Biking Without a Helmet

DSC01691There is a debate that rages around cycling: helmet or no helmet. Wearing a helmet is mandatory for children in New York State and my parents always made sure my siblings and I wore them. When I became an adult I chose to continue wearing a helmet while biking, a layer of protection between my noggin and the pavement seems like a great idea. I always wear a helmet when I ride-always.

Today, however I experimented with riding helmetless.

My coworker needed Friday night off so she asked to switch shifts with me. I agreed even though I knew it would mean minimal time in-between my Friday and Saturday shifts. So yesterday I worked lunch and supper and then headed home. As soon as I got home I walked my dogs, I washed my bike, took a shower, laid out everything I needed for work the next day and crawled into bed.

At 3:30 my alarm went off. I lubed my bike chain, walked the dogs, threw my biking clothes on, grabbed my bike lights and headed out the door.

I was almost halfway to work when I finally realized-I had never put on my helmet! No big deal, right? Ha. Wrong. When you have been conditioned from childhood to wear a helmet and have made a habit of wearing one every single day it is strange what thoughts will flit through your mind.

“Wouldn’t it be funny if today was the day you crashed?”
NO! That is not funny!
“If you are this scattered brained already, think of all the mistakes you will make at work today.”
Hey! That is not nice!
“See this car, it’s gonna hit you and smash your brain to smithereens.”
Ahh! Stop scaring me!

I felt so self conscious the rest of the way to work. When I arrived at the restaurant and told my coworker she laughed at me. And then she offered to swing by my house in the afternoon and pick up my helmet for me, since she was headed into town to do some errands.

Her thoughtfulness floored me. Time and time again my coworkers prove that even though they love to tease me about my weird lifestyle, they are always willing to help me when I need it. I was a bit hesitant about accepting her offer at first, after all my helmet does nothing to keep me safe when biking-it just comes in handy if I ever do crash-but I decided I was being silly. If she wanted to help me, I wasn’t going to stop her.

At 3:30 pm I left work, helmet placed firmly on my head. And guess what? I still didn’t crash on the ride home!

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38 thoughts on “Biking Without a Helmet

  1. That was super nice of her! I always wear a helmet when biking too. You never know when it just might save your life, or at least prevent a concussion or more serious brain injury.

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  2. I sincerely hope you’re being serious and not facetious. Now if I could just figure out what sort of pants to wear to church tomorrow. Nothing fits over my cast

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    • I would never be facetious about the wearing of helmets, I promise 🙂

      Oh dear, pants would be a bother with a cast on…will something made of stretchy material work? Kilts would do the trick as well, but I am not sure what your feelings are on going Scottish!

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  3. I’ve broken 2 helmets and put a dent in a third. I think the ONLY times that I don’t wear a helmet on my bikes is during a test ride, after I’ve worked on a bike, around my own property. And it really is an odd feeling to not have it on. BTW, I’m still here because of my helmet. 😀

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  4. I’ve always worn helmets since I got into biking after college. What made me become an even bigger advocate of it was when I saw a sprint in the velodrome, where one rider was sprinting so hard, he fell over his handlebars, and his helmet shattered into a hundred pieces. The explosion of the helmet was amazing, and his head was saved. That really convinced me to be religious about wearing a helmet.

    It kills me when I see a cyclist not wear a helmet. It’s even crazier when they have the helmet, but it is hanging from their handlebar. The helmet doesn’t do a lot of good if it’s not on your helmet.

    I’m glad you get home on your commute without a crash.

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  5. People in Europe rarely ride with helmets. They do not have an epidemic of brain injuries from bike crashes. I have ridden a bike for nearly 60s years. I have had my fair share of crashes. I have never bit my head. I wear a helmet because it makes for a good place to mount my lights. I think it’s a shame that some places like Australia require bike helmets. It deters a lot of people from riding because it sends a signal that cycling is very dangerous. It also raises the cost of riding for new riders.

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    • I agree wholeheartedly that mandatory helmet laws are a bad idea. People should be free to choose for themselves whether to wear a helmet or not.

      Your points do have merit, one thing I am bothered by is that some people I talk to genuinely seem to think that a helmet is some kind of magical safety device. Helmet=Safe : No helmet=Danger!!! It does make me wonder how cycling would be viewed if helmets weren’t part of the equation.

      Here is the thing though-whether it is wise from an advocacy point of view or not-I personally want that layer of cushioning between my head and the ground 😉

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  6. The law requires us to wear helmets in Australia and there are ‘on-the-spot’ fines for not complying. Despite that, some people choose not to and I can understand why – it’s a great feeling to feel the wind in your hair. When I was a child, these laws didn’t exist and we survived. Of course, the roads are much busier now and very car-centric. So I’m a compliant helmet wearer.

