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20th Dec 2016

Take It From Me: If You Cycle In This City Without A Helmet, You Need To Get Your Head Checked


When your head hits the road really hard, all you see if white. Like a clap of thunder and the accompanying flash of lightning: pure white.

No flash of life; just a void of white.

Is it death?

Well, no. Not for me at least; in my case last week, the only crack was in the helmet.

It did its job, my head was intact (if a bit shook) and my headgear had bravely sacrificed its life, to absorb the energy from the fall, and to save my life.

But let’s roll back a bit.

Having moved the Lovin HQ to a new office right in the centre of the city, my usual drive to work was replaced with a two-wheel commute.

It was the logical solution, really, I was never a big fan of the bus, it’s too far to walk and I’m not 15 anymore so my skateboard would kill me – the bike was the next valid option on the list.

Anyway, it was something I always wanted to do but never did. Too many excuses: the weather, the lack of a shower at work and the fact that it was “too dangerous”.

But once I started, I loved it – a guaranteed commute time, passing all those cars and a bit of exercise. The shower at work is a work in progress, but actually with a quick shower at home, the right clothes and a baby wipe I am fresh as a daisy. Well, a daisy at Body and Soul.

And most importantly, I was always road safe and very traffic-aware.

Naturally, as the weather improved a few more ‘fairweather cyclists’ appeared, with the DublinBike brigade standing out in particular.

Lovin Dublin Grahambike003

Now, I love DublinBikes. They’re heavy but fast machines, and you can grab one and be on the other side of town in moments – magic. But there is a problem with the system that forces me to call the whole thing into question.

There’s never a helmet in sight.

All the more worrying when these bikes tend to be occupied by, shall we say, less seasoned cyclists.

But I digress. Regardless of anyone else on the road, it was inevitable I was due a fall – thousands of kilometres clocked up without incident, the law of averages was pretty much against me.

And when it happened, boy did it happen.

I left work a bit later than usual, a bit tired but keen to get home. The traffic was light by that stage, and so I picked up the pace. The lights went green, and to get through the next light on time I put a bit of weight on that pedal.

And then, snap – the chain caught and the bike stopped immediately. I did not.

Straight over the handlebars I went, landing head-first – and I mean proper head-first. A full-on white-out feeling, sliding along on my elbow before completing my contact with the road by smashing my hip off it. Shattered.

Everything white.

Lights, sunglasses, bits of bike everywhere and a Dublin Bus right there looming over me.

Luckily the bus driver was kind enough to stop.

Screen Shot 2016 05 31 At 14 26 38

The location of Graham’s fall

I crawled to the kerb, where two bystanders had gathered my stuff in genuine concern for me. I stood up, lost balance and felt very sore, old and broken – no blood, but my head was shook. I’ve had head impacts before, on the ski slopes, but this was way more than that. This was a heavy fall.

Since the adrenaline was pumping, I wasn’t really sure how bad things were at this point; I just sat there dazed with two strangers, as they made sure I was in one piece. One asked did I get hit by a car. Somehow that might have justified this wreck.

No, I thought; it was just me.

I saw my helmet: completely cracked, gone, dead. An ex-helmet. KIA, having seen out its sole raison d’être.

As if to read my mind, one guy who saw the whole thing piped up at that moment: “Thank god you had that helmet on this could have been a whole lot worse!”

These words swirled around in my head as I tried to catch a cab, failed, gave up and cycled home, slowly – feeling vulnerable, scared and pondering the fragility of life.

And heads.

If I came to any conclusion during that short trip home it was this: there is absolutely no reason not to wear a helmet. None.

And yet legislation around the world is sluggish to say the least; only Australia, Argentina and some regions in Canada have them as mandatory. Even then, it’s lightly policed.

The cycling Dutch and Nordics have a low use of helmets; you might argue because there are dedicated cycle lanes and no cars. But I would argue that is bullshit – no car was involved in my crash and the road didn’t soften because I was a human.

Maybe it’s personal choice and not something to be policed; maybe forcing it upon people would be ‘nanny state’ territory. I’d see the logic in that argument, but purely as a hypothetical one.

Maybe forcing people to wear them, on the city bikes in particular, would be an impediment to their usage. The low uptake of the Melbourne scheme has suggested exactly that. And sure, we all want high numbers on two wheels, and high participation in schemes like these.

But at what cost?

Take it from someone who, by very virtue of being here to write these words, is testament to their necessity. If you don’t wear a helmet while cycling, then you need to get your head checked.