My cycling commute has taken me over 1,000 miles so far, and thanks to my bike helmet I have many more miles ahead of me. After a recent bike accident, I have become a strong advocate of bike helmets and bike lights. Becoming a bike commuter has been a huge learning experience for me. Despite the advantage of watching Joe over the years, when it comes to my own journey I am in a brand new world. In a recent post I offered a lot of suggestions to make life easier for us working women cyclists.
Related Post: 7 of the Best Bike Lights for Street and Trail Cycling
Related Post: When to Use Flashing Bike Lights
Now I want to add a few tips about cycling safety
Last Thursday I was leaving the office to meet up with some friends for an early dinner halfway between my office and home. It was a lovely night, nice and warm but with a slight nip in the air that signals the coming fall. As I was leaving the office it occurred to me that I should just wear my casual clothes and forget the bike helmet just this one time. After all, bike helmets are something you make your kids wear, not something that adults have to wear, right? (Even though it’s my stylish Yakkay helmet, which I reviewed here.)
But as I was getting changed I realized that the skort I had planned to wear to dinner wouldn’t be comfortable over the cross bar of my road bike. Fortuitously, I revised my plans and changed into my regular cycling gear, including the bike helmet. As I was unlocking my bike I noticed that my front bike light was not working. I must have forgot to turn it off that morning after my ride in. Rats. But not a big problem as it was still broad daylight.
As an aside, below is the world’s first invisible bike helmet. To clarify: it looks like a collar until you have an accident, and then it puffs up into the round-the-head-airbag you see above. I guess the advantage is it does not mess up your hair unless you have an accident, and at that point you don’t care.
In any event, on that evening I was wearing a regular bike helmet, I was eager to get to dinner, and everything was going well. A few blocks away from the restaurant I was heading towards an uncontrolled intersection. No cars in sight, just two cyclists heading towards me traveling west. They slowed and indicated they were making a left turn, which one of the cyclists immediately did. The second cyclist stopped, I assumed because she saw me approaching her. But as I entered the intersection she suddenly turned directly in front of me, giving me no time to react. I T-boned her bike, sailed over my handle bars and we both went down – hard. I did a full somersault in the air, felt my head hit the pavement and landed flat on my back, winded but okay. This was my first somersault in at least 30 years – it is NOT something I do regularly!
As I hit the ground, I felt my bike helmet hit the ground, and realized that COULD have been my bare head. I was never more grateful for having worn my bike helmet.
I am fine and so is Vanessa, my fellow cyclist, our bikes maybe not so much. However, what happened next was truly heartwarming:
- All the cyclists in the vicinity stopped to make sure we were both okay (see Joe’s post on The Kindness of Strangers – the Cycling Community).
- The other cyclists helped us collect our gear and get off the road, and one sweet guy aligned my seat for me and chased down my water bottle half a block away.
- Vanessa and I exchanged information just in case there was any lasting damage to our bodies or our bikes.
- Instead of being angry and upset with each other, we repeatedly apologized to each other and kept checking in to make sure we were both physically okay. I have seen motorists turn very ugly with each other after accidents, especially if their expensive cars have been damaged, and this was a very different experience. We were concerned about our health, not our possessions.
- We helped each other get our chains back on and rode away wishing each other a“safe ride”.
So again I’ve learned – A LOT.
- First, cyclists are a supportive, caring community.
- Second, ALWAYS WEAR YOUR BIKE HELMET!
- Third, LIGHTS are as important for bikes as they are for cars, even during the day. Read all about lights in Joe’s Guide to Bike Lights, which tells you everything you need to know about saving your life with bike lights.
I was worried about messy hair instead of my health! There is no doubt in my mind that I would have left that accident in an ambulance if I hadn’t been wearing my helmet. I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately about the helmet debate and I was feeling ambivalent about it. But now bad hair and clever anti-helmet arguments be damned – my helmet stays ON.
As for lights – a bus driver once told Joe that he liked it when cyclists used lights in the day because he could see them from two blocks away. Since then we make a habit of using lights both day and night. Actually Joe goes to extremes and regularly uses his over-the-top MonkeyLectric Lights, reviewed here … but on the bright side, I am sure he can be seen from space!
Oddly, I got the same lights for my bike, but was STILL hit by a truck, as I write about here. You can light up your bike, but you can’t fix stupid!
However, that day the batteries in my front light were flat. Vanessa was traveling west in the early evening, directly into the sun. She was not wearing sunglasses and told me later that she had not seen me at all. Had my front light been working she would have noticed my bright pulsing light and would have known that something was approaching.
By the way, Joe and I are still searching for the perfect bike light system, and would welcome any advice/suggestions. The pic below shows a home-made lighting system which its creator calls “The Face of God.” However, I am looking for something a little simpler!
