I don’t hate helmets. But I do hate the way that they are aggressively promoted as the most important factor in safety for people on bicycles.
Why? Because of encounters like the one I had this morning. They happen weekly, daily and sometimes even more than once a day.
As I was on my way to work this morning, I was stopped at a red light with another person on bicycle also on his way to work. The gentleman looked at me and asked “No helmet? Are you afraid to mess up your hair?”
First of all, aside from passively aggressively chiding me for not wearing a helmet- what’s up with the sexist comment about my being afraid to mess up my hair? I wear hats all the time when it’s cold out. They mess up my hair. So does the wind and the rain. No big deal. I wonder if he would make the same comment to a man.
Secondly, I will assume that he probably thought I was ill informed on the subject of safety for people on bicycles. I explained to him that it wasn’t necessary nor was there a law requiring me to wear a helmet when riding a bicycle. When he started touting that it was for my safety, I explained to him what constitutes real safety (infrastructure and people on bikes). He didn’t want to listen to me and continued with his own saga of falling off his bike and hitting his head. He of course told me that a helmet saved his head (at least he didn’t go as far as saying it saved his life). When I pointed out to him that no scientific evidence exists that bike helmets save lives, he brushed me off by saying that science didn’t matter. Great, such high hopes for rational thinking.
The gentleman was on a racing bike, clipped in and wearing training tights. Since he didn’t want to listen to anything I had to say, I mentioned to him that it was also possible to ride a bike wearing normal clothing. He ‘agreed’ but said his choice was more comfortable. Great, please wear whatever makes you feel comfortable on your bike- but PLEASE DON’T EVER TELL ANOTHER PERSON ON A BIKE THEY NEED TO WEAR A HELMET. Seriously folks, I am so sick of being admonished to wear a helmet. It’s my choice and it’s an informed one. I will never tell some one NOT to wear a helmet- as it’s their choice and however informed or not that decision is- if it makes them feel safer on a bike and keeps them on a bike I really want them to keep wearing one. If you really want to know why I don’t wear a helmet, then listen to me when I explain and don’t tune me out with your own biases.
It’s not just MAMILs that tell me to wear a helmet. I also get it from pedestrians, motorists (often leaning out car windows while not paying attention to their driving), and ‘well-meaning’ friends who don’t ride bikes (often this is coupled with questions about the safety of my riding a bike in heels too. Or a skirt. Or a fur coat.). This behavior is just rude. Seriously. Stop it.
Would I like to see more people choosing to go helmet free when riding for transportation? Absolutely. I want to see my city become safe enough for people on bicycles that they won’t feel the need to wear one. But in the meantime, I realize that incomplete streets make people feel unsafe and more people are going to choose helmets to make them feel safer. It’s their choice and I respect that.
For those that believe they need to preach the magic infallibility of bicycle helmets to others-please keep it to yourself. I also have another suggestion for you- visit the Netherlands or Denmark. Experience the true safety of Dutch and Danish style infrastructure -where bicycles are an ordinary part of life. A place where riding a bicycle is a relaxed and social thing. Try convincing the Dutch or Danish people on bikes that they ‘need’ helmets. Good luck.
All the helmets in the world won’t save us from poorly designed streets where the automobile is king and motorists can get away with murder almost daily. Preach for safer streets- not plastic hats.