Fortunately for me, I was wearing a good bike helmet when a pickup truck ran me off the road early one morning in July. I flew off my bike and landed on my right shoulder and elbow, just before my helmeted head smashed into the pavement. Because it happened so fast, I don’t know if the driver was texting, talking on the phone, or just trying to “teach me a lesson” about who controls the roads. And I will never know, because he did not stop.
However, bikers who saw the accident and an old man (79) lying there with blood streaming down his right arm and both legs stopped to offer assistance. I lay there for a while, moving gingerly to ascertain whether I had broken any bones. Then I got to my feet, checked the bike to see that it was OK, and — again gingerly — got back on and began pedaling slowly back to our home in Edgartown.
One young couple, smartly outfitted in matching cycling outfits, followed me discreetly, staying about 200 feet behind to make sure that I was going to make it. Their act of kindness was enough to offset the driver’s indifference or cruelty.
Today I have a new helmet, and I’m out about $300, the cost of replacing the big gear wheel and the derailleur.
Ever since that accident, I’ve been keeping track of helmet-wearing down-Island, paying particular attention to families biking together. By my unscientific survey, not even half of bikers wear helmets to protect their heads. Here’s the most depressing and alarming finding: Nearly all children who are biking with their parents wear helmets, but about 50 percent of their parents do not. That’s half of the moms and dads going helmetless themselves, while making their children protect their heads! What on earth are they thinking? That real men and tough women don’t wear helmets? Are they the same adults who resent having to wear masks?
Someday, the helmet-shunning parents are going to have a conversation along these lines:
Child: When I grow up, I’m going to take my kids bike-riding, just like you.
Dad or Mom: I hope you do.
Child: I want to be like you.
Dad or Mom: Thanks, son. That makes me feel just great.
Child: I can’t wait to be like you, Daddy. Can I be like you right now?
Dad or Mom: What do you mean?
Child: Can I take off this stupid helmet? You don’t wear one, so why should I?
How will these parents respond? Here are four possible answers.
- “Why sure, son. Real men don’t wear helmets. Take off that stupid thing off right now. Let’s all ride in traffic together without helmets.”
- “You’re being a wise-ass, just like your mother [father]. You do what I say, not what I do!”
- “Son, I don’t wear a helmet because our budget is tight this year, and we decided to spend the money on Disney Plus and Netflix. I’m doing this for you.”
- “Whoops, my bad, son. I should be wearing a helmet too. Let’s go get one for me right now!”
While Answers Nos. 1, 2, and 3 are theoretically possible, the only correct answer is No. 4. Everyone riding bikes should be wearing a helmet, no ifs, ands, or buts. Yes, Dad, real men wear masks and helmets!
John Merrow, a retired journalist and author of “Addicted to Reform: A 12-Step Program to Rescue Public Education,” lives in Edgartown.