glide, base jump, or engage in backcountry skiing. Their biz, not mine. I’m not the risky behavior police.


Curtis Moore, June 25, 2017 at 6:10 am

Over the 35+ years I’ve been riding I’ve had several opportunities to “field test” my helmet(s) during crashes of varying degrees of intensity and force. My conclusions have led me to say that I was thankful to have one in each of the instances, including one last March where immediately after i hit my head on the asphalt i remember thinking “Damn, that REALLY hurt!” But the sore spot on my skull went away after a couple of days which wouldn’t have been the case if my bare head had been cracked by the impact (and it would have been cracked).

Helmets are no big deal. Most weight less than 10 ounces and are very well ventilated. If spending $80-$180 for a helmet bothers you more than spending a couple thousand or more at the emergency room because you’ve ripped some skin and hair…or depressed a spot on your skull…from your noggin then there’s probably not much else I can say.


KenH, June 25, 2017 at 7:06 am

Those of you who do not share the OP’s aversion to actual scientific studies could look for Bicycle injuries and helmet use: a systematic review and meta-analysis authored by Jake Olivier and Prudence Creighton, published about a year ago. I don’t have the link handy but I think a web search will turn up one where you can read and download it for free.

From the abstract to that article:
Results: A total of 43 studies met inclusion criteria and 40 studies were included in the
meta-analysis with data from over 64 000 injured cyclists. For cyclists involved in a crash
or fall, helmet use was associated with odds reductions for head (OR¼0.49, 95% confidence
interval (CI): 0.42–0.57), serious head (OR¼0.31, 95% CI: 0.25–0.37), face
(OR¼0.67, 95% CI: 0.56–0.81) and fatal head injury (OR¼0.35, 95% CI: 0.14–0.88). No
clear evidence of an association between helmet use and neck injury was found
(OR¼0.96, 95% CI: 0.74–1.25). There was no evidence of time trends or publication bias.

Conclusions: Bicycle helmet use was associated with reduced odds of head injury, serious
head injury, facial injury and fatal head injury. The reduction was greater for serious
or fatal head injury. Neck injury was rare and not associated with helmet use. These results
support the use of strategies to increase the uptake of bicycle helmets as part of a
comprehensive cycling safety plan.”

I am too much of a free spirit to believe that you should be forced to wear a helmet. I am too much of a scientist to believe that it is wise to ride without one. I have two issues with not wearing a helmet.

The first is that I’ve studied the physics of collisions in college as part of getting an engineering degree.

The second is that some years ago I went to have lunch with my wife at a now closed bagel store that sold deli sandwiches. Then I woke up in a hospital bed, it was dark, and the Blackhawks were playing in the Stanley Cup playoffs. That is all I can remember of that day. The entire rest of the day has been wiped from my memory banks. I had broken ribs, a punctured lung, most probably an undiagnosed broken tail bone, and the mother of all concussions. I had just spent several hours asking my wife every few minutes if she knew where I was and how I got there. Over. And over. And over. She was scared to death. But eventually my brain function returned to normal, or a new normal at least, and I was able to start forming memories again. After release I would walk with a slight foot drag on my right foot every few steps. And around 50% of the time I would brush my left shoulder against door frames as I tried to walk through them. Eventually that all went away. Eventually I was able to get back on my bike. About a year later I rode in my first century, an activity I had only become aware of about the time of my accident. I told my friend Bunny one night that I had just ridden a century. His response was “Dude, we have got to do RAGBRAI….”

Yeah, I was on a bike when this happened and I have no idea what “this” is. Absolutely no memory of it. Apparently I went over a curb within a few hundred feet of home because my bike wheels both needed to be trued and that is where I was found. Otherwise the bike was totally undamaged, I still ride that bike today for everything except commuting to work. My clothes had some grass stains. The only other sign of physical damage is my helmet, dented and broken in two pieces, each of them cracked in several places. Both my engineering mind and my doctors agree that my brain and cranium could not have stood much, if any, more stress from that impact, whatever it was. Test after test after test tells me that without my helmet that day my brain and cranium would have been exposed to two or three orders of magnitude more stress.

One can never know for certain what the result of an accident would have been without a helmet and only a fool who survived an accident while wearing one would volunteer to repeat the experience without one. My case is about as certain as it gets however. Everyone familiar with it is convinced I would have been dead or a vegetable without that stupid piece of foam on my head.


Michrider !!!, June 25, 2017 at 7:17 am

It’s your head, protect it, wear a helmet!!!

BTW, RAGBRAI don’t care!!!!


mootsman, June 25, 2017 at 7:46 am

For those that think its their right to NOT wear a helmet on a ride like RAGBRAI, think what that would mean to the event’s insurance rate and our registration fees… So it impacts everyone. Many events couldn’t even be put on if they had even one big law suit they lost.

