Cycling Sikhs and Safety

Amritsar, 1946

I’m going to continue on what appears to be our theme of the week here at TLH — Sikhs and sports.  I’m not much of an athlete, though I had a good run of Little League baseball when I was a kid in North Carolina.  I remember how goofy I felt wearing my team’s baseball cap over my patka and of course a helmet when I was up to bat.  Looking back at the photographs, I looked pretty goofy too.

Fast forward a couple of decades, and I find myself in a related dilemma, though hardly an aesthetic one.  This time of year in New York City, my favorite (and most efficient) way to get around is on my bike (the kind that requires pedaling).  It’s good exercise, it gets me around Brooklyn and other parts of the city often as quick or quicker than public transit, and it leaves no carbon footprint.

As a dastaar-wearing Sikh, I grapple every day with my decision to ride my bike without a helmet — especially in a place like New York City.  I’ve had many friends try to convince me to do otherwise, and I’ve tried many experiments of trying to make a helmet work.  After talking to many a bike shop employees, my understanding at the moment is that bike helmets and turbans can’t really co-exist effectively.  Even if I were to get an extra large helmet and put it over a small dastaar, it would not protect my skull sufficiently because it would sit too high up.

Others have posted in the past about the legal issues concerning Sikhs who ride motorcycles, as wearing a helmet on a motorcycle is mandatory in many countries.  I do believe that Sikhs should be granted exemptions from such laws, whether they apply to bicycles or motor bikes, but that doesn’t solve the dilemma for me.  The fact of the matter is that it is especially dangerous to ride without a helmet.

The Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute has given this issue some thought and states:

One Canadian test lab tested a Sikh turban for impact characteristics, and found that they probably would not provide much impact protection, certainly not enough to approach the performance of a helmet meeting any of the national or international bicycle helmet standards. Turbans may vary according to regional styles, and can differ considerably in size, shape, density and other characteristics, so it would be difficult to design a helmet to fit over or under them. A turban-shaped helmet is probably not a viable option even if it were acceptable to Sikhs, because the traditional Sikh turban is meticulously wound, and it would be difficult for a turban wearer to remove their turban, ride in the helmet, and rewind the turban after the ride. Winding a turban over a helmet would eliminate ventilation and result in a very large headgear, while still requiring that the normal turban be taken off to ride.

Often when I go for a bike ride for recreational purposes, I will tie my joora in the back and wear a bandana so I can wear my helmet.  But 95% of my bike-riding is for transportation.  It doesn’t feel realistic to me to wear the helmet, then go tie my dastaar when I get to my destination, only to do it all again when I get back on my bike.  So I wear my turban, ride safely, and hope for the best.  Is this enough?

Any other turban-wearing bicycle-riders out there?  What do you do about the helmet dilemma?  Have you heard of creative ways that Sikhs have addressed the safety issues involved here?  Anyone have a custom made helmet that works?


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26 Responses to “Cycling Sikhs and Safety”

  1. Amrit Heer says:

    Hi, I am a dastaar wearing Sikh from west London, England. I don't wear a helmet because it would take too long, as you've said, to retie a dastar. I always wear my dastaar when I ride my bike, sometimes even a patka. I have been into sports since I was a child and have done martial arts for a long time. It is quite frustrating when I used to go Jiu-Jitsu and half way through sparring my patka comes off and my hair unwraps itself then goes everywhere, it slows the tempo of training down and eventually I stopped going. The only alternative I had was (when I used to train everyday) just get it braided, the West African style. This doesn't help because people then don't know who we are, and I feel I have a responsibility to wear a dastaar because so many Sikh men cut their hair. It's just one of those things where, we have to A) uphold the Sikh religion and B) conform to what is convenient at times. But I still don't know what the middle is yet, it's one(keep the dastaar and not do martial arts) or the other (cut hair and enjoy my hobbies)…tricky times I'd say. But to answer your question about wearing a helmet, I don't, instead I keep on my dastaar and hope there aren't any psychos on the road.

