This is another of my core dump posts. It’s also a rant. I haven’t posted anything substantial in a while (ever) and have had a few thoughts rattling around in that cavity up top. So here goes.
I hate helmets. They’re ugly, hot and uncomfortable. But I wear one sometimes. Wanna know when?
When I first started biking again last year I had never, ever owned a helmet and had no real intention of buying one. Then I found the Harrisburg Bicycle Club. They have some slow rides close to home, which is what I needed at the time. They also require a helmet on any club-sponsored ride. That could be because they feel the need to dictate morality or maybe they’re genuinely interested in my well being. They really try pretty hard to push safety – blinkies on the back (I’ll get to this later), silly clothes with loud, garish colors, and helmets, helmets, helmets. I personally believe they require helmets because their insurance carrier says they need to. But I haven’t asked. It’s not a subject that comes up often, and from the very little I’ve overheard most club members seem to think one can’t even throw a leg over without a lid. And that’s fine with me. If it keeps them on a bike it’s a good thing. So I wear mine on club rides. No need to cause friction.
And I sometimes wear one at night, or when it’s raining, or foggy or any other time visibility is reduced. It’s a matter of calculated risk. I believe, right or wrong, that my chances of being involved in a losing altercation with a car are significantly higher if it’s harder for the phone talking, bagel eating, latte sipping, kid scolding soccer mom to see me.
When don’t I wear it?
When it’s really cold. I tend to put on more head warming gear than will fit under the helmet. When it’s really hot. The vents are supposed to actually improve cooling at a certain speed. My problem with this is that I rarely go that fast, so I get hot.
I also don’t wear one when I don’t want to. (“What?!?!”) I enjoy cycling. I don’t enjoy the way the helmet feels and looks, so I don’t wear it because I enjoy the bike more without it. This translates to “I’d probably ride less if I was made to wear it,” and that’s a bad thing.
Interestingly enough, the late Ken Kifer wrote a very nice article about this very same subject. In it he states the following: “In spite of all this, there are those who argue that any protection is better than none, that there is no reason for not wearing a helmet, and no advantage comes from not wearing one. While seemingly a weak argument, this is perhaps the strongest, and it is often employed after all other arguments have failed.”
Conversely, “Because I don’t want to” is probably the strongest reason for not wearing one. However, if the helmet makers would produce something that didn’t try to make me look like a super-hero, Cat 1, le Tour riding clown, I might be more inclined to put one on, because I don’t ride like that and probably never will. Take a hint from the horse racing helmet guys, please.
Fortunately, PA doesn’t have a mandatory helmet law for adults. They do have one for children under 12. If they’re on a bike, riding in a seat on the back of a bike or in a trailer they have to wear one. The trailer part is especially retarded. The trailer isn’t going to fall over and the kids aren’t going to fall out of it. Their heads and necks are right at bumper level, so if some nincompoop hits us from behind I seriously doubt an inch of foam is going to do much to protect them. I’ve given this a lot of thought over the last year and can’t, at all, imagine a scenario where a helmet might actually help protect a child in a trailer.
When they’re riding a bike, or riding on a seat on the back of a bike, I can see a helmet helping to reduce head injuries due to a fall. So once again, it doesn’t really hurt to have them wear one. But apparently the State seems to think that we can’t decide what’s best for our kids. Basically, the People’s Republic felt some pressure some time back from helmet law Nazis and enacted some crap legislation to make it look like they’re actually doing something. Appearances, plain and simple. So what are we teaching our kids with all this? That cycling is inherently dangerous and that riding without a helmet will probably get you into more trouble than falling down without one on. My own kids, 5 and 2, have refused at times to wear their helmets, even with the threat of not being able to ride. That’s right, folks. When faced with the choice of riding with a helmet or not riding at all there have been times when they’ve said “Screw it, let’s go for a walk instead.” So we compromise. I don’t make them wear one in the trailer.
The best part about this is that PA’s helmet laws are part of the traffic code. They apply to roadways, sidewalks and bike lanes. If you have a chance to hit up the State park web sites and the sites for National parks in PA, you might notice that some of them maintain bike paths and single track within the park. And they all say that PA law requires kids under 12 to wear helmets, so they have to wear them on the park paths. ‘Scuse me. That ain’t a roadway. And it’s not covered by PA traffic law. I’ve emailed a few of them to ask about this and have received zero replies.
From the 1973 Schwinn Lightweight catalog. “Bicyle safety…it starts with a light and a horn or a bell.” The only helmets in that catalog are in pictures of people racing on bicycles. But safety is fairly prominent. Cars back then were bigger, heavier, just as fast as today’s cars, had crappy brakes and handled like pigs. Yet, the bike makers didn’t push helmets. They pushed accessories that might prevent an accident. Go figure. Today the helmet Nazis are teaching our kids that cycling is too damn dangerous. We’re not building a bike culture. We’re legislating a new generation of paranoid schizophrenics who probably won’t ride their bikes much once they’re old enough to drive. Great.
Bicycling is not inherently dangerous! Do what’s best for you and keep the morons across the river out of my life. I’m perfectly capable of deciding what’s right for my children and so are you.
Please note, before you consider replying to this rant, that I have read quite a few studies about the effectiveness of helmets, I probably understand them just as well as you do, and no account of someone being saved by wearing a helmet is going to make me change my mind or recant my opinions. I’m stubborn that way. (FWIW, I have never, ever read a study about the effectiveness of helmets on kids in trailers, so if you have a link to one I’d appreciate it. Stupid lawmakers and their jerking knees.)
Thieves. Some nasty, inbred, bucktoothed, sub-human POS stole one of my bikes Friday night. So I talked to the police, made some “Stolen Bike!” flyers, and drove around until 3am looking for it. Every single person I talked to about it, except Ross, asked the same question. “Was it locked?” Grrr. No it wasn’t locked. That’s part of the reason why it’s not on my front porch anymore. And rubbing my nose in the fact that I should have locked it doesn’t make it any less stolen. While I’d be happy if the bike came back, I’d be really happy if the bike thief got caught with it. Because I’d like to make a new leather saddle out of his ass.
Afore mentioned Ross called me this morning and said he was at the Pedal Pusher earlier, and that they showed him the flyer I dropped off there on Saturday. Of course Ross already knew, but it’s super cool that Ted and boys are actively telling folks about it. Ross also added this to the Recycle Bicycle site. I think he’s been considering such a page for a while and my bike was the final shove. Thanks, Ross!
Blinkies. They’re just annoying. Riding behind someone with that blinking, seizure inducing mental cheese grater is painful. No wonder the randoneurring guys don’t use them. The bike club guys seem to think they’re as necessary as helmets.
All the ranting about the bike club aside, I really like riding with them. It’s lots of fun and they’re a great bunch of folks to hang out with. I’d even ride with them if they made me use a blinkie. 😉 But I’m still gonna take my helmet off as soon as the club ride is over.