Thursday, October 21, 2021

“Helmets are for heads, I think” by Benjamin Rempel


I’ve seen him half a dozen times now. You’ve likely seen him too. The guy who has the latest bicycle gear – spandex shorts, wick-away dry-fit shirt, reflective neon gloves; those clunky-looking shoes for clip-less pedals. And then a bright, aerodynamic helmet – sleek and lightweight – clipped to the side of his backpack.

Clipped to the side of his backpack?

So this is when logic escapes me. Every other piece of gear screams this cyclist is training for the Tour de France qualifier – except for his helmet. I can’t determine what purpose the helmet is serving in this position, awkwardly bouncing off the side of his ribcage. I suppose in a fall it might protect his appendix? Maybe his spleen?

I’ve also seen different versions of the guy. Sometimes he’s in flip flops, a flower-print shirt, and cords; seemingly, not quite as avid a cyclist as the first guy. He brings his helmet with him – which I suppose is a noble first step. But then gallantry wanes when moving to step two which is normally: attach helmet to head. That second step apparently wasn’t learned, because there it is, jostling about, dangling from the front wicker basket.

Perhaps when he was young, his mother yelled out “Don’t forget your helmet!” falsely assuming the remaining steps were intuitive. Maybe new helmets should come with instructions, a two-panel graphic of sorts. Figure 1: Helmet. Figure 2: Place head in helmet.

You’ve seen him though, right? When you drive through the city and the cyclist’s swarm, whipping by your car at breakneck speeds? It’s not always a man of course. Other times it’s a young woman, usually on her phone, oblivious to the traffic lights.

Normally I can appreciate the importance of determining which bar you are meeting at after work over obeying those pesky road rules, but sometimes I wonder if it’s a bit much.

Now at times the guy – or gal – doesn’t have a helmet at all. Nothing strapped to their backpack; no head protection nestled deep within their pannier. But to me, these riders are just straight-up badasses! These are the ones who throw caution to the wind. They tempt fate. Invite danger. They are riding naked, essentially, and couldn’t give a rat’s ass what you think! I’m jealous of their boldness.

And I suppose if I’m flung from my bike and I hear the sirens advancing – a seasoned paramedic leaning over me, shaking her head – I suppose at that point I would rather not have any helmet at all. Because I’d imagine it’s better to hear: “You should have worn a helmet….”

Versus: “Umm, sir? The helmet here – the one clipped to your bag. Was that always there? As in, before the minivan threw you to the curb? I’m just trying to make sense of this. You had a helmet but thought it was better to have it with you than to have it on you? Sir? When you’re able to dislodge your ankle from your inner ear, I have a few follow-up questions for you.”

Yeah, definitely the first scenario is better.

But the best scenario is to just wear the helmet. It’s not 100% guaranteed. But it’s far better against asphalt than your bare frontal bone.

If I see that guy again, I’ll be sure to say something. But if you see him first you’ll let him know for me, won’t you? Just tell him a helmet works best when it’s on the head.


Benjamin Rempel was a finalist for the 2020 Rising Spirits Fiction Award and semi-finalist for the 2018 John Kenneth Galbraith Literary Award. In 2021, he won honorable mention in the Canadian Authors Association Short Story Contest. His work has been featured in Our Canada, Streetlight, Fifteen Stories High Anthology, and other outlets. He gets around by bicycle, properly wearing a helmet. 

See Brian Henry’s upcoming weekly writing classes, one-day workshops, and weekend retreats here.

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