Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Protectink der Noggin

Now that warmer weather has arrived in the Pioneer Valley (thank GOODNESS) , I'm seeing more and more cyclists on my regular rides. Which is a really good thing; I like it. What I don't like is seeing the ones without helmets. Frequently, we'll pass each other on a busy road or even a two-lane highway. I sometimes want to do what a well-known ride leader in the Boston area does, and point to my helmet as I pass them. Perhaps say something to put the fear of brain injury in them. What are they thinking?! Answer: They're not.

If they knew, really understood, how risky it is to ride without a helmet, and what could result, they wouldn't do it. For myself, the reality came fully home nearly 30 years ago, after a full mid-air somersault on Highway 1 in California, landing on my head, with a fully loaded touring bike coming down on top of me just for punctuation. I was fine (I was also 17), but if I hadn't been wearing the helmet... well, you know. And at the time, I was traveling only about 8 mph. So, the rule around our house is: You ride with a helmet on. Period.

Still...

There are days when I long for the wind in my hair. Yesterday, it was hot out, and the sun was blasting, and I just wanted to feel like that nine-year-old kid on the shiny red coaster again, looking for the steepest hill to fly down, just to feel the wind whistling over my scalp. I think I would be able to sense my relative speed so much more intuitively, and enjoy being on the bike that much more.

Then there's the style thing, the roadie couture. I mean, how cool would it be to get up in my sharpest kit, and then wedge on my cycling cap, brim pulled fashionably down over my brows, and go tooling around town to be the envy of all? I see guys doing the Fausto Coppi thing all the time, and I mutter to myself that they think they're just too cool to get injured. But it's just sour grapes. Let's face it; there was a lot more style in cycling before helmets became de rigeur.

So: Do you ever ride without? Under what conditions will you allow yourself that risky luxury?

4 comments:

mellowvelo said...

I was a softball catcher for five years and would be missing pieces of my face had I not worn the mask even in practice. (My backup rarely wore the mask until her parents got tired of replacing her glasses.)
I pitched a few times, but quit after being too terrified up on the mound, exposed to the hard balls. I'm a HUGE fan of helmets.

I probably wear them more than most. On my bike trip, we left our helmets on even at the rest stops, lest we forget and depart without them. One day in the Arizona desert, a dirt devil whipped the heavy door of our trailer around to slam me in the back of the head. It cracked the helmet in three places and knocked me out for a few seconds. I can't image the damage that could have been done if I had taken the helmet off.

You just never know!

Velosopher said...

Mellow, I read you loud and clear -- glad you had the bucket on for that door incident. It's true you just never know. Like I said, who would've thought I'd have flipped onto the middle of Hwy 1 at 8 mph?

Still, I'm thinking of doing a selective experiment, just a short local ride with no helmet, one beautiful day sometime soon. I just have to remember what it feels like, then, I promise, helmet on from then on.

Suitcase of Courage said...

Don't tell Mrs. Suitcase, but I sometimes go without - but only when riding my city bike around town. And FWIW, I *always* wear a helmet when riding my road bike. Probably an artificial distinction, but on my city bike, I'm in regular clothes, shopping, eating, etc.

And yes, it does feel like you're a kid again when you go au naturel. Very fun - but a rare (& sometimes guilty) pleasure.

Velosopher said...

SoC, you realize you've just given me something to hold over you, right?

Don't worry -- code of the road, and all.

And besides, I'm going to try it, too, so how can I rat you out?