And the lighter side of the helmet issue, people, when standing off the bike and posing for a picture please remove your helmet. We all want to see how good looking you are. Everyone looks the same with the helmet on.


GeorgeKline, June 25, 2017 at 2:45 pm

I do not want my head to be the first watermelon in this youtube vidio!


Cameron Cranston, June 25, 2017 at 11:30 pm

In 2104 there was a group named “Team No Helmet”. Mostly cocky young men. I wonder how many of them are in wheelchairs drooling on themselves or worse, 6 feet under.


Low Rider, June 25, 2017 at 11:53 pm

There is the Iowa Adaptive Sports team that has riders with various physical deficits, some with diagnosed (as well as some suspected undiagnosed) TBI’s (Traumatic Brain Injuries). To a person, none of the members of that team planned their injuries. Traumatic events are called accidents for a reason. In the event loved ones aren’t consenting to using organs for donation, dealing with the effects of an accident day in and day out gets old real quick. Given how little a helmet costs, and how little it takes to wear one, and how common helmet hair will be during the week, it is incredible that someone would consider not wearing one. But people have different values and risk tolerances, that’s why we can have a stock market.

The Adaptive Sports Team is not actively recruiting people to obtain new injuries, but as of now it will take new members as they are created.


Pedaling Pete, December 19, 2018 at 11:10 pm

So what answer did you come up with Chad? I see a lot of opinion and suggestion here, but what was the “law” or “rule”. There is no helmet law in Iowa. Can you ride RAGBRAI without one?


Gene, December 20, 2018 at 7:17 am

Don’t wear a helmet, we need more donors.


Chad Frana, December 20, 2018 at 7:42 am

Well, I thought this was a dead issue… As stated by Ragbrai, helmets are optional but highly recommended. Iowa Law DOES NOT require helmets to be worn in this state. I did wear a helmet “MOST” of the time for 17 and all of 18 since the weather was not to hot and allowed me the comfort wearing one and not passing out of heat stroke! That being said, I am not at all afraid of riding without one but would recommend it for sure on day one.. and very hilly days. Lots of people don’t know how to ride in big groups and sometimes don’t make the best decisions at down those killer hills at high speeds.


Pedaling Pete, December 20, 2018 at 9:14 am

Thanks Chad. Doing my first ride this year and wasn’t able to find anything definitive on the actual rule. I know it’s an old posting but thought at this point you probably had some actual experience. I live in L.A. and even though we don’t have a helmet law for adults out here, there are rules requiring them in some local rides and clubs.


mootsman, December 20, 2018 at 9:14 am

I find it actually keeps my head cooler riding with a well ventilated helmet because it keeps the sun mostly off my folliclly challenged scalp. I did have to start using a head sweat though to prevent some odd looking tan lines from forming.


Pedaling Pete, December 20, 2018 at 9:53 am

I don’t understand it, but people get really angry over this helmet issue. At this point in my life, and in sunny SoCal, I’m more concerned about skin cancer than impact. I don’t like putting sunscreen on me, especially my head and face, so instead of a helmet, I wear a large brimmed hat with a long neck cover. It’s comfortable, easy to clean, and has cooling ventilation holes.

One of my goals by riding, is to entice others to do it. I used to be one of those guys hunched forward, leading with my head, sitting on a seat the size of a Kotex, riding a $5000 bike, covered in lycra and pads, feet clipped in, moving along at 25 to 35 mph. What non cyclist would be enticed by that? These days I cruise at about 12 mph, sit straight up on a giant foam seat, wearing whatever shoes and clothing, on a bike I got for 80 bucks on Craigslist. Now people are interested and stop and ask me about it. Hell, it’s so comfortable, I’M more likely to ride.

It’s totally anecdotal, but my friends and I have found that drivers are more careful around us when we’re not wearing a helmet. As a side note, they are REALLY careful if I tow a child’s trailer. I use one to pick up groceries.

For me, a piece of equipment that is far more useful/safe than a helmet is a side view mirror. I don’t really drive anymore but after doing it for almost 50 years, a side view mirror is very intuitive and I just have to know what is coming up on me.


Chad Frana, December 20, 2018 at 9:58 am

I do want to throw out that there is a large amount of people on the ride that do think the helmet is required and the times you don’t wear on you will definitely hear about it. Thanks for your concern and will take it under advisement. I will also say I have seen a few wrecks on the couple years I have gone also. Mostly self inflicted as I could tell. As the thread has stated in the past, it’s not so much you that’s the problem. It’s the other 10k people that’s the concern. They are the ones that will cause you to need the crash protection. I watched a guy push a person out of the way because he thought he owned the road, at least the line that this person was using. That about caused a wreck to a person who wasn’t expecting that to happen. Also, if it rains, wear it. Some roads are like grease when wet.


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