The Great (Helmet) Debate: Where’s Yours?

My mother once pointed out how silly it was that I wore a helmet while racing and training, but went bare-domed when I commuted around town. It was as if that by my going slower would somehow reduce the impact of a semi or some diesel 3/4 ton slamming into me at 55 mph. Without doing the math to determine the difference in force of impact, I figured she was probably right. So I got a helmet.

I wore the helmet. It was stylish, hip, comfortable and I could stash it somewhere both at work and at home without too much trouble. I wore it all of last summer, and got nothing but compliments for it. When I moved back down to college for the fall, however, the Berne was unceremoniously stashed in the back of my closet. How stupid am I? Grand Valley is a decidedly more dangerous place for a cyclist or a pedestrian. Just last week, a girl was hit by a bus while crossing the street. (She’s okay, I’ve heard). Four cyclists were hit on campus in the fall of 2011, two of which were in critical condition before recovering. As the weather improves, more and more people will get their bikes back out and ride to class. More people, I’m afraid, will be hit by buses or cars. And to date, I have seen just one person wearing a helmet.

I used to rationalize my refusal to wear a brain bucket here because I was just going about a half a mile. I’m a amateur cyclists that has put in 150-200 miles a month during the spring, summer and fall for the past two years. I can handle a bike, and I can avoid traffic. I know the rules of the road and am extremely cautious. But that counts for absolutely nothing if some sorority girl listening to the latest Gaga smash hit runs a stop sign or blows through a cross walk. It means nothing if some tired truck driver headed to the other side of campus is going 35 in a 25 and can’t stop at the light I’m crossing. In fact, when they’re writing my obituary, it will only make it look worse that an experience cyclist was smeared into the asphalt while not wearing a helmet.

Gary Howe, author of My Wheels Are Turning, once made the comparison that police reporting cyclists’ not wearing a helmet in reports is like saying a person driving was not wearing a seatbelt. Helmet or not, and indeed seatbelt or not, the accident occurred for a variety of reasons that had nothing to do with the amount of safety equipment either party was employing. The difference is only that the helmet might save your life or reduce impact, while for a driver hitting a cyclist, the seatbelt might not even lock up.

At Grand Valley or on any street in Northern Michigan, should we feel entirely safe riding without a helmet whether it be for sport or transportation? What is your take? Do you wear a helmet at all times?

One response to “The Great (Helmet) Debate: Where’s Yours?”

  1. Yep, I always ride with a helmet. I’m also a motorcyclist and have been in three accidents, any of which would have likely killed me without the helmet. I wear my helmet biking for three reasons. One, to set a good example for my kids. Two, accidents happen, even when there are no other cars or people, accidents still happen. Three, I don’t want to be THAT guy that got hit by a car riding his bike without a helmet.

    Helmets aren’t uncomfortable, they aren’t prohibitively expensive and they have saved my brain on more than one occasion.

    I also wear my seatbelt when driving too.

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