I blame the new bike bag, really. It’s lovely and waterproof and oh-so-practical – a Real Bike Commuter bag – but it needs to be packed differently than my old bag. Which means I need to remember different things when I’m getting ready to leave the office. Which means I wasn’t thinking of where I left my bike helmet when I flew out the door the other day.

I didn’t even notice until I was a block away from the Hawthorne Bridge. I looked up at the clouds to check if I would beat the rain, if I was likely to need my hood. My head felt lighter than usual. Traffic was louder. The first wave of panic was immediately overrun by resignation. Of course I forgot my helmet.

I thought about turning around and going back to get it, but I was already running late. I know exactly how long it takes to bike to daycare – 24 minutes on my heavy cargo bike – and I didn’t have time to get back, grab the helmet, and bike the 4.2 miles uphill before daycare started laying late charges on me. So I kept going.

The whole way there I felt people’s eyes on me, judging me, this reckless woman biking in traffic at rush hour without a helmet. Every time I passed someone, or was passed by someone, I wanted to explain myself: It was an accident! I always wear a helmet! I follow the rules – I am a rule-follower!

I thought about the bad example I was setting for my kids, who are never under any circumstances nuh-uh no-way allowed to get on their bikes without helmets, even though I never wore one when I was a kid, and why is it so bad, anyway, for a kid to ride his bike on the sidewalk without a helmet? Are sidewalks any harder now than they were when I was a kid?

I wanted to like it, this unexpected moment of freedom, of feeling the wind in my hair. Instead, I felt vulnerable in a way that had nothing to do with the chance of cracking my head open on the pavement. Like I was letting the stares of the cyclists around me define, just for a moment, what kind of person I am. Foolhardy. A bad example. One of those cyclists that give other cyclists a bad rap. A daredevil. I ducked my head and focused on the road.

When I got to daycare, I made sure to tell my kids that Mama made a mistake. I promised to be extra careful on the way home. They were unimpressed. I reminded them that it wasn’t safe to ride without a helmet. “We know, Mama,” the 5-year-old sighed. Mostly they wanted to know what was for dinner, and which one of them would get to tell M that Mama was a sillyhead. Another way to define me, I suppose.

On the way into work this morning I saw a guy on his 10-speed, sans helmet, weaving downhill in and out of traffic with both hands in his pockets, and I thought: Idiot. What is he thinking? And also: Man, I wish I could do that.

9 thoughts on “Daredevil

  1. inNateJames says:

    Chicago put bike rental stations up all over the city and I marvel at all of the bikers that ride around helmetless. I’ve seen so many bicyclists get doored since I’ve lived here. I’ve see two bicyclists get hit. There is just no way I would risk it.


  2. Stacie says:

    I love this! I am a rule-follower too so I’m just like this, except I hardly ever bike anymore. I have gravel in my knee still from falling off my bike when I was 6 but my head was unscathed despite my lack of helmet.


  3. Silverleaf says:

    This is me to a T! I have been that exact person with identical thoughts and feelings, sure that everyone was judging me – right down to the silent assurances that “I’m a rule follower!” Thanks for taking us inside your head. And I love the kids’ reactions 🙂


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