Out There: Hard-Headed

Why do people still refuse to wear helmets?

Written by: Susan Lacke

This column first appeared in the November issue of Competitor Magazine.

I’m not sure why there’s such an aversion to bike helmets. Overwhelmingly, people insist their child wear a helmet while riding in the driveway, but hesitate to put one on their own head when riding in traffic because they look “dorky.” The mushroom-head look isn’t stylish, but if I’m worried about how I look, I probably should pick a sport that doesn’t involve skin-tight shorts with a padded ass.

I wish cycling was safer. There are so many potential obstacles to bike riding—wind, rain, bad pavement, errant drivers, road debris, bugs, stray animals, cyclist error and banana peels (yes, really)—accidents can and do happen. A 2009 Consumer Reports study shows 58 percent of Americans ride without the most essential of cycling equipment: a helmet.

We know for a fact that helmets can save lives. Given that many cyclist fatalities involve a rider without head protection, it’s mind-boggling why so many still choose to go without.

A colleague of mine recently took up cycling to work. When I asked where his helmet was, he chuckled and said he wasn’t one of “those” people. He is exempt from the helmet rule because, well, I’m not sure why.

His genetic pool apparently gave him a skull made of Kevlar. If that’s the case, I want to know why I got the short stick during evolution. Where can I file my complaint?

Then there are the riders who have the right idea, but lack in the execu

tion. Recently, I was riding with my friend Caroline when we passed another cyclist on the road who had the good sense to purchase a helmet, but instead of wearing it, it dangled from his left handlebar like a strange anti-crash talisman.

Immediately, we jokingly chastised him about putting on his helmet. He never did. All we could do was roll our eyes and ride off.

Caroline, like me, is one of the 42 percent of riders who wears her helmet (on her head, of course) every single time. She looks dorky, too, but she puts on her padded-ass shorts and clips into her pedals with a smile.

In September, a truck trailer hit Caroline while riding. She flew off her bike, flipped, landed on her head, and slid on her back down the pavement.

She suffered broken bones, road rash and a concussion. While she was in surgery, I waited at the hospital with her dad. He handed me the bag of bloodied cycling clothes and gear the EMTs cut off her body. In the bag was her helmet, battered and broken. The doctors said if she hadn’t been wearing a helmet, Caroline would be dead.

It shouldn’t take a horror story to make up our minds for us about safety. We know helmets work. So embrace your dorky side, slap on your spandex and wear that helmet with pride.


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