Also, there is a right way to wear your helmet, and several wrong ways. Here are two of the wrong ways to wear your bike helmet:
This picture shows the right way to wear your bike helmet.
Finally, your LOCAL BIKE STORE is your life line.
I limped my bike into Different Bikes in Burnaby on Friday afternoon and Jordie did a full triage and fixed me up in a half hour.
My cycling commute has taken me over 1,000 miles since July 2nd and thanks to my bike helmet I have many more miles ahead of me.
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Sorry to hear about your accident Maggie, but happy that you are OK 🙂
Mmm – wonder if the Vancouver Bike Helmet Police will buy the whole ‘invisible helmet’ thing. Doubt it, but it’s worth a try!
Maggie: SO GLAD you are OK. NEVER ever ride w/o a helmet. So glad you had yours on. My bike lights up like a CHRISTMAS TREE day and night. With Autumn around the corner, the afternoon sun can play games with depth perception in the shade. I keep spare batteries in my panniers, just in case I need them. FYI, I’m 42 miles away from 10,000 in 5 years here. Majority of my miles this year have been commuting miles.
THANK you Ray! I have packed spare batteries as well after that experience. I am impressed by the miles you have logged, I will get there one day 🙂
Cyril Matthews says
LOVE the light system gonna try it for this winter!!! Thanks for link.
Mitch in Seattle says
There’s no way of knowing if you’d have been just fine without a helmet … all of the arguments in favor of helmets are totally subjective – to be sure you would need to repeat the accident WITHOUT a helmet
Ken Leach says
Mitch, I assume you are joking about repeating the accident. I don’t think the conclusions Maggie draws are unreasonable. She felt her helmet crack on the pavement. She is happy that was not her head cracking on the pavement and she believes that if it had of been, she would have been injured. I suggest that this is all imminently reasonable. The arguments against helmets usually hinge on the notion that if you hit your head on pavement or a car while traveling at great speed, the helmet will not suffice to save you. This is probably true. However, there are many testimonies such as this one that assert that in accidents where low speeds and relatively minor impacts were involved, a bike helmet has effectively prevented any injury at all – rather than say a nasty concussion or a bad cut. To me, that’s a good enough reason to wear a helmet.
Yes, but what about all the evidence that bicycle helmets promote a culture of fear, that pedestrians and drivers have far higher rates of head injuries but nobody tells THEM to wear helmets, and that cycle helmets are a conspiracy by auto makers to scare people off bikes and into cars? – see video here of Mikael Colville-Anderson arguing this – http://www.treehugger.com/bikes/mikael-of-copenhagenize-on-why-we-should-not-wear-bike-helmets.html
@Anonymous Intelligent Guy (from another anon intelligent guy) : I get what you’re saying, and the point has been succinctly summarized as follows:
“Remember that every time we get into the debate about helmets, ask yourself if you’re arguing if helmets should be mandatory, or simply whether helmets are a good idea. That latter question is very much in doubt: answering it by enacting law would be a travesty.”
This point is expanded further in a brilliant discussion here: http://waterloons.blogspot.ca/2012/06/simplistic-solutions-to-complex.html
The key points were that helmet laws can make overall population health worse by decreasing the number of cyclists, and that helmet laws enable authorities to cheap out on providing cycling infrastructure because the problem has been “solved” by helmet laws. Of course, this like avoiding the expense of providing sidewalks by making a law that says helmets are mandatory for pedestrians!
Stephan Peters says
Everyone knows that you are more likely to be killed in a car than any other place. So why are there no laws to make people wear helmets in cars? Simple – because that would remind people that cars are dangerous, and big business does not want that, because they want people to spend money on cars, gas, insurance, roads, etc. But if were logical, we would never get in a car without strapping on full face helmets. Maybe body armor as well!
Brad Kilburn says
I’ll readily acknowledge helmets do provide some level of protection, but I think the problem is most people think they can provide more than they do. Case in point, speculation on concussion. Even the helmet manufacturers admit helmets do not prevent concussion. They are attempting to develop an anti-concussion helmet but they make a point to explain that they haven’t been successful yet. Another case in point, a helmet cracking or denting in an impact is not an indication the same thing would have happened to a skull. EPS isn’t nearly as strong as a skull. A head may have had more damage without a helmet, but it is likely to have suffered superficial damage and not much more.
As a woman cyclist I am happy to say that ever time I have ever had an accident or been stopped by a bike breakdown I have had offers of help within minutes (seconds in fact when i have had an accident). I find this really heartwarming. and it is not because I am gorgeous or something (I wish). So I never really feel alone biking even when I am alone I know that if I run into trouble help will be just a few minutes away. This is a great feeling. I don’t know if it’s the same in the motoring community because I am proud to say I have never driven a car I have always managed to travel under my own woman power!
