How Now, Bow-Wow?

Poodle Takes a One-Way Bike Ride to Palookaville but Lives to Tell the Tale

Thursday, January 10, 2013
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DUMB AND DUMBER: I celebrated New Year’s Day violently re-educating myself on how it takes a village to raise an idiot. The idiot, of course, was me. I started the day ​— ​and the New Year ​— ​with a morning bike ride. With absolutely no traffic on the road, the ride could not have been more extravagantly luxurious. But as I headed down West Valerio Street from Elings Park, a rogue stick somehow leapt off the ground, attached itself to my front tire, and then insinuated itself into the skinny crawl space between fender and wheel. From there, the stick ​— ​part of a branch as thick as a good-sized thumb ​— ​enmeshed itself in my spokes. When the wheel rotation brought this woody foreign mass in collision with my front forks, what had been a wonderful ride came crunching to an ugly end. Confronted with enough g-force to bend my forks three inches backward, my forward locomotion instantaneously ceased, and I was catapulted face-first onto the street. Luckily for me, a good Samaritan happened to be jogging by. Not only did he call 9-1-1 and my wife, but he kept me company. He kept me calm. When my body wanted to go into shock, he peppered me with enough “What’s-your-name-what-day-is-it-how-many-fingers?” questions to keep my mind tethered to Planet Earth. In that moment, this stranger became an important part of my village. Likewise for the EMT crew that did such a great job scraping me off the ground and getting me to the Cottage ER. And same, I should add, for everyone I had the good fortune to encounter at the new-and-improved five-star Cottage Hilton, where I was stitched up.

Angry Poodle

The village didn’t end there. Afterward, one neighbor up the street ​— ​a professional masseuse ​— ​offered me a massage. Another brought soup. Another dropped off a six-pack of beer accompanied by six straws. As for the idiocy, it wasn’t the accident itself. That was sufficiently freakish to lay further outside the realm of statistical probability than, for example, a meltdown in the spent-fuel-rod storage pool at the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant. According to my oldest sister, my idiocy lay in taking the ride at all. I should have stayed in bed and slept late just like everyone else on New Year’s Day, she scolded. By getting up so obnoxiously early, she pointed out, I was not just tempting fate; I was asking for it. No wonder the stick got me. But the doctors, nurses, and medical technicians ​— ​and pretty much everyone else ​— ​had another idea. Why the hell wasn’t I wearing a bike helmet? they wanted to know. When it came to gratuitous stupidity, they let me know, I was off the charts. When it came being lucky ​— ​I was still alive and could still count to five ​— ​I had just won the lottery.

And of course, there’s no good answer. Maybe it’s that when males of the species hit a certain age, their bodies accumulate a dangerous reservoir of a little-known but naturally secreted drug called fuggitol. People under the influence of this compound remain fully cognizant of the natural consequences of their actions but do them anyway. They just don’t care. For years, I wore a helmet like any responsible cyclist should. But then, I just stopped. Riding without one is the bicycle equivalent of skinny-dipping. It feels so great. And not that it matters, but helmets are inherently dorky. As a fashion statement, they inflict the same visual blight to one’s head as the fanny pack does unto one’s ass. Many moons ago, I took a stab at rectifying this problem. Riffing on the expression “brain bucket” ​— ​one of the cooler names for bike helmets ​— ​I enlisted an airbrush artist to design a helmet that looked like a giant pink cartoon brain with all its sculpted convolutions. It didn’t work out as planned. What I got instead looked much more like a pink lava lamp. It definitely got me noticed. It also got me a lot of comments. But it did nothing to address the dork factor afflicting helmets.

