Monday, January 27, 2014

Soldiers wear helmets

On a day of snow squalls I sit in a warm house, perusing the Internet. Lots of signs of progress there, reports of improvements in cycling infrastructure in city after city; studies showing how urban cycling improves the human condition; articles about fashion designers catering to the city rider, and about the fun, genteel experience of urban transportation cycling. Helmets? We don't need or want them They're actually harmful and brand you as a geek. Upright bikes for people, not bent-over torture rigs for racers, are the finest expression of pedal power integrated into normal life.

I see little acknowledgment of the riders who preceded this incipient golden age. With or without helmets we used the streets. We asserted bicyclists' rights. We supported the nascent bike advocacy movement and we kept riding. The heroes of that age might be known and celebrated, names like Forester and Oberstar. Frankly I did not read much about riding. I just rode and developed my own techniques and opinions. Immature and undisciplined (which I remain), I did not get involved in the details of legislation. When I heard of an opportunity to chime in I did. Otherwise I was out on the road.

Over time I developed the habit of wearing a helmet. I've had a thing or two bounced off my head, and many more objects aimed in its direction. The hard hat has deflected the missiles that made it. I know it won't save me in the event of a really hard smash, but the helmets soldiers wear won't stop a bullet, either.  The helmet is a little something you can do. And, in many real-world riding environments it is a realistic response to a riding venue that is anything but genteel.

Days and weeks go by in which nothing disturbs the rhythm of the daily ride. When incidents occur they may be isolated or in a cluster. I live where it would be very complicated and expensive to add a protected cycle way to every right of way. Such places are far more common than the ones now being eyed for or turned into transportation cycling Utopias. Even in Utopia the bliss runs in channels with reefs and schools of sharks in the surrounding waters.

The people who "aren't cyclists" and "just ride their bikes" owe more to the beat-up veterans than they may care to acknowledge. They owe the very fact that there was a nucleus from which to start to the continuing obstinacy of decades of riders who simply did not quit. We go where we want, hoping to blaze trails that many will follow. We endure hostility, indifference, carelessness, simply to keep bicyclists in the public eye, not in the media but through the damn windscreen, day after day. We're here, we pedal, get used to it.

Some of us die out there. It won't be the happy helmetless urbanite on the protected cycle track. And that's fine. But it will be other  riders on other roads to which we all have a right, keeping on in hope that the better world will reach that far some day.


Steve A said...

The only effective cycling education I received in my youth came from the Boy Scouts of America. Thirty years before I learned of Forester, at a time when LAW was inactive and all society needed to do was to build more freeways.

Steve A said...

Nice to be a veteran, eh?

cafiend said...

I value the perspective.

Jack said...

Couldn?t be written any better. Reading this post reminds me of my old room mate! He always kept talking about this. I will forward this article to him. Pretty sure he will have a good read. Thanks for sharing!

RANTWICK said...

Nice one, Cafiend. I liked it very much.