July 16, 2008
I have been walking the rail trails a lot lately with my two dogs, and one of the things that I have noticed is there are a lot more people out riding their bikes. Over the last couple of years there was a noticeable increase in the amount of road bikers dressed in their brightly colored themed jerseys riding along the side of the highways. However, this (other) new group of riders is different. They are commuting to work, to school, to yoga class, the store or just trying out their new beach cruisers. Some are tagging along with their small kids or pulling toddlers in bike trailers.
The most distinguishing thing about these new riders is that most of them do not wear helmets. I find that disturbing because, even though they are not "working out" like the mountain bikers and road bikers that are flying past them, they are sharing the same terrain with those that are protecting their heads.
My 18-year-son, Daniel, and his friends, who do wear helmets while training, fall into this new category when riding their single-speed bikes around town. They may cover over 10 miles bopping around from home to the park to a friend’s house and back but do not respect the hazards of the street for what they are when "commuting."
If the old statistic about most car accidents happening close to home is true, then perhaps the same holds true for bicycle accidents. I have been riding bikes for over 40 years from touring Europe to the slick rock of Moab. My two head concussions came from very slow falls on flat terrain near the Prospector Rail Trail and the dirt trails of Split Rail Lane. I was very thankful I wore a helmet on both of those days.
Four years ago, I had just refitted an old road bike for my then-14-year-old son to try out. He was feeling comfortable and decided to sprint the last stretch to our street in Park Meadows. His right foot slipped out of the cleat and went into the spokes of the front wheel. Being behind him, I watched helplessly as his bike came to a dead stop and he went straight up into the air and then straight down, landing on his head, cracking his helmet and crumpling into a pile. He took an ambulance ride to Primary Children’s Hospital. He was lucky and his body was young. He only had a very bad concussion, a really sore body and nasty road rash to deal with.
When my younger brother, Tommy, was 10 years old he was not so fortunate. He and his friend were riding together on the same bike, crossing a road very much like Hwy 224 from a neighborhood very much like Park Meadows. I found out later that the driver was drunk. I don’t know if wearing a helmet would have saved either of their lives but it might have given them a chance.
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A few weeks ago, I got a chance to say hi to City Councilmen, Joe Kernan, as he was riding by on his bike. Thinking he is a classic role model for the community, I asked him why he was not wearing a helmet. He proceeded to show me a maneuver from a martial arts class he had taken where he did this huge dive and rolled on the pavement. He intended to use it to break a fall from any potential bike accidents.
I must say I was impressed. But unless you have mastered the dive and roll over the front of your handlebars, please consider wearing a helmet at all times while riding any bike for any reason.