One might think the case for bike helmets was so open-and-shut it need not even be made. But it turns out there’s a raging controversy. Australia passed a law requiring cyclists to wear helmets in 1992 ​— ​in response to the sudden spike in head injuries accompanying that country’s equally sudden surge in ridership. Today, there’s a vigorous campaign to get the law repealed. Noted economists with impressive sounding names like Piet de Jong and Rune Elvik have released studies arguing that helmet laws cost society billions of dollars’ worth of lost health benefits because they discouraged prospective riders from getting in motion in the first place. There are studies showing ​— ​or purporting to show ​— ​bicycle-related brain injuries have continued to mount even in the face of such laws. And they have seized on a report showing that in the Netherlands ​— ​where almost everyone rides and almost no one wears helmets ​— ​riders wearing helmets are statistically inclined to get in bike accidents way more frequently than their population on the road would suggest.

I’m not sure what this proves other than there’s a study out there to support any position, no matter how contrary or counterintuitive it may be. The report I liked best showed that just as many people are sent to the ER from injuries they sustained in their beds as on bikes. In other words, you can’t hope to play it “safe” by staying off a bike. But it’s also not a coincidence that most people killed in bike accidents did not wear helmets. I hear there’s a new model out there made out of recycled cardboard ​— ​engineered to replicate the cartilage around a woodpecker’s neck ​— ​that can absorb three times as much g-force as a traditional foam helmet. Maybe I’ll try that. However dorky it looks, it can’t be worse than the neck brace I’ll be sporting the next few weeks. In the meantime, thanks a lot to everybody for everything, and I’ll try not to be such an idiot.


Independent Discussion Guidelines

Hey Trixie: when it comes to two wheel transportation, there is a saying that just might help you out. It goes like this, "KEEP THE RUBBER SIDE DOWN"

chuckUfarley (anonymous profile)
January 10, 2013 at 1:11 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Helmets can mess up your hair which could instead be flying in the wind. Sometimes in whole pieces judging from some of my friends scalps Heal up and happy New Year!.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
January 10, 2013 at 1:53 a.m. (Suggest removal)

an avid cyclist (mostly commuting), I did my own "over the handlebars" space trip along the lovely bike path to UCSB, just after leaving Modoc, to visit my spouse at UCSB. Feeling edgy & ebullient, going fast, bunch of debris on the path...however, like Nick I was wearing a helmet and landed hard on the side of my head, with just enough helmet to prevent a true head-smash.
But the "dork factor" WOULD have kept me from ever wearing a helmet, except I teach at a school and colleagues chided me for not modeling good bike etiquette in front of my teen-aged student. Thus, I wear the stupid helmet: I reckon it saved me a bad concussion or worse.
We can get over the dork factor: wear a helmet, if only for the sake of those who love you and depend upon you.
Oh, and Nick, have you seen the skateboarding daredevils who fly down our W. Valerio at very high speed -- without helmets? I've never seen a cop ticketing these kids.

DrDan (anonymous profile)
January 10, 2013 at 4:42 a.m. (Suggest removal)

"Helmets can mess up your hair which could instead be flying in the wind"

But even then, the hair would mess up aerodynamics. Getting bald is the answer.

billclausen (anonymous profile)
January 10, 2013 at 5:10 a.m. (Suggest removal)

uh, meant "however, UNlike Nick..." sorry

DrDan (anonymous profile)
January 10, 2013 at 5:24 a.m. (Suggest removal)

I ride all the time.

I didn't like the helmet. But an over the falls experience in the back country convinced me the idea had merit. It has had one good benefit. Without the the helmet I get a scab created by the sun right in the spot where my hair (yes I still have some!) parts. Hey - it beats putting sunscreen on your scalp.

Really - it's not really that bad once you get a used to it. There's really no downside to it. I also recommend polycarbonate sunglasses to keep bugs and tree branches out of your eyes (of course the sun as well) and helmet with a "bill" on it to keep the sun out of one's eyes.

