I teach in Portland and, last weekend, one of my students received a phone message during a break between classes. When she returned, she was clearly shaken. Her girlfriend, a 22-year-old Reed College graduate like herself, had been in a bike accident. There wasn't much information, but what was known was she had broken her collarbone and had a severe concussion.
"She almost never wears her helmet," my student told me, before adding, "I'm not sure why she was today, but I'm so thankful."
I drove her to Emmanuel Emergency Care, where her girlfriend spent the next 72 hours under observation for cerebral bleeding. When she hit the pavement, her helmet was smashed, and it didn't take much imagination to consider what the outcome would have been if she had not been wearing a helmet.
Yet, in spite of the simple logic—and, truly, the mild, if any, hassle—of clicking on a helmet, wearing one does not seem the norm in Bend.
Over the past few days, I had editorial staff informally tally bike riders (not including road cyclists) in the downtown area—how many riders and how many wearing helmets. The results exhibit a cavalier attitude: Out of 43 cyclists we saw, only seven were wearing helmets, including two young girls biking (and wearing helmets) with their father (not wearing a helmet).
This week, I (without much support from the rest of the newspaper) give the Boot to all the dunderheads in Bend not wearing helmets when biking.
If you have a 10-cent head, you wear a 10-cent helmet, my dad told me when I was young—and, even though I shudder to repeat his advice, hear me out: Yes, I get it. As a kid, my mom insisted that I wear a giant white styrofoam bike helmet when I went to school just two blocks away. It made me look like a mushroom head, and instead of feeling protected, I felt as if it opened me up to ridicule. I would bike out the driveway, turn right, and head straight for a nearby woods where I would stash the helmet for the school day. I was never caught, even though I had my share of bike accidents, but only scrapped knees and elbows.
When I discussed what seems like Bend's propensity to not wear helmets, various people in the office smirked and dismissed me as if I were a schoolmarm tsk-tsk-tsking. One friend of mine responded by rolling her eyes. "I just want the freedom to bike to Newport Market," she retorted. She capped her comment with the exclamation: "It's summertime!"
I'll get off my high seat in a moment, but consider the argument by the numbers and by the medical evidence. Last year, there were roughly 51,000 bicycle accidents in the United States that resulted in some form of head injury. The cost is remarkable, including not only the obvious reduction of mental and physical functions (e.g., an inability to learn new functions, lost memory), but research increasingly links head injuries with future emotional problems like depression, drug dependency and suicide. Two summers ago, three former professional hockey players killed themselves due to depression directly linked to their head injuries, none older than 35 years (OK, fine, not from bicycling accidents, but from blunt trauma in the game; still, I'm making a medical point).
If the wind through your hair is worth the risk, God speed, young (wo)man. But don't even get me started about bike lights. Here's THE BOOT to those who ride without helmets.