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Helmets – To Wear or Not To Wear?

By Gregg Geerbaux

Freedom To Choose

Riding a motorcycle is a choice we freely make. No one has ever been forced (as far as I know) to be a motorcycle rider. The reasons for wanting to ride are many and as varied as there are riders. Just as varied are the types of bikes people ride and their choices of riding gear, or lack thereof. Here in Florida, for the most part, no one tells you what you have to wear when you ride. If a tank top, shorts, and flip-flops are your style, and you feel comfortable riding that way, that’s your choice and it’s perfectly legal. And if you're over 21 and have the proper medical coverage, you don’t even need to wear a helmet if you so choose. Freedom is a word often used in the motorcycle community and these choices are part of that freedom. Heck, if you drive a car, you gotta wear a seat belt all of the time. That is so oppressive. 

There was a time when no one had to wear a helmet. Then the national government got involved and started requiring the states to have a helmet law if they wanted to continue to receive highway construction funds. Of course, there was a backlash from those who ride and that led to the establishment of several of the motorcyclist rights organizations that you see today. Things have changed and now the helmet decisions are done at the state level. Back in the summer of 2000, the state of Florida allowed motorcycle riders over the age of 21 with $10,000 medical insurance coverage to ride without a helmet. That was when I put my helmet on the shelf in the garage and went for a ride with the breeze blowing past my unprotected skull. It was a wonderful feeling of freedom. If it was cold or rainy, I might dig out the helmet, but most days were lid free. 

Even though I know it’s not safe, nor smart, I like to ride without a helmet. I enjoy the feeling of the air rushing over my scalp as I roll down the road. I don't enjoy the weight of the helmet on my head nor the strap fastened around my chin. I like taking something dangerous and making it more dangerous. There’s a coolness factor to it that not everyone gets. And for those of you who never ever ride without one, I know it’s a totally foreign concept to you. But to me, and my feeble lil’ mind, it’s cool as hell. 

And while I really can’t trace it back to one particular incident or ride or whatever, somewhere along the way, I started wearing a helmet again. My attitude towards helmets changed. I didn’t have a close call or anything like that to make me think that I was playing the odds too long. Having friends involved in accidents wasn’t the reason as I’m the guy who thinks it’ll only happen to the other person and not to me. It might have been my frustration with trying to keep the helmet stickers attached to my forehead. Nah, not that either. 

Somewhere along the way, I started grabbing my helmet as I headed out the door for a ride. I was even wearing my helmet during the scorching summers, but I rationalized that was better than melanoma on my skull. Somewhere along the way, wearing a helmet when I ride has become a habit. It’s part of my riding regimen, along with boots and long pants. I even went so far as to buy a white helmet to help combat the summer heat. If you don’t believe that the helmet color can make a difference, put a white helmet and a black helmet in the summer sun for a few minutes and then place a hand on each one. Big diff, huh?

Do I think everyone should wear a helmet? Yes. Do I think everyone should be required by law to wear a helmet? No. I chose to ride without one for a time and I enjoyed it to the max. I understood the risk, but I preferred the reward. I do want to have that choice though. 

Many riders will tell you it’s all about freedom and the choices we make when we ride. We’re free to choose to drink alcohol when we ride, or not. We’re free to ride in a safe and responsible manner, or not. We’re free to choose to wear safety gear, or not. While we, as individuals, make those choices, we should also keep in mind that the results of our choices can have far-reaching effects on ourselves and others, such as our family and friends. Feel free to think about that.