There is nothing like getting on the bike on a beautiful day, riding downtown past the cars stuck at stop lights or looking for parking spaces, locking the bike in front of the granada (lock the helmet too), going to the free lunch time opera recital, going for cheap lunch at Nortons ($8.00) or the taco stand near haiely and garden ($3.50 !!!!). Another s--tty day in paradise!

ramey (anonymous profile)
January 10, 2013 at 10:05 a.m. (Suggest removal)


You have company in your stupidity. There are many who opine that bicycle and motorcycle helmets impair vision and one's ability to navigate - aside from the apparent negative esthetic factor that pedal bike helmets incur.

Fortunately, in the powered bike world (as in scooters and motorcycles), many of the young and invincible love to wear helmets adorned with the graphics of stellar international riders - Rossi, etc. - which they aspire to be like anyhow.

Perhaps you can keep working that "brain" graphic concept, among others - anything that encourages helmet use. I'm sure you are aware, you were lucky. You could have been temporarily or permanently gone. Just from a goofy ride. Yup.

Suggest you don't encourage, even in jest, folks to abandon helmet use. While it may seem like helmet laws discourage riding, riding without a helmet can end riding, life, and sentient functioning. And the cost? Way more to care for you in a persistent vegetative state than the economic benefit of selling 100 more bicycles.

Consider that, Angry.

TheEvolOne (anonymous profile)
January 10, 2013 at 10:20 a.m. (Suggest removal)


We need the Angry Poodle on the job.

John_Adams (anonymous profile)
January 10, 2013 at 10:53 a.m. (Suggest removal)

That sounds like the one I heard in the 1500 Block of West Valerio or thereabouts...Helmets suck but hold your brains in I always thought it was easier for the medics to clean up the mess that way..Bicycle helmet=Brain bucket. Get Well Soon..

Byrd (anonymous profile)
January 10, 2013 at 12:28 p.m. (Suggest removal)

On reading about Nick’s unfortunate accident, I recalled a childhood friend whose bicycling death due to head and neck injuries, along with my own accidents, inspired me to always wear a helmet when I ride. That and a delightful holiday read of a newly published book titled Cycling Science made me wonder how much helmets actually help avoid injury. Turns out, surprising to me, that the answer may be ‘not that much’…

So far, in my serious falls over almost exactly 50 years of cycling, I've catapulted onto my back, skidded on my forearms, planted my chin and landed on a knee, and the ever-present helmet didn't seem to be a factor – which is consistent with the study cited above. I have no idea if a helmet would've saved my friend, who smacked a curb with the side of his head, but, for what it’s worth, I plan to continue to don my dorky cap whenever I ride, however ‘religulous’ the practice is!

hodgmo (anonymous profile)
January 10, 2013 at 12:33 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Photo of Nick Welsh with stylish neckwear here (check out the bent fork!):

Like ramey, my backcountry mountain biking buddies and I have been in so many (arguably self-imposed) crashes, we won't get on a bike sans helmet. On the street, the habit is even stronger because I've realized I can't predict what car drivers are going to do. Now when a tree branch animates itself, that is the ultimate motivation!

Get well soon Mr. Poodle!

EastBeach (anonymous profile)
January 10, 2013 at 12:38 p.m. (Suggest removal)

wait! Did you say something nice about Cottage? Won't the world shift off its axis sucking us all into the deep and deadly void of space? Growl, Growl Growl! (TeeHee)

bulldog80 (anonymous profile)
January 10, 2013 at 5:16 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Yeah, Nick - those stupid-looking helmets don't work! Except when they do.
Enough testing the limits of your mortality, already. Hang around for awhile. For some silly reason, we need you. Or, in this case, should we say "stick around"? (I'll bet it was a friggin' Eucalyptus branch...)

Pagurus (anonymous profile)
January 11, 2013 at 4:06 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Hey Nick - isn't noting you weren't wearing a helmet until you were halfway through the column a textbook example of burying the lede? Glad you're ok -

glenholster (anonymous profile)
January 15, 2013 at 10:39 a.m. (Suggest removal)

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