Thursday, June 15, 2006

To wear or not to wear? that is the question!

To wear or not to wear a helmet?

Since Steeler QB Ben Roethlisberger cracked up his Suzuki this week, brushing death while not wearing a helmet, the topic of motorcycle helmets has filled the air. It’s the topic du jour in Western PA!

But before I address the debate of helmet vs. no helmet, a word or two about Ben’s accident: I don’t think that Ben can be blamed in this accident, as it was clearly the fault of the other driver; she failed to yield the right of way, crossing over into the other lane. And, in a larger sense, I don’t think that Ben can be blamed for not wearing a helmet: PA laws were rescinded for a reason, and the Steelers front office refused to forbid this exact practice, specifically, even though knowing about it. I don’t agree with piling on Ben, at all: his life came a whisker from ending, with other scars still with him; he’ll be wearing a partial plate or tooth implants the rest of his life, with his jaw held together by titanium plates and screws, together with damaged nasal canal and nose bones, and a brain more susceptible to concussion/damage. Ben has paid in spades for this, even though he is alive and better than anyone could have expected – a very tough price to pay for an accident not your fault!

But the accident does bring up the question: should I wear a helmet or not, while biking?

It’s an interesting debate, as PA recently rescinded its helmet laws, making helmet wearing optional. So why did PA make helmet laws optional? Is it a state filled with death-wish riders? No, it’s not that easy…

Consider the basic position of those against helmets. A poster by the name of “Rockman” argues passionately against wearing a helmet. It seems counterintuitive, but he is convinced that it hurts chances of survival.

As a member of ABATE OF OHIO I would like you to know that we have been fighting helmet laws for many years for a very good reason: They kill people. The accident yesterday could have been deadly if big Ben were wearing a helmet. Does anyone remember how Dale Earnhart died? In case you don’t it was the force created by the weight of his helmet when he hit the wall. The same could have happened to Ben if he were wearing a helmet. The rules of NASCAR now dictate that the drivers use a Hahns device because of this. There is no way to connect a Hahns device to a motorcycle. I don’t want to say that a helmet is a bad thing, but do want those of you who don’t ride to understand that there is a very good reason many of us don’t wear helmets. Some riders do some don’t, but it should be the riders’ choice, not some one with an agenda that doesn’t even ride to decide…LET THOSE WHO RIDE DECIDE.

Let those who ride decide, for their own lives! That pretty much sums up the case against wearing a helmet: the extra weight of the helmet is said to put the neck at greater risk for breaking. On this and similar arguments, bikers have successfully lobbied Pennsylvania State laws to where helmets are now optional for most riders.

However, the case for helmets is made just as passionately – other bikers supporting their arguments with graphic stories. JimSteeler responds to the argument against helmets by calling it “BS,” and offering his personal crash testimony:

Now that is pure BS that he is better off because he was not wearing a helmet!

I had my rear brakes lock up on me one time going 65 mph and I was heading straight for a concrete wall with a chain link fence above it. My life passed before me and when I bought my first bike at 16 years old the Italian guy who sold it to me said this to me: "If you wreck a motorcycle, know you wreck a motorcycle and do nothing but wreck a motorcycle, kick away, kick away!" He was Ernest Cerini Sr. from Donora, Pa.

When that point in my life passed by I dove off the bike and belly slid into the wall. I had a facemask on at the time. I can remember watching asphalt slide under my face and felt the heat from the friction on my nose being smashed against the face shield. When I hit the wall with my head the helmet was dented pretty deep, almost cracked and you could not even see through the face shield. I had a badly broken arm that took a bone transplant from my hip to repair, but I had no head injury whatsoever, not even a concussion. My first words when I got up were "my God! I'm alive.”


I cannot believe we have laws that require you to wear a seatbelt when surrounded by metal and have airbags, but you can ride a motorcycle without a helmet.

Then again there is a need for more organ donors.

And, that sums pretty well the argument for wearing a helmet.

So what’s a self-respecting rider supposed to do? Both of these positions have logical points: Yes, the face/skull cracks like a nutshell even at lower speeds. And, yes, the physics of added helmet weight can add potentially deadly force to the neck area [cf. Hahns device in NASCAR racing]. So what to do?

Well, several things I would just toss into the equation for an informed decision [informed with a blend of physics and modern technology]: 1. Helmet technology is improving, as our knowledge in alloys and aerospace textile hybrids increases. As the technology improves, the protection increases while the weight decreases: an inverse proportion of life-saving value. 2. The physics raised by Rockman, where the helmet adds force to the head and snaps the neck [viz., the sad example of Dale Earnheart], is more at risk for when the body stays stationary while the head keeps moving. In other words, it is far more likely that a race car driver [with his body secured by belts] is at risk from this destructive force than a biker: in a bike wreck, the body is often unrestrained, traveling with the head and neck until impact. Of course, depending on the physics of the crash, if the body is somehow stopped and the head still moving, then the risk remains. All in all, though, the odds of biking favor the helmet, from a purely statistical/physical point of view.

I wouldn’t wear a helmet in racecar without a Hahns device; but have no problem wearing a helmet on a bike.

The best answer, I believe, is to take advantage of helmet technology – to wear a light-weight and aerospace-informed cover: it gives face/skull protection at a fraction of the weight of older helmets, and reduces the chance of negative force on the spine/neck. Add leg armor like this, and it’s a Frodo-like chance against the Orcan spear!

So there’s your hot-topic word from Thoughts of Loy! To wear or not to wear? That is the question. Who knew the answer would be so easy? :-)

And free, no less!


Safe and happy riding, to you!


BigDaddiKool said...

I usually wear a helmut to the show'r so I won't fall and cracks my noggin'. Sometimes I wear a helmut mowing the yard cuz it hurts when I fall off my push mower, but I don't think it will break my necks. One time I wor a helmut to the Walmart down the street and people laughed at me.
-Cletus Purvis

Anonymous said...

Most o da time I wear a helomet, but once I climbed up'n a tree with my helomet on and got stuck for 2 days. That helomet saved my life, for sure.

But if'n I had had some o dat "body armor" - whooee, I could've excaped without eny cuts 'n boomers!