Some Helmet History
I was asked to look into how helmets came to be common, then required on CRW rides. I requested input on the CRW e-mail list. There were so many responses that I can report only highlights here.
Younger club members may need a history refresher: the first effective helmets designed for bicycling appeared in the mid-1970s. Several members who wore helmets avoided serious head injury in crashes, the news spread and helmet use swept through the club over the next few years
I am recalling that long-time CRW member Jacek Rudowski went over the hood of a car and landed on his head in the street. His story became well-known. He liked to tell it.
CRW member Doug Kline reports the following. "Eric Ferioli was hit head-on by a negligent motorist, went onto the car’s hood, and struck the windshield head-first. I think he broke the windshield. He expressed that he was glad he had been wearing his helmet."
John Springfield noted:
"I bought a helmet via mail order in 1974 or 1975, made by Mountain Safety Research. It had three holes in the front that resembled a bowling ball. I recall fellow CRW riders snickering at me when I first appeared with my MSR helmet in 1974 (or 1975). When I ordered my MSR helmet, they mistakenly mailed me 2 helmets. I wrote them a letter requesting that they donate the extra helmet to the CRW. It would be given away in the raffle at the annual awards banquet. They agreed, and the helmet was won by Ed Trumbull. Ed probably wouldn't have bought a helmet for himself, but once he got the "free" helmet he started wearing it. A few years later he had a crash and thanked me for donating the helmet." Photo by John Kane is John Springfield riding with helmet.
My own story – I bought my first Bell Biker in 1975. On July 23, 1978, a drunk driver sideswiped me on Route 2A in Littleton, sweeping the bicycle out from under me. The left side of the helmet’s liner was crushed and the shell was scraped. I walked away, battered and with a broken collarbone but no evident head trauma.
These were the kind of stories that drove the trend toward helmet use among CRW members.
It wasn’t as popular everywhere. A couple of members who toured in Europe in the 1980s reported that they got laughs and catcalls for wearing helmets. There were helmet holdouts in CRW as well. John Latva, as late as 1993, submitted an 11-page diatribe against helmets to the CRW Board. The late Charles Hanson resigned as ride leader in 2005 when the CRW Board instituted a mandatory helmet policy for ride leaders.
Quoting bicycling historian Larry Finison, who also responded to my e-mail:
"Sometime in the future a whole dissertation might be written on the socio-technical/cultural and marketing aspects of the adoption or rejection of helmets by a variety of bike riders."
Go for it, Larry! And here’s a nugget of research for you: The earliest helmet promotion I found in the Wheelpeople archive is in the President’s Message, in the March, 1977 issue, https://wpp.crw.org/wpp/WPP197703.pdf
More about helmet history, policies and politics is at https://sheldonbrown.com/helmets.html
John Allen is CRW Safety Coordinator.