The Merits of Helmet Use | Cranked

Give Me Liberty

By Joe Gresh, Photography by Colleen Tagle

There seems to be some confusion amongst motorcyclists as to the merits of helmet use. One veteran rider interviewed for our local newspaper was quoted as saying that helmets actually cause injuries: impaired vision, neck damage and reduced hearing, along with the chance that the helmet could snag during a spill. I have my own opinion, but let's let those who ride decide...

My first street-legal motorcycle was a Honda SL70, capable of only 50 mph. Lacking speed to impress my pals, I was forced to learn how to wheelie. Unfortunately, the wheelie learning curve is a steep one. I lost control of the Honda riding on the rear wheel at 45 mph. The bike flipped over backwards, and after setting an Olympic record for the 100-yard dash while holding onto a minibike, I pushed off and landed face-first in the road.

The brow of my helmet hit the ground with a crunch, and I remember watching the asphalt sliding across my field of view. As the face shield wore down, it became difficult to see what was going on outside. This alone is proof that helmets restrict vision. After I stopped sliding, I got up and rode home.

Undeterred, I commenced to learn how to lock the throttle and stand on the seat. You can imagine the pride I felt as I rode past my high school waving to my earthbound friends.

Later, I moved up to a Honda 305 Dream. Instead of foam rubber for cushioning, the Dream used a multi-spring arrangement under the seat. This seemingly unimportant detail loomed large in the seat-standing business. The first time I tried the stunt, I fell off and popped my head so hard, my fiberglass helmet delaminated.

I remained conscious throughout, but when I opened my eyes, I had double vision. I could just make out the now-riderless 305 still cruising down the road. I was thankful for reduced hearing at this point because the kids I was showing off for were ROFL. It took several hours, but the double vision ceased. I tracked down the wayward 305 and rode it home.

Riding a 600cc single in the '80s, I developed an interest in dirt-track racing. I knew the names and numbers of all the top riders and traveled to watch AMA Grand National events frequently. My idolization led me to attempt power slides around every corner. The acme of virtuosity was achieved when I could pitch the bike sideways entering a freeway on-ramp and hold the throttle pinned while the rear tire drifted 16 inches out of line. This was great fun until I got too far out of shape one day and low-sided into four lanes of busy I-5. I found myself sitting on my butt, sliding down the road at 65 mph.

The crash was taking longer than I thought it should, so I jabbed my ungloved hands onto the roadway to slow things down. I was promptly whiplashed from a seated into a prone position. This drove the back of my helmet into the concrete hard enough to break the helmet, my glasses and chip the enamel off my teeth. I came to a stop flat on my back in the middle of the highway, like a slung retread. Tires were squealing, horns were honking, and cagers were performing evasive maneuvers to avoid running me over. Counting myself lucky that my helmet didn't snag on anything, I dragged my bike over to the breakdown lane, collected my thoughts and rode home. My neck was stiff for two weeks.

Those who ride may still be undecided, but my mind's made up: These damn helmets are nothing but trouble! If they're not breaking from impact, they're blocking your vision from abrasion, and they interfere with my hearing so badly, I can't hear St. Peter calling me home.

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