A Picture and a Couple of Paragraphs

the photo part

This isn’t actually going to be about Archie, but it’s never bad to put a dog in your post, right?  (There’s a Billy Collins poem where he advises poets who are stuck to put a dog in the poem.)  It’s just to say that I like my blog more when I don’t feel compelled to write really long posts. A photo and two or three paragraphs.  Sometimes I want to read more from other people, but honestly?  I don’t want to write more than that.

This happened to  me today:  While riding through Berkeley to get to my train into San Francisco, I thought deeply about helmet wearing.  I myself was not wearing a helmet.  These thoughts, more or less, passed through  my head:  it’s a beautiful day, helmets are so sweaty and I have to go in and talk to the judges when I arrive,  I’m going, like, 2.5 miles an hour, the biggest danger I’m going to encounter this morning on the bike boulevard through Berkeley is from a bug flying into my mouth, so I’ll keep my mouth closed, European bike commuters don’t wear helmets, sheesh, I’m not Lance Armstrong, biking like this isn’t dangerous, what kind of weird conspiracy is going on that tries to make people feel like they HAVE to wear a helmet or they’ll die?  And then I saw him, a guy in a helmet riding no hands down the street.  He took his helmet off, still no hands, adjusted it and then put it back on.

Something about that made me laugh and I decided to lighten up.


14 thoughts on “A Picture and a Couple of Paragraphs

  1. Hi Lily,

    Great to have you back! You should definitely wear your helmet so you can keep doing things like writing blog posts and biking to work. I was in a bike accident a month ago and fractured my elbow and got a concussion. Why did I get into a bike accident? I was on a path with no cars, just bikes and people. But going down a hill, I lost control, and when the path turned, I didn’t, and I crashed into a wall. Yes, I biked into a stationary wall. It was pretty dumb, but I guess I redeemed myself somewhat because I was wearing my helmet. Now I’m writing my Ulysses essay and while I’m bummed about still doing work, it’s much better than being brain dead. This is an unabashed scare story, but I hope it works! Wear your helmet and get back to thinking about things like dogs, cooking, and books 🙂

  2. Ella — I was wondering how that happened! I’m glad you’re okay. My thought on this is that at the speed I’m going, on the roads I’m on, it’s really unlikely I’d do anything more than topple over, and I can’t really see how I’d do even that. Really. I’m that … stately. When I’m doing what’s basically the equivalent of a jog, I feel okay about leaving the helmet at home. I keep thinking of all those sensible Danes riding their bikes without helmets. Ditto the Swedes, Norwegians, Belgians, French, and Dutch. One of my closest friends is English and she finds it ridiculous that Americans wear helmets when they’re doing something as safe as riding across Berkeley. There’s a big contentious debate about this going on in the internets (http://www.ecovelo.info/2009/05/04/contrary-to-popular-belief/), which is the reason I was obsessing about it on my ride through Berkeley. What I realized is that Europeans don’t perceive bike commuting as all that dangerous in part because they’re good riders — they’re visible and predictable. They don’t ride against traffic, or on sidewalks, run red lights or fail to yield at stop signs when a car clearly has the right of way, all behavior I’ve seen helmet wearing cyclists engage in. I keep coming back to how things like this are situational — you wear a helmet when you’re riding fast and downhill, and you don’t worry too much about it when you’re commuting to the bart station. What’s a good rule in one context is not necessarily a good rule in another. Anyway, good luck on that Ulysses paper — I’m guessing it’ll be terrific. xo

  3. I make Mister Litlove wear his helmet when he cycles to work (and here in the UK there are adverts on tv and talks in schools to encourage helmet wearing) as he travels on quite busy roads and I wish to protect his handsome head. He doesn’t like it though and is convinced it ruins his style (and it does a bit, but don’t tell him). It IS a difficult decision, isn’t it? When I have to meet someone professionally, I need all the help I can get, and am not sure I could risk such instant disadvantages as helmet hair. But then, if you can figure out a route that’s safe and uncongested, then you will probably be fine.

  4. Right you are, litlove! I’d wear one in that situation also. (And he does have a handsome head, doesn’t he!) What interests me so much about this issue is how it suggests a disinclination to assess the risk of activities that, while superficially similar, are actually more risky in some situations than in others. For example, race car drivers wear seat belts and helmets when they drive because, and this seems obvious to all of us, the risk of being in a crash where a helmet’s a good idea is much greater than in average driving. It seems odd to me that Americans don’t seem able to make the same risk analysis when it comes to cycling. It’s not a good idea to go helmet-less when you’re bike racing. But riding down a wide, bike-friendly, boulevard in Berkeley, with few cars, and many cyclists, just isn’t the same thing.

