Today I received in the mail the new issue of Yes! Magazine. The prior issue featured me to illustrate bicycling as a resilient idea for a future without oil. As I munched on French bread and sipped wine in a delightful mood, Mr. Dottie handed me the magazine and pointed to the Letters to the Editor section with no comment. Uh-oh.
Wear a Helmet
My husband bikes to work year-round and I tote our two girls (one and three years old) in our bike trailer all around town. I was pleased to see Resilient Idea #3, a full-page picture of a stylish and burly biker in the snow, but wouldn’t a helmet be wise?
Lesley W., Newberg, Ore.
I’m sure Lesley is a lovely woman, but she ruined my appetite.
First, “burly?” – adjective: large in bodily size; stout; sturdy. Ahem, inaccurate description! Painful to vanity!
Second, it’s a portrait. I’m standing next to my bike. In fact, my helmet was in my basket. Context, people.
Third, it’s obviously off road, “along Lake Michigan.” When I ride on the lakefront bike path on my Dutch bike, I often go without a helmet. Free of the fear of getting creamed by a car does that to a woman. The studded tires and lights on my bike are much more important to my safety.
Finally and most importantly, a fixation on helmets does not help bicyclists. In any discussion about bicycling in mainstream or bike-specific media, some bicyclist always chirps about helmets. Helmets! Helmets! HELMETS! And the focus of bicycling instantly moves to danger – not fun or positivity or a damn smart way to get around.
I wear my helmet most of the time. I wish the streets were safe enough for me not to feel like I have to. Sometimes I do not wear a helmet. Many bicyclists swear by helmets, while many others swear against them. But we all keep riding our bikes. Life goes on.
Fact is, bicyclists are losing the discourse battle and we are our own worst enemy (like the poor, beleaguered Democrats). Never underestimate the power of discourse. If every mention of bicycling is dragged into the ditch of “danger” and at the same time never gets around to mentioning, hey, motor vehicles and their drivers are the ones that create the danger – well, we’ve all lost.
Portandize said all of this much more eloquently and fully in his recent post, “The Downside to our Safety Obsession.” I suggest you check it out and then everyone stop chirping about helmets at every opportunity.