Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

04 October 2015

Whether You Autumn Or Fall, Please Don't Take A Header!

A few posts ago, I made a lame pun to explain why I prefer "autumn" to "fall", especially when it comes to cycling.

No one has ever autumned off his or her bike.  On the other hand, just about every cyclist has taken a fall.  

I have taken a few in my time.  None resulted in my missing any significant amount of time from riding. Ironically, the only injuries that kept me off my bike for more than a few days were not cycling-related.  Ditto for the one other event that kept me out of the saddle:  my surgery.

Of the falls I have taken, two resulted in my head making any contact with whatever I was riding, and fell, on.  

The first came when I was pedaling from Park Slope, where I lived at the time, to a school in the Bronx where I'd been conducting poetry workshops as an artist-in residence. I had just spun my way across the Greenpoint Avenue  Bridge and veered left onto Van Dam Street, in an industrial area of Long Island City, Queens.  About two blocks into Queens, a truck driver flung his door open, and into my side--causing the one and only somersault I've ever done on my bike.  Some would argue it wasn't a true somersault, as I didn't push my hands out in time to keep me from rolling on my head.

The second time, I was riding my mountain bike in Forest Park.  I was pedaling at  high-octane pace and was in my own little zone, not paying attention to my surroundings.

Well, in my path was a mound the BMXers used to flip themselves in the air.  I rode up on it--in the wrong direction, on the nearly-vertical side.  

Well, I flipped over. But I didn't flip back. Instead of landing on my wheels, as any of the 14-year-old kids would have, I came to earth upside down.

Those 14-year-olds rushed to my side.  "We really thought you were gonna die!", one of them chimed after helping me up. I never lost consciousness, but when I got up, I noticed that my helmet had broken.  In two.

OK.  So now you probably have figured out my position on helmets.  Yes, I wear them and encourage others to do likewise.  

Even though I had a helmet protecting me in each of those accidents, I count the lucky stars I didn't see when I feel that I have never taken a "header".  I hope you haven't either.

A line drawing of the world's first "header".  From Roads Were Not Built For Cars.

It seems that in the days of high-wheeled bicycles (a.k.a. "penny farthings"), "headers" were a fairly common occurrence. And, since cyclists in those days commonly rode front wheels of 60 inches (about 1.75 meters) or more, the impact from such a fall must have been even greater.  

Some would use the fact that people survived such falls as an argument against helmet-wearing.  That's a valid argument, as far as it goes.  However, there is also this to consider:  In those days, no one seemed to know much about concussions, let alone their long-term effects.

So...Yes, I will continue to wear a helmet as I cycle in autumn--and be grateful I haven't taken a "header".  At least not yet.

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