Let’s get this out of the way first: I wear a bike helmet. I think everyone should wear a helmet, including car drivers and pedestrians, who both have a tendency to go through windshields and suffer severe head injuries when involved in a crash. But the only drivers I know that wear helmets are professional racers, and as Doug Gordon noted in a tweet,“When a NASCAR driver crashes, no one uses the event to admonish ordinary motorists to wear a helmet.”
Yet after Annemie van Vleuten crashed in the Olympic road race, there was a whole lot of helmetsplaining on twitter from people who suggested that this is “proof that every cyclist should wear a helmet.”
Helmetsplaining is a derivative of mansplaining, the most hilarious example of which also happened in relation to Annemie van Vleuten.
In helmetsplaining, people who clearly do not ride bikes and do not know that there is a difference between racing down a mountain at maximum speed on a bike and going to the store for a quart of milk, consider themselves experts in bicycle safety and lecture everyone else.
Let me do some lanesplaining. If you look at places where cycling is common (like in this short video of Copenhagen) and where there is good bike infrastructure, almost nobody is wearing helmets. Yet the rate of injury per kilometres travelled is a fraction of what it is in the United States. One can infer from the statistics that it is not the helmets that are saving people from injury, it is the infrastructure.
The helmetsplainers are delivering a message that cycling is dangerous and that you have to armour up to get on a bike or you might not get there alive. This scares people who might otherwise use a bike for their daily commute or for shopping like they do in Copenhagen or Amsterdam.
The helmetsplainers will dress up nicely and brush their hair before they get in their car because they want to look nice, but expect the people on bikes to dress up in dayglo and get helmet head.
The helmetsplainers ignore the fact that mandatory helmet laws and gory helmet promotion campaigns significantly depress the number of people who cycle for daily commutes or shopping because it is uncomfortable in hot weather and it is ugly, and it is not what people want to do when they are just going out to live normal lives and do normal things.
The helmetsplainers don’t understand why bike activists get so angry about helmetsplaining when it might be true that wearing a helmet can prevent injury, although there are studies that even question that. They ignore the statistics that show how many head injuries happen in cars and to pedestrians and how they should be wearing them too.
The Helmetsplainers don’t get that we want to make riding a bike feel safe and normal, which might encourage more people to get out of cars and overcrowded transit systems and onto bikes, which actually has been shown to be the best way to reduce injuries, as can be seen on this graph that shows that the more people bike, the lower the rate of injuries, irrespective of helmet use. Or that it might reduce pollution and make people healthier and fitter, which has been shown to save more lives than helmets. That we don’t want armour, we want infrastructure.
But then the helmetsplainers might have to give up some parking spaces or the occasional driving lane or slow down, and we can’t have that.