  2. Karan says:

    I've been biking a lot for transportation recently as well – I can't seem to fit a helmet on at all, so I just bike without one. It does concern me at times, but I don't see any better options…

  3. Mohinder Singh says:

    One solution to this problem is wear a pataka under neath a bike helmet.Second solution is to wear a US army helmet,it is high in the middle so it does not interfere with the jooda.third solution is get a custom designed helmet made,out of kevlar it fits over the turban.Where there is a will,there;s a way.

  4. brooklynwala says:

    Wearing a patka with the joora on top still doesn't work for bicycle helmets that I've seen because the helmet will sit too high up…but perhaps this depends on joora size…. :)
    Biking with a US army helmet seems a bit absurd to me and heavy and precarious, though probably safer than just my dastaar to protect me! Would love to hear of examples of custom made bike helmets…

  5. Tejinder says:

    Can someone explain why you would need a helmet if you are wearing a dastaar? Why not just increase the length of the cloth for extra padding if your that scared to hit your head on the ground?

  6. Sahib Singh says:

    Riding 10-12 miles a day without a helmet. By the grace and will of Waheguru, I haven't met with any accidents. Chardi Kala, Gur Fateh.

  7. Parmjit Singh says:

    Perspective… drinking casually or otherwise is more closely related to death and serious injury than the lack of a helmet. So as Sikhs we do the smart thing and don't drink. When the world stops celebrating drinking, they can begin to enlighten me on the dangers of going without a helmet. In the meantime I am extremely safe. When pedestrians start wearing turbans for protection (because studies show the risk of fatality is much higher in a vehicle collision with a turbanless pedestrian than a cyclist of any sort), the world will catch up to how safe we are. There are 100s of high risk activities that people partake in daily that are recreational. A helmet protecting an average conforming brains is good. However, a dastar protecting a sovereign heart and free mind is better.

  8. Annoynmous says:

    Wear a dumalla. I'v heard stories that in WWI in the trenches, Sikhs didn't wear helmets, but these huge dastaars. And they would crouch with their dastar showing above the trenches and take many bullets in the dastaar. And at night, when they would take off their dastaars, the sound would be like a slot machine, ching, ching :countless bullets falling out of the dastaar. (They had weapons in the dastaar too). Also in England, Churchill advocated Sikhs not being forced to wear helmets for bikes, because he said we didn't enforce these safety measures during the war.

  9. jasdeep singh says:

    From Australia – We have an exemption is some states for Sikhs. In others we do not. But the point is that bicycle helmets do not provide very much protection anyway. A local site set up by my friends is It is very relevant for Brisbane city, so some of it may not make sense. My advice is get a upright style bicycle (not a mountain bike or road bike), wear your full size pagg and ride with pride. That is what I do and will continue to do no matter what anyone (including police) says.

  10. jasdeep Singh says:

    It shows that helmet laws are bad for cycling. They offer good protection to your skull but very little protectiln to your brain. Also the safety issue is being hit by a car whivh will give u injuries to internal organs. Does this mean we should have to wear body armour? Also mpre people have headinjuries in car crashes so why is tjere not a law to make helmets compulsory when driving. Tobacco and alcohol do more damage than cycling injuries anyway yet yjat is legal. Fight the helmet laws for sikhs and for the entire population.

  11. jasdeep Singh says:

    Checkout nycewheels if i lived in ny or in US I would buy somethin from them. Alas australia restricys many cool things ‘for our own safety’ america is the land of the free make sure it stays that way

  12. Kevin says:

    One of my friend over here in Macclesfield name gurudas singh suffered from helmet problems in UK, because he has to wear that dastaar on his head and by wearing that he is not able to wear a helmet so many times he became confuse and get fear to caught by cop without helmet.

  13. I think it should be implemented on the whole world to strictly obey the helmet rule. I love the current post. thanks

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  15. John Smith says:

    I've been biking a lot for transportation recently as well – I can't seem to fit a helmet on at all, so I just bike without one. It does concern me at times, but I don't see any better options…
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  18. Jimmy says:

    helmet is most important accessories for cycling.everyone must have this one while she/he cycling.Highway roads are may become dangerous if u dont use it.

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