Years ago, helmets on bike riders were simply not seen. Road bike racers, all categories, kids on bikes, recreational riders, simply didn’t wear them. Looking at old photos of major road bike races you’ll see riders with flimsy, but at the time fashionable, short brimmed, cloth hats. Those hats are still made. They are not seen on riders at modern races. Things have changed.
Should you wear a helmet? In California, if you are 18 or under, state law mandates that you wear an approved helmet if you are on a bike, either as a rider or passenger, or are in a bike trailer. The helmet must be fastened properly. The type of bicycle doesn’t matter: road, mountain, bmx, cyclocross, downhill, townie, home built, if it’s a bike, you’re 18 or under, and on it, you must wear a helmet. The law doesn’t apply to adults. Common sense applies instead.
What’s the reason for helmets? The simple answer is to protect your head. No one can predict when you may take an unexpected trip off your bike for a meeting with the pavement, trail, or tree. The flight over the bars is relatively injury free. The sudden stop when you impact whatever you hit is when the damage occurs. Head hits can be especially dangerous and can literally alter the rest of your life.
When your head receives a hard enough hit, your brain can bounce around inside your cranium. Let’s say you take a tumble, and you hit the front of your head. The first bounce of your brain slams into the front of your skull, then it rebounds to the back or side, and impacts your skull again. You may be left with nothing more than a large goose egg on your head, and a tall tale to tell your buddies. You may be left with a concussion, which results in headaches, and some momentary memory loss.
On the other hand, on a much more serious note, you could have a traumatic brain injury. You could have either sub-dural or epi-dural bleeding on your brain, which may or may not need surgery to relieve the pressure on your brain. You’ll find out in the Neurological Intensive Care Unit of the hospital, after your trip to the emergency room.
The results of such an injury are likely to be life-long. There will be some, or a lot, of rehabilitation involved. There is a 30 year upward curve of possibilities that you could develop seizures, requiring anti-seizure medication for the rest of your life. You could also end up on the wrong side of the sod, as head hits can be lethal.
The slide show at the bottom of this article shows a helmet that took a beating during a nasty, completely unexpected fall. Two riders, both very good road bike riders, were on a training ride. The wind was blowing, and during a particularly strong gust,from the side, the rider on the back wheel of the front bike was blown just slightly off his line. His front wheel clipped the back wheel of the front bike just enough to throw him into a wobble that resulted in a crash. While he had some pretty bad bruising and road rash, his head, protected by the helmet, was not injured. The helmet did what it was designed to do: protect the head from injury.
You may have to look carefully at the pictures to see the cracks, but they are there. Considering the strength of modern bike helmets, the cracks in this one attest to the force with which it hit the pavement. Had this riders head taken the impact, sans helmet, the damage could have been quite severe. Helmets are good for one bad hit only, and this helmet is now a reminder of a bad crash, never to be worn again.
Your local bike shop in the Sacramento region has a good selection of helmets from various manufacturers. Helmets are stronger and lighter these days. They are a large step up, both in function and form, from just a few years ago. Keeping yourself safe on a bicycle requires common sense. Wearing a helmet every time you are on your bike qualifies as very good common sense. It may just save your life in the bargain.