Should you wear a helmet for bicycle touring? Here's a look at some of the pros and cons to wearing a lid when bike touring.
Wearing a helmet for bike touring
Few things are more divisive within cycling circles than whether or not you should wear a helmet. This isn't just on a person to person level either, it's on a national level.
In countries such as Australia and New Zealand, wearing helmets is compulsory for cyclists. In other parts of the world such as the Netherlands, they shake their un-helmeted heads in bewilderment at the very idea.
Best helmet for bike touring
You'll want something lightweight and hardwearing. Also, a well ventilated helmet for bikepacking is a good idea.
These touring bike helmets all fit the bill!:
Why is wearing a bicycle helmet such a big deal?
Just why is the world so divided over something so seemingly simple? After all, in theory, it only makes sense to use one.
I think it's because most folk get hung up over the word ‘compulsory' when it's thrown into the argument, because it immediately polarises people.
That word compulsory doesn't really apply to touring cyclists though, so it comes down to personal choice on if you should wear a helmet for bicycle touring.
Note: I should also add that this article about road bike helmets and if they are useful for touring was first written in 2014. I think looking at this in 2022, we should also consider that the zeitgeist/consciousness has shifted and perhaps we now have a generation of cyclists who know no different to wearing bike helmets, further entrenching positions.
My view on wearing a bike helmetNow, I'm not here to persuade you one way or the other. My view, is that it's up to you. As long as you are following the laws of the country you are riding in, you're golden.
Personally, I don't wear a helmet for bicycle touring in countries that I don't have to.
As I said, it's my choice, and if I do happen to get knocked down and split my head open, you can say ‘See, I told you so!'.
It goes without saying that I would prefer that particular scenario didn't happen at all though!
So if you are undecided on the issue, or even have an axe to grind one way or the other, you might be interested in reading on. These are the main reasons why I don't wear a helmet for bicycle touring, and I'd appreciate your comments at the end.
Why I Don't Wear a Helmet for Bicycle Touring
It's another thing to carry – Admittedly, cycling helmets don't weigh much, but every little counts right?!
They get a bit stinky – One of the main problems if you wear a helmet for bicycle touring, is that they do start to whiff after a while. The sweat just builds up on the foam padding on the inside, and 8 hours a day, day after day in the saddle start to take their toll. It's not much fun putting on a cycling helmet in the morning that is still cold and wet with sweat from the day before either!
I'm probably going to leave it somewhere – Inevitably, at some point, the helmet will get left behind somewhere, whether its a wild camp site, a restroom or at the side of the road after a break.
I don't cycle fast enough to need one – This could be a bone of contention! My point here is that when bicycle touring, I am never going to achieve the consistent high speeds that road cyclists do. In fact, on uphill sections, I am barely going faster than someone walking or jogging. Do joggers wear helmets? No. Do pedestrians? No again, so what is the difference?
It's not going to help if I get hit by a truck – I will leave that explanation as it is!
I just don't want to
So, there's my reasons for not wearing a bike touring helmet. As the basis of a valid argument against if you should wear a helmet for bicycle touring, even I think that's pretty weak!
Still, I feel how I feel so there you are. What do you think? Do you wear a helmet for everyday cycling, and would you wear a helmet for bicycle touring over long distances? Please write your comments below!
Bicycle Touring Helmet
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- Electronic Gear To Take On A Bicycle Tour: Cameras, GPS, and Gadgets
- Best Saddles For Touring: Most Comfortable Bike Seats For Cycling
- Best Powerbank for Bike Touring – Anker Powercore 26800
- Rear Bike Rack For Touring By Bicycle
- Best Pillow for Camping When Bike Touring – Travel Pillows
Cycling Helmets FAQ
Readers who are considering whether they want to wear bicycle helmets on a bike tour often ask questions such as:
Which helmet is best for cycling?
The Giro Register MIPS is considered to be among the best helmets, and ticks a lot of boxes for bike touring. It's affordable, lightweight, and quite breathable.
