Monday, December 11, 2006

Helmet Use: And the beat goes on.

First let me thank everyone for the outpouring of good wishes and positive thoughts towards my recovery; I continue to improve every day. There was a sudden influx of well wishers last evening, when someone posted the story of my accident on Bike Forums.

This, it turned out started a sometimes quite heated helmet debate. Speaking for myself, I am glad I just happened to have that inch of foam plastic between my head and the side of the vehicle when I hit. To me it is all clear and simple, drop an egg on the hard kitchen floor and it will break, guaranteed.

Put an egg in a padded envelope and drop it on the floor and there is a possibility it may not break, or it may end up only cracked. Which incidentally is what happened to my head; it is slightly cracked. Had my head been broken, like Humpty Dumpty, they may not have been able to put it together again.

I started cycling in the 1950s in England when no one wore head protection even while racing with the exception of track riders. When I landed in the US in 1979 it seemed I had arrived among a nation of Freds*, all wearing those God awful looking, mushroom shaped Bell helmets, with little dentist mirrors attached. And every one it seemed had a story to tell how their helmet saved their life.

I rode all through the 1980s without a helmet; I didn’t see why I needed one. I was a skilled enough rider and I wasn’t planning on falling on my head. When I started back riding this year, I decided to wear one for the first time. I still wasn’t planning to fall on my head, but I could find no reason to not wear one.

Helmets have come a long way and have become accepted by the serious road rider, even worn in the Tour de France. They actually keep your head cooler in summer; after all, they are made of the same material they use to make ice chests. But, most of all I did it as a concession to my wife who is a non-cyclist and was a little apprehensive about me riding again.

Now I realize there is another huge reason to wear head protection. Traffic has increased tremendously in the last thirty years; automobiles have become easier to drive, with more and more protection for the driver. This has all led to a casual, sloppy attitude towards driving; everyone is locked up in their own little steel cocoon, and no one cares about the welfare and safety of others around them anymore.

I wish rather than promote the use of helmets I could change the attitude and driving skills of other road users. I believe that if every person was forced to ride a bicycle on the busy highways for a period it would make them a far better driver, but that’s not going to happen.

*Fred (n.) A person who has a mishmash of old gear, does't care at all about technology or fashion, doesn't race or follow racing, etc. Often identified by chainring marks on white calf socks. Used by "serious" roadies to disparage utility cyclists and touring riders, especially after these totally unfashionable "freds" drop the "serious" roadies on hills.

From Glossary of Bicycle Terms.


KM said...

And in addition to the increase in traffic, the pervasive use of cell phones while driving cartainly makes a helmet a wise choice.

Howard said...

Wow, never saw a comprehensive definition of Fred quite like this one. So, yes, this Howard is a total Fred.

And as such, Howard endorses helmet use regardless of how mussed it makes ones hair or how dorky one might think it looks to the opposite sex.

As for urging greater consideration from car drivers, that's not likely. Yesterday, a sedan driver was stopped at a red light, didn't see me, and decided they had waited long enough for the light to change. After pulling in front of me, then stopping in time to keep from knocking me over, and then getting an earful, still kept on going through the red light to avoid the wrath of Howard.

Lesson Repeated: Even when it's not your fault, you can get taken out. Best to wear a helmet no matter how skilled a rider quick your reflexes might be.

Keep on keepin' on, Dave!

Anonymous said...


Glad you found a positive way to channel your emotions after your crash.

However when promoting something, one could benefit from reading arguments from diverse sides, especially in a controversial issue like emotional helmet promotion.

Check out for instance :

It is no wonder that your experience has a strong effect on you, but society more and more accept that scientific method and inclination is the way forward to try to get closer to facts and truth. In the scientific hierarchy impartiality and larger number of observations rank higher than single events or collections of selected events.

For advice on safe cycling, one of the better on-line resources appear to be this one :

Bicycle Safety: How to Not Get Hit by Cars

VintageSpin said...

Interesting the responses you get when you mention something that wasn’t intended to be controversial.
But some will make it such.
From experience I know that while riding a bike there is a lot going on inside our minds. We are perceptive to our bio-feedback, the bike, the road, weather/wind and sounds around us. Sometimes we get into a “zone” that allows us to be most efficient. And sometimes a person drives right into our space. We intuitively react to the best of our experience and circumstance. Sometimes an accident results in spite of our skills.
What’s my point?
That while riding along and planning my attack up Palomar Mountain, along with all of the above, everything not relevant is left that way. I am not consciously thinking this car will pull in front of me until it actually does and then demands my full attention. I also don’t think the car coming from behind me may be aiming to run me down because the driver is text-messaging so I should swerve right at the last second just in case. In other words, I don’t anticipate (or expect) every possible accident scenario because to do so would demand attention away from the task of riding; I wouldn’t ride nearly as efficiently or as fast, nor would it be pleasant.
So I have my skills and reaction time that I can employ if I need to, but there is still that .1% (people that refuse to wear helmets can insert whatever number makes them most comfortable with their choice (they are the ones that seem most interested in numbers)) chance I will crash.
I like to take reasonable means to minimize damage. If a collision at 25mph leaves me dead, a helmet can turn that into a 10mph impact. If gloves keep my hands from turning into ground round, I’ll wear them (since they’re very delicate to operate on). I don’t wear knee or elbow pads because I can live with the road rash, and they’re too hot. A helmet isn’t hot, and is no problem to accommodate and in no way hampers my riding.
And when that .1% chance (again insert whatever number makes you comfortable) of crashing happens, and my helmet did prevent major damage, I’d live rather comfortably not regretting the rest of my life.

Anonymous said...

hmmmm .... 30 odd years riding without a helmet you say (in my case, I'm up to 60 or so without)

... then return to riding, and in your first year back don a plastic "safety" hat and you crash with your head!

Looks like a case of risk compensation that researchers talk about.

Looks like you've caught the American disease!