It’s Bike to Work week (and it happens to be National Bike Month, too), and when it’s not pissing with rain (damn you Mother Nature), I loves to get me some bike riding time on the way to work. Just me and Bea Arthur (that’s my bike’s name, don’t ask, just let it go), which is a fire-engine red, 18-speed Supercycle. I have decked out ol’ Bea with some pretty fancy accessories and swag: a cushy, plush bike seat to protect my tush, a wicker basket out front with yellow flowers woven around the rim (just to make Bea a little more feminine, flirty, and fun), flashing little lights on the spokes, comfy handlebar grips, and a big squeezy-horn that goes “honky-honky!” when you squeeze it. Very nice, indeed. Except every time I’m out riding Bea Arthur (there’s a sentence I never thought I’d say), there’s one thing I keep forgetting: my helmet. One of these days, this accidentally-on-purpose forgetfulness is going to cost me my life, so why aren’t I strapping on the skull-bucket?
Seriously, what is wrong with me? I live in a major metropolis with typical North American bike-infrastructure (read: needs more bike lanes!) where so many cyclists are doored, shouldered, run off the road, honked at until the noise startles them silly, or even killed. There’s no debate that helmets save lives. So why am I, and so many of my fellow cyclists around the city, not wearing helmets? What is wrong with us?
Considering that so many of us don’t need a designated week to tell us to bike to work, perhaps the reason lies in pure office decorum. Helmets make heads sweaty. Sweaty heads, and mussed up hair, upon arriving at work are most definitely frowned upon by the suits at the top. So unless your office has a shower, hair dryers and flat irons on standby in the loo’s, chances are you don’t wanna look like a perspiration bomb just exploded all over you upon setting foot through the door. But that’s just vanity.
I can’t think of a single good excuse not to wear a helmet, and when you get to the heart of the matter, it really just has to do with good, old fashioned vanity. Helmets look dorky, like those kids in kindergarten who had to wear helmets to keep them from smashing their skulls against the walls. And helmets give us hat-hair.
Perhaps in the back of my (unprotected) brain, I don’t want people thinking I’m not comfortable riding the busy streets of the city, and helmets would imply that I’m secretly afraid.
Yes, that was an extra special glimpse into my neuroses. You’re welcome.
But you know what, I am kind of afraid. I’m very comfortable riding on busy streets next to the trucks, low-riders, and streetcars, but I am also very conscious that every time I hop on Bea Arthur (that still sounds wrong), it could be my last. I’ve never been doored or knocked off my bike (knock wood), but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen at some point. Over time, everyone’s fortune runs out.
And what kills me is: I actually have two helmets! And they’re in swanky colors too, so I have a fairly fashionable choice.
I’m not as bad as some cyclists though. I see cyclists yapping on their cell phones as they zoom along. Others don’t even bother holding the handlebars, they just la-dee-da along as if they were on a unicycle and the road were their oyster. And don’t get me started on those nimrods who let their friends sit on the handlebars.
Some cities, like Vancouver, B.C., have instituted a law where helmets are required. If caught riding without one, cyclists face a hefty fine. When I was in Vancouver last summer, I brought my helmet with me every time I rented a bike, and you know what, it wasn’t so bad. Because I didn’t want to pay the fine, I wore the damn thing every time, and it gave me a sense of security and safety. But as soon as I was on home turf again, the helmet got shoved in the back of the closet.
Could enforcing helmets be the only way to get cyclists like me to wear them? What’s it going to take to make us view our own personal safety as the utmost importance?
Perhaps, but I can tell you what definitely won’t get us to strap on the brain-shield: publicly scolding us. I am well aware that I am taking my life in my own hands, but I am also an adult who makes these decisions (foolish or otherwise) everyday. When I’m riding along a busy street, and a bus pulls up next to me so the bus driver yell out his window with smug smirk on his face, “Ya know, you really should be wearing a helmet,” it’s more likely to make me (and every helmet-less cyclist) indignant and angry, than it is to make me rethink my choice. (This may or may not have happened to me recently. Just sayin’.)
When did it become okay to publicly hector cyclists? You would never dream of approaching a morbidly obese person and snapping, “Put down that cake fattie, lest you be dead!” so what makes you think I need your holier-than-thou, sanctimonious musings on my cycling safety? Thank you very much, bus driver, for your concern on my well being, but please, keep your self-righteousness off of my body.
Obviously scary statistics and public-shaming don’t work, so the only way I’m going to helmet-up is by my own choice.
Maybe if I gave my helmet a name, it might make wearing it more fun. How do we feel about the name Auntie Edna? Anyone?