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Archive for Tuesday, June 6, 2006

Helmet helps when head over handlebars

June 6, 2006

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I made the wrong choice Saturday morning: I left my bicycle helmet at home.

In my defense, I'm part of the last generation of people that wasn't inundated with bicycle safety propaganda as a child. Nobody wore helmets when I was a kid; when amateur bicyclists started appearing on the streets with their heads enshrouded in hard plastic, most of us thought they looked goofy. Safety seemed a lesser concern than coolness.

Also, when I wear a helmet, I actually DO look goofy. I know bicyclists who have sleek helmets. The one I possess makes my head look and feel much bigger, like good ol' moon-headed Charlie Brown.

It's better to look good than to feel good, right?

So when I decided to hit the Kansas River levee on Saturday, I looked at the helmet on my shelf and hesitated a second. Then I put on a ball cap, got on the bike and went.

It was a good ride - a little warm and moderately breezy. I don't go down on the trails that require a lot of mountain-biking skills; I stick to the top of the levee, which is flat but long. The gravel levee slopes away quickly on either side of the walking-biking path, which usually isn't a problem.

Unless, say, you're riding a little too close to the side of the path when you have a foot cramp.

Which is what happened. The feeling of my foot trying to form a fist was so unexpected that I jerked my handlebars a bit to the side and immediately found myself starting to careen down the slope. That's when I made my second mistake: I hit the brakes. Hard.

Simple physics probably can tell you what happened next. The bike stopped - and I kept moving.

"That was stupid," I thought, mid-air.

I flew right over the top of the handlebars, landing on my right shoulder in the grass, then kept on rolling as my bicycle fell toward me. I came to a rest near the bottom of the slope - feeling like I had survived the "as you wish" scene in "The Princess Bride" - on my back, staring up at the sky, contemplating life.

The damage: A scraped leg, a mildly bruised shoulder. Nothing big.

But I was a bit shaken. What if I'd landed on my head? Or what if the foot cramp had happened 15 minutes later, when I was riding the asphalt streets to get home?

Bad things, that's what would've happened.

So now I'm resolved: When I ride, I ride with a helmet. It might be better to look good than to feel good - but you've got to be alive to do either.

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