Sunday, January 31, 2010

Helmets, are you man enough?

A friend asked recently what my ideas are regarding helmet use and fixed gear bikes. Would you guess that I'd have an opinion on that?

First, to me there is no difference between fixed or any other kind of bicycle as far as helmet usage goes. Secondly, it is legal for those over 18 years old to go helmetless while on bicycles. I recognize that but, it doesn't modify or lessen my personal opinion on helmet use.

To decide to not wear a helmet on bicycles is a fashion decision. It's a bad decision in my opinion and usually that decision is dressed up as something else. I say that most who do not use a helmet are afraid. They are afraid of what other people think of them. I see that as an inner weakness. That's right, my view is that it is clearly a bad decision to not wear a helmet while riding and, a sign of weakness. A person with a strong self image cares more about his/her safety than whether he looks "geeky" or "uncool" or whatever. Wearing a helmet is a way to "be your own guy".

People have told me that they wear their helmet for certain kinds of rides. They say they use them when they go on longer rides or on the road but not off road or when riding hard but not while just jetting down to the store. My experience tells me that you don't know when you're going to crash so how does that decision make any sense? Maybe they think it makes sense because on some types of rides they won't be around as many cars. Most of the time, it's the street that does the damage to your head and you never know when you'll make a mistake and just eat some pavement. I'm saying that as good a rider as you are, you can still make a move that doesn't work out and hit the deck in an instant. Just because you've crashed lots of times without hitting your head doesn't mean that all accidents will be like that. Some crashes happen within a framework of speed that allows human reactions to control some aspects. Others happen in more of a "slam" fashion and basically put you down so fast and hard that your reactions don't come into play.

Changing someone's mind to the point that they make a better decision about helmet wearing is probably not going to happen in more than a smattering of cases. I'd like to think that people will read this and say to themselves that the only smart thing to do is wear a helmet for cycling; every time they ride. It would be nice if it gave someone the social independence to say "I don't care what others think" and wear that helmet. I doubt that will happen but in reality, it is not dorky to wear a helmet. Not once, never, has anyone ever said anything to me regarding my helmet. I have an idea what my response would be if they did and I'll just let you imagine how much my feelings would be hurt if someone did say anything to me about it.

In closing I'll say that women look better in helmets when they're on a bike. There's something fundamentally appealing about someone who is realistic enough to know that not everything is within their control and cares enough about her self to mitigate the negative consequences if something bad does happen. Yes, I'm saying that helmets appeal to my inner caveman.

Riding a bicycle involves a risk. Take the risk but stack the cards in your favor.



  1. Chuck,
    I was of that mentallity at one time. I was embarrased to wear a helmet. But when my brother one day had one those spills that happen in an instant I too was converted.

    His front wheel got caught on a crack in the pavement in such a way that he immediately went head first into the pavement. He was dazed but otherwise OK. He thought he lost some teeth but no blood or teeth missing. The wheel, frame and fork were toast because he was going about 20 mph in traffic.

    When he got home he had some pain in the bridge of his nose and couldn't figure out why until he looked at his helmet. The helmet had an indentation that perfectly matched his bridge and then realized how important a role the helmet played in that accident. He now NEVER rides without one and he's made me a believer. He might not be alive now had he been more vain.

    Occasionally I'll take a quick spin around my block when I'm adjusting something on my bike and my kids will give me such grief for not wearing a helemt. But, I know they're right.

    All rides, all the time. No excuses.

  2. What about Fixed Gears / Brakes / No Brakes?!?

  3. No brakes on a bike ridden on public roads should be plainly illegal. Bikes with no brakes are for the track. What exactly is the point of riding with no brakes?
    I will say that in a recent trip to Mexico many of the riders I saw had inoperable or no brakes. But, the difference was that these were in small towns with little to no traffic. These bikes were all utilitarian machines that provided essential transportation where other options were unavailable. It was not a choice to ride brakeless but a necessity.

  4. Fatmex, you asked "What exactly is the point of riding with no brakes?"

    My take on it is that it is the same point as riding with no helmet. It is a fashion statement. To be sure, it is romanticized and defended by those doing it. They would usually be the last ones to admit it is fashion.

    You brought up an interesting point about the sparse traffic.


  5. so the round and round about no brakes goes on and on and...

  6. I'm 'man enough' to continue using the same helmet (no exaggeration). That been hit upon. Until the crack get wide enuff, in that the cracc be no longer to my acceptance.
    The second priority is the length of the cracccc.

    As both go together.