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My Chest Hair Saved My Life

So the former mayor of Austin got seriously hurt while riding with the people who like to load their bikes up in their Tahoes, drive out to the country, and go for a ride, and people are claiming his helmet saved him. Which is newsworthy since he's the one who pushed an all-ages helmet law here in Austin (which got me to stop riding for a year or so), despite the fact that bicycle helmets don't appear to be working. The old "the doctor said his helmet saved his life" canard has come up, and of course, the fact that his helmet is crushed and he's alive is taken as proof that the first caused the second. Folks like the members of the ACA, who generally go riding for fun on the weekends, don't understand how anybody wouldn't want to wear a helmet; but oddly enough, a much larger percentage of those of us who ride for transportation find them ranging from uncomfortable and inconvenient to way-too-hot. And, of course, useless.

I didn't really want to talk about this story, because even though he pushed this helmet law and did a lot of other nasty things, he's lying in a hospital bed, and using his accident for political purposes is pretty wrong. But the pro-helmet people are out in force on this one, and they need to be answered.

I have a story to tell.

The one time I rode my bike down to New Braunfels to go toobing (before the reactive arthritis ruined my toes), I went over my handlebars after a light turned red too quickly for me to safely stop at an intersection on the far south end of San Marcos. I flew like Superman, put my hands out, landed and skidded in some gross black oil which the drizzle had brought to the surface of the road, and came to a stop short of the intersection. I survived (and rode on to New Braunfels, although more slowly), and a good chunk of the hair on my chest and my knees was scraped off. Cuts and bruises on both, of course.

From this, I conclude that the hair on my chest saved my life. Because I hit the pavement chest-first; and the chest hair got ripped off. That's all the proof I need.

From here on out, I'm going to make fun of anybody who rides their bike who doesn't have a really hairy chest. And I plan on pushing for mandatory bicycle chest hair laws. Because, after all, it's all about safety.

Studies which show no relationship in the real world between the amount of chest hair and likelihood of dying on the road will be ignored by me, and the people who still insist on riding despite their relative hairlessness will be mocked as potential Darwin Award winners.

I'm sorry Mayor Todd is hurt. Even though I think his work screwed Austin in a number of ways during his tenure on the Council; he doesn't deserve the painful recovery process he'll endure, at best, and his family doesn't deserve the consequences either way. But the rest of you? Just shut up about stuff you know nothing about. Even if bicycle helmets actually provided the safety benefits people think they do, you're a lot healthier over the long run if you ride your bike (helmetless!) than if you drive.

This entry was posted in the following categories: Austin , Bicycling in Austin , Personal


Full disclosure: I haven't been a big bike rider in a few years and when I was it was mountain biking and I did wear a helmet, mostly because I wasn't very good :)

But snide comments about the perceived moral superiority aired by the helmet proponents, as long as there isn't a law that you must wear a helmet (only 17 and under are required, correct?), what is the downside of wearing one? I am sure both sides could show lies, damn lies, and statistics to back up the view that helmets help/don't help, but if you're against helmets because you believe they're not effective, what's the downside of someone wearing one? Looking dumb? :)

When I mountain-biked, I _did_ wear one, because mountain biking at anything more than trivial speed _is_ dangerous.

The problem with wearing one on the road is it convinces all those soccer moms that biking is dangerous. "Safety in numbers" works big-time for biking, so anything which keeps potential cyclists off the road is bad for those who remain on the road. If the helmet doesn't buy you any safety (it apparently doesn't), AND it's uncomfortable (hot), AND it makes cycling look dangerous, I think the balance of evidence suggests you'd be better off NOT wearing it, but I don't go around trying to convince helmet-wearers to take theirs off.

While you're lobbying for protective chest hair, can we get an ammendment for protective back hair? I am the safest guy in the world, and I have the back hair to prove it.

Yeah, but you have to ride your bike backwards. That's going to require some interesting mirror action.

OK OK The real reason I wear a helmet is because I'm bald. No protective hairs up there.

And biking is dangerous. Soccer mom's don't need a helmeted rider to prove this. That's such a lame argument and isn't supported by any facts. The guy riding at night on the wrong side of the road is enough proof to most people.

The statistics show that even with those wrong-way no-lights guy in the mix, bicycling is still safer than driving. Sorry.

