Until I was about 25, I had never worn a bike helmet. I went through my entire childhood, riding BMX, my soft melon of a head exposed to the predations of pavement and dirt. I hurled myself, full speed, at ramps made of plywood scrap, propped up on loose brick or, on a good day, a couple of cinder blocks. I tore through the woods, whizzing past pine trees and flying off red clay dirt jumps with nary a care in the world. I was oblivious to the very concept of ‘concussion,’ and my parents were equally unconcerned.
Parenting in the ’70s was a much more laissez faire affair.
So yesterday, in the office, we were talking about helmets. None of us wanted to have the great helmet debate, but there we were. And then Neil said, “Here’s the thing. If someone told you, you could never wear a helmet ever again, would it change the way you ride? Would you stop riding altogether? Would you ride different bikes?”
And Joe said, “I would never ride a mountain bike in the woods again. I would probably get rid of my road bikes. I would get a single-speed cruiser, with coaster brakes, and a large basket, and that would be it.”
For all the times I’ve said, “I don’t know for certain that a helmet makes me more safe, but I’m willing to err on the side of caution given the possible consequences,” I’ve never taken the time to consider the question in the absolute terms Neil proposed.
So now I put it to you. Forget the helmet debate. Are they good? Are they bad? Do they make you more safe, less safe? That is not what we’re doing here. All we’re doing is answering the question: If you could never wear a helmet, how would it change your riding?
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Image: John Pierce, Photosport International