Friendly Commute

This morning I rode further than usual to attend a conference.  While waiting at a stop light, my friend Elizabeth magically appeared next to me.  What a fun surprise!  There are few surprises better than meeting a good friend in an unexpected place.  Turns out she was on a long morning ride (being much sportier than I).  Gotta love the social aspect of bike riding.

Elizabeth brightening my morning

Soon afterward, a grouchy guy tried to mar my morning.  As I rode 8 mph on the nearly empty bike path (trying not to sweat my ass off before work), he said sarcastically while passing me, “Nice place for your helmet,” indicating the helmet hanging from my handlebars.

Helmet-carrying contraption, aka handlebars

Why, thank you!  I agree; that’s a brilliant place for my helmet, as I can easily take it off and put it on as I transition from the streets to the bike path.  Perhaps if he slowed down occasionally (to, say, 8 mph), he would notice that riding a bike is not always an extreme sport requiring protective gear. :)

Really, I ride so slowly and cautiously when I take off my helmet on the bike path – if anything, I am safer.

My ride was otherwise nice and relaxing, though almost 90 degrees and humid. Nothing a wet washcloth and deodorant couldn’t handle.

And now for something completely different. In one hour (9:00 central) Trisha and I will be interviewed live on Bicycle Radio. You can – and totally should! – listen at http://bicycleradio.com. If you miss the show, you can download the podcast. While you’re at it, check out their awesome archives, which include guests such as Ray LaHood and Gary Fisher!

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62 thoughts on “Friendly Commute

  1. Herzog says:

    Seeing riders do dangerous things while wearing helmets is a great pet peeve of mine.

    For example, almost every night I see riders wearing helmets and going without lights. Or blowing through red lights in heavy traffic. Or racing between dogs and strollers on MUPs. Or speeding through blind turns. Or riding fast on sidewalks.

    Helmets, at best, provide some benefit in the event of a crash (granted, there is no conclusive evidence for this) but certainly do not give the rider any kind of invincibility or divine protection (or karma?).

    • Charlotte says:

      The strangest one I see is cyclists and pedestrians wearing iPods and thinking that because they feel like they’re in their own little world, that they actually are.

      They’re not.

  2. Cherilyn says:

    I’m slowly learning that blowing these folks a kiss works wonders. It keeps my blood pressure down, and then I can carry on with my day knowing I don’t have to replay what I should have said. Who’s gonna argue with a kiss?

    • That’s fabulous! I’ll have to try that next time.

    • Dottie says:

      Nice! My new blood-pressure-down response to drivers is to stick my tongue out at them. They probably don’t even see me, I feel like I’ve gotten my two cents in regarding the situation and I feel silly in a good way :)

      • Maria B. says:

        Totally! My husband does this whenever I lose my temper and it’s so silly that I don’t feel like being mad anymore. Never thought to do it on my bike, but definitely will now.

    • AlyCatNat says:

      Ha – My father’s response to somebody beeping their horn at him while he’s driving is always to smile and wave. “Why do you act friendly to them when they are obviously mad at you?”, I once asked. “Because that pisses them off much more than if I honked back at them or flipped them the bird” he replied. I can only be awed by such zen mastery of passive aggression.

  3. I love small world connections like that with your friend!

    Since I only ride on the bike path right now I haven’t bothered replacing my helmet that was stolen along with my old bike from campus. I probably should, but, like you, I ride slowly and carefully when I’m not wearing my helmet.

  4. Anne Hawley says:

    I’ve had a couple of unexpected friend-and-neighbor encounters at stop lights and it IS a lovely way to brighten the morning.

    The other day, a fellow bike commuter sped past me on the switchback down a steep riverbank. He was on a racing bike, I was on my Omafiets, which I usually ride helmetless because it’s so slow and stable. “You should be wearing a helmet,” cried he.

    “You should stop telling women what to do,” retorted I. I could not help noticing that he had said not a word to the equally helmetless man riding ten feet behind me. Grr.

