14 July 2009

The resurrected bicycle helmet

In the mid-90s, the concept of bicycle helmets appeared on the national stage. Americans all over the country were being told that peddling without a helmet was unsafe. The media scared us with statistics and told tragic stories of lives lost – if only she was wearing a helmet!

My dad recognized the importance of this argument, and in August 1993 purchased four eighty-dollar bike helmets with the impression that his wife and children would embrace the innovation and value their own lives as much as he did.

But I, a scornful 15-year-old, soundly rejected the helmet. In typical teenager fashion I taunted its nerdy nature, expanded on horrors it would bestow on my hairstyle, and came up with suggestions as to how the money could have been better spent (amusement parks? clothing? holidays?). I even went as far to declare a preference to die of a major head injury than ever be seen riding with a helmet.

I don’t particularly remember my dad’s reaction, though I’m sure he was a bit taken back by my contempt. I never put on the helmet, and my biking enthusiasm was quashed by the driver’s license a couple years later.

Time passed, high school and college came and went, and houses were bought and sold. But in 2001 when I moved to the Netherlands, biking became my primary form of transportation. Bicycle helmets were a legal requirement in most of the U.S. by then, but the Dutch maintained the same attitude I held as a teenager: Helmets? Yeah, right. My return to two-wheel transportation did bring those helmets to mind again, though I assumed they had met their fate in a recycling bin or a trip to the goodwill.

Finally, in 2009, I’ve come to my senses. I enjoy biking longer distances now and even though I still banish the helmet in the city, I’m feeling more and more compelled to wear one during high-speed country trips. I searched for a proper fitting helmet in the Netherlands, but no luck – my head falls somewhere between the largest child size and the smallest adult size. I decided to postpone my purchase until my bi-annual trip to Minnesota.

This morning, back in the family home, I relayed my plans to my dad. In his calm way, he said, “Oh, well maybe you should try those helmets we used to have. They should be right up here.” And within seconds he located them in a closet, still boxed in the original packaging.

That’s my dad. He held on through the winds of adolescent aggression, through multiple moves, and kept those bicycle helmets. I’m proud to say that one will take the trip back to Dutchland with me, and will proudly perch on my extra-small head.

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