A cyclist’s lament: helmets

I learnt how to cycle when I was about 6 years old. My next door neighbours, Dane and his sister Simone, taught me on this slightly inclined path that went from their front yard to the back. This was in Canberra and the summer of 1987. 24 years have passed and I still get that same thrill of managing to balance on two wheels while cruising down a street. I got back to cycling in earnest, on a daily basis, when I was living in London. At first I had a mountain bike and about a year later I changed to a city cruiser. It enabled me to sit upright and go faster with the slightly thinner wheels. Now that I’m in Toronto I ride a similar bike, here’s a picture of Janet (just HAD to give her a name):

As equally important as Janet, here’s a picture of my helmet, which I bought back in London. I’ve also used it for ice skating and skiing, bargain.

I cycle for various reasons: to get around in the city, to do some exercise, because I don’t have a car (nor want one at this stage), because it’s the fastest way to get anywhere downtown most of the time as there are awful traffic jams and a much out-dated public transport system, and above all, I cycle because I simply love it. I am aware that cycling, particularly in a city with lots of cars and not many cycling paths as Toronto, is dangerous. Our bodies are not protected from the elements, nor can we start and stop with the same ease as cars, and in the absence of there being a full-body armour for cyclists, I am a strong advocate for wearing helmets.

Alfred Einstein apparently said something along the lines of “Two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe”.  I have pondered on the reason why people should be so stupid as to not wear helmets many times, have had conversations with friends and fellow cyclists and have compiled the following reasons:

  • I forgot (how on earth can one forget something which is part of a routine?)
  • It’s only for a short cycle near my house (apparently there’s a study that shows that most cycling accidents occur near our houses or places which we visit frequently)
  • Helmet hair (so the possibility of cracking one’s head open is a risk someone is happy to take so their hair styles aren’t messed up?)
  • It annoys me (there are about 4,590 helmet styles in the market, surely one should fit?)
  • Drivers are more careful around me if I’m not wearing a helmet (I have heard this many times and still don’t get it. Plus cyclists have more than just cars to look out for)
  • Finally, though most non-helmeted cyclists would never put it so boldly, deep down they just think cycling is cool, a fad, and they like the look and feel of cycling, without taking into consideration the many risks
I feel incredibly frustrated each time I see a person cycle without a helmet, and more than once I’ve actually told them to put one on. In a way it’s like I’m the helmet police but it doesn’t bother me, it’s much better than seeing yet another cyclist crash and fall with no helmet on.