In the bike shop, there are certain things you expect to hear from customers:
“What’s this bike worth? (Answer: $7000) Wow, you could get a car for that!”
“Do you fix bikes here too?” (Answer: That’s primarily all I do)
“Can you fix my stroller?” (Answer: Yes, but I won’t like doing it because your stroller smells like rotten milk, urine, and baby powder)
“Do I have to wear a helmet?”
The helmet issue has plagued cyclists since the first person balanced on two wheels, then crashed. From the first-hand accounts I’ve received in the store, it seems to me that helmets, in the very least, mitigate injury (someone, somewhere, is pulling up a link to a report that claims otherwise right now) in the case of a catastrophic crash. In my opinion, helmets are like seatbelts: there are instances where using one has actually contributed to an injury (I think of a girl I met in GF Strong who was in a head-on crash while in the back seat of a car, with a lap seatbelt on. The whiplash force, and instant stop by the seatbelt, broke her back, paralyzing her from the waist down), but in most cases it will prevent injury. In addition, wearing a helmet is the lawful thing to do. Even so, I repeatedly hear customers lamenting the unbearable burden of wearing a helmet, and their reasons are invariably the same: helmets are so uncool.
I’d like to find some point of concession to this line of reasoning, something I can relate to that validates even part of this argument, but I can’t, because the logic that spurns helmets for the sake of appearance is the same relentless, yet faulty, rationale that prevents community and real human interaction. Somewhere along the line, it’s become absolutely vital to look “cool” all the time, regardless of what or how we’re doing – and in the bicycle world, this means not wearing a helmet. Many customers, it seems, cannot tolerate looking “uncool” for even the 10-minute commute to school. Is it really that important to look as “cool” as possible all the time?
It must be, that’s why we keep our other uncool helmets – our questions, fears, failures, needs, and weaknesses – where no one can see them. We may allude to them with a select few, and maybe this is enough, but I wager these are mostly token references akin to hanging your helmet from the handlebars – yeah, it’s there, but whatever, it’s not that big of a deal.
This past August, I managed to bike to work every day, on my town bike, a classic old-timey bike. One day, I decided to go casual and biked to work with my usual hat on instead of my helmet. By the time I got to Wendel’s for my before-work coffee I was regretting that decision. I felt like I had given in, that I had bought in to the belief that it’s necessary to look “cool” at all times, at all costs. And this bothered me because buying into the status quo furthers and strengthens it, making it harder for anyone to else do otherwise. When I put up a false front, one that conceals my insecurities and questions, it reinforces the perception that I, along with everyone else, has their shit figured out, effectively ostracizing anyone who doesn’t. That’s not the message I want to advance, that’s not the kind of person I want to be.
My mission now is to make wearing a helmet cool. And with my tattoos, my other biking gear, and this blog, wearing a helmet, literally and metaphorically, may just become the cool thing to do.