I’ve been riding bikes since I was a kid, but, as an adult, only since 1983. I started then because it was something I loved to do, something that could keep me in shape and because I could finally afford a decent bicycle.
As such, I have put tens of thousands of miles on my bike, stints at commuting to work, too many centuries (a ride of 100 miles) to count, and numerous cross-state tours, as well as a tour around Ireland. I have always been emphatic that one should wear a helmet when riding and have worn one since I started riding seriously. And I have been very lucky, with the exception of just a couple of cases of road rash, incurred by my own errant riding.
However, there was ONE instance I rode without my helmet. And, naturally, it was this one time that disaster struck.
I was commuting to work from my home in Liberty, Missouri, to my job in downtown Kansas City. I have done this on a regular basis for years. This particular commute was about seventeen miles. And on this particular morning, I was distracted and in a rush as I prepared for the ride in.
I had chosen to ride my fixed gear bike and the front tire was flat. Time was running out, so I hurriedly exchanged the flat one with the wheel off of my regular road bike.
It was truly a beautiful morning for a ride. As I took to the road, all was well and I was looking forward to the usual uneventful commute. Until I got about fifteen minutes into the ride. That’s when I reached up and discovered, in my haste to get underway, I had failed to put on my helmet.
This was very disturbing to me, as I never, ever get on the bike without a helmet. I had two choices: I could turn around, go back home and abort the commute or I could plow on, sans helmet. I opted for riding on. After all, what could happen, if I took extra care and was even more cautious than my usual self?
And so, the commute WAS uneventful, until I reached the south end of the bridge before my workplace, not more than 300 feet away.
Are you familiar with what is called a pressure ridge in the roadway? It is a hump or bump where the asphalt gets scrunched up, usually at an expansion joint or crack in the underlying pavement. They are something cyclists must be wary of and take extra care in crossing. One technique is to “hop” your bike over it by judiciously jerking up on the handlebars at just the right moment. That’s the trick I used on this particular morning.
Remember I mentioned earlier that I had switched wheels? This was folly number two. It seems that when I put the wheel in the fork, I neglected to firmly tighten the quick release, which holds the wheel in the fork securely. Can you see it coming?
As I approached the ridge, I jerked up on the bars. Surprised, I watched as the front wheel went off on its own course, leaving me hanging (for a split second) in mid-air. Newton’s confounded gravity came into play and I went down. Hard. My head slammed onto the concrete pavement as my body and bike skittered into the roadway.
Miraculously, there was no traffic at that instant (it was, after all, rush hour). I wasn’t knocked unconscious, but I certainly saw the moon, stars and planets circling around my head. Dazed, I gathered my bike and wheel from the road. A fellow in a small pickup stopped and asked if I needed help. Well, even though I was less than a block from my destination, I was dazed and disoriented. I took him up on his offer, threw the bike in the back and he delivered me to the building.
Now, as it happened, my wife worked in the same building. I went up to her office and announced, “Judy, I think I need to go to the doctor!” Of course, she freaked, especially at the sight of blood running down the side of my face (it was a mere flesh wound, caused by the temple of my glasses being mashed against my ear). Off we went.
To wind this sad, cautionary tale up, the doctor confirmed that there were no broken bones, possibly only a mild concussion, but nothing else, other than a tremendous blow to my ego and a lowering of most folks opinion regarding my relative intelligence.
They say God looks out for fools and drunks. I would have to add to that stupid cyclists that tempt fate by going helmetless. One time, one time in my long cycling career without my helmet and this is what happened. It surely could have been a lot worse (there have been two cycling deaths on this particular bridge).
Let this be a lesson to anyone who laughs with irresponsible abandon, thinking helmets are only for kids, they who think they don’t need head protection while riding a bicycle. I’m, luckily, living proof of what can happen when your bare melon hits the pavement.
Your helmet: Don’t leave home without it.