When going out for a bike ride, don't forget your helmet

I humbly apologize. As a seasoned rider, I should know better.

An observant bike shop owner gently chided me about my past column photo - my helmet is unsafe, riding too far up my forehead. Today's photo corrects that error.

Several readers also rebuked me for going helmetless in my fantasy racing photo a few weeks ago. Truth be told, I wasn't riding, just holding the picket fence in that photo, strictly a fantasy of mine. But these keen observations spotlight the bigger issue: Helmetless biking, especially prevalent during the shutdown.

Like the majority of regional bike clubs, I am solidly in the helmet camp. It only took one melon rolling off my kitchen counter and hitting the tile floor to convince me to safeguard my own balding melon. YouTube videos of melon drops make that same point to helmet skeptics.

A family wears properly fitted helmets while out cycling. Ride Illinois, the statewide nonprofit bike advocacy organization, encourages people to wear a properly fitted helmet on every ride. courtesy of Rush University Medical Center/

An informal survey of 14 regional club officers, from Evanston to Joliet, yielded the following adamant responses about donning helmets: "Absolutely!" "Yes, all rides." "Always required." "No exceptions!"

So what happens if someone shows up bareheaded? Paula Matzek, vice-president of Arlington Heights Bike Club, offered a typical response: "It's been so long since someone showed up without one, I am not sure what we would do."

Others were much frostier: "They don't ride." "We don't tolerate riders not wearing helmets." "They're told to go home or ride separate from the club."

Obviously, experienced club riders have seen plenty of freak accidents and resulting medical disasters. I've cracked a helmet myself while kissing the pavement. Luckily, I saw only stars, not the ER.

State and regional advocacy groups and the national League of American Bicyclists (LAB) all agree. Dave Simmons, executive director of Ride Illinois, the statewide nonprofit bike advocacy organization, noted that his group "encourages people to wear a properly fitted helmet on every ride."

Kyle Whitehead, managing director of Public Affairs for metro Chicago's Active Transportation Alliance, shared, "Active Trans promotes helmet usage and requires them at all of our events."

The LAB website affirms that group's long-standing position encouraging helmet usage, strongly recommending that they meet helmet standards of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, American Society of Testing and Materials, or the Snell Memorial Foundation. And not just wearing helmets, but properly fitting them.

What is proper fit?

Think eyes, ears and mouth. A helmet should rest one to two finger widths above the eyebrows, tilted neither up nor down. When a rider glances up, the bottom edge should be visible. A helmet's straps should form a "Y" below the ears, snug against the head. Finally, the strap buckle should be fastened so that one to two fingers can fit between strap and chin. Opening one's mouth should tug the helmet down.

Are helmets legally required? Not in Illinois. In fact, no state mandates helmet use by all bicyclists, per LAB. If states do, those laws are directed at minors. Even so, surveys have shown that 75% to 81% of LAB members always wear helmets when they ride.

I'm one of them. While racing is no longer my fantasy, riding into my sunset years still is.

Thoughts while spinning my wheels:

An Einstein I am not, but Albert was surely on to something when he said, "I thought of that while riding my bicycle."

Einstein: "I thought of that while riding my bicycle." Courtesy of Bob Voors

Some of my best ideas originate on my rides - this biking column, for example, and its related cartoons/graphics. Maybe it's the riding alone, with traffic and potholes my only distractions. Maybe it's that daily stresses, pandemic and otherwise, fade away. Does this sound familiar?

Dr. JB Rose, licensed clinical psychologist and founder of Mindful Path Behavioral Health & Wellness, Inc., offered an idea, "Movement is a natural antidepressant. When we exercise, our bodies release natural endorphins. These feel-good hormones help alleviate mild depressive symptoms and reduce stress. From a Chinese medicine perspective, physical exercise gets your chi moving, removes stagnation and enhances health and vitality. In other words, movement is your best ally!"

• Join the ride. Reach Ralph Banasiak at

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