Okay, About Wearing a Helmet

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I’ve sort of taken some grief the last couple months since I crashed and fractured my skull without wearing a helmet.   I guess it should be expected.  People are pretty opinionated about their positions on wearing a helmet while riding a bike.  Probably the same with riding a motorcycle I’d guess.  Anyway, I thought about writing about it, then figured I’d wait until next year, which is now.

I’m not big on wearing a helmet.  I never liked it and still probably don’t.  I think I understand the risk/reward deal about helmet usage, but am not sure I really ever took that much into account.

I started riding, then racing, in the pre-helmet era.  When I first started, the only helmet that nearly everyone raced in was a leather strap helmet, or hairnet, as it was called.  We never wore them until we absolutely had to.

That changed when the USCF passed the “hard helmet” rule.  I was on the USCF board of directors and voted for the change of rule.  I sort of wrote a post about it a couple years ago.  I wasn’t big on it, but as it was presented to us, bike racing was going to seize to exist in the US if we didn’t make the rule change.  That was really a fabrication, but it was probably for the good. The European riders didn’t like the whole deal, but eventually, the rules were changed worldwide and everyone had to race, full time, with a helmet.

Anyway, I’ve never trained with a helmet.  I just don’t like the way it feels and really like riding much more without it.  Like I said above, I am fully aware of the risks.  I could show you a few papers on how much safer a helmet really is while riding a bike, but like all things, those papers wouldn’t change a person’s formulated opinion.

I’ve crashed hard quit a few times, wearing a helmet and not.  I flipped over my bars over 100kph in England, with only a strap helmet on and was out for a while.  I broke my collarbone, leg, hand and was pretty concussed.  But I didn’t fracture my skull.  That was while wearing virtually nothing.

This past crash is pretty indefensible in the helmet discussion.  I hit a dog at around 30 mph and flipped directly into the pavement, head first.  A pretty unusual crash.  First time in all the years I’ve been riding.  I don’t hope to ever do it again.

Do I wish I was wearing a helmet on that day?  Absolutely.  I wish I was wearing a motorcycle helmet even.  Obviously, after the fact, anything I could have done different to change the outcome of that crash, I would gladly sign up for now.  But I wasn’t wearing a helmet, so I don’t have that option.

Saying that, do I promise to wear a helmet forever after now?  Probably not.  Am I going to wear a helmet training and racing for the next few months, or maybe a year?  Absolutely.  But, I can’t promise, publically, that I am never going to ride a bicycle without a helmet ever again.  That most likely wouldn’t be true.

Maybe wearing a helmet training for the near future will warm me up to the whole deal?  I would like that.  Really.  I just don’t like riding as much with a helmet, so I never did.  Maybe that will change now.  I can only hope.

Even after we passed the hard helmet rule, here in the US, if the race was a “Pro” race, we could race without them.

This is the same even, the Coor’s Classic, 5 years earlier.  Me following Eric Heiden.

Andy (Hampsten), on his way to winning the Giro in 1988. Looks like a day to wear if there is one?

My strap helmet.

In my defense, here is a picture from Holland, where cycling is much more “popular” than here in the US. The article is about how overcrowded bike lanes are, not about why 95% of the people don’t wear helmets.



144 thoughts on “Okay, About Wearing a Helmet

  1. Charlie G

    Will toss this out to you Steve.  20 years ago when the helmet thing was still iffy, I was on a training ride with my arch triathlon rival (and good friend) Scott Langton.  Some days (back then) we had the new foam helmets on…some days we did not. today we did. We were cruising in on Hy 24 back to Manhattan on a tail end of 40 miles…yapping it up at about 20 mph. We look up and on the “off road lane” was a cone?  I split slightly left, Scott split slightly right. Scott did not slit quite enough.  there was a section (2′ x4′) of fresh laid cement.  When he hit it his front wheel went straight down and froze the bike.  It was like pulling back a spoon with one hand and then letting it go as it slingshot forward.  His hands never even left the handlebars. “Smack” was a load sound as his head hit straight into road (I just glanced over and saw all as he hit). That foam helmet literally exploded into 20 pieces.
    Scott: concussion, torn neck muscle and he walked away.  Strangely the front wheel did not buckle.  Rather the whole frame buckled (36 spokes back then). Watching the immediate stop & slingshot effect as his head hit the cement in a slit second there was no doubt in my mind had he not had a helmet on that day….his head would have fractured bad.  We both  swore to each other…from that day on…always we would wear the dam helmet.

  2. Josh Rice

    I’ve never regretted wearing a helmet, but there has been more than once I would’ve regretted not wearing one… I’d much rather some plastic and foam meet the ground than my scalp+skull.

