The bike helmet debate gets (more) personal

I’ve been on a bicycle since I was about 5 years old, so I’ve survived about 29 years of urban bicycling in Toronto’s Metro area without “needing” a helmet.  Great statistic right?  

But it only takes one crash!  So here’s what happened; 

On Friday the 1st I was biking home on Queen street west, which has street-car tracks.  I passed a cyclist, crossing over the tracks.  On my way back over to the right side my front wheel slipped on the track itself and I dumped my bike at full speed.  

As a result I slid far enough to shave about 25% of the skin off my lower right leg which sucked, but if I wasn’t wearing the helmet I would have sustained the following head injuries; 

  • Slamming my right temple off of the asphalt repeatedly
  • Sliding the distance on my face so that it would match my leg
  • Finally cracking the top of my bare skull on the underside of the parked minivan that stopped my slide… hard
Helmet Burn
Helmet Burn

I hit the van and the ground so hard that my head still sustained injuries, bruising, and a sort of helmet burn from the impact.  

If I didn’t have that helmet on, I would probably have landed in the hospital, or the basement of a hospital awaiting identification.

The implications hit home extra hard.  Before this accident I have been on the fence in the helmet debate.  In the past I’ve donned it to calm my wife’s worries about my bicycle commuting, occasionally leaving it behind if I was just going around the block.  I feel like an idiot, in retrospect.  

If you’re anti-helmet because you think a helmet looks embarrassing or geeky, just think how dumb you might feel convulsing and peeing yourself in front of a crowd for 8 minutes while they wait for the ambulance to take you away. 

I had no control over this accident as it was in progress.  Any thoughts of “falling right” were proven foolhardy.  This accident was caused by a slippery surface and speed.  The tracks didn’t help, and neither did my full-tilt peddling, but asking for the “perfect ride” all the time is just as fanciful as thinking I was also, somehow, a Ninja.  

This accident could have been avoided; if I just didn’t bike at all.  Not acceptable!  I’ll bike, I’ll get ready to take my lumps, but I won’t take the chance of riding without a helmet.  It’s too simple a protection, for too important a piece of equipment.

tl;dr Helmets are cheap and the payoff is excellent when you need it.  Wear one if you’re smart.

A commenter, Mike, on this post at Treehugger, also summed it up nicely; 

Anyone who’s casual about whether or not you should wear a bike helmet hasn’t had the unique sensation of your head hitting the pavement after going over your handlebars, that’s for sure. I literally cracked a piece of my helmet out that time. My head was the only part of me that didn’t hurt. If I wasn’t wearing a helmet, the impact may not have killed me, but it would likely have knocked me out, and left me at risk for getting run over in the middle of the road.

Since I now have to replace my bike helmet, I’m thinking about hitting MEC and picking up one of these on Monday when I can finally start riding again (below).  It’s not a conventional MTB style helmet but my bike isn’t conventional either. 

Bern Watts

Update: I’m not getting a Bern, Jean advised that I would look (more) like a lightbulb.  I agree.  AND, and I found out that on thursday food critic Toby Young got into a bike accident as well.

There’s a simple moral to this story: If you’re going to cycle in Central London, wear a helmet. If I’d been wearing one I probably could have got back on my bike and cycled home. It wasn’t my fault — I mean, it really, really wasn’t my fault — but I still feel like an arse. I called the number given to me by the guy who knocked me off and, needless to say, it’s false.

And now would be a good time to mention that some prick also performed a hit-and-run on Jonny5 from ZeroPerGallon.

It’s been a bad week for cyclists.

Year of the helmet, people!

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