Saturday, February 06, 2010

To Helmet or Not To Helmet

Among the many things that cyclists and motorcyclists will debate over is helmet use. Since there's no way in hell I'd ride my motorcycle without a helmet (getting into a crash and slamming your helmeted head on the ground is a pretty solid convincer) I'll skip on over to the bicycle side of the debate.

It is my current frame of thought that there are extremely few reasons to ever throw a leg over a bike without strapping a helmet on at the same time. Absolutely for damned sure when I go riding off road for obvious reasons. And yet, I still occasionally see people out riding mountain bikes on single track in Nisene Marks sans lid. It boggles the mind. I'd not ride if I forgot my helmet. The risk versus reward calculation just doesn't balance out.

I don't know if that's because I'm a bit older and quite alot more aware of the myriad frailties of the aging male human body. I used to ride motorcycles in Arizona without a helmet. I used to take what looking back now are ridiculous risks with my life and am lucky enough to have escaped mostly unscathed though with loads of battle scars (which someone once told me chicks dig but even that mostly no longer matters).

Anyway. Helmets.

Are they always, always necessary? Nope, they're actually only necessary when you crash and fall off your bike. Which generally happens when you least expect it though will sometimes happen when you expect it. So if you have perfect knowledge of when you are going to crash on your bike then, by all means, where your helmet only on those days.

Oh what's that? You don't know for sure when you are going to crash next? Hmmm. That presents a little bit of a problem then doesn't it? Probably makes sense to be prepared unless you like to gamble with your higher brain function.

What about if you're playing around on your bike in a park on nice soft grass, there are no other things to smack your head or face on if you biff? Okay. Go for it. The risk versus reward is pretty balanced.

But riding my cruiser out on West Cliff? Nope, I am strapping up.

Others choose not to because their personal risk versus reward calculation came up groovy to go without a helmet. Which is neither good nor bad unless they happen to crash and then it is bad and likely worse for the lack of some safety gear.

In the instance that caused me to write this blog post. Fritz's post of Pink riding a too small road bike and I commented that she looked pretty good with the exception of not wearing a helmet. Someone else commented that she didn't need to have a helmet on since she wasn't doing anything special or going fast. I should have responded that she was riding a bike on a four lane street where there were obviously cars around her and that the situation, in my mind, absolutely called for a helmet. Instead I acted like a tool and am thankful that Fritz's blog allowed me the grace to delete the comment myself.

On top of everything else there's a semi-hypocrisy in mandating that children wear helmets when riding bikes. I'm not suggesting helmet laws because we've got plenty of laws already. But if kids always see adults without helmets and they have to wear them then you can be sure they'll ditch them the second they are no longer required to wear them.

I wear a helmet not only because I don't particularly like concussions or fractured skulls or worse but because I want to set a good example for my kids and other kids around me. Did I mention that I work at three elementary schools? Yeah. That probably clouds my thinking and judgment a tiny bit but only to add a little foam to the fanaticism.

But part of me wishes I'd kept the motorcycle helmet I had on when I catapulted over the stupid car that stopped in the fast lane. That thing had a serious crack where it saved me from a wickedly bad day and merely made it a pretty bad day (destroyed motorcycle, wonked knee and a four by eight inch deep purple bruise from my gas tank from one thigh to the other, yes, across my balls and yes, it was a brutally unenjoyable first night after the crash). It would serve as a great reminder of the kind of forces that can occur. I was only going 30 or so miles an hour, I can easily (well, maybe not easily) hit that on my bicycle.

Photo attribution: Found at TreeHugger on this article about a confirmed helmet wearer who saw the light (almost literally) after waking up from a coma.

Want more pro-helmet ammo? Check out the results of this Google search. There are truly no good arguments for not wearing a helmet just as there are no good arguments for not wearing a seatbelt in a car. You either value your brain's ability to process thoughts or you do not. Short trips, long trips, testing a bike in a parking lot, any of them can result in you falling and smacking your head on the ground and if you smack your head on the ground without protection,the ground wins and you lose.

At least that's the way I see it, I'm pretty fond of my higher brain function. And somewhere I know I just made my mom smile.

But hey, I'm open to dissenting opinions. Got something to say? Leave it in the comments.
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