We're in the midst of a self-imposed hiatus from writing new blog material, as we're busy hustling behind-the-scenes on our first full-length book. But rather than suffer through total radio silence, we thought it would be fun to periodically revisit old articles we've published over the years, many of which are no longer available online. The following, written by Melissa, originally appeared in Velo Family Diaries on April 23rd, 2013.
It happens all too often. I'm out for a ride, enjoying the sheer joy of being out on my bicycle, taking in the world around me, when out of nowhere, someone yells, "Get a helmet!". Each time this happens I find myself dumbstruck and at a loss for words. Why is this person so angry that they felt the need to yell at me? My actions have not caused them harm or impeded their own travels, nor have we ever met before this moment. What on earth made them think it was appropriate to yell random advice at me?
I am calling this the plague of the "Concerned Citizen"; the random stranger that feels it is completely acceptable to shout advice or opinions at other strangers minding their own business. They are the people who yell at cyclists for things like not wearing a helmet, drinking a coffee while riding slowly – as has happened to my husband – or for rightly taking the lane when they feel it is necessary, among other things. While I'm sure they think they have the best of intentions, the reality is that what they are doing is distracting, ignorant, and just plain rude.
When I leave the house, I have never thought, "Gee, I really hope that a total stranger gives me unwarranted advice today by yelling at me while I'm riding." Nor would I even dream of doing that same thing to anyone else, be it the person smoking on the street or the heavy set person about to chow down on a Big Mac. There's a part of me that would love to yell, "Eat a salad!", but I have the good sense to know that's just wrong.
The fact is, I'm an adult, as are the people yelling at me and those like me. We all make decision based on facts and our beliefs. For me, I've done my research, and have made an educated decision based on what I have found. I know that while a helmet could minimize the damage to my head and the precious brain inside of it should I fall off my bike and hit my head, the likelihood of that actually happening is slim due to the slow pace at which I ride and the calmed streets and separated lanes I use. I am also aware that my head is not made of rubber, as someone yelled at me once while pulling my son in his trailer to preschool one day.
For the concerned citizen, the helmet advice generally comes from an emotional place. I don't blame them for being concerned, but yelling at me, "Someone loves you! For their sake, wear a helmet", is not going to make me rethink my decision and wear one, and in fact could have a more serious effect. I could get tired of being yelled at and just put my bike away... permanently. A friend of mine from Sit Up Vancouver summed it up nicely:
I often wonder if those yelling at me are aware that statistically, we can expect a severe head injury once every 8,000 years of cycling (source). Whereas other research has shown that for people that are involved in crashes in a car, whether drivers or passengers, they experience serious head injuries in 25-30% of the cases. When I looked up the statistics of the number of car crashes in the British Columbia, an ICBC report found that in 2011, there were 260,000 reported crashes. Of those, 52,000 resulted in casualty, 263 of which were fatal. When broken down further, in the incidents of fatal crashes, there were 291 victims, 225 (77%) of which were inside the car, be it driver or passenger, and 57 (20%) who were pedestrians. Only 7 (2%) of those victims were on bikes, which is pretty astounding, considering how unsafe riding a bike is portrayed.
I'm not advocating that there should be a ban on helmets. If it is important to you, then it is your choice and who am I to tell you differently? I am simply asking that instead of getting so enraged that it seems necessary to yell at me and my counterparts, stop and take a breath. Consider the facts, and then make an informed decision, all the while respecting my decision as an adult and as a human being. All I really want is to be able to enjoy my two-wheeled travels throughout the beautiful city I am lucky enough to live in, an act that should be openly encouraged, and not condemned. So please, have a little respect, and stop yelling at me.