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Put a lid on it
I was riding home from work Saturday night/Sunday morning and rolled to a stop at the light at Sixth and Kentucky.
A car had been tailing me for half a block or so somewhat oddly — I thought it would get in the left lane so it wouldn’t be slowed by my glacial pace or in the right lane to turn right. I assumed the driver was either clueless or drunk, and since it was after 1 a.m., I was leaning toward the latter. At the last minute, the car swerved into the left lane and pulled up next to me.
This is an intersection I dread at this time of night, because few interactions between cyclist and middle-of-the-night car users just outside the bar district rarely go well. Not all are bad, mind you, but most end up with well-lubed college kids hollering all sorts of things (some funny, some not) at the poor, captive schlub on the bike who can only look away until, mercifully, the light changes and he can make a not-so-quick get-away.
So I wasn’t thrilled to hear the windows go down and a female voice say, “Hi!” I looked over, and there were three people in the car. Over the next few seconds we had a nice little chat about the weather, riding at night, how drunk the passenger was and how sober (or not-so-drunk) the driver was, and more or less out of nowhere the female passenger said, “I like your helmet.”
In my younger days, I might have assumed she was flirting (I don’t recall a woman ever flirting with me in my younger days, but I might have assumed that; call it the hubris of youth). But now I know attractive, college-aged women don’t flirt with middle-aged bike commuters in the dead of night.
Some comments are context specific.
If a carload of teenage girls yells “Nice legs” — hey, it’s happened — it means something different than when a male Serious Cyclist says it (in which case, he’s making fun of the fact that you don’t shave your legs; again, it HAS happened).
But when an attractive, college-aged woman says, “I like your helmet,” day or night — and, for that matter, she could be a he and neither need be attractive; it’s pretty universal, really — what he/she really is saying is: “Dork.”
I don’t think anything separates a cyclist from noncyclist quite like a helmet.
Lord knows we have our stretchy Lycra pants and loud jerseys and ballet-slipper shoes that make funny noises when we walk across hard floors, but it’s the helmet that truly differentiates a cyclist from somebody who just likes tight, loud clothes and the shoes to match.
I’d guess the majority of adults don’t even own helmets, cycling or otherwise. People don’t just choose to wear helmets, a fact I was reminded of awhile back when, after riding home, I had to hop in the car and drive somewhere. I left my helmet on and drove a few blocks before taking it off. People gave me some odd looks — and a mighty wide berth — before I took it off. Folks who wear helmets in the real world are either a danger to themselves or others.
The necessity of a helmet in some activities — skateboarding or motocross or spelunking or skydiving (really, guys? I slept through physics, but if the chute doesn’t open, I’m pretty sure the helmet isn’t going to do much) — promises good things. The wearer is going to get HUGE AIR or needs protection from that falling stalactite (or is it stalagmite?) or some other danger that transfers a certain coolness to whomever is under the lid.
But the perception of cyclists’ bonnets, I believe, is that they’re supposed to prevent some nimrod from breaking his head on the curb when he forgets to clip out of his clipless pedals and topples over. Of course, they help if you go bouncing off cars, too, but there’s no cool factor there.
That’s not to say I’d ride without one. Some folks might have brain cells to spare and wouldn’t mind losing a few, but I value the few I do have. I consider my head as more than just a fine place to keep my hair and tend to be rather protective of its meager contents.
But there’s no dodging that the lid is uncool.
I’ve thought about borrowing from other lidded endeavors, maybe rocking a skate-style lid or easy-rider motorcycle brain bucket, but nobody over 16 should wear the former and I couldn’t pull off the latter.
I have, however, taken a liking to a different kind of cycling helmet I happened upon. Called a time-trial helmet, it’s sort of the aero-mullet of the bike-lid world, all business in front and party in the rear. It looks more or less like a normal helmet up front, but the back is a sleek cowling that reaches well down the rider’s back.
I can’t look at one and not be reminded of the head of the bad guy in the eponymous “Alien” movie franchise.
Get one of those and somehow manufacture the alien’s mouth-within-a-mouth-within-a-mouth trick, and I’m certain I’d never hear “I like your helmet” ever again.