I recently enjoyed a beautiful evening bike ride on a local bike trail. While I started out alone, I often encountered other cyclists throughout the 30+ miles who rode alongside for several miles here and there. I loved the friendly people and awesome reminder of how great summer evenings can be.
At one point, I started to pass a young woman on her bike. She struck up a conversation so I stayed alongside her. We had great conversation and rode an almost perfect pace together. As the miles clicked by, I really enjoyed cycling with her. However, one thing kept nagging at me – she wasn’t wearing a helmet.
I try to keep opinions to myself on lots of things because I believe people should make decisions best for them and others shouldn’t be quick to judge. But…..she asked me many questions about my Specialized Ruby (and you all know I LOVE my bike) and some tips about being new to cycling. So I decided it was a good opening to mention the helmet.
She smiled when I suggested wearing a helmet, actually agreed that she really should wear one. Then she asked if I was single. I replied yes, although I had no idea what that had to do with wearing a bike helmet. Turns out, she feels she looks silly in a helmet and her hair is a mess after a ride. What if she met a good-looking guy while biking or at the parking lot? Uh, okay. A whole lot of thoughts raced through my head, including flashes of how crazy, frizzy and completely messy my hair looks after I take off my helmet! I have passed a mirror or reflection after many rides and thought ‘oh my goodness, am I in public looking like that?’ But I can’t recall worrying that a guy won’t find me pretty because I’m sweaty and my hair is a mess after an awesome bike ride. If anything, I want to be with a guy who enjoys participating in these type of activities with me, appreciates the effort it takes to get sweaty and messy, and also understands I clean up pretty nicely.
I almost replied “I think you’ll be much more beautiful with your head intact.” But you know, I wasn’t sure how to kindly say that. Lol. I also recognize that she is 27 and I am in my early 40s, so I have a bit more ‘worldly experience’ and a few more relationships on my side. I’m at a point in my life where people need to accept me for me. Especially my next significant other. I have learned to be true to myself, particularly over the past few years. The next man I’m with must take me as I am, crazy helmet hair and all. That means the sappy, emotional moments and energetic, dance around the living room moments and confident, take on the world moments and feeling overwhelmed, I need support and encouragement moments and goofy, singing in the car moments and everything in between. I want that man to be willing to share, laugh, love and choose me. To not judge so much and expect me to change who I am. I don’t want to settle for a “sort of happy and make it work because that’s expected” relationship. I want mutual real, true happiness, joy, laughter, support and encouragement in my next relationship. Heck, I want that in my life, whether it’s with a special man, friends or family. I want to enjoy the good moments, work through the tough moments, appreciate the good people in my life and embrace the opportunities awaiting me. That’s why I made the decision to change my life a few years ago and that’s why I wear a helmet every time I bike (and I’d rather not suffer a head injury). I want to do everything possible to be alive to enjoy and experience life.
To be honest, I didn’t always wear a helmet when biking. I wore one when biking near traffic but when on the rails to trails routes, I sometimes would simply wear a baseball hat to block the sun. And, frankly, what hit me a few years ago was this realization: I busted my butt to survivor bone cancer and am always careful not to hurt my leg with the titanium rod. How stupid to survive all that, only to suffer a brain injury because I didn’t have a helmet.
Oops, I think I digressed. Ha. Focus, lady. Back to my point about wearing a bike helmet. Consider these facts:
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that less than half of all Americans who ride bicycles wear helmets.
- The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recorded 45,000 bicycle injuries in 2015 (latest stats), with cyclists age 50-59 having the highest rate of injury
- The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports that head injuries are the cause of death for the majority of bicyclists killed in accidents with automobiles. Helmet use is estimated to reduce the risk of head injury in these cases by 85 percent.
- Eighty-five percent of bicycle-related head and brain injuries can be prevented by a helmet, according to the Snell Memorial Foundation and Safety Education Center. The center also reports the number of bicycle head injuries annually that require hospitalization “exceeds the total of all head injury cases — including baseball, football, skateboards, scooters, horseback riding injuries.
- If you’re in any sort of accident with your helmet that may have damaged the helmet’s padding, replace it. The plastic and expandable foam that absorbs the impact and protects your head may no longer able to absorb the impacts. If you notice the plastic cracking, replace it (regardless if you’ve been in an accident).
- There’s no good research on if a helmet has a ‘shelf life’ but most of what I read suggested replacing a helmet after five years, unless you use it excessively, sweat a lot, wear lots of hair gel, etc. Anything that may make the foam padding decompose, the plastic crack or damages the straps.
- Make sure your bike helmet meets safety standards and fits properly. If you’re uncertain, visit a reputable bike shop to ask for assistance.
These are sobering statistics and reminder that biking can be amazing fun and great exercise, but requires a degree of caution and safety (as most activities!). I shared in a previous blog post that a good friend was recently injured after a fall from his bike. Afterwards, I held his bike helmet in my hands, with dings and dents very visible. It was unnerving. His head was thankfully well-protected. What a real example of the importance of wearing a helmet!
The young woman I biked with? We talked about relationships and being yourself, not settling for anyone – whether significant other, friend or even family – who doesn’t appreciate you for who you are. And we also discussed strategies for post-helmet hair. When we parted miles later, she smiled and promised to buy a helmet. I assured her that she would look beautiful.