Personal freedom vs. safety obsession

A broken crank sent me head-first onto the pavement.

A broken crank sent me head-first onto the pavement.


On the face of it, the bicycle helmet law is a no-brainer. Helmets have saved many lives and prevented concussions, myself included.

I almost always wear a helmet. I say almost because once in a while I like to ride without one, like when I ride a few blocks to the barber shop for a haircut or on an all-day ride over Mt. Hamilton.

There was a time when we didn’t have helmets and those we did have were a joke — the leather hairnets that provided zero protection. Modern materials changed all that in the 1980s.

But it was Jim Gentes and his Giro that really made the helmet “cool” in 1985.

Pretty soon the elite riders started wearing his lightweight, stylish helmet and now the only people who don’t wear helmets are casual cyclists or those who can’t afford them. And…friends of Jobst Brandt.

Jobst famously never wore a helmet and lucky for him he never will. He hated helmets and swore he would never wear one. He didn’t care what others did for their safety. He wanted no part of it.

Jobst argued that helmets make cyclists think they can’t be hurt and thus more prone to taking chances. I’m not sure I buy that notion. He stubbornly believed that his riding skills would keep him safe.

For the most part he was right. It was only later in life when those skills had degraded that Jobst fell and hit his head on Mt. Hamilton (tire blowout). He had other incidents, but they were never serious.

It was Jobst’s choice to not wear a helmet.

Those choices are narrowing. In today’s world the bicycle helmet is one more indication that we have become obsessed with safety. In one Wyoming school an innocent outdoor activity of tag was banned for fear that students would harm themselves. Four-square and tetherball have been eliminated in most school yards.

I can’t tell you how many times people have told me riding a bike is dangerous and I should always wear a helmet. Sure it has its hazards, but so does all outdoor activity. I’m not any more fearful of cycling than I am driving a car, probably less.

While nobody can argue against taking safety precautions, there has to be a limit. Life cannot be lived free of risk.

2 Responses to “Personal freedom vs. safety obsession”

  1. Bike-Scoot Says:

    “but so does all outdoor activity”. As well as indoor activity. I remember reading that the biggest share of serious accidents occur in the home, mostly due to home repair and maintenance. The garage is an accident hot spot. Maybe government should also require mandatory safety gear to be worn while doing any home repair or maintenance.

  2. Art Harris Says:

    As a kid in the 1950’s there was no such thing as a bike helmet. Some of the early (1970’s) helmets were almost useless (e.g.Skid Lid). I’ve been wearing a helmet on all my rides since 1980, but luckily never hit my head.

    And it was only a few years ago that pro racers were required to wear them.

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