“Where’s you’re helmet?” For anyone who’s ever made the choice to ride a bike without cranial protective wear, this is the most annoying and off-putting comments. Yet it might also be the most frequent communication we have with drivers. I have a friend who was hit by a car while riding legally in a bike lane. The driver stopped, got out of his car and the first words out of his mouth were “why aren’t you wearing a helmet?” It’s victim shaming at its finest, the notion that we cyclists must “gear up” to ride in traffic with drivers who are constantly distracted, speeding and breaking the law.
I’ve never really worn a helmet. For me, biking is about freedom and simplicity. The beauty of using a bike to move through your city is the fact that it’s just you and your machine, one entity traversing the urban jungle. The wind on your scalp (yes I’m a bald man!), the rays of the summer sun gracing your skin, maybe the lights of the city radiating above you, inspiring your every pedal. Yes, there are the “grind rides” in snowy, cold weather, rain, high wind… but getting through these trials can be as fulfilling as a rigorous workout!
I’ve always believed that the level of personal safety we employ while riding is a choice. I’m a bit more of a “rambler…” lower speed, more experiential cycling. I take safety into my own hands by minimizing contact with fast moving traffic, even using an empty sidewalk in situations where the alternative is 6 lanes of traffic. I’m a context-based cyclist, choosing the safest and most comfortable way to get around wherever I go.
But today, I unboxed the first bike helmet I’ve had in a decade. Made by a company called Thousand, this helmet is made of sustainable material and features a much more Euro-urban design than the sport helmets that are everywhere in the US.
So what was it that transformed this urbanist from a supporter of helmet free riding to someone who paid a decent amount of money for headgear? Why, when I’ve told so many that helmet wearing is choice, did I make the choice to purchase my own and arm myself against the horrors of the potential traffic accident?
Let’s be clear… I’ve never ever ever ever EVER advocated against the choice to wear a helmet. I have always supported the growth of cycling in our country, and studies have shown that requiring helmet use can have a negative impact on ridership. I truly believe we are a better cycling community when we accept biking as a diverse culture with a slew of different motives and means. Whether you bike for fitness, recreation, as a family activity, for sport, or like me, for transportation, we all have a slightly different approach and mindset when it comes to riding on two wheels. With this in mind, I would rather encourage more people to bike more often than tell someone how to ride.
There are dozens of ways we as riders can protect ourselves, one of which is wearing a helmet. Mind you, if you do crash and hit your head, a helmet drastically decreases your chance of brain injury. But if helmet wearing makes or breaks the amazing experience of cycling for you, there are many other compensatory safety steps you can take to minimize your potential for a crash.
So back to me. I was cruising the web one day when I saw an ad for these Thousand helmets. I liked the style and found myself checking them out. One of the things that has always turned me off to traditional helmets is that they are decidedly “racey.” The almost equestrian styling of these helmets looked a little more casual and organic, which matches my riding style. This might sound like an odd and ridiculous reason to consider purchasing a helmet, but think of it as being more attracted to a car because of its lines and styling… it can be that little thing that pushes you to purchase one car over another.
Just looking at this helmet caused me to do some thinking. I’m recently married, and while we aren’t planning to have children, I certainly have more to live for than I used to. I also turned 38 in January, which is still young, but I know that physically, I’m just not quite as strong and agile as I used to be. My ability to avoid a crash is probably not what it was in my mid-twenties.
Also, and this is a weird one… I have so many different styles of bikes that I ride regularly. Switching from a fixie to a fat tire, from a folding bike with 16″ wheels to a mountain bike or a road bike… having a myriad of different rides with different riding styles lends to the possibility that I might ride one like another and pay the price. In other words, it’s hard to get “comfortable” with a certain type of bike when you ride so many, which is in itself a possible safety hazard.
With all this considered, I found myself adding one of the black helmets to my online shopping cart and proceeding to payment.
Now that I have it, I really like it. My head is so small that I will never look “good” in a helmet, but I find that this piece matches my riding style and gives me more protection. I probably won’t wear it all the time, but I will wear it often.
Have I given in to helmet wearing culture? Have I finally succumbed to the rants of drivers and even cyclists who insist on helmet wearing? Nope, I simply made a different choice based on my ever-changing level of riding comfort. My stance on helmet wearing stays the same… we all need to make the best choices for ourselves. The most important thing is that we all keep getting out there, and that we continue to make safe choices, one of which can be wearing a helmet. Know the facts, know yourself, your comfort level and ability, know your roads and your potential for danger, and make your choices accordingly.
For me, it’s time to take this step, and I thank the good folks at Thousand for providing a better choice for me.
PS: While I believe in adults making choices about their safety when cycling, children should ALWAYS wear a helmet when riding. Please make sure that your little ones have a safe and protected cycling experience… buy them a certified bike helmet that fits properly!! The progress of cycling depends on the next generations, and we want them all to have a safe and happy experience as they learn to love life on two wheels!