A helmet or not?
While cycling in the Netherlands I am aware of the many looks I receive. Dutch don’t like to wear a helmet when commuting. Understandable. What is less understandable is that even racers often cycle without a helmet. I think we believe it is not cool to wear a helmet.
I never wore a helmet. As a Dutch I can say that we are too familiar with cycling. We hardly see it as a sport or as something extraordinaire. We walk. We cycle. Hardly anyone wears a helmet.
A helmet is funny. A helmet is for the very fast racers. Perhaps for the mountain-bikers. Except that we have no mountains in the Netherlands.
When I start cycling I think I wore a helmet. Mainly because I bought about everything I thought I needed as a world cyclist. Turned out I needed only half of all. So, I had a helmet and I remember I left it behind in Liberia because I did not wear it. I remember I wore it a few stretches in the Rif, Morocco. Here I noticed that a helmet doesn’t allow your hair to flow with the wind. A helmet makes you look like you’re afraid. A helmet makes you look less fierce. A helmet doesn’t make you look better. It’s like a cool-box on your head!
But is all of this important?
Going back to traditions and manners and way of dressing and thus appearance, it is. Every culture I cycle through has a tradition if it comes to head-wear. A hat does; it prevents the sun to hit your head. A piece of cloth stretched over my head does too. A turban idem ditto. An African cloth round my head has a reason. A headscarf, even a tightly secured hijab, makes perfect sense. But a helmet?
Some helmet incidents:
A Nigerian police wanted me to buy a helmet and while he halted me, I said I was planning to buy one in the oncoming city. And I let myself speed down the hill, through the city where I was hit by a minibus and picked up from the incredible busy highway by people along the road.
In Iran I met two cyclists. One was wearing a helmet and a bright yellow vest. I thought that was a bit overdressed but now I can think how wisely that was. Wearing a helmet has just not sunk into my perceiving as normal. A helmet? Not for me. Doesn’t cycling with a helmet make you more easy-going and therefore bang into something or crash because you think you’re indestructible?
In India I bought a helmet when a man on a motorbike was smashed to a wall 3 meter further. Because he swirled over the road when he tried not to ride into me. Very unfortunately he was hit by a car when trying to avoid me. He was unable to move, a riksja was called and he was brought to hospital. I bought a helmet, wore it a few weeks and then I went without it.
I have a friend who fell off her bicycle while commuting through the village. She tipped over and has still serious troubles related to the nerve system. Then I met another cyclist with whom I was with for some time, and he advocates the helmet fully, always and entirely. He is always stared at, especially by children who thinks he is a clown. I would never cycle in the same jacket or shirt as the one I am with. But the helmet… it had me thinking.
Consider it: what will be the highest risk when cycling? What is the biggest danger? I think when you cycle enough you will have a high chance of eventually be hit by a motorized vehicle. Perhaps a helmet won’t help much but it will at least protect the quite delicate mass up there.
My family is happy with me wearing a helmet. And I? I think it is funny looking and therefore cool. Different. It keeps my head warm in cold weather and I don’t need to wear a hat with a rim. I wear my helmet every day. Mainly because it protects me!
The few time I wore a helmet it annoyed me. A speedy downhill would bang my head backward because of the helmet collecting wind, flapping on the back of my head. When I would turn my head left the helmet would swoop to the left too, with some time-lapse. Now I got a better one. One I don’t feel at all.
In an african car, do as the Africans
Compare it with seat belts in a car. I have always been recalcitrant to wear them, as they confine my freedom of movement. Over the years we learned to wear them, for a good reason. Now, the sporadic times I move in a car, I automatic try to pull the seat belt. Always to find out those belts are gone or so much hidden that I ask the driver: ‘What about seat belts? Do you wear them?’ The answer is always the same, except in Europe: ‘No, not necessary here.’ I think it only becomes necessary when something has changed in the people’s perception, why else do I see motor-bikers with a yellow helmet used for construction-work? Why else do children wearing dad’s helmet when they are carried on the motorbike?
Conclusion: a helmet suits cycling, like an African head-cloth suits when strolling through the sandy streets of Senegal. Like a headscarf loosely thrown over your head in a Sikh temple, like a mandatory hijab in Iran. Like a hood made of waterproof material suits in rainy weather. Like a turban in 50 degrees Celsius fits in a country where éveryone is wearing one.
Note, June 2016: remarkable, while commuting to and from work/supermarket/trips through the Netherlands… I do not wear a helmet. Oh! I guess it’s hard to forget about Dutch upbringing.
What is your opinion?