Wednesday, March 9, 2011

I don't wear a bike helmet.

I'm an avid cyclist. This does not mean that I own or wear Pearl Izumi pants or that I own neon. It doesn't mean I have a pile of bike friends with whom I ride, discuss riding, eat Clif bars with, or share cigarettes with while coasting in the Tour de France. It also doesn't mean that I wear a helmet.

What it means is that I own a bicycle, and whenever possible, I ride that bicycle. I ride it to and from work, between neighborhoods, or wherever I need to go. Sometimes, I even ride for leisure!

I don't consider myself part of a "biking community" any more than I consider myself part of a "hat wearing community" or a "guy who still uses the United States Postal Service community." As such, I tend not to give people free biking advice unless I'm asked for it. Unfortunately, I am not always extended the same courtesy. So I have decided to give out some biking advice: Stop giving out biking advice. Specifically, stop yelling at me for not wearing a helmet.

I know how important it is to wear a helmet. I know it protects my fragile, incredibly valuable brain from the cold, hard reality of pavement and car parts. I know that they've even figured out a few designs that don't look completely stupid. I don't need anyone yelling at me from across bike paths or on the other side of the road or even from a car asking me where my helmet is. My helmet doesn't exist. I don't own one. I don't intend to purchase one any time soon. Stop yelling at me about it.

I might appreciate your advice from time to time, if not for your tone. But like when an adult tells another adult that smoking is bad for them, there's no way to politely say "that thing you're doing is hazardous to your health, and while I know you've been told this for a minimum of 150 years, I am concerned you may not have actually heard/read/understood the warning. So just a quick reminder for you: Despite your being deaf, blind, and/or possibly mute, I care about your health."

Now smoking isn't a perfect analogy. There are selfish reasons to hate people for smoking. Smoking pollutes the air, makes things smell, and causes cancer among people who do not smoke. By saying "smoking is bad for you" to someone who marginally knows you or is a total stranger, you're being insincere in your approach, but your concern is justifiable. This is not the case with helmet wearing.

My lack of helmet doesn't hurt other people. In fact, I'd be willing to bet that should I be flung from my bicycle head first toward your head or body, you may even fare better against my bare skull than you would against the same cranium with armor. Helmets also smell. My head smells less helmetless. Finally, my smashed head does not cause cancer. You might even lose weight, because the sight might make you puke.

So okay, smoking and not wearing a helmet are almost totally incomparable. I guess it's possible that you're just looking out for my health. Maybe you even like me! But wait, why does your tone suggest that you think I'm a bad cat juggler who wears babies for shoes? I mean, you really sound angry! When you (and I am using a general "you," assuming you're all part of one smug, judgmental pseudo-liberal group mind) shouted to me "where's your helmet?" with an angry tone the first few times, I assumed it was just to make sure I could hear you. When it became "where's your fucking helmet?" I thought maybe you had Tourette's. It was "get a helmet, asshole" where you convinced me that maybe it wasn't my interests you had in mind.

Here's the thing - initiatives to encourage people to wear helmets are great. So are local bike shop and charity drives for helmets. There are a bunch of cafes and stores who even offer discounts to people with helmets. That's great. It isn't the law, though. There are laws about lights. I was informed of them by a Boston police officer on the Southwest Corridor in Jamaica Plain. The officer also explicitly said "we also recommend you wear bright colors and a helmet. Now that's not the law. Just something we recommend." Thanks, police officer. I will take that into account. That conversation made me think "maybe I should go pick up a helmet when I buy that front light." It was then that a piece of the collective "you" whizzed by me going the other direction yelling "get a helmet, asshole."

Well done, you. You've succeeded in your objective. This is only if your objective is veiled, as I suspect it is. You want people to hate bicycle riders. You want people to think folks on two wheels are all priggish, snotty know-it-alls who make life choice suggestions not because they're actually concerned with people, but because they want people to know how much better they are at stuff. "Nice '96 Ford truck! Now get a Prius!" "I see you're eating a hamburger. I hope you know you're murdering both cows and the future." "Your head is exposed. Luckily, I'm not as stupid as you, so mine is covered." Yep. Well done, you. You made a perfectly reasonable position sound like a real life animation of the worst Fox News caricature of what people from the northeast are like. You're totally better than me, and you're totally right. You might be sainted if you didn't know in your heart that organized religion is a misogynistic hierarchy meant to mislead the masses into a false sense of security about themselves. Because we all know who's on top.