Why a Helmet is Worth a Bad Hair Day

THIS COULD HAVE BEEN A MUCH DIFFERENT STORY.

Last week we camped with some good friends in the Empire area. One day we decided to take a group ride along the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail. The ten miles between Empire and Glen Arbor are pretty and not terribly difficult. But for one friend, it was a milestone. For the last couple of years he’s struggled with knee issues. Thanks to PT and regular workouts he’s much improved, but this was his first ride of any real distance in a long time.

Seven miles in, we stopped for a water break. As my friend dismounted, his foot caught on the bike frame and he went down.

His head smacked the pavement.

Hard.

This-is-not-good

The Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute reports that of all cycling-related deaths, 74 percent involved a head injury. And 97 percent of the riders who died were not wearing helmets. You might think, therefore, that if a First Rule of Cycling existed, it would be this:

WEAR A F***ING HELMET.

Hitting the trail! (Yes, I know, but he put the helmet on before we started.)

Hitting the trail! (Yes, I know, but he put the helmet on before we started.)

Thankfully, this story has a happy ending. He was wearing a helmet, and it absorbed the impact instead of his skull. He was dizzy for a few minutes, but after some rest he was able to continue, and we completed the ride. He suffered a bruise to his ego, but his body is intact to ride another day.

Our group wears helmets on every ride, and when our kids were growing up, we insisted they wear them too. To me, it’s a no-brainer, so to speak. And yet there are those out there who argue against their use. Among the claims this article makes are:

  • the accident rate goes up when people wear helmets
  • when cars pass cyclists, they give helmeted riders less room than non-helmeted ones
  • requiring helmets discourages more people from riding bikes at all.

And CNET reports here that a brain surgeon says if you’re hit hard enough by a car to kill you, a helmet won’t do you much good. Perhaps so – but last week’s situation didn’t involve a speeding car, or any speed at all. He fell from a standing position. Without a helmet, we have no doubt he’d have been in the emergency room, with potential long-term consequences.

Every year I see many helmetless riders on the Heritage Trail, or the Betsie Valley Trailway, including entire families with small children. I can guess at their mindset. They’re on vacation, released from stress, riding slowly on a smooth, flat trail with no motor vehicles allowed. What could happen? Well, one young guy panicked and slid right off the trail when I announced my presence behind him. He was okay, fortunately, but elsewhere on the trail he could have struck a fallen log and taken a nasty spill.

And people fall off bikes for less reason than that. I’ve fallen many times, usually when I can’t get my foot out of the clips during a stop. I’ve managed to avoid banging my head (thanks, Aikido) but I have that foam and plastic insurance policy up there just in case.

And if you want to participate in one of our local triathlons? Experienced riders and no drafting allowed. What could be safer? Yet you’re not leaving the transition area to start the bike portion without a fastened helmet.

Yep, we check!

Yep, we check!

Yes, one reason is liability, but if a helmet is so useless, what’s the point? Other than all the evidence (like here) that wearing a helmet reduces the severity of injuries. Guess I forgot.

Yes, I know I shouldn’t tell you what to do. And I can’t make you wear the f***ing helmet. Why should I even care what you do?

Because if you’re reading this post, you’re one of my readers, which makes you special to me. And I want you to stay alive and healthy so you can keep reading my posts.

So go out for that ride, and wear the f***ing helmet, okay?

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2 responses to “Why a Helmet is Worth a Bad Hair Day

  1. In 1995, I crashed parallel and full-on into the side of a minivan turning into a driveway. I was wearing a helmet. It took eighteen hours for my brain to reboot and start recording memories again. Fortunately for me, those were probably the worst eighteen hours of my life (surgery and such), and I completely missed them. There is absolutely no way I could have survived that crash without a helmet. Every other part of my body that made contact with the van was severely damaged.

    Now, decades later, I’m the helmet police. When I see people I know without helmets, I always give them a hard time. It’s like brushing after every meal. Everyone knows it’s necessary, but half the people blow it off. Thanks for you post. I’m sure to repeat it… soon.

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