The Most Important Piece of Bike Gear

Bike Helmet

Helmets. A good friend of mine, and someone I have always looked up to was recently in a motorcycle accident. This is someone who coached me in my first triathlon. Someone who I have logged thousands of weekend bike miles with. Someone that I have traveled with and who taught me a lot about racing and friendship. He wasn’t wearing a helmet.

When I heard the news I was shocked and I was sad. It was with disbelief I heard he had no helmet on. We always cycled together with helmets. Always. Why a motorcycle would be be different I don’t know.

Sadly accidents on the bike are not an isolated incident. All of my friends that ride outside have had a significant crash or been hit by a car. Some more than once. I myself have had a number of very close calls when out solo. Luckily, I have always kept the bike upright and avoided testing my helmet capabilities first hand. But for those less fortunate the results of the crashes have varied from some cuts and scrapes, to hospitalization, and in one case death.

Frankly, biking on the road is a dangerous prospect. Many cars are in a hurry and will take big risks passing cyclists. Last year a head-on collision along the Lake Placid bike course (not during the race) resulted in a motorist death. Drivers may not appreciate that a shoulder isn’t always rideable. Sand, debris, storm grates and many other obstacles prevent people from staying in the shoulder. Sometimes these conditions go into the middle of a lane or beyond forcing riders to swing wide with little notice.

The safe thing to do as a good rider is to spot the issue, look back to see if it is safe to swing out, and either slow or make a move. This is defensive riding. Sometimes that just isn’t how it goes. You are focused on power, speed, and positioning and don’t see something until the last moment. Riding in packs can also cause this if the people in front are not using proper hand signals.

Then there are just bad drivers. People who pull out to slow down. Drivers that block your path on a downhill. The ones that don’t see you taking a left and smack into your back. These are the ones that worry me the most. Distracted, unfocused, and dangerous.

If we know the chances of a crash exist, is there any argument that helmets are important? The risks are there for an accident so why not get the best brain bucket possible?

Helmets have come quite a ways over the years. Aero, road, mountain, there are alot of choices. For racing my favorite helmet is a low key Specialized aero job. Much more subtle that the previous trend of aero helmets with a long tail covering your neck and part of your back. Like a helmet with a mullet. My race helmet has a nice feature in a magnetic clasp that is easy to open and close on the run. The drawback to this helmet though is that despite the claims of air flow, it does get hot. Hot = sweat = the need for more nutrition management. But for most days even when not racing I have no issues wearing it out, and find myself using it more often than not.

Another Specialized helmet I have is a pretty standard road helmet. Adjustable tightness and a buckle clip, but very open on top. Not meant for aerodynamics but more comfortable on hot days.

Growing up, we never wore helmets, but then again I don’t think we wore seat belts either. My kids know they need a helmet when they are on their bikes or someones else’s. They know to wear one on a skateboard, quad, or scooter. It is just something we have drilled home, and it is natural to them. We also all wear helmets skiing and snowboarding, and as I have told many of my non-helmeted Winter sport friends, it is so much better. The helmet keeps you warmer. Bonus!

Putting on the the right gear and staying safe is a great lesson we can teach others and lead with. Nobody wants to be forced into doing something, and having a choice is good, but choosing to skip wearing a helmet is not on the table. With today’s many options out there, go to your LBS and figure out what is best for your needs. Just make sure it fits well and you wear it.

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