Several years ago I wrote an essay entitled: “On Helmets”, it was an exploration of why some professional cyclists still hung on to the practice of going helmet-less. That was a long time ago and I’m not in a category of cyclist to be around those people anymore. My sense of when and where to choose a helmet has been refined over the years. My recent post was not about helmets, it was about urban exploration and the wonders therein, but it sparked a controversy about helmet use, the mandating of helmet use, and helmets for children.
I don’t go to city council meetings as a habit, but when I briefly lived in Vancouver, WA, in the winter, I went to one, to vehemently disagree with the in-place helmet law for adult cyclists.
Because I rode to college at 8:00AM and it was still butt-cold most mornings, I wore a WOOL HAT. Therefore, no helmet. I asks the council members: “Why is it you mandate the use of a helmet that is ventilated and designed for warm weather only?” The answer is simple, though I did not hear this. In Washington, it doesn’t dawn on local government officials that anyone but desperate bums and kids use the bicycle to transport oneself around the city. To them, it’s recreation.
There’s yet another reason to not wear a helmet. Ever ridden all day long? I have – and the risk of skin cancer is higher and worse than cranial injury by riding the long white line. This is why, upon meeting people during my touring adventures, I explained to those that vocally challenged my helmetlessness and asked: “Why haven’t they invented a SUN helmet?” The little visor does NOT cut it, as you need 360 degrees of sun protection. Nope, I don’t do chemicals on my skin – sunblock is not the way for me, after the research I’ve seen. I have a bald spot. So, the question is – when does Senna wear a helmet, and when does he choose not to? (Because it is a conscious choice based upon sound risk management and circumstantial functionality)
Group rides, pacelines, mountain biking, road racing, big city traffic, Boston especially, or anywhere that feels more like combat than a bike ride, and… to set an example for children.
HELMET NOT ON:
Riding to the cafe, or on quiet neighborhood streets. Towing a trailer slow, or riding ALL DAY or for many hours.
Basically, when you reach a certain skill level, which kids don’t have – no matter how much they think they do, you simply do not fall down by yourself at higher speeds. You might fall, as I still do, at zero knots or just faster, but once I’m a moving, there’s no falling. I focus on NOT falling as I go along, especially on long highway rides, where if I did fall, it would be into a ditch or some brush, and if I were hit by a car at 55 mph – what would a helmet do? Granted – I give credit to people who wear helmets all the time. This is not a bad or wrong choice. Conversely, I equate people who lecture and tell others to wear a helmet with anti-tobacco people. I’m someone who can’t stand the smell of cigarettes for two seconds, but I won’t ever tell people they shouldn’t smoke unless they’re my family. It’s a personal choice to hurt oneself or risk oneself – we have that right to decide.
Yes, I’ve heard the reasoning behind the law, and it’s the same over-controlling reasoning they won’t let us reach into dumpsters to get perfectly good organic fruit. That legal term: LIABILITY. There’s way too much emphasis on indemnifying everything these days. Same reason I’m REQUIRED to insure my pickup even if I only drive it once a month. I could drive it every day, so I’m charged insurance that is based on a ‘would-be’… just as if I COULD hit my head and incur a public debt because I can’t afford health care. But mandating everyone to wear a helmet is WRONG, I fight it, I will always fight it… first and foremost because available helmets are for ‘summer recreation’ and aren’t adaptable to all weather, and secondly because it infringes on my personal liberty as an adult in a way that doesn’t set well with me at all.
I agree with an under 16 or under 18 helmet law. These people haven’t been riding a bike for 25 years. The risk management part of their brains is barely developing. But for the law to tell me that at 35 years old I need to wear a helmet when its 42 degrees out and raining? Turning my bike ride into a paranoia every time I see a police car? This is why I spoke out at that Vancouver city council meeting, and why I disobey that law. It’s right across the mighty Columbia from Portland, and there’s no sign to greet you as you cross the bridge:
Helmets are mandatory in Van-shit-hole.
Portland’s traffic is far more fast and furious than Vancouver’s ever will be, so why the law?
Because this is WASHINGTON – and if you don’t want someone telling you you need a license to wipe your ass, don’t live here. It’s the most ridiculous bureaucratic fuck-stick place, but I love riding all year and I love GREEN. Conclusion: Wear a helmet if you want, and don’t if you want. Don’t judge others for making their own choices that have little or no effect on YOU.by