Before suddenly retiring from motorcycles 15 years ago last month, the helmet that saved my life featured a little slogan I’d stenciled onto its back in bright orange letters that read:
HELMETS ARE SMART
HELMET LAWS AREN’T
To put that phrase in context, it was my indignant/snarky way of expressing my displeasure with the “Government Knows Best” nannies up in Sacramento at the time who passed a law a year or two earlier making the world a safer place for everyone by decreeing it illegal to ride a motorcycle without something protective strapped to one’s head.
I know, I know. There are idiots out there alive because of this law that would otherwise be dead or a vegetative drain on taxpayer resources.
But see, having been a rider of various two-wheeled motor-driven conveyances since I was 15, I never needed a law to tell me that I’d better damn well don something that would afford some level of protection for my vessel’s central processing unit. Whether it was to school, the beach, or a few blocks away, I had sense enough to sport a brain bucket between points A and B.
This is because I’m not stupid. I’m no genius either, but you don’t have to be to understand that pretty much any scenario involving your head coming into contact at speed with any variety of surfaces or obstacles… well, let’s let Sancho from “Don Quixote” explain it:
“Whether the pitcher hits the stone or the stone hits the pitcher, it’s bad luck for the pitcher.”
Wait, I’m a liar. On hot days mountain biking uphill along wide fire roads at 3-5 mph when the probability of me busting my head against anything is at its most remote, I have been known to shed my hat and hang it from the handlebars.
But a helmet on the streets? Oh, it’s on baby.
Over the years I’ve heard of studies that reinforce the safety factor of helmets. I’ve also heard of studies that dismiss them, showing that helmets actually can increase a cyclist’s risk of injury. I’ve read arguments that helmets make even the most leisurely cyclist come off as competitive and elite-ish. I’ve listened to people who don’t wear them because they’re goofy looking, uncomfortable, give them hathead, or don’t coordinate well with their sense of style.
I have friends and acquaintances who don’t leave home without ’em, and I have friends and acquaintances who do. I also have friends and acquaintances that previously eschewed helmets, but converted following injuries sustained either to themselves or people they know. I don’t have any friends or acquaintances who used to wear helmets but now don’t.
My point? Let’s call it a no-brainer. It’s that official validation (or official invalidation) is going to reinforce or dissuade me from recognizing the simple fact that whether it’s a windshield or the roadway there’s a potential benefit in having something between my scalp and the point of contact. Even if a helmet is only designed to absorb the initial impact of a collision at a maximum of 12 mph, am I not going to wear one because my average speed exceeds that benchmark by 3 mph? Of course not. Conversely neither am I going to imagine that a layer of plastic-encased styrofoam is anything more than it is.
But whether I’m bombing the 4th Street Drop Zone at 49 mph or leisurely cruising the L.A. River Bikeway at 4, the way I see it is it’s still better to have a helmet and not need it, than the other way around.
As to looking something like The Great Gazoo? Gladly.