    • Dottie says:

      I love this response! I find it ridiculous that a racer-type guy would yell at a helmetless Dutch bike rider. Really, who is the safer person in that scenario?

      • Matt says:

        The best rider. A helmet will never make up for skill and awareness. Let’s stop becoming safety nazis about the helmet issue. Helmet laws decrease ridership and don’t make riding safer, good skills and practices do.

  5. Sigrid says:

    ah, the helmet wars again. my opinion? doesn’t matter…what I say ~ keep your eyes on your own page. ’tis your life d.o.t. ~ you are living it. :)

    and the social aspect? it is always so much fun when I bump into my man when I’m out on a solo ride, something so romantic about it…

  6. It’s always fun to bump into friends in unexpected places, I agree!

    As for the helmet war, who cares?!? To each his own.

  7. Steve A says:

    A small bungee would better secure that helmet so it doesn’t swing about. Loose items can jam or fly away. I lost a mirror that way and it was held to the bike by much more than a strap.

  8. Karen says:

    Oooh, I don’t like the helmet debate. I wear one when traffic conditions warrent but not on the urban trail or on a slow street.

  9. Dave says:

    I wouldn’t be putting anything on my head if it was 90 degrees and humid either.

    So far in Portland, meeting people I know while out and about is few and far between – maybe the only person I know that I have met completely randomly is Patrick Barber of Velocouture. I’d love for it to happen more. I have gotten to know a few people who work at the same place as me, but I don’t often see them until I get to work. I’ve also gotten familiar with a few older people who I see out walking a lot on my way to work, which is nice too – we always smile and say hello, and one of them came up and chatted to me for a while once when I had a flat and was walking my bike along – it turns out he’s English and his son owns a restaurant in Portland :) He saw my flat and said “that’s a pity. that used to happen to me sometimes when I was younger.” :)

    • dukiebiddle says:

      “I wouldn’t be putting anything on my head if it was 90 degrees and humid either.”

      Perfect time for a straw hat.

      • Dave says:

        Actually, now that you mention it, I’ve been planning to get a straw fedora for exactly this reason – help shield my face and top of my head from the sun, but still let a lot of air through.

        • dukiebiddle says:

          I have a straw fedora because it’s the only straw hat I could find that would fit. It does 70% of the work a summer hat should do, but if I could find something with a wider brim, like a Panama hat, I’d go with that. The narrow brim on a fedora keeps the sun out of my eyes, barely, but my nose and neck still burn.

        • cycler says:

          Funny- I had the exact same thing happen yesterday. The guy was polite about it- said, “if you don’t mind my asking, why is your helmet on your rack instead of your head?” I said, because I don’t need it on the bike path, where I don’t have to worry about being doored or right hooked or having to panic stop, but will wear it when I have to go on the street later. He said, you could still fall over and crash, to which I responded, I could trip and fall walking, (and do sometimes) but I don’t wear a helmet for that. The guy actually seemed to understand my position, or was maybe just too polite to argue.

          On the other hand, I’ve been known to chide people for being stupid about running red lights, endangering pedestrians, and not signaling before overtaking me, so I guess I shouldn’t complain about preachy people.

          • Dave says:

            Except in those cases, their behavior effects other people – your choice of whether or not to wear a helmet effects nobody but yourself.

            • dukiebiddle says:

              ..eeeeeh, more often than not it’s the exact same situation. Cyclists running reds set a poor example and infuriate drivers and cyclists, cyclists not wearing helmets theoretically setting a poor example and infuriating drivers and cyclists. At the end of the day it’s best to just count to three and leave other people be.

          • horace says:

            Nice pictures.

            About the helmet… whatever works for you is fine to me.

    • jjfantastic says:

      Not true! You’ve bumped into me randomly too, Dave!!! :) That’s funny that you see people so infrequently. I feel like I see someone I know just about everytime I head out on the bike.

