Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Helmets, Why Do You Torment Me?

Putting up a post that I thought had little to do with bicycle helmets actually spurred a bit of a reaction more specifically relevant to helmet use then I believed it would. While I had no intention of discussing helmets, nor whether or not one should use them, I was recently trying to find a good one, so it seems like as good a time as any to delve in.  Personally, I've read entirely too much regarding both pro-helmet use and about those who oppose it, but it's always fascinating to me to hear why people wear or don't wear one. As a brief background, I'm sharing my story about helmets and their (lack of) use in my life. It shouldn't be construed as either an argument for or against helmets, but rather just as one persons story.
As a kid, I never wore a helmet. Of course, we also didn't have to wear seat belts in the car because it wasn't the law, so I never wore that either (for the record, I do wear a seat belt now when in a car). I believe there was a helmet law at the time for kids under 12 or so (which changed in the mid-90s in California to anyone under the age of 18, but I had already reached adulthood at that juncture). Apparently it never phased anyone in my family enough to make me wear a helmet. I rode my bicycle up until I was about 15, or so, and never recall actually owning a helmet, let alone wearing one. When I started riding a bike again in adulthood, I felt this sort of peer pressure to get a helmet and use it. I hated wearing it, and most of the time didn't wear it, but I had one and if I needed it, it was available. A couple of years passed and I thought perhaps the reason I wasn't wearing the helmet was because I didn't like the helmet, so I got a different one. Honestly, it did little to improve my use, and if anything, I found I didn't want to wear it because it had few vent holes (or not large enough venting areas) and I was always dripping with sweaty hair when I arrived wherever I was headed (particularly in summer months, but it happened year round). It felt confining and even though I had (have) fallen off a bicycle more than once in adulthood (I'm klutzy, what can I say), I have never hit my head on anything and decided that wearing a helmet wasn't a necessity as long as I feel safe.
The Bern helmet, while comfortable, is extremely hot in summer months
Over the past several weeks, I've been riding more long-distance hauls, and somewhat frequently on busy streets and highways. Speed has increased fairly significantly from my normal "watch the grass grow" pace, and the helmet thoughts have returned to the forefront of my mind (particularly since I will have to wear one in an upcoming organized ride). I've also heard more than my fair share of stories in every day life recently about people who either crashed hard, weren't wearing a helmet and barely survived, or people who say that a helmet absolutely saved their life in a bike crash. I believe that things happen for a reason, so when all of a sudden these people are entering my life, I can't help but wonder if there's a message for me in all of it.

I still believe there are times when it's perfectly acceptable not to wear a helmet, and for some people in some places, maybe that is every day in every situation. For others, it may mean that they wear a helmet every time they roll out on their two wheels. However, I do not believe in fear-mongering, and I do not think that a helmet will save anyone from stupidity, nor will it somehow miraculously make an individual a safer cyclist.  A helmet doesn't make the rider safer, it's simply a safety precaution in case of an unforeseen event. You may, or may not agree with me - and that's completely okay.

As for me, I know I will have to wear one soon and want to get used to it before the ride at the end of the month, so I've been using it on my training rides to get used to the feel. I'm not thrilled about it, but maybe there's a reason that I should be wearing the helmet. I recently picked up a new one with larger vent holes, but I'm still not in love with it (but perhaps that's just the relationship I have with helmets). Do you have a favorite helmet? How do you choose from the masses of options out there? Is price the only factor, or are looks a part of your decision?


  1. I never wore a helmet until I got hit by a car (about 23 years ago) & got the bejesus scared out of me.

    Now I feel naked if I don't wear a helmet while cycling. I have a standard issue helmet (Bell? Giro? Who knows.) from the cycling shop. It's blue with a white Hawaian flower print on it.

    DH sent me a link to this stylish British helmet maker that is currently launching in the USA:

  2. I still believe that helmets are subjective. You wear it as the situation applies. Sometimes it's even how i feel about it that day, that determines helmet or no.

    The only ones that should have no choice, are children with noodle necks, and soft skulls.

    Lucky me i have almost no neck, and a skull that takes up 75% of my headspace!

    Helmet or no helmet, just get out and ride. Hell, a little cycling cap my strike your fancy tomorrow (I like them for the 80's nostalgia), and the next day a helmet might be right..

  3. Iris... I had actually looked at Yakkay helmets about a year and a half ago. I think my concern with those is the lack of venting as well. I have to admit though, I've been tempted by them, as they are rather fun! :o)

  4. I'm glad that the US doesn't require helmets like other countries do. I think restriction of personal choice fuels the fire of the helmet debate.

    I never wore a helmet when I was a kid, and only feel comfortable cycling sans helmet in one local park so far. Everywhere else, I'm still sporting my nutcase. I figure I'll be the eccentric lady in the neighborhood with crazy print helmets and disco lights on my spokes.

  5. Ooooh... disco lit spokes. That sounds intriguing! :o)

  6. I bought the nite ize spokelits in disco; my husband ended up with a blue pair for his frankenbike and a green pair for his Raleigh. I'll post a vid on the blog when I get a chance to record some footage.


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