Do cycling helmets make a difference?
The helmet's ability to reduce the severity of head injuries in a bike accident is one of the reasons that people suggest wearing head protection when riding bikes.
Which is the safest cycle helmet?
Virginia Tech offer updated lists of which are the safest of the helmets sold. How unbiased their research is given who some of their donors are might be a source of debate.
Which brand of helmet is best?
Probable know brand of road bike helmet can be said to be better than another, although certainly, some are more well known than others.
Bob R says
I’ve bicycled for past 54 years, since about age 4. Rode my bike daily exploring areas around Florida, up through high school. Road biked throughout many countries, courtesy of the US Navy. Never wore a helmet. I got into mountain biking in the 80s. And wore a helmet because all the competition riders I rode looked cool and had one. Currently when I ride with my grandkids I’ll wear one. When I’m riding the road in my home town, which is very vehicle contested, I wear it. Out on the trails, no. Still dreaming of xcountry tour. Probably won’t wear, but will carry for where it’s required.
I hardly ever wear a helmet, I only did it on organized rides when it was mandatory. Recent dutch studies show that the protection of a helmet is overrated. But as you said, it should be free choice wether or not somebody WANTS to wear one.
The one thing that really annoys me though is the almost aggressive reactions towards people who choose not to wear one.
You look like a tool in the picture because that helmet is too small for you. Unless you flip 180 degrees and land on top of your head, it isn’t going to do much. 🙂 So if that’s the helmet you’re debating wearing, you might as well not.
I used to wear a helmet only when I rode on the street. One day I decided to wear it on a very innocuous trail that I normally would have gone helmetless on. I had the worst crash I’ve ever had. Landed very very very hard on the back of my head. I pedaled away with a headache; without the helmet I’m sure I would have fractured my skull. So I’m a convert.
we dont i wear them i have had 2 accidents both injured my shoulder and we are not required to wear shoulder pads. i always do what the law requires, i have chosen to visit that country. not wearing one in spain but law weird,you do not need one in urban areas, going up steep hills or in hot weather, sounds subjective. we are so cold we are wearing hats and hoods and police have passed and not stopped us but most cyclists seem to wear helmets
Dave Briggs says
I do think that bicycle touring is a different beast to road cycling. (For road cycling on a racing bike I would definitely wear a helmet). And you are right, the laws are very strange from country to country, Spain even more so by the sound of it! I’m following your cycling adventures via some of the Facebook groups – good luck on your journeys!!
I would wear one. I am accident prone!
Dave Briggs says
Thats as good a reason as any!! 😉
Like everything it gets down to personal choice! I do wear a helmet as I have seen the damage that can easily be done to those who chose not to. Better safe than Sorry! 🙁
Didn’t use to wear, got hit by a car and damaged my head. Starting wearing (almost religiously), got hit by another car (!), helmet split, head was fine.
So, speaking from what I think is experience, a helmet might help when hit by a vehicle, even when not cycling particularly quickly. Personally, I can see it from both sides of the argument (but have definitely decided on which is best for me).
Dave Briggs says
I’d just like to thank everyone who has commented on this so far. I really appreciate you all taking time out of your day to do so 🙂
I think I’ve taken a few things away from the comments here and in the facebook groups, with the main one being there seems to have been a real turn around in the bicycle touring community. Even three or four years ago, the people that say that they don’t wear them for touring would be in a minority, and judging from the responses, that has swung the opposite way around now. Interesting to see.
The other thing that I have taken away, is that some cyclists have taken some really nasty spills! I don’t know if I lead a charmed life, or its just not caught up with me yet, but in over 34,000 kms of bicycle touring all over the world, I’ve yet to take a spill! (excluding one snail-paced incident where I slid the wheel around a sharp bend going up a 20% dirt road.. pride was damaged an perhaps a slightly grazed knee!).
Personally, I am still undecided as to whether I should wear one for my next tour or not, but its good to hear both sides of the debate. Cheers!