  3. Mark

    One easy justification for wearing a helmet is related to uncontrollable variables such as a dog running out into you, a car passing/clipping you, a tire blowout or any other mechanical failure in a race or ride.
    It has nothing to with bike handling skills or how pro one is. No person simply cannot control everything so why not give yourself a little extra insurance? so you can ride again in the future.

    Besides, after all the money we sink into our bikes and gear, what’s another $150 for a helmet?

  4. El Tejan

    Not sure the example from Holland is particularly apt. Roads are designed much differently, most of those people are commuting at slow speeds and user road users are keenly aware of the cyclists.

    You claim “[you] understand the risk/reward deal about helmet usage.” Not wearing a helmet (for me) isn’t a reward at all. When it happens on those rare equations, I’m hypersensitive to my surrounding and anxious until I’m off the bike.

    I like that your honest with yourself and with your readers, but, selfishly I do wish you come to the conclusion that the risks outweigh what you see as the reward.

  5. Jim

    Like you, I rode, and raced, many, many miles before helmets were required in races.
    Like you I didn’t often wear one in training.
    Then one day while descending at local hill I reached about 40mph when i realized there was some gravel near the bottom.
    The gravel didn’t present an issue for me as I was on a different line.
    However, it got me to thinking that I could hit that gravel, hit a spot of oil, flat a tire, hit a dog (sound familiar) ,or any one of a hundred things and it would end badly.
    My children might be without a father or their father might be a vegetable.
    Really, was it worth it to ride without a helmet?
    To me, from that point on, it wasn’t.
    I love to ride my bike and if I am lying in a bed somewhere, I can’t do what I enjoy.
    I certainly am not telling you what you should do but I am telling you to think about the people who care about you.
    Now, make your choice.

  6. Tom Purvis

    I started riding real road bikes in 1973 when I was 9 years old. I finished my first century when I was 10. Every once in a while in a big organized ride you’d see somebody with a hairnet, but helmets were almost as rare as hen’s teeth. I never owned one until maybe 1992 even though I’d started mountain biking in ’88.

    I am concerned about how helmets are involved in automobile cyclist crashes. They talk about whether the murder victim was wearing a helmet, in THE SAME WAY they talk about whether the driver was wearing a seat belt. Fact is, if you’re hit by a multi-ton motor vehicle on your bike, you might as well be wearing a Burger King crown. Foam hats are not seat belts.

    When it comes to single bike or multi-bike crashes, they very often help. Even if it’s just to reduce skin damage, they help in my opinion well enough to be worth the annoyance. I have had three crashes during mtb races where I landed pretty much as you did, straight onto my skull. And I got a rung bell but at least no stiches or bald-man goose eggs. If you slap down hard enough though, the brain tissue is going to slop around and you are going to have a brain injury helmet or not. Even with a motorcycle helmet.

    That said, I have had a habit of leaving the helmet behind when riding around town (every dang day, including days with ice on the road) and snow biking. I have recently tightened my own helmet policy, largely as I’ve followed your story. I get why you don’t wear one. I don’t judge you for your opinion and admire your candor about the issue. But I’m in zero tolerance for ER mode. Anything I can do to reduce risk I am tending to do. Part because of the costs and part because my old carcass heals slow these days.

  7. Jeffery Butterfield

    I’m in the same boat, but a different sport. Back in the day, we climbers only wore a helmet on something obviously loose and manky, or while ice or alpine climbing where stuff is raining down all the time. But day in and out, in a place say, like Eldorado Canyon, you rarely saw anyone with a helmet, even on the hard stuff.

    Fast forward forty years: Climbing helmets are now feather light, yet I still feel weird with one on at my local crag. I suffer from the Craig MacTavish effect, I guess.

  8. peter

    I’m so used to riding with a helmet that it feels weird not to have one on.

    My wife crashed years ago on an organized ride. She doesn’t remember what happened. All she remembers is coming to in the middle of a country road. An ambulance was called and they took her to the hospital, pretty banged up. The doctor at the ER said she would have been dead if she wasn’t wearing her helmet.

    She’s a good bike rider, but not a pro racer by a long shot. But all that skill nix out the random stuff like dogs and cars driven by bad drivers. In the end, it’s a personal decision.

  9. Bryan Barber

    I agree with the Tejano! I raced my first triathlon in 86 with helmets required. In 88 a car knocked me unconscious but resulted only with gravel in my face and arms/legs. In 90 I imprinted my Giro into the windshield of a pick-up truck that turned left in front of me on the PCH in Malibu. Only injury was a sprained knee from toe clips. Forks and frames were bent. I’m confident either one of these incidents could’ve resulted in brain injury or death.
    I bought my first mountain bike and a new Giro and swore off road riding for 10 years. After literally hundreds of endo’s on the MTB and zero head injuries I grew to consider my helmet to be my best riding mate.
    It’s always been part of my riding gear and always will be. ( I do occasionally ride without it if I’ve missed placed it or left it in a friends vehicle)

  10. Joe

    Just wear it when you plan on crashing. As for me, on the long climbs I strap it to my handlebars, then put it back on for the descent, in traffic, or in a group.

