Why I wear a helmet

Why I wear a helmet

Safety and responsibility in a car-dominated city

Why do I wear a helmet on my bike?

The short answer: because I'm rather attached to my skull.

The longer answer: so one of my friends was talking recently about how if he were going to build his own city, he'd design the roads exclusively for bikes. OK, so maybe there'd be infrastructure in place to allow some kind of ambulance to get around (high-powered medical hovercrafts, anyone?), but for the most part, this would be a bikes-only metropolis. No cars, no traffic, no smog, no accidents. Air pumps and patch kits on every corner, the city would throb with the gentle clicks of people pushing pedals.

Unfortunately, the real cities in the real world are designed for cars. No matter how bike-friendly a major city claims to be, automobiles are still its primary infrastructural focus. The car is the primary concern of the city planner. Pedestrians and cyclists are just afterthoughts, vulnerable little commuters that engineers have to try not to endanger. 

In big cities like Chicago, cyclists vie for street space alongside cars, SUVs and 18-wheelers. Sometimes there are designated bike lanes, sometimes there aren't. While cycling has certainly picked up momentum as a trendy mode of transportation, cars still rule the road. Many drivers don't think to look out for the two-wheeled commuters, and cyclists are struck and killed all the time. 

That's why it disturbs me when only about half the cyclists I see on a given day have helmets on. Because biking is still essentially a fashion accessory for many people, they don't see why they should contaminate the look with something as dorky as concern for physical safety. So they cruise along on their fixies, hair flowing free, mowing through red lights and stop signs. Some of them will die that way, some of them won't. It all depends on who's driving near them on any given day.

A free-spirited disregard for longevity has always been en vogue (smoking is far more of a fashion than a vice these days), but city bikers need to consider the effects of their aesthetic on others. Will a newcomer to the city be more reluctant to buy a helmet along with her bike if she sees all her neighbors biking bare-headed? What about a college student or teenager? Lulling the impressionable into a false sense of safety by forsaking the helmet is dangerous--and all it takes is for you to be seen without your helmet on.

So yes, I value my skull. And until that bike utopia becomes reality, I'm going to play it safe and strap my helmet on. Because it's not just my skull that's at stake--it's the skulls of everyone in the community around me who chooses to get around on two wheels.