Helmet Agnosticism Somewhat Explained

[Helmets do not prevent you from looking like you are about to sneeze.]
As a rule I don’t write or speak about bike helmets unless someone explicitly asks my opinion. That said, I was riding a bike and wearing a helmet the other day. A friend asked me to lead a bike ride for a class she was teaching, and asked me to wear a helmet, presumably because the students would all be doing the same. So of course, I did.

While on my way there, I passed my parents’ church. It was then that I realized a coincidence. In any given year, the number of times I wear a bike helmet and the number of times I go to church are exactly the same: somewhere between zero (0) and two (2).

[A UK bike advocate I follow on Twitter posted this today.]
I realized that I am a helmet agnostic, in other words, according to wikipedia, “a person who claims neither faith nor disbelief.”

Some parallels:
  • An agnostic is someone who says that the question of God / helmets is something they cannot know, and this is pretty much how I feel about God / helmets. 
  • Many people believe in God / helmets, and as long as the belief doesn’t have unwelcome impact on other people’s lives, I see no problem with that.
  • Belief in God / helmets give people very real feelings of safety and security, and that should not be discounted.
  • Sometimes you encounter a person with strong faith in God / helmets, who says that God / helmets have saved their life. Talking with these people about different positions on God / helmets is mostly fruitless, and I have neither learned much from nor enjoyed these conversations.
  • For some people, their connection to God / helmets seems purely symbolic and/or mostly about social convention, i.e. showing up for Church but not paying any attention or wearing a helmet but not strapping it. 
  • In some countries, God / helmets rarely appear in everyday life; in other societies, God / helmets are much more central. 
  • There is little scientific evidence to support the claims attributed to God / helmets.* 
That’s about all I can think of.

The best, most careful essay on helmets that I’ve read was written by my friend Shaun Lopez-Murphy, the former Minneapolis bicycle coordinator. It's titled "Are Bicycle Helmets Holding Us Back?" I recommend it.

* This is one thing I learned in my dissertation research!

[Murphy riding on the Midtown Greenway, image from the Star Tribune.]

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