  11. Bryan

    In 2005 I crashed bad enough to split my helmet in half. The ER docs that sewed up my arm asked to keep the helmet as a prop for bicycle safety lectures they give to schools. They flatly stated that if I hadn’t been wearing the helmet, the ambulance likely would have been scooping brains off the road and I wouldn’t just be getting 24 stitches in my arm. Convincing enough for me!

  12. Joeyc

    I’ve always said that riding without a helmet is like sex without a condom you know you shouldn’t be doing it but it just feels right.

  13. Bill K

    I understand your feeling, but make sure you wear one throughout 2017 to make sure your brain gets fully recovered. Maybe by the end of the year, you’ll be used to wearing it, and continue with it.

  14. Jeff

    I think Steve’s decision whether or not to wear a helmet is no different than other choices we all make every day about risk. I’m guessing some helmet advocates accept more risk in other areas to reap the rewards they enjoy. Personally I always wear a helmet when riding. Yet I often eat fatty foods day to day (cardio vascular disease is high on the actuarial risk table). It’s all a personal choice imho. Also, some helmet wearers may subconsciously feel overly safe and ride less carefully than min helmets wearers . Makes me curious about statistics. (May be the topic of the papers Steve referenced).

  15. The Cyclist

    In my experience the worst thing out there is a commuter in a helmet. Thinks he’s indestructable and lacks any compassion or understanding for anyone or anything besides his own speed and how fast he gets home from work. The ones not wearing helmets show lot more consideration towards other cycists. It’s a fact that helmets has made riding bikes on bikelanes way more dangerous than it used to be.

  16. mks

    I’ll take a different approach to the topic that hasn’t been mentioned in a response yet – and that’s personal responsibility. Don’t take me wrong – I’d rather have you alive and participating than not – but at the end of the day I’m not going to browbeat you or anyone else with “you should wear a helmet, yada, yada, yada”. I say – “do what you want – but be personally responsible for your choices”. What I mean by that is if you choose to go against the grain in society then do it – by all means – but don’t expect society then to pay for your mishap. Someday, please share the costs of what this event cost from a healthcare perspective. Then – share what you’ve paid in LIFETIME for insurance costs – I’ll wager your lifetime payments won’t even come close to matching the total costs of your care. So – what covered the difference? Society – ME for one – in my insurance premiums that go up just a little bit every time some “free spirit” wants to rebel against societal norms. It’s the double standard that drives me nuts – you want the societal benefit of insurance yet you choose to play by different rules. So there – that’s my view. Personal responsibility – stated another way: “you play – YOU pay”.

  17. Drew Chilson

    It’s your call Steve, and you have a reasonable perspective about it. Honest, reasoned. Reckon we should all do it for our loved ones, right? I’m a helmet design dork and admit, they still kinda suck for freedom (too much gear can tarnish the experience), comfort and safety (you may very well have still concussed badly). We’ll work on those last two…

    But here’s an analogy. I used to ride without glasses most times. Got crap in my eyes all the time, but it was cooler and I thought I could see better. Then glasses got better technically, acceptable in our bunch, and I got more than one pair so I could actually locate them pre-ride. Now I feel weird & naked without them, so clomp around to find a pair before the ride. They also now provide benefits other than safety (rock thrown to the eyeball) – the experience of riding actually got a little better.

    I also wore hairnets, Bell V1’s & Brancales (man, I wished I saved one of those ugly things – perfect pub helmet). Damn, those helmets sucked. The new lids are much better, like eyewear. I even prefer the good ones to “bare” because they help stop sweat pouring into my eyes on climbs. They provide handy storage space for my glasses, gloves & flat kit. The trick is to find one that feels free, offers some benefits other than safety, and looks like you want it to look. Then it’s no big thing, and when your buddy jokingly curbs you on the way to the potluck, you arrive and eat.

    Don’t get one, get a half dozen. Giro will send you some, and I’m good for at least one… LMK.

  18. Mishelle

    Regarding the automobile vs. cyclist crashes, my own recent experience with being hit by a car while riding tells me that it is indeed worth it to be wearing a helmet. I was hit from behind, went flying, and landed hard on my back and head. The helmet was crushed somewhat, but my skull wasn’t. I did have a concussion, but if I hadn’t been wearing a helmet, the head injury would have been much worse.

