Stubbornness and the art of riding a bicycle

 

"I ain't gonna wear no stinkin' helmet." I bet you thought I was going to say a friend of mine said that. Wrong. I said it, and I meant it.

Bike helmets are dorky. They make you look like one of those UFO creatures with the bulgy heads who mutilate cattle. No, it's worse than that. They make you look like one of those things from the movie "Alien" that attached itself to the guy's face, only the helmets look like brain-suckers attached to the top of your head. They've got holes and wrinkles and come in Day-Glo colors only an alien from outer space would love. I suppose if you looked like a superhero from DC comics you could pull off having a space creature on your head, but when you look like the "before" picture in a dieting ad, you haven't a chance of escaping dorkitude wearing one.

And why is there a point on the back of those bike helmets? Do we pedal so fast that it's going to make a difference in wind resistance?

When I was a kid, I had an uncle who was in the Air Force, and he brought me a Red Baron aviator cap that must have been worn some time around World War I. So that's what I wore when I rode my bike -- a leather cap complete with goggles. It was wonderful because the wool lining kept my head warm, and the goggles stopped the cold air making my eyes water. I never got hurt while wearing that cap. But do they make bicycle helmets like this today?

Nope. They take some plastic, put in some Styrofoam left over from packaging stereo equipment, and call it a safety helmet. They might as well label construction hardhats or hockey headgear a bicycle helmet.

You could quote the statistics about how dangerous riding a bicycle is, how a couple of years ago -- and this is true -- there were 698 bicycle fatalities in this country and a half-million injuries, but I wouldn't listen to you. It wouldn't even matter if some professor said bicycling was 11 times more dangerous than driving a car -- something that is also true.

Up until two years ago, I thought that bike helmets made me look like a dork, and that was that. I was also never was one to listen to advice. I am one of those people who have to learn from experience, and experience, in my case, usually came from bad judgment.

My first crash happened when I clipped a construction cone with my bicycle handle, leaped a curb and introduced myself to the sidewalk. The result: spectacular road-rash and bleeding, but nothing above the neck. I wrecked the rim and bent the front fork, but still no need for a helmet. Right.

The second crash occurred after I bought a mountain bike -- a necessary purchase after someone stole the bike from my first crash. Of course, that's another story about the need to lock a bike even if it's a million years old and looks like it came from a Third World garbage dump. I crashed the second time by flipping over the handlebars while going down a steep mountain path and hitting the ground with my rear end. I broke a rib but nothing happened to my head. The bicycle suffered a small scratch. I walked funny for a while but still rationalized that there was no need for a helmet. Right.

Then I had a minor crash when I answered my cell phone while riding in traffic, but that just made me stop talking on a cell phone while biking. Still no need for a helmet? Right.

The fourth crash involved sliding on some gravel, breaking another rib and this time doing damage to my head. I learned that a broken rib back near your spine does not hurt nearly as much when you laugh as a rib on the front of you. Head wounds also bleed a lot. This time, I thought to myself: I have got to wear a helmet; I need every brain cell I've still got.

So I went to the Goodwill store and found a $2.50 helmet about the color of the stuff babies leave in diapers. It didn't have a point in the back. It didn't have 15 adjustment straps. It's not a fashion statement.

It just sits on the top of my noggin and prevents me from cracking it like an egg.

Rob Pudim is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). He hikes and bikes (safely) in Boulder, Colorado.

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at [email protected].

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