Don't Need It 'Til You Need It

20 years ago I thought bike helmets were silly and didn’t wear one. Back then I only commuted by bike occasionally, about a 20 miles round-trip, in traffic, and I never worried about safety issues.

17 years ago my wife convinced me that since my children were getting bike helmets, I should too in order to set a good example. Truth be told, the helmet she had already bought for me WAS kind of cool looking. I have worn that helmet every time I ride since that day.

I’ve heard lots of discussion from all angles about whether or not helmets are a good idea. Monday, I finally found out. It was a beautiful morning. The pavement was a little damp from a very light, short rain the previous night. The ride had gone well, but when I got to the small park close to the office, the loop back towards the creek was a little muddy. Thin, slick mud.

I really should have gone with my gut reaction and just headed into the office — but I decided to take an extra 3 mile loop. When I approached the next bridge I regretted my decision; there before me lay a long patch of the slick muck. I made it past that patch to the dry pavement beneath the bridge. Before reaching the other end of the bridge I rang my bell a few times, just in case someone was approaching from the other side; the other end has a sharp, blind turn and short, steep hill.

I’m not sure how it happened but I hit another patch of mud and down I went. Smack! I felt my head hit the pavement – hard – but, thankfully, the helmet took the whole force of the impact. I could have been passed out on a blind curve, but I am sure the helmet limited the damage to only a scraped left knee and a nasty looking knot on my right thigh where I must have landed on some other part of my bike.

There is another bike commuter in my area who was run off the road by a GMC truck last week. He is in much worse shape – but he and his doctors are convinced he is alive today because he was wearing a helmet.

Why would anyone NOT want to wear one?

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0 thoughts on “Don't Need It 'Til You Need It”

  1. Stephen Thomas says:

    Be sure to get a new helmet to replace the one you were wearing. Even if it doesn’t show any damage, the foam’s internal shock-absorbing function only works once.

    BTW, I got helmet religion from a very similar experience about 15 years ago. Perhaps, like a fish story, it’s gotten a little exaggerated in the telling, but based on my memory of how loud it sounded when my head hit the pavement, I’m convinced the helmet saved my life. As it was, I was able to ride home with nothing more than road rash.

  2. Joe G. says:

    I wear a helmet because of a friend who died from a head injury. he was skating down the street while his dad was walking near him, his skateboard got caught on something and he fell, hit his head on the sidewalk, and never woke up from the coma.
    Even when riding on the sidewalk, or when I want to just wear a hat, I always grab the helmet on the way out the door instead, just because of that minor fall of my friend.
    Glad that you are ok after your fall.

  3. Steve says:

    I had a recent crack up and didn’t even think I hit my head until I saw the damage to the helmet and the helmet mounted tail light. It most likely wouldn’t have been serious even if I was bare headed but you never know.

  4. RC says:

    I had a similar fall (sounds like it anyways) to Steve. I had both wheels slide out from under me while riding over a spherical ice patch. I only hit my head a little bit, and it is unlikely that anything serious could have happened. I know people who have hit their heads at similar forces and recieved concussions with long term side effects.

  5. Fritz says:

    I’m glad you’re okay, Warren!

    About 50,000 people die every year from head injuries. About half of these are occupants of motor vehicles. When I was a teen one of my classmates died after splattering his brains on the steering column of his Ford. Another guy I know, Kevin, lives in a group home after he suffered head trauma in a car accident — it completely changed him from a bright, outgoing college student to a guy who barely remembers to bathe and brush his teeth. Today, I always wear a helmet while driving or riding in a car because you never know!

  6. Drew says:

    Glad you are ok!

    I always wear my helmet on my road bike. Seldom though on my mountian bike, and I really need to change that.

    I’ve had several crashes and never hit my head yet, but you never know.

  7. Paul of N.W. GA says:

    The internet is a great thing. I had bought my helmet maybe two months before heading to work one morning, the ground still wet taking a turn at twenty mph when the rear wheel washed-out and then a spoke broke. I went over the bars with my legs held back by the bars, hitting head first. When I got my senses back the road-rash on my face was not that bad because I know even then what I missed with a $50 dollar helmet.

    Last, not all helmets are equal. DON’T GET A CHEAP ONE unless it’s all you can afford. When I bought that helmet the bike shop told me why a few dollars more was important, that helmet stayed on my head as it bounced on the ground.

    When I leave home with out it, it doesn’t take long as my mirror is attached to it and not being able to see what is behind me, makes me feel small and naked.

    To bike is smart, to bike with out a helmet is dumb!

    I’m to glad your OK…. : )

    Fritz, that is one of the reasons I bike instead of drive… : )

  8. Paul of N.W. GA says:

    This should have been the first paragraph, sorry… : /

    I use to never wear a helmet until reading on the internet a couple of years ago.
    When I was about 9, I rode my bike under a gate and did not bend down far enough. I don’t remember how many stitches it took, but it was bad even for an ADHD kid.