    Mr. Litlove’s ride down a busy road with possibly not very friendly drivers is closer to bike racing than it is to my stately ride. So, risk analysis? Wear a helmet. My kids wear helmets because (a) it’s the law and we obey it; and (b) they’re kids, and not yet as savvy about riding safety as, say, their mom who’s been riding her whole life, stops at lights, gives way to cars when they have the right of way, and generally is cautious.

    There’s a similar issue when it comes to drinking while pregnant. It simply isn’t the case that light to moderate drinking while pregnant is bad for a fetus. It’s heavy drinking that’s the problem. So why are women told that ALL drinking is bad during pregnancy? It has to do with the feeling that women are unable to tell the difference between light and heavy drinking. In other countries — where drinking moderate amounts of wine at dinner is maybe a more highly valued activity than it is in the United States — doctors don’t say the same thing.

    You can see why I had to tell myself to lighten up yesterday! Right now, I’m drinking tea. And I walked to the market to get some milk to put it in. The milk was organic, by the way.

  5. I agree with your risk analysis — and then I think about a friend’s adult daughter who was fatally injured falling off a slow bike, or another who hit the sidewalk and broke several bones and had a concussion, and it makes me worry that maybe the risk that is known is your speed and control of the bike, but what is unknown is the attention of others and possible road conditions. But, I live in a very unfriendly bike town. There has been a recent effort to install bike lanes but there are yet to be many who use them. Read a statistic about a year ago that what makes a place more bike-friendly isn’t bike lanes, but MORE BIKES. Apparently the more bikes that are on the road, the more aware drivers are — which may explain why there is safer biking in Europe. Regardless of my worries and over-thining, I wish you safe travels through Berkley on your bike.

  6. Cam, As usual, you’ve put your finger on something very true: the more bikes there are, the safer you are. Berkeley is a really bike friendly town and commuting by bike, on the network of bike boulevards through town, is a pleasant experience. Not so other places, and those are the places where you do indeed want to wear a helmet. The fact that catastrophic events can occur and you could, in hindsight, see how they could have been prevented, does not always argue for preventing them. I have a cousin who fell off a ladder and his entire life changed as a result of the head injury he incurred. Although these things happen, they happen so rarely that I suppose in many situations we simply decide to take the risk, because to do otherwise, would be more protective than we wish to be. This is a very individual analysis, having to do as it does with our histories, our experiences, the things we fear and the things we love.

  7. Just to say that if safety’s in numbers, Cambridge is a VERY safe town for cycling. The vast majority of students cycle and car drivers are (in the centre of the town at least) very used to looking out for them. The roads are crawling with bikes and they help to slow the traffic down. Maybe Berkeley is like that too?

  8. litlove, Cambridge: where people in black robes cycle madly to class, with briefcases hanging from their handlebars. And even if they don’t (that’s a Hollywood Cambridge, isn’t it?) I love it that they’re slowing down traffic.

    Debs — that’s a wild thing vision, without a doubt.

  9. Being one of those sensible Danes that cycle every day and have done for all my life I have to tell you that I wear a helmet. As does most Danes and Swedes. I never used to wear a helmet and swore that I never would, but as my kids started asking why I didn’t wear one when they had to, I ate my words and got a helmet. There was a time not long ago when nobody in Scandinavia would wear a helmet but that has changed drastically – now most people wear them. There are so many bikes here and everybody cycles, so drivers are quite aware, but I think most accidents on bikes are not because of drivers/cars but because of cycling too fast or not paying attention.
    However – when I have important meetings or when I’m going out for drinks or dinners I tend to forget my helmet…

  10. how funny Jane, those photos of cyclists in Copenhagen never show people in helmets. But maybe they’re old photos — or maybe everyone in Copenhagen is off to dinner and drinks (not important meetings!!) As for the children, the explanation “I am an adult, and an experienced rider; you are a child, and not” might fly in a family where it is quite clear that adults do things children aren’t allowed to do (we drink, we have boyfriends and girlfriends, we operate cars…), but sometimes only modeling certain behavior will work. And I too believe that most cycle accidents occur because riders are not being careful. I’m loving my bike, I have to say, and I’ll update everyone on the helmet issue as it develops.

  11. There are 3 reasons I advocate helmet wearing. 1. I insist my kids do. 2. I have a friend who is a PT for brain injured patients and I have heard her stories. 3. An experienced skater I know fell unexpectedly stepping onto the ice. His helmet broke in half. That could have been his head.

    Brains are precious. Nice hair isn’t.

  12. Bloglily dear, I have been away from your blog for too long, and am now playing catch up.

    PLEASE wear your helmet, sweaty or not it is better than being in a coma for two months and then the subsequent rehab plus the partial paralysis of the left side which was the experience of one of my college buddies. She was an athlete, all fit with great balance etc. All she was doing was riding her bike (sans the helmet she “always” wore because it was such a short trip) the TWO BLOCKS from her boyfriend’s place to her own apartment, the wheel slipped on the damp metal of the train track she was crossing and she fell, hitting her head on the metal track.

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