Moving the Conversation Beyond Helmets

by Mia Kohout, Tania Lo
September 14, 2012

Source: Momentum Mag

Photo by David Niddrie Momentum Publishers Tania Lo, left, and Mia Kohout trying out BIXI's at Velo-city Global 2012 in Vancouver.

Photo by David Niddrie
Momentum Publishers Tania Lo, left, and Mia Kohout trying out BIXI’s at Velo-city Global 2012 in Vancouver.

Wear a helmet, don’t wear a helmet; you choose. We just want you to ride.

It’s probably no surprise to our regular readers that by and large, the most contentious issue you write to us about is helmets. Helmet feedback floods our inbox, Facebook page, Twitter feed and website more than any other subject related to riding a bike. Each time we publish a photo of someone not wearing a helmet we either get yelled at or applauded. So it’s time we officially share our opinion on the subject with you.

We don’t believe the law should require helmets for people over the age of 16. We believe that adults should have the right to choose whether or not they wear a helmet. It feels wrong and repressive living in a city where cyclists are targeted by the police and looked down on by other citizens for not wearing a helmet. Making people who choose to respectfully travel by bike, while following the rules of the road, become the victims of attacks and fines is unreasonable.

At best, helmets may reduce the consequences of collisions, but they cannot stop a crash from happening in the first place. Helmet arguments focus much-needed energy away from what really matters in making cities safe for cycling: lower (and enforced) speed limits and separated and connected bike infrastructure.

We understand that our readers often have personal stories of loved ones who feel that they were saved by wearing helmet. We definitely won’t argue that helmets don’t save lives when people fall and hit their heads. In some cases we are sure that helmets have saved lives.

But we don’t need to police helmet use; it is a waste of resources and a waste of our time as promoters of safe, everyday cycling for transportation. Before you write us about helmets, please first write a letter to your local representative asking for better bike infrastructure and separated bike lanes. We need to move the conversation forward. We need to unify our voices and put our energy towards lobbying for infrastructure and enforced universal lower speed limits. Tell your friends why we need better bicycle infrastructure. Write more letters to local politicians. Don’t remain silent when it comes to making cycling safer for everyone.

Momentum Mag will continue to publish photographs of people biking with and without helmets because we proudly promote the bicycle as transportation and present everyday people riding bikes in everyday situations in whatever clothing and accessories they choose to wear. We need more role models and we need to take more action towards better cycling conditions. Encourage, don’t discourage. Our cities need the voices of people who ride bikes to unify and fight as allies, not judgmental enemies.

Please help us move the conversation beyond helmets. We all have much more important things to talk about.

Mia Kohout & Tania Lo


Momentum Magazine


This article is directed at the wrong group. It is not the police who attempt to enforce helmet laws (at least not in Illinois). Instead the blame belongs on the shoulders of every single Bicycle Advocacy Group or Bicycle Club that makes a point of insisting that helmets be worn if you are to indemnify them against “negligence law suits“. And of course the rest of the general population of both cyclists and motorists take their clues as to what is “safest” from these groups.

If you want to get to the bottom of the problem then the Cycling Community as a whole has to be willing to lobby their legislators to have them revoke the laws governing helmet use. I doubt seriously that anyone will want to do this because the cost of insurance for the fundraising rides would skyrocket. So in fact the real villain here are those who are supposedly “supporters” of cycling who do not have the cojones to fight for their supposed view of helmet wearing efficacy.