April 20th, 2012.
An avid cyclist loses control of his bike on a steep road in the foothills of Provo, 50 miles or so from Salt Lake City. He was unable to handle the corner and he went down hard. He hit his head.
He was wearing a helmet. Unfortunately, only a few months later, at 79 years of age, Stephen Covey went on to succumb to his injuries from the bicycle accident and he died a few days ago.
Stephen Covey was a hero of mine. His book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, made a difference in my life.
A bicycle helmet protects the head by reducing the rate at which the skull and brain are accelerated or decelerated by an impact — a shock absorber. The force of an impact is only reduced while the polystyrene liner is compressing. A helmet can only offer protection until the liner is fully compacted. After that point, the residual impact energy is passed on to the skull and brain.
Sad to say, a bicycle helmet really only provides good protection with simple, low-speed falls. Although numerous studies have been published to determine the effectiveness of bicycle helmets, nowhere in the world has an increase in helmet use resulted in a fall in head or brain injuries relative to cycle use.
I wear one. I would never go on the road without it. But I harbour no false illusion as to its relative effectiveness. If I am moving fast on the bike, a fall is going to be bad. Landing on my head, even with a helmet, has the potential for serious injury.
Is cycling an inherently dangerous activity? And is there a high risk of head injury?
As far as I can determine in the research, the actual risks of cycling fall in the same range as for walking and driving.
The health benefits of cycling far outweigh the risk of injury. People who ride live longer with healthier lives and less illness. Ken Kifer provides a comprehensive view of whether cycling is a safe activity here.
Accidents will happen. Pushing the envelope on a bike, no matter the experience level of the cyclist, can lead to unintended spills. And any spill on a bike can cause serious injury.
When I ride, I am always very alert and I am also very careful. I want to get back home to my family. Healthy and in one piece.
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