City Desk

The Best Time You Didn’t Wear A Bike Helmet

I don't know if you read The Hairpin. But if you don't, and you like cool, weird things on the internet, you probably should. More specifically, The Hairpin's series "The Best Time I..." which is a collection of stories where something terrible or weird or awkward happened to the author (personal favorite: "The Best Time I Took My Ex To The Hospital For A Rectal Exam").

Anyway, in the most recent edition, writer Erica Sacklin describes that one time she got hit by a car riding her moped in D.C. And no, she wasn't wearing a helmet:

Once I’d walked into a motorcycle shop and almost bought a helmet, but the sales guy had made some sexist comment about how because I was a girl my neck probably wasn’t strong enough to hold up a real motorcycle helmet anyway, and I’d just walked out. But, truthfully, I was also just too lazy to use one. And too 22. I didn’t just ride that bike without a helmet on, I rode it in short skirts and flip flops. I rode that moped like a bicycle, dodging through traffic and running red lights. I rode it for fun, and to find cobblestone streets and pretend I was in Italy. I didn’t want to have to worry about helmet hair, or what kind of road rash a crash would give my bare legs.

It’s ironic then that when I actually did get hit by a car it wasn’t my fault. Sure, I was driving home along busy 14th Street, but for once I was obeying the traffic rules. Here’s what happened: In the distance I saw a woman in a minivan driving toward me, and she was about to make a U-turn. I slowed down. Then she looked right at me, and stopped. Thinking she was letting me pass her, I sped up, only she sped up too, and before I knew it we were on a path to collide and no amount of breaking was going to be enough. At that exact moment in time, these were my thoughts:

1. Shit.
2. Oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck.
3. Whatever you do, don’t hit the car.
4. Whatever you do, don’t hit the car.
5. Fuck, you are hitting the car.
6. Ok, whatever you do just stay on your bike.
7. Don’t fly off your bike.
8. Whatever you do don’t fly off your bike.
9. Don’t fly off your bike.
10. Oh my god, you are in the fucking air.
11. Is that the ground? You are flying towards the ground.
12. Ok, whatever you do, don’t hit your head.
13. Just don’t hit your head.
14. Why didn’t you listen to your goddamn mother and buy a fucking helmet.
15. Just don’t hit your head.
16. Just don’t hit your head.
17. If you hit your head your mother will have been totally right.
18. Just don’t hit your head.
19. CRACK
20. Fuck, you just landed your head.
21. Am I dead?

Sacklin eventually got to a hospital (I checked with her via Twitter and she said it was Washington Hospital Center) and after two hours saw a doctor. She's okay now, and says she "almost always" wears a helmet.

On my 2.5-mile bike commute, I'd say about 60 percent of riders—mostly, but not always, Capital Bikeshare riders—go sans helmet. I do not (black girl hair issues and all) except for that time I forgot it and felt extremely scared and self-conscious the entire ride.

Still, not wearing a helmet is a phenomenon well-documented in these pages. What say you?

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

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  • Cyclist

    I have ridden motorcycles for 30 years, and bicycles before and during much of that time (not so much recently). Anybody who would ride two wheels on city streets without a helmet is a suicidal idiot. Certified bicycle helmets weigh as little as nine ounces. They not only protect your one-and-only cranium, a brightly colored helmet increases your visibility. Get one.

  • oboe

    If you want to know why I don't wear a helmet, it's to piss off folks like Cyclist.

  • Crickey7

    I don't know if it will save my grey matter from being scrambled or not, but I dont' want to be on the wrong side of the debate should the definitive safety study show this is, as they say, a no-brainer.

    Further, I've been wearing a helmet pretty much every time I've ridden for 30 years now, and I've yet to have a serious accident. So as a talisman protecting me, it has proven its worth. Though I still carry "Mojo", a tiny stuffed dog.

  • Jonathan Krall

    Speaking specifically about bicycle helmets... From the journal Accident Analysis and Prevention [Elvik, 2011, doi:10.1016/j.aap.2011.01.007]: When the risk of injury to head, face or neck is viewed as a whole, bicycle helmets do provide a small protective effect. This effect is evident only in older studies. New studies, summarised by a random-effects model of analysis, indicate no net protective effect.

    Want to be safe on a bicycle? Take a class on how to ride safely in traffic.

  • Crickey7

    Or carry a talisman.

  • noodlez

    I SAY I WOULD BE WILLING TO WAGER THAT QUOTES 1 THRU 4 ARE PROCESSED IN FOLKS BRAINS NO LESS THAN 2X A DAY DURING A TREK IN THE CITY.

    YOU MUTLTIPLY THAT BY THE NUMBER OR POOR RIDERS IN THE CITY AND THAT IS A WHOLE LOT OF "SHIT! FUCK! DONT HIT THE CAR".

    BLAME FENTY, KLEIN AND WELLS FOR PUTTING THE CART BEFORE THE HORSE. INSTEAD OF PROMOTING A SAFETY AND AWARENESS CAMPAIGN THEY FLOODED THE DENSE, OVERPOPULATED, COMMUTER CITY STREETS WITH BIKE RIDERS, TWO WHEELERS AND TWITS WHO HAVE NO CLUE OF HOW TO RIDE IN THE CITY.

  • dynaryder

    I've been hit by a car once,doored once,wiped out three times on the street,and crashed playing bike polo more times than I can count. I've never put a scratch on my helmet,or had an injury above the shoulder. Bicycle helmets are fine if you tip over when trying to unclip,but do not give the level of protection afforded by motorcycle helmets,and are useless against the impact of a motor vehicle. On a bike you're just not going to be going at the rate of speed,or have the intertia from 150+ pounds of vehicle weight,that will cause you to be thrown a great distance or to roll many times on impact.

    I still wear a helmet,because it's better than nothing,but I have no illusions about it's protective ability.

  • Tom

    Of all the helmetless cabi riders, how many have experienced head injuries? How many have been in serious accidents at all? Maybe the cabi riders are not that reckless.

    I prefer to look at the data and leave my imagination to buying lottery tickets.

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