    Back in the day when I didn’t wear a helmet, I enjoyed the feel of the wind in my hair. I started wearing a helmet many years ago when I did a face-plant and suffered a mild TBI, along with having cuts and bruises in my right eye area, and also almost losing a tooth. A helmet may be of limited use in a face-plant situation, but on the other hand, I do think the front of the helmet would have helped at least some.

    I think the protection afforded by a helmet is worth the loss of having the feeling of wind in my hair.

  19. Steve Tilford Post author

    Jeff – One thing to know is that TBI’s (tramatic brain injury) are very common. The #1 reason for TBI’s in the US for someone 5-44 years of age is motor vehicle accidents. If that is the case, then we should all be wearing helmets when we drive. Granted, way less people ride a bike on a daily basis than drive, but it is definitely a problem when in an automobile.

    I broke my hip at a rainy, wet criterium. Do I wish I would have been wearing hip pads that day? Hell yes. Same thing anytime something that happens that is unsuspected, but not out of the realm of possibility.

    Like I said, there is pretty much no defense for not wearing a helmet after a skull fracture has occurred. Would a helmet have been a good thing that day? Most likely. Could it have been a detriment? Maybe, be probably not.

    We all make our choices in all aspects of our lives.

  20. Mark G

    We learn from our mistakes, it was a mistake not to wear a helmet that day. If you can not admit that.its your noggin.

  21. orphan

    I felt like Steve till I had kids. They changed my perspective. I’m not sure he has anyone in his life that can do that.

  22. Todd

    Steve….What are the thoughts of your family on you going out riding without a helmet? Does their opinion factor into your decision? Just curious.

  23. Jason

    I loathed wearing a helmet during the winter and wasn’t really a fan at other times either. Really the only reason I would wear a helmet was since it was required in a race I didn’t want the helmet to be a distraction so I wore it during training. Even though now I feel naked if I don’t wear one, it is a great feeling to ride the bike with no helmet and just to feel the wind.

  24. numbnuts

    Should be an option, but if you end up on your head… yah gotta suffer the consequences.

    In a car, I don’t wear a seat belt. I think we get this false sense of security from all the safety features now a days so people get careless. Thus, fear factor decreases.
    I do wear a helmet though. Having hit trees head on and had concussions etc… I don’t like them all that much. I’ve busted many of helmets when it could have been my skull. Mtbing is risky, so I do wear a helmet.
    But, if I was just going on my road bike to downtown or for a quick ride. I probably wouldn’t wear a helmet for the risks is much less. I’d take the risk. We walk down the road into traffic without a helmet on.

    So, in my view it really depends on how much risk one wants to assume and the comfort level…
    to have some institution institute laws/policy just for the sake of building their empires (I actually worked for a large police force, seen the inside of the large institution… lots of bullshit built on laws/policy for the sake of sustaining the empires, esp justice system).

    So, I think it depends on the person really. They have to live with the risk and results of their actions.

  25. Paul Kersey

    There’s many ways to look at the helmet issue.

    In my case I have people counting on me to be alive. My decision to wear a helmet isn’t mine but theirs. I have obligations and responsibilities. Not sure how many people you have counting on you, but it would be very irresponsible for me to be laid up for any extended period of time due to the fact I don’t like wearing a helmet. Not the just the incapacitated reasons but also the fiscal reasons. Not to mention clogging up medical services for very injured or sick people.

    Take an inventory and think of the people (and pets!) who count on you and would be greatly affected if you were permanently disabled or died due to an avoidable injury.

    Good luck on your continued recovery and Godspeed to you.

  26. H Luce

    If you go out and smack your helmetless head into the pavement again, if you live, Kris will be your nurse for the rest of your life… just sayin’

  27. Hans

    Helmets have gotten so good that I literally don’t notice if I have one on or not until the speed picks up and I feel more wind and a bit different sound.
    Maybe you’ll not notice much if any difference from going without one these days.

  28. Tony

    I recall a crank arm breaking a year ago and over the bars we go. Luckily no head injury. I do not recall Steve but I do not think you hit your head.

  29. PC

    This actually somewhat resonates with me; I raced BMX as a kid and helmets were just required. I got back into cycling in the early 2000’s, helmets were ubiquitous and they were just a way of life and ‘normal’ to me. Seeing someone without one seems extremely unusual and irresponsible in 2016, especially in ‘riskier’ endeavors such as racing/fast group rides.

    I contrast that with back in the late 90’s living in Seattle and skiing all over the Cascades. I never wore a helmet, nobody did. As cycling picked up more and more for me, skiing dropped off more and more. The last time on a ‘real’ mountain was in 2006…until this holiday break when I skied Killington for 3 days. Two things struck me; 1) skis are shorter and 2) everyone wears helmets. I was in the minority by far, going without one….mainly because I had no idea how prevelant they had become.