    When I visited Denmark and Norway in April of this year where it’s not compulsory to wear helmets, we chose not to wear them and I loved it! I was surprised by how easy it was to adapt – perhaps because not wearing a helmet was just so normal there so ‘the fear’ didn’t land on me.

    It’s an interesting debate. I’d like people to have the option to choose rather than it be mandatory.

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  7. Because of the high probability of brain injury one should always, always wear a helmet when in a car. The chances of a TBI in a vehicle crash is 7 time more likely than on a bike, yet people scoff at wearing a helmet in a car. The only time I wear one is when they are mandatory for an event ride. With that, I wear one two days a year. The NYC 5 boroughs ride, and the Newport R.I. longest day of the year ride. I pass on all other local rides that require a helmet.

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    • That is something I have actually been doing a bit of research on…I feel safer on my bike than in a car, to me it totally makes sense to wear a helmet while biking and while riding in a car.

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  8. I typically never wore a helmet until I had kids and then made it a rule for them. I had to follow suit. Now, if I ride w/o a helmet it feels as if I’m riding w/o clothes. VERY unnatural. Similar to driving a car w/o a seatbelt. That, I have never done. (And now that I ride a motorcycle, I would never EVER ride w/o a helmet, even though I’m 10 miles from the South Carolina border where they have NO helmet law for motorcyclists)

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  9. I have always worn a helmet when biking, at least since adulthood. (I’m old enough that when I was a kid they weren’t required.) I don’t ride very fast, but I have at least one memory of falling off the bike and hitting the front of my helmet on the pavement; I think it saved my forehead from a bruise, maybe a concussion. So I don’t need convincing to wear my helmet. I’ve forgotten it a few times on my way to work, though, and had the same thoughts you did. My husband is German, and riding in Germany is similar to what others have posted about other European countries. He still doesn’t wear one. It bothered me. But just last week he finally said he was going to get one and has actually been shopping for one. I think letting him decide for himself has been better than a law requiring it.

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    • Glad to know I am not the only one to forget my helmet on the rush out the door to work 🙂

      It is interesting the different ways that different cultures view bike helmets, I would like to visit Europe sometime and see what the cycling is like.

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  10. How nice to have such thoughtful coworkers!! 🙂 I don’t wear my helmet when I do rail trails, but on the road it’s a must for me- u read my blog post about what almost happened to me the ONE day I didn’t wear one– yikes!

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  11. Lest you think I am anti-safety, during my first year of recumbent riding I started wearing a skater’s elbow pad on my left elbow. In those early days, my front wheel often slid out dumping me sideways. The fall is only a foot or two but I hit the exact same spot near my elbow over and over again. I have since learned to lead with my cheek when I fall.

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    • I am glad to hear you have learned the art of falling….ouch though! I have read articles about not breaking falls with an outstretched arm but in that moment when you actually fall it must be really hard to suppress automatic reaction to do so. I always break my falls with my arm…clearly I need more experience, haha!

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      • A recumbent is different. You just don’t have time to stick your arm out because you start out close to the ground. The best thing to do when you are going down on a regular bike is to tuck your elbow in and roll.

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  12. I just happened to crash on my bike this weekend and I would have hit my head if not for the helmet. It would have been a nasty bruise to the face. I am so glad I had it on. I don’t always wear it, but Most of the time I do. I also sometimes forget it when I am wearing my cold weather gear. I already have something on my head, so I seem to forget about the helmet. Like you, I feel the whole time I am riding that I won’t have it when I actually need it.

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  13. one time i was wearing a winter cap under my helmet… well turns out i was just wearing my cap and i notice it 4 miles into the ride. i turned around and grab it. it was next to my spare water bottle too…. oh well. glad you are okay.

    and if it is cold, you think you have your helmet on but it is the winter hat/ earmuffs, ear protectors whatever on your head but not the helmet

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    • Last winter I was in the habit of keeping my helmet on the handlebars, so I always remembered to put it on. Now though I usually keep my helmet in my bedroom-I guess it is time to switch back to the old handlebar trick !

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  14. I forgot my helmet once too, but I realized shortly after leaving because my head was cold! I turned around and got it before heading to work because I immediately felt unsafe and insecure without it. Funny how “biking is dangerous without a helmet” is so ingrained in me… i can’t even imagine going without a helmet voluntarily.

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