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The Appearance of Safety

Posted by on March 7, 2017
I suppose the moment I realized I'd given up on life was when I found myself watching Dutch bicycle rush hour porn:

The above clip--a particularly perverse example of the genre in which throngs of cyclists somehow manage to coexist with both pedestrians and each-other despite a flagrant lack of both traffic controls and helmets--holds particular significance for me.  See, when I visited Amsterdam back in 2011 I regularly disembarked from this very spot, for we were staying in Amsterdam-Noord and relied on the ferry to get to and from the city proper:

Indeed, it was on one of those ferries that I spotted the rare and elusive Polnago:

Of course I wrote about my travels in my third book, "Bike Snob: A Broad," and to this day I remain nostalgic for my time in a city where it is perfectly normal to spirit your offspring about town in a in a waterproof germ bubble:

Alas, here in America we have a more complicated relationship with both children and bicycles, and for that matter with safety in general:

(The image of the kid in the plastic hat with a skinned knee really says it all.)

While I agree with the underlying theme of this story (accidents happen even when you take precautions so don't beat yourself up over it), I'm deeply unsettled by the comparison of bike helmets and vaccines:

Of course, the surfaces of playgrounds were rock-hard, there were no seatbelts in the back seat and no one had ever heard of bike helmets.

I’m not in any way nostalgic for unbridled bullying, any more than I am for bicycle-related head trauma, motor vehicle deaths or, for that matter, measles, whooping cough and other vaccine-preventable diseases. Making the world safer for children is a great and good thing. And it’s wonderful if you can fit the school to the child and make the playground more pleasant — as well as safer — for everyone.

Wait, bike helmets ended head trauma?

But even when you put down soft mats under the swings and get everyone buckled into their bike helmets, life doesn’t always go smoothly and we end up with regrets. And heaven knows, children who have managed to evade all the safety measures still come into the emergency room, and their parents have to hug them and take them home and keep going.

It's scary enough that there are people who are against vaccines, which are right up there with literacy and access to clean drinking water as the essential components for a decent quality of life.  Unfortunately, comparing helmets and vaccines in turn invites comparisons between people who don't put helmets on their children and people who don't vaccinate their children.  This is dangerous, not to mention stupid.

See, vaccines work.  Helmets, on the other hand (or head), are more like echinacea, in that people like to think they work but whether they actually do or not is debatable.  In fact, I'd argue that when it comes to children, helmets make cycling more dangerous.  Firstly, they're almost always fitted poorly.  (Putting shoes on a child is hard enough; do you think the average parent has the wherewithal to fuss with helmet straps?)  Secondly, a typical child's bike has such a tiny gear that unless the kid's going hillbombing he or she won't even reach running speed.  Thirdly, look at the size of these things relative to their precious little heads:

What happens is the kid falls of the bike and then their giant helmets hit the pavement, forcing their chins right into it, whereas if they didn't have a bib bulbous dome strapped to their heads it's entirely possible they wouldn't have hit their head at all.

Granted, I don't have the mean streak in me to push my child off his bike repeatedly with and without a helmet so I don't have hard data here, but I've been watching these little fuckers fall while riding, running, and even just standing still for years now and the mechanics have become fairly predictable.

So to recap:


Effective, administered by a doctor.


Decorative, administered by a parent who just wants to get out of the fucking house already.

And no, I'll never stop blathering on about bicycle helmets, because they are the foamy non-biodegradable embodiment of our completely idiotic relationship with safety--the same relationship that gave us travel bans, and calls for border walls, and guns in schools to protect kids from bears.  It's why we're an obese nation that drives everywhere, and why the bicycle is merely a tool for smuggling guns:

Ah yes, if only this country had proper respect for the Second Amendment decent folk wouldn't have to resort to such trickery and we'd be rid of bicycles (and safe from bears) forevermore.

Though this does raise an interesting question:


Why didn't the smuggler use a fat bike???

He could have carried a lot more firepower that way.

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