  10. anna says:

    Wow, you’re already famous! Shall listen to the podcast later today…

  11. Ryan says:

    I never ride with a helmet and find those who are into the racing aspect of cycling give me some of the dirtiest looks.
    Those who simply commute and wear helmets usually don’t bat an eyelash as to whether I wear one or not.

    Our leading, “anti-helmet law” advocate was yelled at by a triathlon cyclist for not wearing a helmet.
    I love the last paragraph of the article;

    “But he can’t promise he’ll let it pass the next time someone shouts at him for cycling without a helmet. Aside from the facts and the arguments, he says, “It’s rude.” “

  12. [...] riding my bike without wearing a helmet. Then I got home and read Dottie’s post on “Lets Go Ride a Bike” in which she was criticized today for not wearing a [...]

  13. dukiebiddle says:

    Heat exhaustion can be a dangerous condition for a cyclist sharing the road with motorists, as it causes dizziness and disorientation. I’m not going to claim that there is a high likelihood of heat exhaustion on a 5 mile commute, even in extremely humid 90 degree weather, but one really has to measure their danger factors. If you are wearing a stuffy helmet that isn’t well vented, you are slightly increasing the likelihood of heat exhaustion. Granted it isn’t a likely scenario, but it is more likely than being the victim of a serious collision caused by another’s negligence.

    I’m going to circumnavigate the whole helmet debate. We’re all adults and more than capable of accessing our own risk factors, but it’s friggen hot over most of the United States today. Keep cool, drink fluids, respect others and take it easy.

  14. Dottie,

    I got a couple similar comments yesterday at work. Then I read your blog when I got home and I decided to post about it too. In the same way I serve as a role model being City Bike/Ped Coordinator, you now serve as a role model.

    BTW, I will be in Chicago this Sunday and Monday and plan to go to the Dutch Bicycle Shop and maybe to Copenhagen Cyclery. I am coming down with my wife to visit my brother and his wife, but Liz and I will have some spare time if you want to meet somewhere briefly. If you do, email me at my subscription address or at overthebarsmke@yahoo.com

  15. bongobike says:

    Helmet debates are useless, unless, of course, your objective is to creat discord. In that case they are invaluable.

    The point is not helmets, it is arrogant, preachy people. The same thing happens with the idiots who give me crap at the dog park for not neutering my dogs. I take care of my dogs, and no, they don’t need neutering. Mind your own damned business!

  16. that’s wonderful that you met a friend on your commute! that has been happening with me a lot more lately– just within the past two weeks i serendipitously ran into margonaute and cycler (ZOMGBicycles and Biking in Heels bloggers, respectively) during my morning commute. it’s one of the pleasant perks of bike commuting!

    as for the helmet comment, that was unfortunate. i really wish people could refrain from condescendingly expressing their opinions unless actively solicited for them– especially hot-button topics that always turn into raging debates. i certainly have my opinions about helmet usage, but i won’t mention them here because it’s not relevant to the topic, and i haven’t been asked.

  17. dweendaddy says:

    In this heat I find myself taking my helmet off on the muggiest days. I just can’t be comfortable with it. This morning as I was biking away my four year old said “Dad, why aren’t you wearing your helmet?” I replied, “because it is too hot!” And it was.
    I agree with the previous readers that if you are:
    1. biking slowly
    2. in an upright position
    3. following the rules of the road
    You are doing the vast majority of protection.

    • Bill says:

      As a bike instructor (LAB/LCI) I encourage people to ride wear their bicycle helmets, but I don’t chide adults for choosing not to wear helmets. However, I don’t agree that riding slowly makes you safer. If you crash your bike at 3mph and hit your head on the pavement, your head will hit the ground like a sack of potatoes being dropped straight down to the ground. If you crash at faster speeds, say 15mph (that would be 5mph the legal speed limit on many public bike trails), unless you strike a stationary object, it is likely you’ll slide/skip (albeit painfully!) like a stone skips across water and your head may only take a glancing blow. Road rash yes, but a good chance you won’t land with one piece of your anatomy taken the entire impact of the fall. Please don’t crash and test out this example! Have fun and be safe.