    The next time, I ski will I wear one? Possibly…some of it might be the shame factor of being the only one without and some of it would be being educated via cycling. However, on the other side I find myself repeating Steve’s rationale to myself…I don’t like how they feel…I’ve wrecked skiing and always came out okay…etc. I guess similar to Steve with cycling, this is the era & mindset I was raised in for skiing.

    So, while I don’t agree with the non-helmet thought process for cycling…I can understand.

  30. Doug

    I’m sorry Steve. Long time reader here, but I will not be able to continue supporting you or your site if you can’t learn from your mistakes. This was an opportunity to actually make cycling safer by reiterating the importance of wearing a helmet, but instead, this?

    An injury like you had doesn’t just effect you, it derails the life of those around you and, if insurance pays for any part of your medical costs, it even effects those who don’t know you or read your blog. Just as cigarette smoking is one of the largest, crippling costs to our healthcare system today. It’s not just a personal decision.

    There’s also role modeling to consider. No kid should ever see an experienced “pro” looking cyclist riding without a helmet. You are a sponsored athlete and should realize that a large part of the responsibility is the image that you portray.

    Helmets of course do not make you indestructible and cycling even with a helmet is still going to be dangerous. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do everything within reason to make it safer. Helmets do greatly reduce the risk of head injuries, which are on a different scale than, for example, hip injuries.

    My only hope is that by reading about your injury and rehabilitation, other’s can learn from your stupidity, and wear a damn helmet. Even if you do neither.

    I also run a cycling website and I will be removing all links to this blog.

    Sorry for being an A-hole, but this is a serious issue.

  31. devin

    We come here to listen to Steve because he flouts traditional lifestyle convention and advocates for personal choice. Are we going to hear outrage every time Steve rides in bad weather, at unsafe downhill speeds, in crowded criterium races, taking aggressive lines? All are more dangerous, statistically, than choosing to wear head protection. Everyone has a choice.

  32. LD

    This is a slippery slope to go down. Who is the arbiter for what the rules must be and who will or won’t be covered? Should anyone who eats sugar be refused insurance coverage for fear they will develop diabetes, which by the way today costs an average of $12,000/person to treat. Should people who don’t exercise be fined or denied coverage? What about those who don’t do cognitive brain training and later get dementia? Worse yet, the jury is out in so many of these areas: saturated fat is bad, no wait, maybe it’s OK; endurance exercise is good for the heart, no wait, it causes A-fib and is bad. I, for one, don’t want someone else deciding what is right for me, probably based on flawed science (remember the story about Harvard researchers taking money from the sugar industry and stating fat is a health risk and not sugar).

  33. Jeff

    The most compelling argument I’ve heard for wearing a helmet is for the “sake of your loved ones”. Makes sense. But using the same logic, should we discontinue cycling (helmet or not) since cycling is an optional, recreational activity that carries significant risk? Another compelling argument is the “pay to play” one. (If one chooses not to wear a helmet then he or she should pay for medical expenses if something goes wrong). Makes sense on the face of it. But using that rationale couldn’t it be argued by non-cyclists that cycling (helmet or not) is, it self, a risk that many choose not to take and therefore, if you take the risk, you should pay? Should anyone who is injured doing an optional, recreational activity be required to pay their medical bills? Who decides where on the risk/reward spectrum we should be? I agree with Steve that the individual should have that choice and that choice should be respected.

  34. LD

    Good on you for writing about the topic. It will be cathartic for your readers to express their opinions. IMO, we each make our own choices in life. I’m pro choice when it comes down to what you do with your own body.

  35. Dan

    Steve , there are many helmet’s out with a ton of ventilation, that are superlight that have that not wearing a helmet feel. Its the perfect solution !!

  36. Bolas Azules

    Tilly – Of anyone you are the perfect guy to respond to this having survived your recent brush with death. Hey I’m all for personal freedom and borderline stupid behavior so I say go for it and accept the results.

    Old Bolas Azules too came up through the ranks before the ‘ice cooler’ helmets and never trained with any kind of helmet for years so I’m not exactly a huge fan. In fact I would race today without one and not think too much of it – being a blessed bike handler might help this confidence a bit too. But today’s world of declining ability of the average driver, increased hatred of cyclists and enough gizmos and gadgets to distract even the brightest teen driving, I’ve given in. It’s not because of you or me, it’s everyone else…so I strap on the ice cooler and only really hate it on the hottest of days.

