What has your helmet done for you lately?

How often do you reflect upon things you have done in your past and wonder why you did them? How many times within those musings do you come up with a solid reason? Almost never? Cool, join the club.

I’ve had a two-wheeled love affair with bikes since the day my Dad sent me down a hill at our rural Michigan home in ’79 on my Metallic Purple (with Banana Seat) Rocket. I’ve owned, ridden and raced a lot of bikes since then, 16 different bikes of all shapes and sizes to be exact. It wasn’t until I started racing that I was introduced to the idea of the helmet, and it took nearly a decade for the idea to really set in. My first helmet sucked, it was an old hard-shell from Bell and it was hot, heavy and uncomfortable, so I rarely donned it. After that one found a new home in a field in BFE Oregon, I upgraded to a Giro, which was only slightly better. But it was lighter and cooler, and supposedly safer. At this time there were still no laws regarding the use of them for kids, and only racers wore them (were forced to is more like it), and only on the amateur level. Still, the bike shops pushed them to everyone who bought and rode a bike. Why? They will tell you they make you safer – that they save lives. But it’s hard to argue that the margin on accessories isn’t the real motivator.

Up until about 5 years ago I never gave it much thought and wore one out of habit. I used to race a lot, and went on club rides with bike shops where they were mandatory. So 90% of the time I just grabbed the thing and went. Okay, so what changed 5 years ago? My kids started getting interested in bikes. But you’re going to ask if they aren’t really any safer, why make your kids wear them? That’s easy. They can’t ride fast, or like I can, and helmets are great for low-speed, low-height impact protection; they’re perfect for kids. Plus, you know, it’s the law. Once they are old enough to make the choice, the choice is theirs to make. So where does that leave me?

Since I’m not real big on the whole “do as I say, not as I do” shtick, that means I wear one too. That being said, I will always wear a helmet mountain biking. Always. The number of times I have drilled my head into the ground on a mountain bike exceeds the number of crashes I have had on the road 3 to 1. While it didn’t save me from a headache, it did spare me from having a gash in the top of my head 30 miles from town, at night; which is a good thing.

You’re probably asking what brings this up 3 decades of bike riding….  Mikael Colville-Andersen gives a very interesting talk at TEDx in Copenhagen, that’s what stirred the pot again. The helmet debate isn’t new, it will never be settled, and it usually gets quite heated. There is evidence to support that drivers are more careless around cyclists wearing helmets, that helmets are only designed to only withstand an impact from a standing height, and then only on the very top. Still, nearly everyone swears that they save lives, and in some cases that it had saved their very own life. Mikael talks about how the number of cyclists decreased dramatically in Denmark in response to a massive helmet awareness push, and hasn’t fully recovered even after 2 years.

I can’t say for certain the level of protection a helmet really provides, they’re great for keeping your skin on your head in a crash. But will it save your life? I don’t know – but one thing I do know; for now, I choose to wear a helmet.

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