I’ve never had much patience for helmet scolds – those self-appointed stewards of safety who, e.g., write into newspapers or magazines chastizing them for running a photograph of someone on (or nearby) a bicycle without a helmet; or who fix you with a condemnatory glare if you should venture out for a ride around the neighborhood with a cloth Campagnolo hat on your head. Yes, helmets reduce the risk of head injuries in an accident. A helmet might even save your life. By all means, wear one. I do, (almost) invariably. But spare me the self-righteousness and disapprobation if I choose not to. Bike riding isn’t significantly more dangerous than any number of things we undertake every day without special protection; going without a helmet on a bike is simply not the foolhardy, unthinking act that some would make it out to be. It’s just a choice.
(Seven hundred cycling deaths each year in the U.S. compared to 33,000+ in autos and 4,500+ for pedestrians. Injuries similarly skewed, away from cyclists. I wonder how many lives would be saved every year, or how many closed head injuries mitigated, by helmet use by everyone at all times? As they say - "if it saves one life, it's worth it".)
Helmets may help, but your best insurance against serious injury is unwavering attentiveness, the constant awareness of your surroundings and everything that moves in and out of them. The great majority of bicycle injuries and deaths result from auto collisions, and avoiding those one-sided encounters altogether is a more effective way to stay safe than relying on some thin piece of styrofoam once you’re headed toward the ground. (Which is why I direct my scorn toward cyclists with iPods, who, unlike bareheaded riders, are actually increasing their odds of a crash.)