  18. donna says:

    I’ll never understand why people are constantly imploring cyclists to wear helmets but nobody seems to ask the same of skateboarders or people on inline skates. Full disclosure: the worst accident I’ve ever had occured on inline skates and I was wearing elbow and knee pads but no helmet. A helmet wouldn’t have helped much anyhow as I landed on my face.

  19. ROB says:

    You should of asked him where his helmet was as more people suffer head damage in car crashes than people who fall off their bike. !! :)

  20. Jennifer S. says:

    I just downloaded the show from Bicycle Radio. I’m going camping for a week with no computers, etc. and can listen to it then on my iPod. I also just checked out “Bicycle Diaries” from the library. I’m all set! Thanks!

  21. Tad Salyards says:

    To helmet or not to helmet? That is that question…

    My stance on the subject is well known by my friends and readers so I won’t even bother regurgitating the old arguments.

    I find that the fair weather cyclists and recreational Lance Armstrong want-to-bes are the most self-righteous offenders. Fortunately in Minneapolis we have a very large non-helmet wearing community. Our new bike share program has put a lot of non-helmeted riders on very practical bikes in the streets. It’s a step in the right direction for sure.

    Cycling will never be popular amongst all age groups until it can be done practically and with great convenience. Helmets and riders going 20+ mph are all absent from great cycling cities. We should keep that in mind as we move forward.

    For some reason it’s always obese pedestrian women who feel it necessary to lecture me for not having a helmet on myself or my 2.5 year old son. Funny. They obviously haven’t spent much time on a bike. On what experience are they basing their opinion?

    • @tad: “Helmets and riders going 20+ mph are all absent from great cycling cities.”

      if you are referring to copenhagen or amsterdam, perhaps that’s true. but you also have to consider that the drivers in those cities are also more aware of cyclists, and sharing the roads with cyclists is a normal way of life. in the US, that is not the case. even in the best US cycling cities, there are moronic drivers who simply don’t pay attention to cyclists.

      as for your 2.5yo son– i’m curious on what type of bike he is on when he’s not wearing one. his own tricycle? in a trailer? or on a child seat on your bike? in my opinion, that is a whole different ball game. while i won’t lecture, and you’ve obviously done your own research and drawn your own conclusions (which i respect), i will mention my own anecdotal evidence: i happen to live in one of the “great” american cycling cities, and a moron driver rear-ended my bike with me and my 4yo daughter on it (her in a rear-mounted child seat). her head squarely smacked the pavement, causing her helmet to crack right at her left temple. luckily, she came away with little more than scratches. would she have been injured had she not been wearing a helmet? who knows? my inclination, based on the deformation and cracking of the helmet (which is exactly what it is supposed to do– it’s all about energy remodeling), is that the helmet indeed saved her from more serious injury. anecdotal, i accept. but it was also a very real experience with a clear outcome, and one that has changed my personal views on helmet usage. the whole argument of “i’ve been cycling my whole life and a helmet never helped me” doesn’t hold water once a helmet actually does help you.

      i also happen to enjoy going 20+ on my bike… i hit 28-30mph on a descent on my morning commute. does that mean that my riding style is incompatible with that of a great cycling city?

      • Tad Salyards says:

        I’d argue that there are no great American cycling cities. A city like Minneapolis or Portland tops out at 5-6% ridership levels which is just plain awful compared to many northern European cities.

        I had a conversation last week with an avid cyclist who argued that once we have the right infrastructure we can ditch the helmets. Odd. It’s the whole “helmets protect us from cars” argument, which is just plain BS. Helmets are designed for a bike only crash. Almost every cyclist killed in Minneapolis/St. Paul over the past year was wearing a helmet. A tin foil hat is about as effective.