And wearing a helmet because you're bald does, in my new theory, make a heck of a lot of sense. Good work!

Mike, I take it that your helmet position is that there is no detectible decrease in bicycle fatalities when cyclists wear helmets. However, do you also assert that given a bicycle accident, that helmets do not mitigate injury? If you assert the later, then I would have to disagree.

From reading many of your article links, it seems that many of the articles assert the former, and do not assert the later.

From my own personal experience, I have had 4 bicycle crashes involving my head, 2 with helmets and 2 without. The two accidents with helmets gave me cracked helmets, headaches, and a sore neck. The two without helmets gave me loss-of consciousness (one for 15 minutes), concussion, sprained neck, stitches in scalp, stitches in ear, and two visits to the emergency room. I have similar anecdotes from friends. I definitely believe wearing a helmet mitigates bicycling accident injuries.

I would assert given the data you present that we don't have any grounds to judge either way based on your experience, since your 4 accidents were likely not close enough to 'identical' to be used against each other. (That's the rub here - in order to 'prove' that your helmet saved you in any given accident, you would need to reset everything to normal, and then engage in the same exact accident without a helmet - oh, and do it 20 times, too, to get rid of random variations).

So ANY person who claims that their helmet did or didn't save them in any given accident or accidents is going beyond the bounds of what the data actually support.

On the other hand, the populational data (head injuries versus helmet usage) is so huge that if helmets had a non-trivial effect on head injuries, it would be seen in the graph.

That being said, I wear mine when I go mountain-biking. Sure. But there's no rational reason to wear one when road cycling, unless you also wear one in your car (where your risk of a head injury is higher; and where the negative effects of a helmet are less).

Oh, and of course, the other thing is that your riding style might have something to do with it as well. I can't believe that four head injuries on the road don't say anything about how you're riding, compared to my zero (or the zero of the grannies in Amsterdam who ride their whole lives without helmets).

Mike, I don't compare my 4 head accidents against each other, but I do assert that had I been wearing a helmet in either of my lidless accidents, my injuries would have been lessened. Given a helmet, my scalp and ear scars would not have happened. Additionally I have lots of anecdotes of other riders who have had lessened injuries thanks to helmets, including one friend's helmeted head, who I RAN OVER while riding, and came away uninjured. (Riding in big bike packs leads to many more crashes than riding solo!)

I am only talking about bicycle head impacts here, I have loads of non-head injury stories too.

Riding style might come into play. Then too, so may group rides versus solo rides - I have very few solo injury stories. Then too so may miles on the bike - I've been riding on 2 wheels for 38 years now, road, mountain, commuter, triathlon, trick-bikes, you name it.

Your chest hair story does not sound so ludicrous to me. Sure, it might be going too far to claim that it saved your life, but it does not sound strange to me that sliding on your chest hairs might have saved some skin. My dogs are a good example of this. I get cut everytime we go hiking. They with their thick hair get no cuts at all.

I won't even disagree with your scalp and ear comments. It's quite likely that a helmet, in that one crash, would have helped save you from minor cosmetic injuries.

But so would a cloth cap, like some European riders wear.

The reason I bring up "riding style" is that when I was riding my bike for transportation, the Shoal Creek racers would roll their eyes at me when I'd do it without a helmet; but, frankly, they were in a lot more danger of a head injury (with helmet) than I was without.

Go ahead and go helmetless. We don't need you in the gene pool.

Some Guy,

Thanks for the perfect confirmation that helmet promoters are a bunch of idiotic morons who don't understand statistics.


No, backhair just means, I'll be forced to crash on my back.

By the way, I got this link from a mountain biking listserv today.


Saddenly, they have no covers that look like an ass (asshat, get it?). Otherwise, I would get one for myself.


MIEK, There is no statistical correlation between helmet promoters and idiotic morons who don't understand statistics. You don't have any grounds to judge either way based on your experience. In order to 'prove' that helmet promoters are idiotic morons, you would need to reset everything to normal, and do it 20 times, too, to get rid of random variations. In fact, if statistics don't show it, it does not exist!

Yes! Another cyclist who understands that cycling is generally safe and helmets send the wrong message. Thank you.

One of these days I need to write an article outlining how to effectively fight mandatory helmet laws.