Things that are not helmets

  1. A hat (jaunty or otherwise)
  2. A headband
  3. A turban
  4. Your hair shellacked to within an inch of it’s life into a beehive do
  5. Your sunglasses, put on top of your head because the clouds didn’t burn off like you thought they would
  6. Any other thing that isn’t a helmet

Heya,

I don’t know if this will convince anyone to wear a helmet. I don’t imagine it will. In my experience, people on one side of a divisive argument pick their corner and stay there, but I just had to throw in my two cents.

It is Bike to Work Week in Vancouver (and possibly other places, I don’t know), and in my pedestrian wanderings around Vancouver, I’ve noticed that only about a third of the people cycling around are wearing helmets. That’s just a guess, I don’t have hard numbers on this, but I made an informal study while eating lunch at my favourite Mexican-restaurant-masquerading-as-a-cafe. The street it’s on is a main bike route, and I watched a lot of cyclists creepily from behind big, slightly tinted windows.

Not a lot of helmets. Lots of newsboy caps (I think that’s what they’re called, anyway) and fedoras (it’s that kind of neighbourhood), but not a lot of helmets. Of about thirty cyclists that I saw in the half hour or so that I was there, eleven or twelve were wearing helmets.

Many of my friends cycle as their main method of transportation, and I understand from them that the cycling community is divided on how important helmets are. I’ve heard the argument that when a cyclist gets into an accident it’s usually with a car, and the injuries sustained aren’t usually the kind that would be helped by wearing a helmet.

And that’s as may be. But I also know that concussions are more complicated than most broken bones. You can set a broken bone and mend. Concussions can negatively impact your life for years. My aunt got a concussion three years ago and was troubled with migraines, vision problems, memory problems that continue to a degree to this day. She wasn’t able to go to work for about a year, and when she did go back, it was in a more limited capacity for quite some time. She can’t look at computer screens for too long without getting shooting pains in her head. Her and my uncle are very outdoorsy. They climb mountains and ride bikes and ski and snowboard, but all of that had to take a backseat to her recovery. I know she felt a lot of frustration, and still does, at not being able to do the things that she enjoyed because of her concussion.

The world of professional sports is starting to take concussions seriously, pulling people from the field who are suffering from concussions where in the past they were less likely to take them seriously. As we learn more about concussions, about how much long-term damage can be done by even minor head injuries, pressure is being levied to protect the interests of athletes.

But if you’re a cyclist, the only one protecting you is you.

You don’t have seatbelts. You don’t have airbags. You don’t have four metal walls around you. Bikes built for the city can get some pretty good speed going. If a professional football player can get a concussion, wearing a helmet, wearing all kinds of padding, by being knocked down by another human, it seems like asking for trouble to ignore the one bit of added safety you can afford yourself while traveling 50km/h down a busy street.

There are some valid arguments that helmets don’t provide much protection, but I’ve yet to hear an argument that suggests that they provide a risk. Maybe they won’t stop you from getting a concussion, ultimately, but they might help keep you from splattering your brains on the road.

I’ve also heard arguments (in Vancouver) that increasing the amount of infrastructure for cyclists would reduce the need for helmets. Maybe, maybe not. But arguments for a hypothetical future don’t change the present, and at present we don’t have the best infrastructure for cyclists. Don’t close your eyes to it. Don’t risk your safety.

Wear a fucking helmet. Please and thank you.

Love,

B

UPDATE: A friend of mine was hit by a car while riding her bike the other day. She was in a bike lane and got T-Boned crossing the street by a guy in a BMW. The police said it was lucky that she was going as fast as she was, because it meant that she hit the bumper and rebounded in the direction she was going. If she had been going slower, the car would have run her over. As it is, she flew several feet, and cracked her helmet on the concrete. If she hadn’t been wearing it, her brains would have decorated the road. Luckily she has no broken bones, and they don’t think that she’s concussed. Wear a fucking helmet.

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