It’s that time of the year again. The pollen finally dies down a bit, the humidity takes over, and people from up to a couple of thousand miles away hop on their hogs, groin sleds, trikes, or what have you and make the pilgrimage to Myrtle. Except for the annoying increase in already horrendous traffic, I don’t really have any gripes with Bike Week.
Despite the strange, convoluted stigma surrounding "bikers" and other frequent riders, I’ve found that most of them are decent people all around. Hell, the Scorpions I knew in VA would rather hold bike rallies for sick kids than, say, shank some guy with a broken Budweiser bottle. (Time and a place, people.)
And if you ever want to sit down with someone and be regaled with some of the craziest stories you’ve ever heard, hunt down an older biker who’s been on the road for a while. Those cats are hep.
There’s one thing that makes me nervous about all these bikers. It’s not the reputation or the wardrobe or the attitudes. From what I’ve witnessed, something like only one in fifteen (of Bike Week bikers, now; I couldn’t tell you comprehensive figures) wear helmets.
Warning: I’m going to turn into everyone’s mother. "You’re not leaving this house without a helmet, Mister!"
Having walked (i.e. limped) away from a nasty wreck with only an annihilated shoulder and some lacerations, I’ve been trying to push helmet use ever since. Had I not been wearing one at the time of the accident, I’ve no doubt that I would’ve either been killed or suffered some serious head trauma. Ever since, I’ve been, for lack of a better, Non-Seinfeldian term, a "Helmet Nazi."
Of course, this wasn’t always so (and, granted, I haven’t ridden anything in over five or six years). Before the wreck, I was one of those die-hard, militant, "Wind in Your Hair, Bugs in Your Teeth" types. Even though I rode dirt bikes and quads instead of road bikes, the general philosophy is the same, except "Less Wind, More Bugs."
I’d only wear a helmet if I was unlucky enough to be caught leaving the house without one and my parents bitched me out. So, I suppose it was the freedom of riding without a helmet but, there was also a bit of hubris there, too, a definite, "What, me wreck?" mentality. And, yes, since my parents were the original "Helmet Nazis," there was a little bit of deliberate "Fuck the System" thinking as well.
Then, in a delicious coincidence, on one of the few days I donned the helmet unprompted, I got slung head-first down a hill. As can be imagined, I was a tad more careful once I finally (somewhat) recovered.
I’m not trying to chastise anyone, unlike my father, who, when I lamented wearing a helmet, said, "Well, at least we know that if you split your head open, it won’t affect ya much." People will always have their own reasons for deciding not to wear a helmet (some good, some not so good), so if that’s your kink, go forth and do your thing.
I’d suggest that one way to bolster helmet use, though, is to have some fun with it!
Form a band of Viking Bikers. Imagine a dozen guys cruising around town with horned helmets, dragon heads on the front of the choppers, leather armor, and fur vests. For bonus points, have the entire gang wear long blonde wigs and call everyone Nordic-sounding names like "Sven Kjordling" or "Tornblad the Tall."
Or, better yet, how about Samurai Bikers? Get some ornate helmets and chestplates and become the most honorable warriors on the highway.
If I had a bike, I’d rock it Pith-helmet-style. I’d pull up beside someone at a stoplight, give the person next to me a slow burn, and ask, in my best upper-class British accent, "Mr. Livingston, I presume?"
In closing, I know that some people will still continue to not wear helmets and, in all likelihood, these people are competent riders who will never have a serious wreck. But someone dies during Bike Week every year who would’ve survived had they been wearing a helmet.
A helmet’s not the only thing that will help save you; remember where you are...
People here drive like assholes. There are a whole Hell of a lot of cars on the road and most of the drivers have, at the best, only a vague idea of where they’re going. They are extremely brake happy and love jumping lanes with little to no warning. They are also, more often than not, completely unfamiliar with the concept of "blind spots;" the safe bet is to assume that everyone around you is a moron.
So, have a good time out there, people, but watch your asses.