Tag Archive for bicycle helmet

Speaking of falling: A brief word about helmets

I see it just about every time I ride down by the beach.

A few cyclists will be riding bare-headed along the bike path, with their helmets slung casually under their handlebars or clipped onto a rack.

Of course, if you’re not planning to wear your helmet, it’s easier to just leave it at home. So I can only assume that they ride to the beach wearing their helmets, then take them off once they get there, where they feel safe. In fact, I’ve watched riders do exactly that.

The problem is, they have it backward.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a huge believer in wearing a helmet. And I’m firmly convinced — as were the neurologist and trauma team that treated me — that I might not be writing this now if I hadn’t been wearing one during the infamous beachfront bee encounter. Which, by the way, occurred on the very same bikeway these other cyclists seem to feel so confident in riding sans helmet.

The problem is, bike helmets are most effective in slow speed accidents — the kind that are more likely to occur on an off-road pathway, as opposed to surface streets where both bikes and cars tend to move at much higher speeds.

In fact, bike helmets are designed to provide full protection from brain injuries at speeds up to just 12.5 mph, while reducing the severity of such injuries at speeds up to 20 mph. If you get hit by a car, there’s a good chance it will be going a lot faster than that.

Just to be clear, the standards reflect the speed at which your head strikes the pavement, not the speed you’re riding or the speed of the vehicle in the event of a collision. But until someone overturns the laws of physics, speed of movement will continue to have a strong correlation to speed of impact — the faster you’re going or the greater the force of a collision, the greater the force with which you’ll strike the pavement.

Helmet advocates frequently cite a landmark study showing that helmets reduce the risk of head injury up to 89% (and let’s note that helmets only protect your head from injury; they do absolutely nothing to protect other body parts, nor do they do anything to prevent collisions).

However, a re-evaluation of that study showed a 69% reduction in head injuries and a 74% reduction in severe brain injury. Other studies have shown significantly lower results.

There has also been one study showing that helmets can actually increase the risk of a collision, because drivers may give a wider berth to cyclists wearing helmets than riders without. This has lead some cyclists to believe that they are actually safer riding without a helmet than with one.

Of course, the problem with that — even if it is correct — is that the overwhelming majority of bicycle accidents don’t involve other vehicles. You are far more likely to be injured by losing control of your bike, for whatever reason, than you are by being hit by a motor vehicle.

None of this is to suggest that you shouldn’t wear a helmet; rather, my point is that if you’re going to wear one — and yes, as long as you’re an adult, the decision is up to you — you should always wear it, even in situations where you feel safe and think it’s not necessary.

I am, thank God, living proof to that.

But don’t rely on it to keep you safe in traffic. That’s not what it’s for.

You’re far better off improving your riding ability. And developing the skills you need to avoid a collision.


Westside bike co-op Bikerowave has a new home on Venice Blvd. Could this be the beginning of a beachside Bicycle District? The Times reports on this weekend’s Brentwood Grand Prix, while LAist reports on a woman who says what she really thinks about Brentwood and greater L.A. Damien Newton asks, when it comes to biking — and driving — who teaches the teachers? The Examiner examines what the LACBC is up to these days, and recommends some riding routes around the city. A Florida bicyclist is the victim of a drive-by hit-and-run, while riding on the sidewalk. A writer reminisces about his childhood biking days, then concludes that bikes and cars don’t belong on the road together. Finally, the U.K.’s Guardian reports on cyclists who wouldn’t be caught dead wearing Lycra, and notes that biking does not make you a saint.

Rider on the swarm


I’ve mentioned a few times on here that I’m focused on getting back into shape after a bad riding accident last year. So maybe it’s time I told you what happened.

It was one of those perfect L.A. days. The kind people back east think we have everyday, and we hardly ever get in real life. I was just relaxing with an easy spin along the coast, when something zipped past my face. Then another…and another.

And I realized it was the leading edge of the biggest swarm of bees I’d ever seen — at least 30 feet wide, with thousands, or even tens of thousands, of bees buzzing around in every possible direction. And I was already inside it.

I had no way of knowing if they were angry or docile, and to be honest, I have no idea if I’m allergic to bees or not. But I figured this wasn’t the time to find out. So I just put my head down and pedaled as if my life depended on it. Because for all I knew, it did.

Then just as fast, I came out on the other side, thinking that I’d made out okay, when I looked down and saw that I was literally crawling with bees everywhere I could see. And I could only imagine what there was where I couldn’t see.

And then, nothing.

The next thing I knew, a lifeguard was placing an oxygen mask over my face and asking if I knew where I was.

Fortunately, I’d picked a good place to land, just a few feet from the new county lifeguard headquarters next to Will Rogers State Beach, right where they used to film Baywatch. They’d found me unconscious, off my bike and laying flat on my face, and said I’d been out at least a couple minutes.

Of course, all I wanted to do was thank them for their time, get back on my bike and finish my ride. But by then, the paramedics were there, and I was on my way to the ER at St. Johns.

I still thought I was fine. The docs in the ER thought otherwise, though. That led to a couple nights in intensive care, as a result of A) a moderate concussion, B) a bulging disc in my neck, C) a massive hematoma on my right hip, literally the size of a football, and D) major blood loss due to the hematoma. In fact, my blood pressure crashed three times that first night, dropping as low as 56 over 38 before stabilizing at around 90 over 60 — still too low, but just enough to avoid a transfusion.

So if I had gotten back on my bike to ride home, chances are, I might not have survived the night. Even if, by some miracle, I actually managed to get there. And if I hadn’t been wearing a helmet, I wouldn’t be writing this now.

They sent me home with firm instructions not to leave the house for next two weeks, and no exercise — at all — for the remainder of the year.

I remember reading in Bicycling that it takes about two weeks of rehab for every week you’re off the bike due to an injury. By that standard, I should be back where I was by the end of this month. And yes, I’m close, but I’m not there yet. I still find myself struggling at times — though I often look down and see that at least I’m struggling in a higher gear now.

And I still have no idea what really happened, though. My injuries suggest that I must have fallen hard to one side, flipped or rolled over to hit the other side, and somehow ended up doing a face plant on the asphalt. But hey, your guess is as good as mine.

For all I know, Godzilla could have risen up out of the blue Pacific and slammed me down, before slinking off to ravage Tokyo once again. Though you’d think something like that would have made the local news, at least.

I keep trying to figure it out whenever I ride past that spot, but they tell me those memories are probably gone for good. Which, all things considered, could be a good thing.

Oh, and the bees? Not one sting.

Go figure, huh?

A big thank you to the L.A. County Lifeguards, the EMTs from L.A.F.D. Station 69 in Pacific Palisades, and the ER staff at St. John’s Health Center in Santa Monica — you guys are the best. Streetsblog reviews Dodger Stadium’s new combination bike rack and smoking lounge. The Times’ Joel Stein misses the good old days of bikers on dope. And finally, Councilmember Tom LaBonge is big on bikes, as long as their riders aren’t into holiday lights.

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