Changing the no-helmet culture


Do you ever run into the problem of convincing kids, especially teens, to wear helmets when riding? I live in an area with zero “helmet culture.” I’ve a neighbor kid who likes to borrow my bike. But he despises helmets, no one in his peer group wears them, they are considered as “geeky,” he “never crashes,” etc. Putting my foot down is one thing, but changing the attitude and the local culture, that’s the interesting problem. I am wondering how to attack it.


Hey Jonathan,

The kids I ride with know they have to wear helmets, and I know I have limited influence on everyone else.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t try.

Why we should all care

Helmet use is so deeply ingrained into the SMBA culture, it’s not even a question. A little guest coaching action at Hall Ranch.

– Peer pressure is powerful. If big/cool kids don’t wear helmets, the wannabes won’t either. Once the key kids decide helmets are lame, that’s it for the whole scene.

– Helmets help preserve our riding spots. Every public DJ/PT spot is one major injury (and one major lawsuit) away from being threatened. Helmets help prevent some of the worst injuries.

– It sucks to see kids get hurt. Concussions are bad news (I should know, but I’ve forgotten). Brain injury jacks up kids, families and communities.

What you should do

Some nerdy adult at the DJ spot has near zero influence, but it’s your (and my) job to take reasonable action.

– Always wear your helmet. Always.

As one of the cool kids, Ian has a lot of influence on the groms. Rocking my Intense 20 with his dirt-colored lid.

– Insist that kids who ride your bikes wear helmets. That’s reasonable and enforceable. If you have sweet enough bikes, who knows, maybe you’ll make some converts.

– The same goes for your backyard pump track. Everyone wears helmets.

– Encourage the opinion leaders (the cooler, older rippers) to wear helmets. Appeal to their egos. Explain that it’s their duty as badass riders and role models to show the groms what’s up. I’ve actually seen that work.

– If you see helmet-less kids with their parents, say something to the parents. You should hear my wife read parents the riot act. Parents: You DON’T want my wife yelling at you.

– These values start at home. If you’re a parent, make sure your kids wear helmets. Always.

– I suppose the helmet companies could run a public safety campaign. Get top riders to rock helmets and make them look cool. That would create new helmet wearers — and it would be great for business. Imagine: My wife and I visit the dirt jumps and pump tracks of America. I ride and teach. She yells at parents. It would save lives!

Do what you can.

— Lee

Wondering: When will we be having the same conversations about neck braces?

Know more. Have more fun!

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9 replies
  1. Jonathan Gennick says:

    Excellent photo w/the kids. But that one on the left seems to be wearing M&Ms instead of a helmet .

    I know, he probably just took it off for the photo. Still, I had to chuckle a bit.

  2. Nick says:

    It would be cool if they could come up with a helmet made from that new flexible material that they are starting to use in body armor. When your done w/ the helmet, just fold it up and stow it.

  3. Mike says:

    When my kids first got their bikes, they were the only ones in the neighborhood who wore helmets, now a couple of others regularly wear helmets but still for the most part the majority of the kids (pre-school thru high school) don’t wear them and neither do most of the adults. My kids lose bike privileges if I ever catch them sans helmet.

  4. Jonathan says:

    Took an afternoon off work and went helmet shopping w/the kid. He ended up with a green Protec bike/skate helmet. (I made sure to get him one certified for bikes). He also talked me into some Fox gloves.

    Then we hit up the Marquette South Trails. He took my Enduro SL and I tried to keep on my Hifi 29er. We even did a freeride trail known as “Your Mom”. I did a bunch of hike-a-bike on that one. I am not worthy. But the kid rocked most of it. Body armor might be next.

  5. Stroncis says:

    Critical mass makes things to happen. Even if few respectable riders don’t wear, but some percent of others wear – then helmets surely make their ways into majority.

    Also, some lucky crashes, when helmets smashing hardly into something, are very effective. In my experience, such events, and scary stories after that, what might be happen if there was no helmet, with showing that helmet with scars, was most influencing in our community to some most resistant antihelmetists. They went directly to parents asking for helmets.

  6. Chris says:

    In my opinion, helmets are like seat belts. There are people out there that still don’t use them but yet they know it can save their life. I recently pulled over a speeder on the Interstate and he wasn’t wearing a seat belt either. He told me “I know it can save my life, but it just aint cool”.
    WTF is that all about, it just aint cool.

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