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. totally lance

    ah freedom. steve is free to not wear a helmet, and i am free to call him a dipshit. america.

  2. Larry T

    In more than 50 years of cycling I’ve NEVER fallen and hit my head. Same with decades of motorcycling. But when I’m doing “a ride” rather than jumping on the shopping bike to zip down to the grocery store, a crash-hat’s usually on my head. The current hats are so light you hardly know they’re on your head. But I reserve the right to NOT wear one if I choose, including bici d’epoca events where modern crash hats spoil the old-time atmosphere and the organizers (so far) have escaped being forced to require helmet use. In the end all one is doing is reducing the chances of a busted melon rather than eliminating them, otherwise these “you’re insane for not wearing a helmet” advocates would be wearing one 24/7, right? You never know when your roof could come crashing down on your head or you could slip and fall while walking down the street, just as you never know if a dog will run out in front of you on your bike. Get well Tilford!

  3. JB

    Athletic-career-wise, maybe a fractured hip is just as bad as a TBI, but a TBI (and especially multiple TBIs) is way larger in scale that a hip break when it comes to “normal” life. There a lot of ways to live life (i.e., have a profession) w/o being an athlete. There aren’t many ways to live life with only half a working brain.

  4. KrakatoaEastofJava

    I will never visit the state that makes that a legal requirement. And I wear helmets often. But no way will I wear one when riding a beach cruiser to the park with my kid, etc.

  5. freddiej

    Jaysus Choppy, relax.
    Everything we do in live is a calculated risk – driving a car, walking down a flight of stairs, and propping ourselves up on a two-wheeled machine. We can die choking on chicken, or poisoning ourselves with tobacco. I know a guy who died falling off the second rung of a stepladder. When free solo climber John Bachar lost his grip and fell to his death at Mammoth Lakes, the obvious advice might have been “safer if you don’t go rock climbing.” One has to assume he knew that.
    I am one of these who thinks Steve would be wiser to wear a helmet. I also believe that his pledge to do it for the year will lead him to see it’s really no big deal.
    But what’s with you? There are many blogs you can go to; why are you coming here only to get yourself overwrought?

  6. Jeff

    Tony, While we’re at it how about a law making it illegal to take a shower without a helmet? After all, there are significant number of slip and fall bathroom injuries and fatalities.

  7. Doug Fitch (Smith)

    Holy cow! Some restraint please. My siblings and I were greatly effected by our fathers TBI and I have a second former teammate whose life just really hit the rocks due to TBI. I understand your outrage and the logic that fuels it. The facts are there. It’s very hard to watch someone you care about suffer (and Steve is a great friend of mine) and it can be frustrating beyond measure when exposure to risks continue. Like me, the issue clearly strikes a nerve with you. I’ve popped off too. The best we can do is express our concerns to family and friends in a way that imparts our concern. Clearly you care and that is terriific though at time terrifically painful. Aloha,Doug

  8. The Cyclist

    I seriously think your life experience could seriously benefit from letting the wind blow thru your hair next time you ride (provided of course you’re not bold as Levi) or go for a drive in a vintage Bugatti or just smoke some weed on top of a hill or just jump off a cliff and experience flying…

  9. KrakatoaEastofJava

    Big hair was for girls from Long Island and New Jersey. Most guys I knew in the early 80’s kept their hair “fairly” short. No facial hair (except for Kent Bostik and Kevin Costner).

  10. John O

    Hey Steve,
    Glad you are heading in the right direction.
    I didn’t get thru all of the comments I just don’t have time right now.
    One thing that hit home with me was Doug’s post. It really is about the family and friends. Had this happened during classic season Trudi would have been screwed with her job. Tucker would have gotten a lot more romps in the weeds. They posted up BigTime.
    Of course they will stop what they are doing to help you. I guess I would you ask myself “is it fair to ask them to put their life on hold? I think as a sign of respect you would never sling your leg over the saddle without a helmet again.
    John O

  11. Kevin Pedersen

    Interesting discussion. Some folks look at this issue from the standpoint of what are the chances of needing the protection of a helmet. If you ride a lot, the days of riding without incident seems to confirm the fact that using one is unnecessary. I use the logic in the question, What are the consequences if you should need a helmet some day on a seemingly ordinary ride that goes sideways. What are the chances vs what are the consequences? I ride with a helmet every time, buckle up every time and wear a dry suit every time I paddle in Alaska. The consequences are the deciding factor every time.

