Bike helmets are more about protecting car owners from liability rather then protecting bike riders. I was a bike messenger in NYC for 8 years. With the excetion of pro racers, most biker head injuries involve collisions with cars. The spills and wipe outs we get into (without the help of cars) rarely send us head first over our handle bars.
What are the bicycle commuting conditions like in London? Here in Montana, USA, I occasionally ride in heavy traffic that is not overly accustomed to bicycles and that can be aggressive. Frequently, I'm just not visible because drivers are not trained to look for cyclists. I believe my helmet commands respect; it shows automobiles that I am serious about my bicycle transportation. I don't have connected systems of bike lanes so I must take my place on the road and I try to do so assertively and politely. I believe my chances of sustaining a head injury from an accident with an automobile are higher than if I had more opportunities to ride separated from traffic.
Some conditions warrant helmet use, others do not. In my 27 years of bicycling (almost always with a helmet) I've fortunately only needed it once when a large blood-gorged horsefly the size of a hummingbird hit the front of my helmet and splattered blood everywhere. That would have been an icky dent on my noggin!
However I have also taken care of hospitalized patients with brain injuries. Basically, if you live through a head trauma, your life will be a major bummer. I think I'll wear my helmet when I ride, thank you. Why not?
I like wearing my helmet when I ride my road bike, and yes, my lycra is very comfy for a 50+ mile ride despite the image of "avid macho cyclist" it may convey. I like wearing my helmet when I ride my mountain bike, and no, I do NOT like popping my shins against my pedals while navigating over boulders, thus I may convey the image of "gear head" as I seem to require those "special shoes."
But I also like wearing my helmet when I ride my old Raleigh townie bike to work or church or for shopping, and YES! With my short skirts or dresses and heels and fresh produce in the basket, I'm afraid I DO convey the image of chic and free-spirited and healthy. I've had numerous women approach me and tell me, "I should think about riding a bicycle because you make it look so easy." And these comments come to me while I am wearing a helmet and day-glo reflective vest (it flashes red lights and is most helpful when riding after dark, and for which I've received many comments from drivers who thank me for being visible).
I don't believe the thought of wearing helmets keep most people from bicycling. We are creatures of habit. We'd have to get up a little earlier to bicycle to work or get home a little later. Our damned polluting automobiles are so convenient! Here in the US, we so love our cars.
Wearing a helmet doesn't hurt me and it might reduce my chances of sustaining a serious brain injury. I'm more concerned about protecting my own brain than what image I portray to others. I love riding my bikes and if a helmet increases my potential to ride them for the rest of my life, well then, I will always wear one.
And if I was a politician or a dignitary or some fluffy celebrity, I'd wear one as an example that helmets are worn by those who are intellectual, sensible, sexy and fun. Oh, and normal.
The idea that helmuts keep people from biking is preposterous. People who don't like helmuts simply don't wear them (& I know many). People don't bike because they don't want to leave their car at home. As one who has had many near misses on a bike in city traffic, I can say for a fact that - while it isn't dangerous - it is nothing like walking on a sidewalk. In a quiet suburban neigborhood, take your chances. In the city, wear the damn helmut.
The question is: Are conservatives at all an exemple to any?