An inventory of helmet excuses, in no particular order:
• Scrooge is a 58-year-old messenger. You’ve probably seen him riding his cargo bike around, a uniquely engineered contraption with a big round-bottomed rack in the front to carry packages.
Scrooge must be the only person ever to fall wearing a helmet and decide never to wear one again. “The helmet didn’t let me feel where I was in space as I was tumbling,” he says. “I didn’t know, when I landed, if I was OK because I didn’t know what had happened.” He says helmets keep you from fully experiencing the space you’re in, so they put you more at risk.
Besides, he says, he doesn’t need it. “I don’t get in accidents.”
Or at least not many. The accident that convinced him not to wear a helmet was what he calls a “normal” accident. City workers had torn up the street, and Scrooge’s bike tripped on a little “lip” of asphalt. “The corner of the street bounced off my head,” he says. He says he bled for a long time and he went to work the next day.
He says he wears helmets only in races—to reduce the drag created by his long dreadlocks.
• Kelly Johnson, 43, says he can’t wear a helmet because he wears headphones when he rides. Which means that not only does Johnson leave himself vulnerable in the case of an accident, but he’s also boosting the chance that such an accident will occur. He also admits that he thinks helmets look “corny.”
• Bob Twillger, 28, who has been known to hang out at Capitol Hill Bikes, blames good helmet technology for his failure to wear one. “The lighter the helmet,” he reasons, “the more you put it down, and the more you damage it. It gets kicked around and beat up.” This from a man who takes credit for totaling a Toyota Camry with his forehead. “Every time I get hit, I get wilder,” he says. “More bulletproof.”
• “Ninety-nine percent of the time I can control my environment, my workspace,” says Andy Zalan, who’s been working as a bike courier for 17 years and doesn’t wear a helmet. “I rode more crazy when I first started. But then I started thinking of it as my career.”
Zalan acknowledges that some accidents are beyond the biker’s control. Like the time he went over the hood of a U-turning taxi. He said there was “some blood.”
You’d think that people who spend eight hours a day gaming downtown traffic would want a little extra love padding their tender skulls, but messengers just don’t seem interested. In fact, the amount of time they spend in the saddle persuades them not to wear a helmet. Eight hours is just too long to feel uncomfortable. Or look corny.
Many of those who eschew helmets are faithful glove-wearers. Some wear pads on their knees and elbows. Scrooge says if there’s any protection he always wears, it’s gloves. “When you fall, your hands go out to protect the rest of you,” he says.
Kevin Keefe, another lifer still couriering at age 56, avoids helmets, which he says “suck.” But he does wear gloves to avoid road rash, a bigger concern, apparently, than head trauma. (Zalan won’t even wear gloves. “Road rash is temporary, but tan lines are for all summer!” he says.