  37. Michael J Fatka

    I never post since i have had to put up with you in real life for 40 years …. and I will never regret the joy and honor in doing so…. all they way back to that first year when we thought your first name was Dick thanks to race reports from Bradley , Frise and Demgen talking of the peleton pest, the new guy, that Dick Tilford….. plus i was willing to let the helmet shaming to others since it would be big….
    But in this last post NOT much said about us folks Steve ….what about us… the ones who came close to having to spoon feed you for the rest of your life …..
    Your example has helped many beyond even knowing …. please don’t fall short on this one simple thing…
    Oh, ya, the Dutch photo …. I see dumb people …. I can only hope you were being funny …. an anectodal photo not much in the way of evidence….. hard to read sarcasm in online communications due due to lack of intonation and facial expression…. one can hope

  38. mks

    I think you are nit-picking to make your point. I’d rather generalize and go for the “blatant” outliers. As an example – if someone smokes should they pay more for health insurance – YES! If someone is obese (BMI>30) should they pay more for health insurance – YES! If someone chooses to not participate in something that is generally recognized to enhance your protection in an accident – helmets, seatbelts, mouthguard with sports, etc. should they be responsible to a greater degree for the costs of “repair” – YES!

  39. Jeff

    mks, I have many friends who won’t cycle because of the risks involved. So does that make all cyclists (helmet or no helmet) outliers? Where should the “outlier” line be drawn? I don’t disagree with your concept in theory. But in practice who decides? The correct answer is that individuals should decide, otherwise it’s a slippery slope (as LD contends).

  40. LD

    One more thought for the more socially liberal readers: are you “pro choice” when it comes to women’s reproductive rights? How far does that extend when it relates to the rest of the body? Should a person have the right to do what they want to their own body, no matter the effect on others around them? Should they undergo counseling or education first, then have free rein? I have no easy answer, only a question of who is to decide what is right for another.

  41. Terry

    By that logic, all policies would be individually tailored to a person’s risk. That would be very hard to do. I wonder what the statistics are for helmet wearers and non-wearers… maybe there is a higher rate of death from non-wearers, which actually saves costs?

  42. JB

    I started wearing a helmet circa ’98 after going over the bars, doing a half-twist, and conking my head.

    Wear the helmet for Trudy. Have you talked to her about it? Does she want to be your nurse?

  43. Tomi

    Freedom, do watchya like Steve.

    You know the risks, more so now probably/obviously, and you also know the reward. It’s your choice, who am I to judge.

    I like the freedom to choose, so out in the unpredictable forest, on the mtb, always got the lid on. Any sort of roadie group ride and I don’t know/trust all these squirrels, also grab the lid. But for noodling around town or solo days out on the road (which is pretty much all my road riding now), sure is nice to feel the wind in the hair and reconnect with the simple youthful exploration that put me on a bike in the first place….

  44. euro

    I bet you a million dollars that Trudi (is she even your wife?) would rather you wear a helmet than not. Of course you don’t have kids and have no one other than her to live for. But riding without a helmet is truly stupid.

  45. Steve Tilford Post author

    Doug – Sorry you feel that way. Maybe you didn’t read the end of the post. It said –

    “Do I wish I was wearing a helmet on that day? Absolutely. I wish I was wearing a motorcycle helmet even. Obviously, after the fact, anything I could have done different to change the outcome of that crash, I would gladly sign up for now. But I wasn’t wearing a helmet, so I don’t have that option.

    Saying that, do I promise to wear a helmet forever after now. Probably not. Am I going to wear a helmet training and racing for the next few months, or maybe a year. Absolutely. But, I can’t promise, publically, that I am never going to ride a bicycle without a helmet ever again. That most likely wouldn’t be true.

    Maybe wearing a helmet training for the near future will warm me up to the whole deal? I would like that. Really. I just don’t like riding as much with a helmet, so I never did. Maybe that will change now. I can only hope.”

    I was just being honest here. I hope this doesn’t happen to me again, but I’m not really beating myself up that it did. There are lots of other things in life that are just as dangerous.

    Maybe you should ask a few guys that have broken their hips if they think their injury was on a different scale than a head injury? You’ll be surprised by their answers. Maybe ask Bo Jackson. Maybe even Floyd. Or me.

    My answer would be I’m not sure yet. Hopefully no, but I’m not in a place to judge yet.

  46. Spinner

    Funny how it seems that the cyclists who were around before the “egg shells” are still struggling with wearing helmets. Yup, I’m from that era (actually well before) and I don’t like helmets either. YET, I wear one every time I ride my bicycle or my other two wheeled “suicide/organ donor” machines. WHY? They (helmets) WORK…..besides I’m bald and the latest helmets are way cooler than even a due rag…Helps also that the helmet is a very practical solution to reducing the number of cancer lesions I have to have removed every year (shades the old noodle)….

