I was coming back from the Kettle Ride today with Taylor and Mike on the bike path that connects Washington Blvd. with Admiralty. A couple of hundred yards before the crosswalk on Admiralty there was a lady sitting in the grass, her beach cruiser flopped on its side not far from where she sat. Three firemen were hunched around her–there’s a fire station right across the street–and the howl of an approaching ambulance got louder.
I glanced at her as we passed. Beginning at the top of her forehead, where a properly fitted bicycle helmet would have covered her skull, and running down to her lower cheek was a giant pulpy smush of blood and skin and meat. It looked like an angry stonemason had punched her in the face with a large, steel-encrusted ham. Her boyfriend, similarly helmet-less, stood off to the side wringing his hands.
I reflected for a moment on the fate of a friend who had been taken out by a left-turning motorist who “didn’t see” the bicycle as she was texting behind the wheel. He had shot over the hood, into the windshield, and then straight up into the air, landing on the back of his head. The difference between him and the gal on the bike path is that he was wearing a helmet, and it had absorbed the entire blow, leaving him with a mild concussion. The girl on the bike path was going to need reconstructive surgery to put the top of her face and head back together.
Ain’t No Bicycle Crit Like a Hypocrite
I got suspended by the USCF back in the 80’s when they introduced the hardshell helmet rule for bike races. Not for failing to race with a hardshell, but for sending nasty letters to Richard Degarmo and the USCF staff protesting this outrageous violation of my constitutional rights to be a quadriplegic or dead. I was kind of like this concatenation of idiots, only more so, since there was only one of me. It took about twenty years to realize that helmets work, and that they save lives, and that people who ride around without them have either never been told of the hazards of riding without them, or they are total fucking crazies, or Noel.
When I moved back to Houston in 2005 and started showing up on the Sugarland ride sans helmet, I was subjected to a constant barrage of friendly comments by total strangers concerned about my safety: “Where’s your helmet, dumbass?” “You forgot your helmet, dumbshit.” “Don’t come on this ride, dumbass.” “You are too stupid and dangerous to ride with us.” “Why don’t you wear a helmet, stupid?” “You should wear a helmet, idiot.”
After a few rides I started wearing a helmet.
Now, each time I see someone pedaling around without one, I wonder, “What’s going on in that person’s head? Aside from nothing, I mean.” So over the course of the last few months I’ve been stopping people and asking them. Their answers are enlightening.
Guy on beach cruiser watching volleyball at Manhattan Beach: “Fucks up my hair, dude.”
Me: “Do you think it’s going to be easier to get your hair back in place after you take off the helmet, or to get your brains scooped back into your skull after they’ve spattered all over the pavement?”
Little kid pedaling down by Santa Monica Pier: “Get away from me, mister, or I’m calling the police.”
Tattooed bike racer: “I just rode you off my fucking wheel. Shouldn’t you be more concerned about your pathetic lack of fitness?
Me: “Good point.”
Frankly, My Dear, I Don’t Give a Damn
And, I suppose, neither do the people who ride with the whistle of the wind in their hair. There’s something about the carefree, rebellious, whipping feel of wind on a bare head that simply can’t be beat by anything. Except the solid whack of pavement, of course.