I spent a week in Munich earlier this fall and Munich, like a lot of European cities, has a huge network of dedicated bike lanes. People bike everywhere! All kinds of people! Not just people in lycra bike fetish outfits and snippy-snappy bike shoes! No one wears helmets! Munich's dedicated bike lanes have their own little dedicated (and absolutely darling) bike traffic lights! The future local bike activists dream about already exists in places like Munich and Berlin and Copenhagen and Vienna and Stockholm.
And you know what? If that future ever comes to Seattle... a lot of the cyclists around here are gonna hate it.
People don't wear helmets in Munich (and Berlin and Copenhagen and Vienna and Stockholm) because Europeans have different attitudes about risk—both "acceptable levels of" and "personal liability for"—but the main reason so few people wear helmets? How slowly bike traffic moves. "All kinds of people bike everywhere" means little old ladies bike with their groceries and drunk old pensioners bike in their cups and fashionably dressed women in impossibly stylish shoes bike in expensive dresses—and some of those fashionably dressed women ride boxy cargo bikes. (What's in the cargo box? Her hairdresser? Extra pairs of stylish shoes?) Riders on dedicated bike lanes in Munich only go as fast as the slowest person in the bike lane. So we rode along pretty slowly after we got "trapped" behind the lady in pink—who wasn't about to risk breaking a sweat in her dress—and no one had a problem with it. People just rode along behind her, letting the woman in the pink dress set the pace, and no one got aggro about it. A few riders passed her when we came to an intersection but no one shot her a dirty look or gave her any grief. Most riders seemed content to stay in line behind her.
To most European cyclists the pace being set by the woman in pink was just fine; this wasn't a race, we were all gonna get where we need to go, why not take it slow and enjoy the view. But to most American cyclists—to cyclists used to bombing along on city streets or being one of the small handful of cyclists using one of our small handful of dedicated bike paths—the pace set by the woman in pink would've felt deadly. The woman in the pink dress would've been an obstacle to blow past... and so would the little old lady setting the pace two blocks in front of her and so would the drunk old pensioner setting the pace two blocks in front of the little old lady.
I sometimes wonder if most cyclists realize the bike future we all hope to build—dedicated bike lanes and a lot more people commuting by bike—looks an awful lot like the car driver's present: crawling along in traffic.