  47. Shaun W

    I’m with you on this Steve. When i do something (cycling or otherwise) below a certain risk threshold i don’t wear a helmet. When i do something of high risk I’ll wear one,.. but accept that I’d be better off not doing that “higher-risk” activity at all. I’m not criticizing those who do the fast group rides, heck i did them myself for years, but these days I generally avoid them. Actually I limit my exposure to pretty much any activity where the risks are such that helmets etc are advisable. Fortunately casual cycling is no more risky than walking or driving,.. and a whole lot more healthy.
    I did suck up my pride a while back and signed up for a SavvyCycling course. I figured it was what I’d tell someone else to do if they wanted to be safer so I should do it myself. It was good. Every rider would benefit and reduce their risk, especially in traffic.
    Now i AM looking into one for when i’m out surfing. My skill level is a lot lower than my judgement on a bike:-)

  48. Rob Arena

    On group rides I have long worn a helmet but I never used to wear a helmet when riding by myself until about 10 years ago. I purchased a portable satellite radio and modified the antenna to sit under my cycling cap. The modification didn’t work very well so I put some velcro on top of my helmet and it was a perfect fix! I’ve been riding with a helmet ever since. You just need a reason to wear a helmet 🙂

  49. sillypuddy

    Not wearing a helmet while riding is like having a conversation with my wife without having the TV on. Seriously, I only see old guys riding with no head protection. Trying to be old school or hard core is just anouther form of vanity crisis. Longing for the adoration of your peers can be a killer, literally in this case. I think we can all agree we admire ST for his racing skill and not his genius.
    Sillypuddy OUT!

  50. Ducky

    The post many had been waiting for, and as promised it delivers a real punch. Tilford will not say he will always wear a helmet for the rest of his days. And predictably the comment section lights up! Yesterdays post, Thinking About Skiing, was absolutely priceless. 9 people commented on that one. We all make our choices. RIP Harold, you drew a bum card.

  51. Doug Fitch

    It’s hard to earn money in a coma and I have a family, a house, and my kids tuition to pay for. Due to health issues, I can’t get disability insurance or purchase more life insurance. Tilly and I have been friends for years and teammates as pros. We hardly ever raced or trained with helmets. I elect to wear one all the time. I have another teammate/friend who life just completely crumpled as a result of a head injury. My dad was permanently disabled by a head injury. I’ve had several concussions. I wear a helmet 99% of the time and I feel, due to my current responsibilities, I should always. They ususally, but not always, help in a crash.

  52. Shaun W

    Firstly there’s no evidence that cyclists who wear helmets are at less risk than those who don’t. My chances of crashing is demonstrably far higher when I wear one (because of the sort of ride I’d then consider acceptable).
    Secondly, even those who RACE bikes (is the highest risk) are still far healthier than those who are sedentary. On the big picture the killer is not from cycling accidents (700/year) but heart disease, mental health, guns, diabetes, cancer.

  53. Shaun W

    MKS, there’s no evidence that cyclists who wear helmets are at less risk than those who don’t (mostly because of what they do when they put one on) . My chances of crashing is demonstrably far higher when I wear one. Indeed all 5 crashes in the past 20 years were in the 10% of the time I’ve had a helmet on.
    Secondly, even those who RACE bikes (ie the highest risk) are still healthier and a better insurance bet than those who are sedentary. On the big picture, the killer is not from cycling accidents (700/year) but heart disease, mental health, guns, diabetes, cancer.

  54. Elias Greiner

    I think we should ban bicycles, they can kill people. Or maybe we could have bike free zones…oh crap…those pesky republicans won’t let us do that. Gnats!!

  55. barb

    I used to selectively wear my helmet only when I felt it was necessary, and other times when I perceived the risk was low, not wear one. However now with all the goofballs texting and looking at their phones while driving, I always wear one no matter what road I’m on, because it only takes one inattentive driver to make the difference between a possible TBI and those other broken bone etc type injuries that just take time to heal. Although when you’re talking being confronted by a 2,000 lb out of control motor vehicle, it seems all wearing a helmet would help is allowing an open casket.

  56. Mikelikebikehike

    Wearing a helmet blocks the wind at your head enough that it makes those headwinds seem not as tough. There Steve, another reason to wear one !!

  57. Choppy Warburton

    Steve Tilford – no doubt about it – You’re fucking stupid.

    You had a close call and have come through the fire and still want to play with matches while soaked with gasoline.

    I have no respect for people that can’t learn simple lessons. You have more in common with Gary Busey than I could have ever imagined and he’s a leading idiot of the helmet less morons.

    Out of respect for the people (Drs. and nurses) that have taken care of you and continue to do so, you should be doing the exact opposite and becoming an advocate for helmet use.

    You’re a fucking parasite on society if you don’t embrace the responsibility and gift of having a second chance. Fuck you.

  58. Choppy Warburton

    Wrong about who suffers the consequences.

    If Tilford goes brain dead with next helmetless crash, we don’t even get the satisfaction of telling the vegetable ‘told you so’ but Kris and Trudy and society have the obligation to wipe his ass and roll him over 10 times a day to prevent bed sores until decades have passed.

