Opinion divides as leader of the free world rides into a storm for not wearing a lid

Healthcare reform, the bailout of the banking and auto industries and foreign policy issues such as the Middle East and South Korea. You’d think that President Obama would be able to enjoy a few days’ holiday with his family at the well-heeled island resort of Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts without igniting another controversy that divides public opinion in the United States.

Oops. The publication of photos of the world’s most powerful man taking a leisurely bike ride with the first family, presumably followed by a peloton of secret service agents, has sparked debate across the US media because – are you ready for this? – the president wasn’t wearing a helmet.

A poll on the respected political blog, The Huffington Post, shows that the nation is as polarised on this issue as any other, with 50.5% claiming that as a grown man, Obama is free to do as he chooses, while 49.5% say that he needs to take care of himself.

Obama’s non-helmet wearing represents another departure from the policies of his predecessor, George W Bush, often pictured sporting a lid while riding at his Crawford, Texas ranch with Lance Armstrong, although an article published in the New York Times before the 2004 presidential election suggests that the former president’s bike handling skills – or lack of them – may well have influenced his decision to join the pro-helmet camp.

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.