  9. Fritz says:

    I had a friend who did the exact same thing as Paul, smacked his head on a bar because he didn’t duck.

  10. Al says:

    My faith in helmets was sealed just as I started getting into cycling when I saw a friend of mine go down and hit the pavement hard with his head. He had a helmet on, so the he was fine, but I am sure that had he not worn it, I would have seen him die in front of me. I have worn one ever since and I refuse to ride with friends/family that don’t wear one.

    My own advice came in very handy the first day I rode my fixie on my daily commute and forgot to keep pedaling and went over the handlebars. Cracked the helmet, bruised my ego but otherwise was fine. The funny thing was that before I left home that day, I told my wife I was going to wreck that day. I guess it was a self-fulfilling prophecy.

  11. Noah says:

    You know how I feel about helmets, Warren! (I’m the run-off-the-road guy Warren referenced in his post)

    Even though my doctor gave me the all clear. Even though it’s a nice 45 degrees out (where’d the 60 degree mornings go?!), and even though I’m really, really itching to get back in the saddle after nearly two weeks off, I drove today because I still don’t have a brain bucket and there’s no way I’m using the damaged one that saved my life.

    Rubber-side down, guys!

  12. Evan says:

    Almost one year ago I wiped out hard riding home for lunch. If I hadn’t been wearing my helmet my head would have been as broken as my shoulder and ribs.

  13. Warren T says:

    Noah, thanks for checking in on this; I didn’t want to name you without your permission. I would encourage anyone who might still be riding the fence to click on Noah’s name to get the link to his site so you can follow his story more closely. Glad you got the green light from your Dr. and glad you’re waiting until you will be armored up.

  14. Fritz says:

    Noah, per hour of activity, your risk of brain trauma in the car is significantly greater than your risk on bike, with or without the foam talisman. Seriously. Since we’re talking commuting, we should lay this out in terms of the per mile risk, in which case it turns out the risk is about the same.

    In other words, the steel cage provides no protection against brain trauma above and beyond riding helmetless on the bike.

  15. Jett says:

    It was about 20 years ago I was embarking on a month-long bike trip without a helmet until an interesting event occurred. I recently posted the story on my blog: Atlanta Intown Cycling.

  16. Jett says:

    Hey Fritz, I like your points on risk of brain trauma in a car vs. on a bike. I’ve heard similar stats, but haven’t been able to put my finger on those stats. Could you tell us the source of your data?

  17. Fritz says:

    Ah, I posted links to several documents with statistics, but it was flagged by WP as spam (because of excessive links). Google for NHTSA traffic safety statistics and you’ll find plenty, I’m sure.

  18. James says:

    I crashed on a very rainy Cleveland morning 17 years ago when my wheel slipped into an expansion joint on a high level bridge. It was like slow motion, I remember thinking “keep your head up, tuck your chin to your chest.”. I tumbled twice and slid. I didn’t hit my head, fortunately, and I had to walk the rest of the way to work bleeding, carrying my bike because the front wheel was bent. That afternoon, I walked to the nearest downtown bike shop to fix my wheel and bought my first helmet. I have never ridden without one since.

  19. Rico says:

    The old adage is and I concur; “wear your helmet but don’t use it.”

  20. John says:

    I had a friend in college who was a Cat III road rider and one day he was on his way to visit a friend on his road bike and hit a patch of sand. He didn’t have his helmet on and hit his head on the pavement. Luckily he lived, but he wound up partly paralyzed on his right side. He never rode a bike again either for fun or competition.

  21. Rico says:

    I don’t know what motorcycle rules but I shake my head if I see someone on a motorcycle not wearing a helmet; and often, sure it looks like something you’d see in a movie; but you’ll see the passenger female not wearing one either. One a friend told me he witnessed a rather horrifying aftermath of an accident by exactly that kind of couple.

    I’m not perfect in wearing the helmet; but it is getting to that; once I spent money on a really good one. Before, they’d get banged around and I did not take great care with them, now it comes in the house with me. Reading the comment above about the foam not being as good once it crashed interested me; because some of my older helmets I think got banged around a lot, not on my head, but just through general use.

  22. […] an answer to the question I posed on March 14th: “Why would anyone NOT want to wear (a bike helmet)?” Well, it looks like sometimes a […]

  23. […] tires did fairly well through puddles and on wet pavement. I was a little concerned about the slick mud patches that did me in March — so I was riding with a bit more care this morning. Compared to my slicks, these tires did […]

  24. […] is a lot of debate about whether or not you really need to wear a bike helmet; personal experience has shown myself and other readers of this site that you do. If you don’t have a helmet, or […]

  25. Julie says:

    I’m late in reading this, but for me it wasn’t getting in an accident myself that gave me “helmet religion,” it was friends and especially my daughter. If you’re interested, you can read about it here,

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