  12. Tony

    Don’t take my comment to seriously. We already have to many laws to protect us from ourselves

  13. Wildcat

    Conversation with wife + no TV on = extra Natty Lights

    I seriously hope the group that Steve rides with totally blocks him from rides when not wearing a helmet. No helmet = you’re riding by yourself. Tough love guys. You can do this!

  14. Tman

    My first road crash was in HS about 30 years ago. Parents gave me the money and I went down and bought a nice Rhode Gear Helmet. There is exactly ONE picture of me on a bike w/o a helmet you can find in those 30 years. They have saved my noggin many times. My 9 year old now rides with me and he puts his on EVERY time.

  15. D Brockman

    Felt compelled to comment as Steve’s recent blog seemed to validate my 35 years of riding with a helmet.

    Which sarted after a low speed fall coming back from the Luther ride into Ames. Thanks Michael Fatka for picking me up off the pavement and getting me to the hospital where I awoke some time later.

    I considered that my “one time pass”, not to be granted again. Perhaps consider the joy you’ve gotten to date without a helmet vs the small, if even noticeable impact the modern helmets bring to “comfort” or “freedom”

  16. The Cyclist

    Ok, enough of this comfort and freedom crap regarding modern lids. I don’t fuckin get what y’all aiming at. Have tested a bunch of modern tupperware from high end brands like Lazer, Giro etc and none of them is comfortable. Not a single one comes even close to the comfort of my old leather racing helmet the rest of y’all belittling as a hairnet. Maybe y’all bold like Levi or shave your heads like Lance or have strong necks like football players… I dunno, but something’s fishy here.

  17. Emacdo

    Dude, you’re from SoCal. Did you miss the 1980s there? There was even a salon in L.A. called Big Hair. You can pin most everything that’s tawdry and cheap on Jersey and Long Island but there’s plenty of blame for this one on SoCal too…:-)

  18. Emacdo

    It’s easier to blame and cast moral approbation than care and reach out. It gives people the opportunity to express self-promoting outrage rather than seeking to understand.

    Propping yourself up with righteous indignation is a fine, time-honored hobgoblin of small minds.

  19. JR

    In 25 plus years of riding, I have had 4 wrecks, 2 of which resulted in me hitting my head on the pavement. I would not be writing this if not for the helmet.


  20. JW

    Anyone who hits their helmet less head gets no sympathy from me. You gotta know it just ain’t worth the risk.

  21. Gordon

    I was using drugs in cycling before it became against the rules. I loved the feeling of being on drugs and used them even in training. Then they changed the rules. But because I was using drugs before they changed the rules, I still like to use them. So don’t get mad at me for using drugs in the peloton because that’s what I’ve always done.

  22. chris

    I suck at writing anyway, helmet made no difference. Hope gravity find you in great health some day, bud.

  23. Keith Knittle

    Steve, please think of it this way. It’s highly likely that if you were wearing a proper helmet on the day you stacked it you could be racing cross at Nationals right now. Worth it now?

  24. Niki

    You guys are all f’ing idiots trying to tell Steve what to do or bashing him for not wanting to wear a helmet. Why don’t you all worry about you and let Steve worry about himself? Not Trudi or Tucker, STEVE. When he rides onto the race course, he is required to wear a helmet. Every other time the MF wind can blow through his hair all he wants. Did he lose a sponsorship? Ya maybe but we won’t know and that’s again on Steve. For all of you pulling the healthcare woe is me card, my rates go up, blah blah blah – how about that teenage girl walking into the ED for a pregnancy test almost every damn day? That’s just one example but healthcare is used in much worse ways than Steve’s wrecks on a bike. As far as role models go, the great thing is there are plenty of people in this world and I am positive that one person will get it right for you in whatever you believe in at the time. Quit trying to put that on Steve. This is obviously not in the cards for you, so look for your helmet role model somewhere else.
    Most of you shouldn’t even throw your leg over a bike or maybe even step foot out of your house, because that plane might land on you and your helmet won’t help you then.

  25. Pingback: Fake News??? What to Believe??? – Helmets | Steve Tilford

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