        The simple truth is that people die on bikes because of cars, not because they weren’t wearing a helmet. Helmet promotion is bad marketing for cycling, bad science, and rooted in fear mongering.

        To answer your query on my 2.5 year old son, he’s usually in his Bakfiets…where I see a helmet as being utterly pointless. Then again, he doesn’t wear one on the bike mounted seat either. I’m riding slow, stick to segregated paths, and on a slow bike. The main thing is that my son has a positive and fun introduction to cycling. Not one based on fear and a lack of reason. Mission accomplished.

        • tad, i would agree that once we have the right infrastructure, we can ditch helmets. by your statement, you are agreeing with my earlier comment that even the best cycling cities in the US don’t compare with copenhagen or amsterdam. and my own anecdotal experience demonstrates that without such an infrastructure, you are left vulnerable, despite however careful you might be as a cyclist (i was following all road and cycling rules when i got rear-ended). i guess you may not have read my example of how a helmet may have saved my daughter in that crash, because you go on to say that helmets are not effective. they *are*, but only in limited situations– and we just happened to experience one of those situations.

          i also would argue that teaching your kids to take certain safety precautions in the routines of their daily lives does not have to involve the concept of fear. i can assure you that my kids love cycling, and each has progressed from tricycle to balance bike to training wheels, and they don’t protest wearing their helmets– it’s just something they know they have to do, like putting their shoes on to go to school, or harness themselves in their carseats when they get in the car (they also happen to love riding in the car, in their carseats– how can that be if they had been instilled that riding in a car is inherently unsafe?

          as responsible and engaging parents, we have learned how to introduce many different concepts to our children without using fear mongering as leverage. there is a difference between using fear as a disincentive and teaching your kids how to have fun responsibly. as a result, my kids love riding in cars, and riding on bikes (my daughter wasn’t even scared to get back on the bike with me after the accident and a trip to the ER). yet, they know that there are certain things they must do as part of a normal routine, such as get dressed, wear shoes to school, brush their teeth, wear helmets when on two wheels, and harness themselves in the car. they do them because they’ve been taught it’s what’s best for them in their parents’ opinion. mission accomplished.

          • Tad Salyards says:

            We’ll have to agree to disagree on this one. ‘nuf said. We’re two ships passing each other in the night ;) No ill will wished, just vastly different perspectives regarding risk analysis.

  22. Maggie Keith says:

    I just discovered you blog about a month ago and really enjoy it! Kudos on a job well done!

    If you don’t want to wear a helmet, I have no problem with it. I do disagree that you are protected from traumatic brain injury just because you are peddling 8 miles an hour on a bike path. Anything can happen at any time, much like the spill you took on the railroad tracks. It only takes a second and it only takes one spill to change your life forever.

    I look forward to reading future posts!

  23. Marion says:

    Being Dutch, the whole helmet-thing never ceases to baffle me. It sounds more like one of those annoying religions (the ones where people will accost people in the streets, trying to convert you) to me… It’s the non-helmet people who will say ‘there’s no proof helmet-safety even exists, but if it makes you feel better, to each their own’ (atheists!), it’s the helmet-wearers (believers) who will say ‘it’s your choice but you really should wear them, you know, don’t you love your immortal soul.. uh, your brain?’ and it’s the helmet-zealots (aka ‘fundies’) who will accost people in the streets. And of course, the shouting, dirty looks, accusatory rantings, etc, are all to YOUR benefit, of course. They are trying to safe your soul.. uh, nogging. Nothing to do with them feeling threatened by you blithely adherence to Reason. No no no no..!

    I’m lucky enough to live in a country with excellent bicycle infrastructure, so I don’t have to live with either helmets or helmet-zealots, and admire you for daring to ride with Reason where fundamentalism seems to be the norm.

    Maybe it would help if the next time some stranger berates you for not wearing a helmet, you’d think of him/her as a recruiter for some religious sect?

    • dukiebiddle says:

      “to each their own’ (atheists!)”

