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Better dork than dead

Posted Tuesday, April 13, 2010, at 9:25 AM

Author's note: This column was originally published Friday, May 18, 2007, but with warm weather and the usual proliferation of helmetless bicyclists hitting the streets (not literally, I hope!), I thought it would be good to dust these words off and bring them up top for a bit. I've edited it slightly for accuracy (I'm older now, etc.).

I look like a dork.

I know it. I've accepted it. I'm 51 and going bald, which is an almost inherently uncool combination. But I also bring it on myself. Every morning I shove a ridiculous-looking bicycle helmet on my head and peddle right out in public, providing free entertainment to anyone who happens to get a kick from such a sight.

I don't mind looking stupid. You see, I've become very attached to my brain. I figure it's better to look a little stupid than to become permanently stupid as the result of an unscheduled encounter between head and concrete. It may not be the best brain in the world, but it's mine and I've found it to be quite useful for all sorts of cool things like breathing and talking, eating and walking. And riding a bike.

May 17-21 is Bike to Work Week for adults, but the biking season lasts all summer and into the fall for kids.

Cycling requires a brain that can tend the delicate balancing act of peddling furiously without capsizing regularly. Riding a bike is also a risky activity for brains, especially when their owners neglect to stuff a ridiculous-looking helmet over them.

I was reminded just how important looking ridiculous can be this week [May 2007] when I got a call from Sharon Riley, who shared with me a story that chills the heart of every parent and every motorist everywhere.

She hit a child with her car.

In this case, the result was not tragic. She was driving along a residential street last week and saw a little girl on a bicycle careen into the street. The girl could not stop. Riley tried to avoid the collision but child and car collided just the same.

Fortunately for all, the girl was a little banged up but not seriously injured. As Riley waited for police to talk to her she surveyed the scene. She saw approximately 30 kids on nearby streets, on bikes.





What might have happened did not occur. Tragedy was there, all right, but it missed its mark. A little girl is nursing wounds. Parents are relieved and shaken, no doubt. Riley is still haunted by the moment of impact.

I'm haunted by the lack of helmets.

It's such an easy precaution to take. The only cost, besides a few dollars for the helmet, is tolerating a little dorkiness. Maybe a little teasing. I know how it goes. I was a kid once myself, and I didn't willingly look dorky then either. I don't remember ever wearing a bike helmet (but I'm not sure they'd been invented yet). And I have a 7-year-old who resists the helmet I force her to wear, ogre that I am. I don't mind being an ogre if it helps preserve her precious little brain. [Note: She's 10 now and has gotten used to the helmet requirement. Resistance was futile.]

Perhaps we need to remind kids what consequences -- aside from mere death -- might await the helmetless. People who suffer severe head injuries can experience:

--changes in personality, emotions or mental abilities;

--speech and language problems;

--loss of sensation, hearing, vision, taste, or smell;


--paralysis; or


Bad stuff.

We could also remind them that it's not particulary brave or admirable to go helmetless. Our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan don't go out bareheaded to do battle with insurgents.

Riley has an idea to offer that might help kids get in the habit of wearing helmets, maybe even consider them fun. Give them a plain white helmet and some paint or markers and let them customize away. She also suggests maybe bicycle retailers might package a helmet with every bike they sell.

"I'd just like to say to parents: You do not want to be in my shoes," Riley said, who has two children of her own. "It was devastating."

Cycling is fun. It's practically part of the definition of being a kid in the summertime. And it can be dangerous. According to one Web site I consulted, cycling accounts for more than double the number of injuries per year than the next sport, football, on the list. And for kids 10 and under, bicycling accounts for triple the number of injuries from football. That's because there are more kids cycling than playing football, of course, but it still indicates the need for safety precautions. If football players can get in the habit of wearing helmets, maybe bicyclers can, too.

Adults, please be good examples. Kids may not always do as we say, but they are more likely to do as we do. Wear your helmets. Embrace dorkiness!

It's a good idea for cyclists of any age to occasionally review the bicycle safety checklist, which I got from retired Marshall Police Chief Jim Simmerman:

--keep both hands on the handlebars at all times;

--look before changing lanes or cross a road;

--use hand turn signals;

--ride single file when in groups;

--never ride at night without a headlight and reflector; and

--do not wear headphones when riding.

Bicycle riders also should remember that they are required to obey all traffic laws, Simmerman says, including stopping at stop signs and traffic lights.

Why? Not just because it's the rules. It's safer!

Bicycles, skateboards and roller skates are not allowed on the streets and sidewalks around the Marshall square and within a one-block radius of the square, according to Simmerman.

On the Net:
Medline Plus, a service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health:
Neurosurgery Today:
Police chief: Bicyclists should observe basic safety precautions, know rules:

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Our 6 year old wears her helmet every time she gets on a bike, and has since she was riding in the Doodle Bug and only 2 years old. Our 2 year old, who worships his big sister, wears his helmet even when he is only riding his trike. We're hoping that since we started very early, resistance won't be as high as they start to understand that they look like dorks!

-- Posted by koeller77 on Tue, Apr 13, 2010, at 2:29 PM

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Eric Crump is a former editor of The Marshall Democrat-News. He lives elsewhere now but still loves Marshall and Saline County. He's trying to catch up on all the stories he should have written while he was on staff.
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