Van Bike Gal says
Wow, what an experience I hope you will never have to repeat again! Glad to hear everything turned out okay and it was heartwarming hearing how fellow cyclists came together in your time of need.
Thanks VBG 🙂 I hope that is my last accident too. it was my 2nd time over the handlebars and I did not enjoy it any more the 2nd time. But I did find the response of other cyclists heart warming too!
Anonymous intelligent guy says
OMG I am so SICK of the helmet debate. It’s like smoking cigarettes, same sex marriage, doing bungee jumping, getting married, eating chocolate – DON’T DO IT IF YOU DON’t BELIEVE IN IT, do it if you do. End of argument. Geeeez. The problem comes in if you try to LEGALIZE it, as in you MUST get married, you CANNOT marry same sex partners, you CANNOT smoke, you MUST NOT eat chocolate, bungee jumping is retarded … etc. etc.
The POINT is not whether helmets are good or bad, the point is that intelligent adults should be able to choose. Legalizing them is stupid and detrimental, period.
Maggie has every right to choose to wear a helmet, if that makes her feel safer and keeps her cycling then all power to her. It just does not mean that I have to wear a helmet to feel safer or keep cycling.
It’s like that ridiculous fight the whole of Canada had about same-sex marriage. I just wanted to grab every person who opposed them, shake them, and say “Hey dude, if you don’t believe in it, it’s really simple – just DON’T DO IT!!!!” BUT don’t go around telling other people what they can or cannot do. Same goes for bike helmets. It’s called democracy.
Can’t believe I have to keep on saying this!
I’m sick of the helmet debate too. It gives the impression that cycling is dangerous and focuses attention on one of the least effective ways to make cycling safer
Average Joe Cyclist says
I could not agree more that it focuses attention in the wrong place. I feel it is just an excellent cop-out to avoid spending money on the safe infrastructure we need, and to point a finger of blame at cyclists instead of facing the economic reality that motorists get more infrastructure for their tax dollars than cyclists do.
Average Joe Cyclist says
Thanks for all the great input and links to helmet discussions. One could write a book about it. Seems to me the bottom line comes down to freedom of choice … personally I know that even if they weren’t legally enforced, I would still wear them UNTIL the infrastructure improves vastly. I did not wear them cycling in Montreal because the entire sophisticated network of separate cycling lanes made me feel safe. I would love to see that here.
lagatta à montréal says
Average Joe and Maggie, hello!
I’m one of the many Montréalais et Montréalaises who have been fighting for decades for the network of bicycle paths and lanes you have observed. We have won a lot of infrastructure to “eliminate the danger at the source”, but there is a long way to go.
Average Joe Cyclist says
Good work – good on you! We tend to forget that the great infrastructure we see did not just “happen” – it’s the result of hard work by dedicated volunteers like you. Thank you 🙂
Melanie Suzanne says
Hi Maggie! What a frightening experience. I’ve been hit by another cyclist once, and we both wound up in the ER: me with a concussion and him with a dislocated shoulder and broken collarbone. My helmet was a wreck and, as I lay strapped to the back board in the ambulance, the EMTs thanked me again and again for wearing it. The other cyclist and I were swarmed by several other cyclists who wanted to offer aid, which I would have found heart-warming if I hadn’t been in shock at the time. 🙂 Every other self-induced crash has resulted in skinned knees and arms and I haven’t cracked another helmet since. (*knock wood*)
My light set-up is the Niterider MiNewt.600 which is USB rechargeable which is just as bright as car headlights. (My commute is along unlit ruralish/suburban streets and an unlit bike trail with lots of deer.) I never leave it only my handlebar and can charge it at work. My tail light is a 1W Portland Design Works Radbot 1000 which I call the Do Not Look Into Laser With Remaining Eye light. 🙂
I’d love to set up a hub generator system with retro-looking head- and tail-lights on my bikes, but they are so expensive!
Average Joe Cyclist says
Hi Melanie, nice to hear from you. Sounds like a horrible accident – I am glad you had the courage to come back – I sometimes wonder if I would. Maggie has commuted by bike for a total of about 6 weeks in her entire life, and has flipped over the handlebars TWICE in that time (both at the age of over 50, when these kinds of acrobatics become that much more risky). I have commuted by bike for a total of about 12 YEARS in my life, and have never yet flipped over the handlebars, nor had any kind of accident worth mentioning. I LIKE to think it is because I am a better cyclist (I am a man after all, and my ego gets in the way of reality once in a while). But the truth is that a) I have been LUCKY as hell and b) my wife is much more courageous and daring than I am! I often tell her she has the knees of a 10-year-old boy (slim and covered with scrapes, bumps and bruises from all her escapades!) While I on the other hand have the knees of a middle aged man, which is not nearly such a good thing to have!
