Remember the last time you rode without a helmet? I do. At least the last time I went on a ‘real’ ride without one. My pal, Ken and I were headed to Kananaskis country. At that point, we hadn’t done much riding in the mountains at all – we were still pretty green on the mtb scene. Ken had researched a trail called Jumpingpound, that sounded pretty good. We drove along, bikes on the roof of Ken’s red, VW Golf, a couple of Edmonton river valley riders, excited about the K-Country adventure ahead. We found the trail parking lot, got out of the car and started to get geared up. Then I heard Ken say, ‘Oh f*@k! I think I forgot my helmet.’ This, of course meant that yes, he had forgotten his helmet.
Faced with the dismal prospect of driving back to Calgary to get it, and losing valuable ride time, you guessed it – we opted to ride anyway, sans Ken’s helmet. Stupid? No, not at all, or at least this was our thinking, because we had a strategy, deciding to share my helmet, switching back and forth allowing one of us to rip while the other held back and took it a bit easy. Needless to say, until that day, neither of us truly realized the impact not wearing a helmet has on you once you’re used to wearing one, especially when riding on the rocky, rooted terrain of Jumpingpound with danger at every turn! Without the helmet, I rode like an old granny on the descents – so cautious in fact, I was probably putting myself more at risk than if I had just let it flow. Bottom line, riding without a helmet is scary and a bonehead move – not wearing one, to me now, is like driving without a seatbelt.
Helmets have come a long way. There are many types of them out there, and in my opinion some are definitely cooler than others. Most of the time though, it simply comes down to if you’re wearing the right helmet for the type of riding you’re doing. Example, wearing a downhill helmet with full-face shield on your CX whip – not ideal. Wearing your free-ride, matte-black, bucket helmet on your XC MTB, also not ideal. Neither would be wearing your visorless road helmet on your hipster cruiser, avec spoke cards… Each helmet has its place. Even looking within a single discipline like road for example, you can find yourself on the wrong end of a sideways remark, like Wiggins did this year with his choice of a ventless yellow helmet, or maybe too, for those now wearing the new ‘fashion forward’ XC style POC helmet. Maybe these will grow on me, but there is no denying that hemet choice faux-pas’, abound.
Now, putting all that unwanted pressure to choose the ‘right’ helmet, I do feel however, that there is a genuine resurgence of the ‘no-helmet’ movement – maybe a harkening back to the days of Eddy Merckx, when even the fastest riders in the world enjoyed the wind in their hair as they flew down the cols in the Alps. Or, maybe not. Actually, I see this no-helmet shift mostly in the university area here in E-town, where the hipster culture has planted its ‘rebel without a cause’ flag firmly. Hand-me-down dress shoes, low-riding skinny jeans, thin cotton v-neck t-shirts, iPad sized leather shoulder bags and ‘murses’, knock-off Raybans, craft beers, single-malt scotch and cruiser and single-speed bikes rule, and helmets have little place here.
So, what happens when helmets fall out of fashion in a growing global cycling culture? Well, someone out there figures out how to make an ‘invisible’ one. When I saw this video, I was waiting for the other shoe to drop – waiting for the punch line, but as you’ll see, this isn’t actually all that bad of an idea. I can’t exactly see Steve Peat screaming down World Cup course while sporting one of these, but it could be a real solution for the casual city rider one day soon.