Simon Usborne: 'When it comes to helmets, I will tolerate dorkiness in exchange for security'

Click to follow
The Independent Online

I've never measured my head and I don't have a tape to hand, but I'm going to guess it has a circumference significantly greater than the 58cm (23inch) average for a man.

Fortunately I'm six foot two so my hulking bonce sits more or less in proportion with the rest of me. I like to think I look normal. But stick a bike helmet on my head – any bike helmet, but always an inelegant XL – and I immediately resemble a total berk.

OK, so I admit I've become a vain cyclist. Before last month's Etape du Tour I blew 17 quid on a new replacement bottle cage so it would match my other one. And I spent weeks designing my fixed-gear commuter bike before getting it built for twice the price of its off-the-peg equivalent. But when it comes to helmets, I tolerate dorkiness in exchange for security.

But before I dip a toe into the heated helmet-safety debate, which I do with hesitation (nothing seems to agitate cyclists more, bar the red-light jumping debate) answer this: Have you ever seen a helmet, small or large, that doesn't look a bit stupid? Manufacturers have tried hard to break the unflattering mould with helmets more traditionally found at skate parks and ski slopes. You can even get covers that will disguise your helmet as a trilby. But I've yet to see anything approaching cool.

Perhaps the apparent paradox that is the fashionable helmet explains why I'm seeing so many cyclists – a lot of them women – liberating their locks. Are they dicing with death or making informed decisions? The helmet debate, briefly, goes thus: they reduce the deceleration of the skull in a crash, softening the impact of brain against bone; they spread the force of an impact and separate soft skin from hard Tarmac. Or: they offer no protection in high-speed smashes; encourage drivers to give riders a narrower berth; increase the size of the head (a lot in my case), making an impact more likely; and they can snag on the road, causing rotational injuries.

I've always adhered to the "why wouldn't you" side of the debate but the more I read the more I'm wondering why I should. I won't even bother inviting views on this vexed issue. And I'll listen to any theories or look at any genuinely cool helmet I may have missed, but while I consider my options, I'll carry on looking like a loser.