April 2, 2008

Use a helmet AND brakes

This article, posted on the Bike Snob NYC blog back in January, is an interesting discussion about "why cycling is the world's most popular underground activity" and the author mentions the role of helmets.

This is a well needed reminder that wearing a helmet does not make one invincible. Routine safety precautions still need to be upheld to ensure your safety in the helmet-suggested and helmet-required activities you engage in.

Read the entire article here, we've skipped to reason three:
Cycling is everywhere. People ride for fitness, pleasure, competition, transportation, and work, and it’s something just about everyone knows how to do. (Sure, you occasionally meet adults who never learned how to ride a bike, but you generally regard them with the sort of suspicion you reserve for people who don’t use email or who can’t do their own laundry.) Nonetheless, cycling is still regarded as a fringe activity. Sure, there are places where cycling is part of the mainstream culture, like Belgium, the Netherlands, and Portland, Oregon, but none of those places are in the United States. Here, cycling occupies approximately the same niche as pornography, in that it’s something that pretty much everybody is familiar with, yet few people seem willing to openly embrace. Lately I’ve been putting some thoughts into just why this is, and I’ve come up with three primary reasons:

3) Helmets and Brakeless Riding

It goes without saying that it’s better to wear a helmet than not to wear a helmet. And certainly people should be encouraged to wear them. However, the degree to which people are being encouraged to wear them may be backfiring. Pro-helmet vehemence has reached the same level as anti-smoking vehemence, which means that many non-cyclists have the impression that simply mounting a bicycle with a bare head is tantamount to suicide. This makes cycling (helmeted or not) seem like a riskier endeavor than it is. Similarly, some riders who do wear helmets consequently feel a layer of security which is falsely enhanced by a sense of self-righteousness, and which runs deeper than the mere inch or so of foam on their heads. In fact, people put so much faith in helmets that it’s now commonplace to see fixed-gear riders wearing helmets on bikes with no brakes. Choosing a helmet over a brake means that riders are putting way too much confidence in helmets alone, and it suggests a disturbing trend of blind faith and passivity in cycling. This is the same mentality that once made people think that filters would protect them from their cigarettes. Riding a bike with a helmet but no brake is like leaving the stove on when you go to work because you have homeowner’s insurance, or like wearing a condom while you shoot heroin with a dirty needle. The result is we now have a population split between the notion that cycling is too dangerous to pursue, and the notion that a helmet will save them from anything. And of course both of these notions are wrong. So what happens is, half the people don’t ride in the first place, and the other half wind up lying on the ground under their brakeless bikes wondering why their helmet didn’t make them stop fast enough.


nathan said...

friend, there is no relationship between brakeless riding and wearing helmets... or the reverse. in fact, most people that ride brakelsss don't wear a helmet.

Flipper said...

I agree with Nathan. I would also like to ask if you have talked to any of the "fixy" crowd about the no brake thing. You might be surprized.

Jan Krause said...

no brakes.. doesnt mean no stopping power. for sure, brakes are -the- idiot-proof way of stopping a bicyle, but there are countless others (which may or may not work as well in an emergency - and all have to be practiced to work well..). fixies are stopped by application of force against the fixed wheel using the pedals. that is some kind of a brake. brakeless bmxers use their shoes wedged between their backwheel & frame stays occasionally. you can do a powerslide if you can. All of which does not mean it is necessarily safer, it is just as helpful to call fixies brakeless bikes to diagnose a problem with attitude as it is to wear that condom on your head while fixing your new acquaintance on the club skithouse.

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