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If you're going to wear a helmet incorrectly, then why bother wearing it at all?

Posted: June 14, 2008 in Cycling

I went on a quick ride this morning, hoping to finish by noon and beat the rain. At around the halfway point, I stopped at a place called Sugarloaf Mountain, where there's a really cold water fountain that I use to refill my water bottles. As I made my way toward the fountain, I looked to my right and noticed a guy laying in the road, on his side, next to his bike.

I coasted over, and a few other people approached. He rolled onto his back, and that's when you could see the blood. He had gone down, apparently after getting his front wheel caught in a gap in the broken-up pavement, landing face-first. There was a pretty bad bruise around 1" above his right eye, and it was bleeding profusely, and swelling quickly.

In less than a minute, other cyclists converged on him, some offering to help, some with first-aid kits opened up, and a few others directing traffic. The first thing I noticed about him was that he was a casual rider, and he was not wearing his helmet properly. The straps were completely slack, and it was sitting back on his head, exposing his face and forehead. Thus the gash.

We got him moved off the road where we tried to assess his condition. When he told us that he couldn't remember anything that happened that morning, where he was, or where his ride had started (he was on a group ride), I told someone to call 911. He kept repeating over and over, "I'm feeling a bit disoriented. It seems that I hit my head. Did I fall off my bike? Where am I? Where did the ride start?" He asked each of those questions, on a rotating basis, every 60 seconds or so. He had no short-term memory whatsoever.

I asked him his name, and he knew it. I asked him if he had any family we could call, and he seemed confused by the question. I asked him if he had a cell phone (some modern phones have an "ICE" entry (In Case of Emergency). He would pull the phone out, look at it, then fold it back up and put it away without giving it to me.

Finally, after arguing with the 911 operator for close to ten minutes (yes, arguing - apparently someone falling off his bike and sustaining a brain injury does not warrant an ambulance), she finally got them to send paramedics. Since there were enough people from his ride around, I left. I told them to make sure that under no circumstances was he to get back on that bike and try to ride. All he needs is to fall again and re-smack his head.

I hope he's OK, but I really wish bike shops would make sure that people's helmets were fitted properly before sending them out the door. I've seen too many shops just sell the helmet, boxed, without fitting it, relying on the customer's decision as per size and fit. This guy's helmet looked like a stiff breeze could have blown it off, and that's not cool.

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