If I justified to myself that touring is so dangerous that I need a helmet, then I would expect myself to wear full body armer too and keep it on when walking around the street or getting into a car – all of which can be seen as equally (or more?) fitting for such protection and why stop at just a thin bit of polystyrene on your head to protect you when a lorry hits?. Since, if wearing a helmet in a car saves just one life…. surely we would all be silly not to wear one (and all the body armer) at all times?
Felix Ihlefeldt says
No I don’t wear a helmet, because: I cylcle much longer than helmets for cyclists exist (I’m 65) and I never had an accident, in what it had been useful. 2nd: The ADFC (German cyclists association ) is against making it compulsory and they rely on a statement of the Berlin Trauma Center, which questions the purpose of the helmets because they do not really want to protect them from the dangerous spinal injuries. And: If you are flying over the handlebars, you protect yoursef from a reflex with the arms. So maybe your arms get’s broken, but not your cranium. 3rd: I sweat very much and heavy and a helmet obstructs the airflow, I think.
BUT I’ll buy a helmet and wear it in Canada, because it’ compulsory there..
J. Allan says
Helmets aren’t compulsory all the way across Canada. Certain provinces have made it compulsory, but for the most part, if you’re over 18, the law lets you decide. BC and the Maritime provinces are the only ones with all-ages compulsory helmet laws.
Out of all your arguments I agree only with the last. When we do touring our environment and level of danger change dramatically. I feel we need to constantly asses your surroundings and wear a helmet accordingly. I agree that sometime we tour far away from towns and cities there is no need for a helmet.
My tour helmet is covered with reflective tape, as the “highest point” on my bike. I strongly believe visibility is utmost important to prevent accidents and crashes with other road users.
Stinky problem. I agree fully. The lining inside do not last very long anyway. Remember those sponge shoulder pads that women use in jackets in the 1990’s. I use them in my helmet. They clean easily under a tap. They lift the helmet of your head so to increase air flow.
Di Michels says
I wear one. Mainly because in New Zealand it is a legal requirement. Having said that, the other road users here are not all that friendly towards cyclists and the helmets do offer a level of protection if you have an accident. I also always where a helmet when I’m riding off road.
Ron Harlos says
I wear a helmet all the time. The word Mellon is a slang word for your head. The last time I dropped a Mellon about 5 ft. It broke and junk came out. Just saying. I would rather say I’m glad I had a helmet on than have an injury and just wish I would have worn it. The last time I went down over the bars going fast I landed on grass and cracked my helmet. It was a week later that I noticed it was cracked. No side affects to my head. The helmet did its job.
Hi Dave, On our tour (in Guatemala at the time) my partner cycled downhill and didn’t see a speed bump, he flew over the handle bars. Bad road rash and his helmet split in three places. We wear our helmets all the time. Death is one thing but brain damage scares me more.
Sure I wear helmet!
It’s not that I need it for my commuting and bicycle touring, it’s because I don’t have a clue about when I’ll need it.
To me, my head is invaluable. I don’t want it damaged in a stupid accident…
As a kid I never wore a helmet. When a law passed requiring those under 18 to wear a helmet, I stopped riding my bike. Now, I always wear a helmet. Sure, it gets sweaty and smelly and I can’t scratch my head when it itches and I look goofy, but I feel my brain is important. I have crashed hard a few times, and not even going that fast, and I’m thankful I wore a helmet. My head bounced off the concrete multiple times, but my head wasn’t hurt at all. Sure, in a serious accident, like getting hit by a car, whether or not you’re wearing a helmet is the least of your worries.
Mike Greer says
I rarely if ever wear a helmet , my belief/ reasoning being that most of the accidents I’ve ever had on a bike have been of the sliding variety , coming off on bends etc . So I’ve suffered grazes etc ! Lucky maybe ! If I am hit by a vehicle the outcome is unlikely to be good wether or not I have a helmet on.
Though hipper critically I insist my Grandchildren wear theirs if I’m riding with them !
Being legally forced too is a big NoNo to me !