Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Mamas, Wear Your Helmets!

Growing up in the '70s and '80s, I never wore a bicycle helmet. I never saw any one else wear one either. Maybe in the movie "Breaking Away," but never in real life. My husband and I laugh about it and think maybe that's why our generation is smaller than the others.

Enter 2009. Our daughter is now old enough to sit on the back of a bike and get chauffered around. On vacation, we rented two bikes and a kiddie seat. (My lovely cycle adorned with stylish 'basquette' is pictured to the right).

The bike rental guy handed us the paperwork and pointed to two bins full of helmets.

"The ones on the right are for kids, the ones on the left are for adults," he said. "Help yourself."

Oh boy.

My husband and I gave each other "Do we have to?" looks. And yes, yes we did. We just couldn't make our daughter wear her helmet, and then us two ride off into the sunset with bare heads. It just didn't seem fair. And what lesson would she learn, seeing both parents ride helmet-free? So we both donned our hard, white caps, fashionable chin strap and all. And boy, did we look cool.

I mean, I always thought of myself as being at least moderately coordinated. I played sports (yes, badminton is a sport). I think I can dance (albiet, circa 1980's "Material Girl.") So I rode around the sandy beaches and paths of Hilton Head, feeling confident that my well protected head would never make contact with ground. I was convinced that my helmet wearing was in vain.

So oblivious was I to any danger, so much did I enjoy the sightseeing, that I failed to anticipate a large bump in the road that sent me flying from my little two-wheeled rental.

That's right. I went head over heels, not for but rather on top of my lovely ride. My daughter kind of freaked out and so did my hubby. But other than a scraped knee and dented pride, I was fine.

Ever since, I've about half of parents I've seen riding bikes with their kids were wearing helmets, half were going bare-headed. No, I can't say that I felt very cool wearing it, and I certainly didn't feel cool falling off my ride. But to walk away unscathed--well now, that felt very cool indeed. And every time we see someone riding a bike, my daughter comments on how Mama didn't get hurt because Mama wore her helmet. Now that's a lesson learned truly by example.

According to the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute, non-helmet riders are 14 times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash than ones who wore helmets. And in 2007, sadly 698 cyclists died.

Helmets are cheap. Target offers them for as little as $20. A small price to pay for protecting something as valuable as your noggin.

Many states and municipalities have bike helmet laws requiring them for riders age 16 and under. But not many have laws for Mamas. But trust me, this Mama never will ride without one again.

'Til next time,


  1. The trouble with bike helmets is that the figures don't show that they work - helmet laws have stopped a lot of people cycling and have done nothing for head injury rates, see Robinson DL. No clear evidence from countries that have enforced the wearing of helmets. BMJ. 2006 March 25; 332(7543): 722–725. doi: 10.1136/bmj.332.7543.722-a. http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?tool=pubmed&pubmedid=16565131 (Robinson's work uses the best scientific methods, all available control groups and so on.) It appears that helmets break easily, but don't absorb the impact, see the engineers quoted at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bicycle_helmet. A broken helmet has simply failed. I'm sorry to guess that your anecdote doesn't actually relate to the helmet saving you from anything much. The only known connection is that helmets have strangled a few young children who were wearing helmets while playing off their bicycles.

    I no longer wear a helmet and haven't pressed them on my children. I do check that their brakes work and that they have a good idea of the rules of the road.

    At our age it's far too dangerous not to cycle - regular cycling, Danish style, not too far, not too fast, nearly halves the death rate, see http://archinte.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/abstract/160/11/1621 All-Cause Mortality Associated With Physical Activity During Leisure Time, Work, Sports, and Cycling to Work. Andersen et al, Arch Intern Med. 2000;160:1621-1628, so I'm glad you're still pedalling. Bicycling is good for health, but helmets don't seem to be.

  2. Thank you Richard, for the very enlightening reply and taking the time to write an insightful one. My husband will be happy to hear some evidence that his wearing a helmet is not necessary. Though I will still make him wear one on his motorcycle! The strangulation stat is a frightening one. However, here in the states, there are state and municipal laws that require helmets for those under age 16, which I mentioned above in my blog entry. Perhaps some parents here will have to decide to choose to pay a fine and have their children not wear them. I guess they have the freedom to do that, if they wish.