Colman McCarthy's "Head Over Handlebars" {op-ed, Feb. 2} brought dismay to those of us who promote bicycle helmets as one safety measure among others needed for safer cycling.

Helmets are a secondary safety measure. They do not substitute for safe facilities, good maintenance, cyclist education and motorist education.

Bicycle crashes, like wars, indicate that somehow we failed to make other measures work. Mr. McCarthy blames his injuries on God, his helmet, his bicycle and himself. Never once does he blame them on the pothole. It should not have been there. Faulty design and maintenance of the bike trail caused his injury. His helmet was only a safety net to catch him when the other measures had failed. It apparently performed admirably.

Humans, being what they are, will always need helmets and armies. We will always be grateful for either when they are needed, and we must always have the best available. But we should not lose our perspective. Any time we use either one we are substituting a Band-Aid for the basic primary measures that have somehow failed. We need to focus on the primary cause and not become absorbed in the details of how the failure unravels.

In short, Mr. McCarthy should certainly wear a helmet when he bicycles. But he should also find out why those potholes were there and have them fixed. It would cost less than surgery. RANDY SWART Director, Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute Washington