Biking Without a Helmet

I ride my bike all the time. Most days I bike to work, which is only about a mile away. I bike to the grocery as long as the stuff on the shopping list will fit in my backpack. And I don’t wear a helmet.

Everyone who knows me thinks this is crazy. I was hit by a car in 2007, suffered brain trauma and took three months to recover. I was wearing a helmet that day, so why don’t I do it now?


I don’t wear a helmet now because I don’t like doing it. Also, I’ve decided helmets give a false sense of security and distract you from something much more important, and that is staying off of streets that are unsafe.

Montezuma Road was the place I was hit and it’s one of those four-lane thoroughfares for which San Diego is unfortunately well-known. Cars on Montezuma go a mile a minute. I was hit while driving uphill and I must have seemed like I was standing still, given the speed differential between my bike and the car traffic. Unless they have protected bike lanes, streets like Montezuma are unsafe for bikes. Period.

These days I only ride my bike on safe, slow neighborhood streets. If my destination forces me onto a fast-moving multilane road, I bike on the sidewalk.

A guy I know who wears a helmet on his bike asked me, “What if the car jumps the curb?” I wonder if he is suggesting that pedestrians should wear helmets when they walk on the sidewalk. Yes, we’d all be safer if we never left the house without wearing a helmet but there’s a point where safety precautions get ridiculous.

A couple of years after I was struck on Montezuma Road, Charles Gilbreth was cycling on the same road and he was killed after being hit by a car. He was wearing a helmet.

Grant Peterson, in his entertaining and very sensible book Just Ride, says helmets provide added protection but only if you take no more road risk, wearing one, than you do when you’re not wearing a helmet. Can you wear a helmet and pretend you’re not wearing one? That would be the safest way to go, but I think it’s more easily said than done.

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