Bike to Work—But Wear Your Helmet

Medically reviewed in January 2020

Recently I chatted with a childhood friend about the crazy, unsafe things we did on bicycles when we were young. Whether it was launching ourselves off homemade ramps, towing our friends on skateboards or riding on handlebars, we did most of it without helmets.

These days I'm pretty serious about safety when I'm on a bicycle. I follow the law, I pay close attention to my environment and I always wear a helmet -- even if I'm just going for a leisurely spin around the neighborhood.

That last policy probably just saved my life. In April 2012, I hit an obstruction in the road and landed on my head. I broke five bones in my face; the surgeons used three titanium plates and a dozen screws to put me back together. (And no, they don't set off the metal detectors at the airport.)

The injuries were serious enough, but my helmet probably kept me alive. The portion that covers the upper part of my forehead was smashed into pieces.

May is National Bike Month, and Bike to Work Day is typically held in the spring. There are many reasons to get on your bike and celebrate these events, among them: Commuting on a bike can save money and time. Riding a bike is good for the environment. And cycling is great exercise.

But whether you ride all the time or haven't cycled in a while, here are three tips to help you ride safely:

1. Wear a helmet and make sure it fits properly.
Recently I caught myself yelling at a restaurant delivery guy who, like many in the area of Atlanta where I work, wasn't wearing a helmet. As he wove through traffic, hopped a curb and deftly ran a red light, I wondered just how hard his head was. I bet the concrete was harder.

Bicycle helmet usage estimates vary widely, but the government puts the number between 25 and 50% of all cyclists. That's not nearly enough. (By comparison, nearly 85% of people wear seat belts.)

Cyclists accounted for 2% of all fatalities involving motor vehicles in 2009, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration. Many more people end up in the emergency room after crashes not involving cars. Bicycle injuries are the number one reason kids visit the emergency department for nonfatal traumatic brain injuries.

2. Share the road.
This is the battle cry of many cyclists, but it goes both ways. I see a lot of cyclists with poor road etiquette. They hop curbs, run lights, travel in the left lane or fail to signal. They're a danger to themselves and to motorists. If you're going to commute to work or ride in traffic, give cars a wide berth. If cyclists expect motorists to share the road, they should too.

3. Join a group ride.
There is safety in numbers. Many urban bike shops sponsor rides during the week, and bicycle clubs offer regular weekend treks. Where I live, these rides are usually on established routes that have less traffic. And other riders are familiar with the roads and hazards. Plus, the sponsoring groups tend to enforce safety protocols.

In a number of cities, bicycling organizations are organizing group cycling commutes and other rides to celebrate National Bike Month. Get on a bike and join them. Just remember to follow the rules of the road, and don’t forget to wear your helmet.

More On