      The anti-helmet lecturers are the atheists, the to each their own non-wearers are agnostics, the non-intrusive wearers are the believers and the intrusive helmet wearing lecturers are the fundamentalists. Just like on the theistic scale the atheists and the fundamentalists are the most insufferable, intolerant, intrusive and have the most in common with one another. :-)

    • Sigrid says:

      Marion – this was great. you made me smile during my morning coffee. well said!

    • Bill says:

      My wife is of Dutch heritage so maybe that is why I also smiled when reading Marion’s email. When I was bicycling in Northern Italy last winter I didn’t have a helmet available and don’t think that stopped me from riding a bike for a moment. It was interesting how seamlessly I adjusted my “American” bike skills to this advanced bike/car/pedestrian culture.

  24. Fran says:

    Please wear your helmet at all times because no matter how skillful you are, you can’t always predict when or how fast you will fall. It would be a rare event, but since you can have irreversible injuries, you should always wear the helmet. I’m a good bike handler but have gone down maybe 3 out of 10 crashes where it happened so quick, there was no seeing it coming or reacting to protect myself.

    • Dave says:

      Fran,

      You can also trip or slip and fall down your stairs at any moment without any warning, and get just as serious of a head injury (or possibly none at all).

      I’m not saying you shouldn’t wear a helmet, but you should look at it rationally in the scope of all the things you do on a daily basis and realize it really isn’t that different in terms of danger to some of the other things you do and never consider wearing a helmet for.

    • Dave says:

      Of course, that last statement is made without knowing how or where you ride – if you ride aggressively and on busy roads, it could be more dangerous – so that statement could be false. For myself, it’s true.

  25. Velosopher says:

    Love your website and your positive outlook on cycling and life itself. Thank you for that.

    One final (??) word about helmets: It will always be personal choice. HOWEVER… I would ask that you don’t encourage others to abstain from wearing one in a well-read blog.

    The one time a helmet saved my life (literally), I was travelling 5 mph.

    Keep up the great work!

  26. bongobike says:

    Velosopher,

    That is exactly why it protected you–any faster and it would have been pretty useless.

    • bongobike, i don’t understand your point. regardless of whether the helmet would have protected velosopher at higher speeds, the fact is that it protected her *just once* in a very specific situation should be evidence enough that a helmet can potentially save your life, even though you may be lucky enough never to need it to.

      the one time a helmet potentially saved my daughter’s life, we were also going 5 mph.

      how many lives do we get, anyway?

  27. [...] ladies, and it seems to be a topic that comes up every once in a while. Christina was referencing this post on Let’s Go Ride a Bike, and I think that Lovely Bicycle! covered the topic well. Lovely Bike [...]

  28. nicole says:

    I’m going to have to side with the guy on the bike, what’s the point of having your helmet if you aren’t wearing it? If, for example, he had lost control of his bike and hit you, your helmet would not have done much good on your handlebars.

  29. Dottie says:

    After I get off my bike, I carry my helmet. What’s the point of having my helmet if I’m not wearing it? I could get hit by a car while walking through the parking lot.

    The guy riding by potentially could have lost control and hit a helmetless pedestrian.

    If I feel safe without a helmet, I prefer not to wear it because it’s hot as hell. And uncomfortable.

    I don’t want to start a helmet war. There are lots of reasoned opinions on both sides and I respect all opinions. But I don’t need random bike guys to throw sarcasm my way while I’m minding my business.

  30. Herzog says:

    Well, I think the big issue here is people condescendingly giving unsolicited advice.

    I’ve thought about this issue a lot after I had a few conflicts with motorists and I decided that it’s better for me never to lecture other road users unless it’s an emergency. If I have to, them I try to be exceedingly polite and respectful while doing it.

  31. Sungsu says:

    Absolutely! I wear my helmet most of the time, but I’ll take it off and risk a ticket when I’m going slowly enough.

  32. Dottie says:

    Too bad you have to risk a ticket!

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