    Steve’s message is clear – ‘fuck you all, I only give a damn about myself’

  59. Greg

    I live in Mississippi where seat belt usage is very low. Its sad to read on a nearly daily basis in our local newspaper that someone has died in an auto accident and that they were not wearing a seat belt. its not uncommon for two or three people to die in the same accident because they were all ejected after hitting a tree after running off the road. I think seat belt usage and education levels are inversely proportional.

  60. Opus

    Wrong. It’s the cyclists who eschew the helmet that think they are somehow invincible. Otherwise, they would take the reasonable precaution of putting one on.

    As for Mr. Tilford, you seem to be saying that you hope you wear a helmet but aren’t sure you will??? As if you, yourself, aren’t in control of your decision?

  61. Tom

    One of the things I’ve taken away from Steve’s helmetless crash episode is always wear a helmet – I never used to use one in town on my town bike – but now I do. Just never know what weird shit will come out at you – I love wearing it now and feel naked without it – thanks Steve. Glad I was able to learn a lesson without the downside you’ve suffered with. Hope your feeling better.

  62. KrakatoaEastofJava

    Funny how things change. 31 years ago, we’d almost ALL be saying how we hate USAC for imposing these heavy, Godforsaken buckets upon us. We also were mostly adamant about white socks going not much higher than our ankles, and any colored shorts you wanted (so long as the color was BLACK). We thought sunglasses were for Freds. That is, unless they were Oakley Factory Pilots.

    By the way, AZ has no motorcycle helmet law, and we don’t see a popular rebellion emerging, despite the high cost to the state’s Medicaid program. Freedom is cherished here. Even the freedom to acquire a TBI or a funeral.

  63. The Cyclist

    This is getting kinda funny. In a weird they. This might be the first time I got a ghost writing comments for me… or just the first time I noticed it.

  64. Dave Porter

    I lost my sense of smell from a cranial skull fracture about 20 years ago. It sucks to not smell perfume or know if the milk is bad. Wear one. Learn from me… Dave

  65. Dude Ron

    Beppu Sarroni looks resplendent on his Red Colnago with Del Tongo. Helmet isnt that something you wear on a construction site?! Jk!! Empty Coors Light Can on Alexi’s bike?!

  66. DR

    In the early 1980’s I too thought I was a badass and there were a couple of years that I trained without a helmet. My thinking was that I am highly skilled and the helmet was something for the recreational rider, not me. Then I noticed that every time I did hit the ground I put another scrape on my helmet. I realized what the helmet was potentially saving me from. I started wearing that pre-EPS Brancale all the time and have worn helmets ever since. I don’t ride with others who don’t wear helmets. My old helmets go in a box in case someone needs one some day. I have never had a concussion as a result of a crash but if I do I know that it will be less severe because I had a helmet on. My parent wouldn’t start the car until everyone’s seatbelt was fastened. I do the same thing today. If you you are in my car you have your seatbelt on, period. Some things are important enough to take a stand on.

  67. chris

    Was always wondering if your commitment to having huge hair has any influence on your not preferring to wear a helmet? If 80’s hair makes it hard to ventilate your noggin under a modern hardshell helmet, have you ever considered getting it cut? Also, the part about Fatka and everyone having to spoon feed you is spot on. I think everyone expected the blog to come to an end after the crash, but you have been doing excellent posts with out any sign of decline. A couple years ago I tried to get in shape by riding outdoors thru the winter and ended up slipping out on ice when it started to thaw up here. I would now have the IQ of an acorn squash if I hadn’t had my helmet on.

  68. Tom Purvis

    I don’t disagree that it’s a good idea to be wearing a helmet, and it’s likely to help. My point though was that if someone who’s just riding to the store (or a dutch person visiting the USA) and they get hit by a car and killed they would VERY LIKELY have died anyway, and to claim otherwise is victim blaming. That’s what I’m talking about. Cyclists accused of being at fault for their own deaths because they weren’t wearing a foam hat.

    I’d also add that some people will not start riding a bike for transportation if they have to wear a helmet.

    But again, I wear a helmet. I don’t want to not have one on next time I slap down onto the planet. I don’t expect it to be total protection. I would suggest that Steve’s head injury still might have been very bad, because his brain slapped around inside his skull. Probably would have avoided the fracture though.

  69. Tom Purvis

    People make statements and sometimes they are right, but sometimes they aren’t. I’m not saying the ER doc was wrong, just that he might have pulled that assertion right out of his butt. Doctors aren’t always all that smart. I had an achilles tendon problem when I was 36. A “Doctor” told me that I was getting too old to ride bikes. He was like 50 and said something like “when you get to be our age…”

    I really wish I’d told him he was an idiot to his face.


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