Very interesting that the EMTs were so thankful that you had your helmet on. I think those people would make some very interesting contributions to the helmet debate if they were asked. Obviously they see some pretty horrific sights. I remember I once dated a nurse and she used to get furious whenever she saw people not wearing seat belts – because she was one of the people who had to deal with the horrifying aftermath of people who had flown through windscreens face-first. She said that was one of the most awful sights a person could ever see – people with their faces shredded to ribbons, who could have been intact if they had just buckled on a seat belt. She told me about that 30 years ago and I have not forgotten her words to this day – it was just so chilling and graphic. We seldom think about what people such as EMTs and nurses go through on a daily basis, dealing with the aftermath of accidents, and I can see why preventable harm would upset them.
Thanks for the input on lights – sounds like you have found a couple of good ones, especially the front light. Those Niteriders are not cheap, though! However, life is not cheap either – I think lighting is an area where money should be no object …
Velo Dude says
Maggie & Joe – you can’t go wrong with the Electron Terra 2 for a front light; and the Cateye Rapid 3 rear light. The ET2 is bright and versatile at around $150, the rear light is super bright , user friendly and less than $50. Ive tried a lot and those are my pics! The ET2 is actually two lights, you can use one for flashing and one for lighting your way; Sanyo li-ion battery which is pretty awesome at that price point.
Average Joe Cyclist says
Thanks Velo Dude – I have heard good things about the Electron Terra 2 and have been tempted to give it a try (plus it comes in black and red, which would look awesome on my black and red bike!)
I’m glad you were able to ride away. My first (and only so far) commuting accident involved a mini van, a twisted bike and a week off biking. That was three years ago, and still particularly cautious at The intersection of Fader & Braid.
I’m still looking for the perfect lighting system myself. I want something that runs off one battery, switches on/off by one switch and comes on automatically when the bike starts moving. Having the front light mounted below the handlebar (attached to the stem?) would be nice, too.
I’m glad you were able to ride away. My first commuting accident (and only one so far) involved a mini van, a twisted bike, a trip to the hospital and a week off riding. It’s been over three years now, and I’m still extra-cautions at the corner of Fader & Braid.
“Sun in the eyes” was a contributor to my crash as well, but I would have had to have Joe’s MonkeyLectrics for the guy to see me, because he was coming from my right.
I’m still looking for a good lighting system. I want something economical (of course) that runs on a single battery, turns on/off with single switch and comes on automatically when the bike starts moving.
Average Joe Cyclist says
Great to hear from you again Graeme 🙂 I remember you talking about that accident before. I am in the process of examining light systems too. More and more electric bikes are coming out with integrated light systems, but this has not caught on with regular bikes yet. I bet it will in time though …
Anonymous intelligent guy, I too am sick of the helmet debate.
All it does is make everyone think cycling is dangerous, and focus on one of the least effective ways to reduce injury to cyclists. (oh yeah, and it divides the cycling community as well)
There’s a difference between people who advocate for people on bikes to wear helmets, and people who advocate to make it illegal to ride a bike without a helmet. Pro-Helmet does not mean Pro-Helmet law. Helmets are good, Helmet-Laws are not.
I am glad to hear that you were fine after the incident, but for anyone to advocate for helmet mandation because of a serious incident is inappropriate. Please don’t use emotional arguments to convey messages about helmet laws.
Because the stats show, that riding a bike is EXTREMELY safe, and that the goal is to get people on bikes. Helmet laws do not do that, they discourage cycling.
Hi Kyle, thanks for contributing to the conversation and for making some good points. I am confused though – when you say “for anyone to advocate for helmet mandation because of a serious incident is inappropriate. Please don’t use emotional arguments to convey messages about helmet laws” – are you lecturing me personally, or just making a general point? If it’s a general point, I could not agree more – but if you are lecturing me, please check back to what I wrote in the post – I am saying that I personally will be wearing my helmet, and that I personally think they keep people safer – but that is an awfully long way away from campaigning for mandatory helmet laws! I am completely opposed to those, and in fact believe that if Vancouver continues to have those, it will kill the new bike share program – apart from the broader and more serious problem that such laws are proven to discourage cycling in general, hence being detrimental to health instead of promoting health. Just last week I was not even sure whether I wanted to wear my own helmet, so please don’t accuse me of being part of a bunch of pro-helmet-law campaigners … if that’s what you were doing.