One of the social barriers to increased bicycle use in daily transportation is the resistance to looking like Lance Armstrong wannabe's.
A recent New York Times article points out some interesting comparisons between USA and European cyclist attitudes and behavior.
Europeans disdain the use of cycling helmets for transportation cycling trips, while Americans view cycling without a helmet as reckless behavior. Europeans typically ride more slowly and have shorter trip distances. Americans ride faster and travel further per commute or trip.
In many European cities (cities that often datie from medieval times), cycling is an upgrade from the primary transportation mode of walking. In American cities, cycling is seen as a downgrade from the primary mode - private automobile use (even though the bike trip might actually take less time and be healthier, less expensive and more convenient). And it is not improbable that Europeans might fall from their bikes less frequently than Americans.
I've seen the smirks and I understand enough French, German and Spanish and the accompanying body language to know what European visitors are remarking to each other at the local coffee shops when they encounter helmet-wearing USA cyclists. Their failure to understand the differences between their European style of riding and our American cycling situations is a classic study in cultural differences that are often misunderstood. And this misunderstand works both ways. Part of the USA's more dangerous riding style is dictated by physical circumstances, and part by the relative lack of bike handling and road position savvy and experience. For many USA riders, the helmet adds a large degree of relative safety. For many more USA bicyclists, the helmet won't protect them from their own extremely risky riding behavior and its consequences.
But for some, riding with a helmet only makes us look goofy and portrays transportation cycling as a dangerous activity, which it is not.
So is it responsible behavior to dress like Europeans - in street clothes and helmet-less - when riding like Europeans?