By Jesse D. Palmer
Let’s hope that a proposed law that would require adult bicyclists in California to wear helmets will be defeated – not just because it won’t save lives and will limit the expansion of bicycling, but because the government should keep its filthy hands off of our beautiful, liberatory bicycles. California State Senate Bill 192, introduced in February by Sen. Carol Liu, would make California the first US state to require adults to wear bike helmets, and would also require reflective clothing at night, under penalty of $25 fines.
Pro-bike groups point out that the law will set up an unnecessary barrier to casual bicycling and imply that bikes are dangerous and sport-like, which will discourage people from biking. Studies are divided as to how much safer one is wearing a helmet, bike advocates point out, but what is certain is that as more cyclists fill the streets, we become more visible and it becomes safer for everyone to bicycle. While bicycling has increased dramatically in California since 2000, the rate of injury has dropped by 45%.
An hour of bicycling is twice as safe as an hour riding in a car, plus the physical activity of bicycling dramatically reduces risk of health problems associated with inactivity. According to the California Bicycle Coalition citing a 2011 British Medical Journal study, “bicycling with or without a helmet saves as many as 77 lives for every life lost in a crash.” After Australia required all adults to wear helmets in the early ’90s, the rate of cycling began declining, according to a World Transport Policy and Practice study.
But let’s be clear – one of the greatest strengths of bicycles as a technology, as a community, and as a way of life is that biking is free, mostly unregulated, cheap and therefore egalitarian, ecologically sustainable, constantly inspiring, beautiful, graceful, balanced, healthy fun, joyful, and sexy. Bicyclists obey the laws of physics and nature, keenly aware of gravity, hills, wind conditions, light and weather. We’re small and vulnerable, so we pay close attention while we’re riding and bike defensively – not because of laws, but because of common sense. When we come to a stop sign with no cars in sight, we preserve our momentum and roll right through. Not just criminal cyclists ride like this— every bicyclist rides like this.
Bikes are one of the last areas of life where you don’t need a license, registration, insurance, or dependence on a huge corporation for fuel. Bikes are do-it-yourself – you power yourself, you can fix them yourself, a basic used one is cheap, it’s free and quick to park, and they promote, self-reliance, de-centralization, and independence.
Because of these factors, bicyclists share a strong sense of community, cooperation, sharing, and love. We wave and say hi when we pass each other; if we see someone who needs help we stop; and when we see other cyclists, it makes us happy, not filled with road rage.
Bicycling promotes a rolling meditative engagement with the world in which you notice your breathing, your heartbeat, the air’s smell, and the colors of plants and houses you pass. Unlike driving, you don’t become hypnotized and tuned out – isolated and insulated from the world around you. Bicyclists focus on and appreciate the people and neighborhoods close to them. Unsustainable fossil-fueled transit warps one’s sense of speed, time and space by giving the illusion that going fast and far is easy. This is a selfish, shortsighted, outdated illusion we must move beyond to survive on our fragile planet.
Bicycles are freedom machines that help us think, live, and interact in new more healthy, sustainable and respectful ways. As the world teeters on the brink of collapse, it’s crucial that we defend and expand wild unregulated corners of reality that are thriving free from the oppressive weight of corporations and their government bureaucracies. The biggest risk to cyclists are cars driven recklessly by yahoos who yell “wear a helmet” to every bicyclist they see. Get on your bike and ride, and, if you want, wear a helmet sometimes.