As I sailed through the air the one thought I had time to conjure was, “Damn, I just bought this jacket and now it’s going to get shredded.” The impact came in a not-all-at-once loping, rolling, whiplashing smack that wouldn’t have been so bad had it not involved my head.
Concussions are frequently referred to as ‘getting your bell rung.’ I soon realized I’d taken up residence in the belfry of Notre Dame and judging by the clanging, mass was due to start any minute.
I laid on my back, eyes looking blankly up into the evening sky. The were four streetlights above me, swirling with the same animated dance the snow flakes made as they sank to earth. I counted and then counted again. I knew there weren’t four streetlights on this section of dead-end road. ‘Must be double-vision,’ I thought. So I waited. Soon enough, there were two streetlights.
I gingerly made my way to my feet and began the inspection. My elbow and shoulder were tender and judging from the dark spot on the inexplicably shred-free jacket, my elbow was bleeding. Never mind the bleeding, I hadn’t ruined the jacket. From the neck down, I was fine, as was my clothing.
My head was another matter. It felt like I’d been walloped with a golf club. My balance was off and it seemed the internal volume was Who-concert loud. I picked up my bike, looked around and realized there was but one streetlight.
I made my way home. After a shower and dose of ibuprofen and discovered I’d cracked my helmet. Little wonder. I’d hit a tree that had fallen in the road. I was going 25 mph downhill and squinting due to the falling snow and didn’t expect to find a tree lying in the road when I roared around a bend. It wasn’t there when I passed that spot two hours before. I can be forgiven for being surprised, can’t I?
I came upon the tree with the unexpected surprise of a roadside bomb. I didn’t even have time to touch the brakes.
In my mind, whether or not I had a concussion had been settled by the time I got on the bike. My then-wife’s concerns didn’t run in the direction of ER, but that I was delaying dinner with my wound care.
Any time any person starts to poo-poo helmet use, my mind returns to that December ride. Whether or not a helmet saved my life that day isn’t the question. There really isn’t any question; rather, I have a certainty: Had I not worn a helmet on that ride, my injuries would have been worse. As it was, I didn’t race ‘cross the next day and mostly sat on my ass during the main event, when I was supposed to be offering neutral support. My head hurt too much to bend over and do a wheel change.
Anything worse than what I suffered is more than I’m willing to entertain. That hurt plenty, thankyouverymuch.
Ten years ago, a friend of mine was hit from behind by a Range Rover. The driver was reaching for her cell phone and priorities being what they are for the affluent, my friend on her bicycle was, for this woman, just another recyclable. In the wake of that event a mutual friend swore off helmets. His reasoning was that if a helmet couldn’t save Debra (nothing short of a cinder block wall could have), then why bother?
Somehow, he came to the conclusion that helmets embolden us to take risks that we wouldn’t take were it not for the styrofoam cooler strapped to our noggins.
Dane Mikael-Colville Andersen has a similar dislike of helmets. Andersen is the style maven behind Cycle Chic, which espouses “style over speed.” In a recent presentation at TED, Andersen talked about what he calls a “culture of fear” of which he says bicycle helmet use is part.
He points to the fact that there is a study that has shown you have a 14 percent greater chance of having an accident while wearing a helmet. Maybe, but correlation isn’t causality. He also claims the car industry is behind the promotion of bike helmets. This will be a revelation to the folks at Easton-Bell Sports who have labored under the misperception that they have been paying for all the advertising for Bell and Giro helmets.
One wonders where all those ads placed by GM appeared.
Andersen also says bicycle use fell in Denmark after helmet promotions began. For those of you who slept through logic or didn’t take it (perfectly understandable), as I mentioned before, correlation is not interchangeable with causation. There may be a relationship between the promotion of helmet use and 10,000 fewer cyclists on the road in Denmark, but conjecture should not be trotted around like fact. Street lights come on when the sun goes down with perfect correlation every flippin’ day; it doesn’t mean that the street lights cause the sun to go down.
He says people stop cycling when helmet use is promoted. I suspect it is true for some people. Is it uniformly true? Not for a second.
In the United States, there was a fear when seat belt and shoulder strap laws were enacted that it would hurt car sales and impinge on our freedom. Education and enforcement overcame that issue. What’s that you say? People will give up a bike long before they give up a car? Too true.
The issue I have with Andersen and others who criticize helmet use is that they demonize a perfectly valid device. Helmets aren’t the problem. To the degree that people don’t ride as a result of a “culture of fear,” I can tell you what they fear: CARS. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think, ‘That was entirely closer than necessary.’ Anyone who fears a helmet more than they fear a car will probably make a tin foil hat for you, too.
You want to change how people feel about riding a bicycle on city streets? Change the consideration drivers show to cyclists. Granted, that’s even less likely than McDonald’s going vegan, but this is a cultural change for which any incremental improvement would be notable and deserves the effort.
Let’s ask the question a different way. Which do you think would get more people out on bikes: a reassurance from the government that helmets don’t make you safe and you need never wear one, or streets utterly devoid of cars and trucks? I’d have whole new training routes open to me if there were no cars.
Andersen criticizes the bubble-wrapping of babies, going so far as to show product photos for a helmet designed to be worn by children—indoors. I can’t argue how ridiculous the idea (much less the product itself) is.
Spied from any angle, my son has visible bruises. He leads a full-contact life. Standing up beneath tables has introduced him to both pain and spatial skills; it’s likely one did have a causal relationship with the other. In my view, both are helpful. Does he need a helmet when strapped in to his trailer? I’m not so sure. But I can assure you, he’ll be wearing a helmet as he learns to ride a bike.
However, I’m not sure that in a tabletop-flat land such as Denmark commuters riding 12 or even 14 miles per hour need a helmet.
As for my friend who thinks that helmets are the root cause of risky riding, my response is that if helmets didn’t exist, I’d ride just as I do now. I don’t ride in a way I believe to be inherently risky, but I do like to descend mountains like a falcon dropping on prey. Knowing that a safety device is out there that can increase the likelihood of me conjugating verbs in the wake of a crash, why would I ride without it? Based on my previous airborne experience, it’s not worth the risk.
Are we really to believe that if helmets were eradicated more people would ride bikes? Have you heard a more feeble-minded idea this week? Andersen closes his presentation by saying, “Let rationality become the new black.” This from the man who espouses the emotional “style over speed.” Sorry Mikael, you can’t have it both ways.
Honestly, I thought TED was home to better ideas than these.