Colin Harrington: Bike, helmet, go together

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WINDSOR — Since the invention of the bicycle there has never been a more simple, efficient, and elegant form of transportation — except the airplane, the pedal-driven and solar versions, of course, original miracles of flight. But a bicycle is readily available to anyone and because the technology has always been part of the fascination with its amazing popularity, the speeds and the distances many more people can enjoy on bicycles have freed millions to experience what it feels like to fly, pushing the boundaries of earth, gravity, and speed.

I have been cycling in earnest for decades. I have toured many hundreds of miles on a bicycle, commuted to work, and loved being a part of the bicycle culture because it means freedom, beauty, and community.

In all these years of cycling I have gone very fast sometimes and certainly very far, and I have never had a serious crash in all this time until now. I am happy with myself that I was, as always, wearing a helmet. I am very glad I was wearing a good, up-to-date helmet when it happened. It saved my life, as I knew it would, in the eventuality of a crash, because as wonderful as cycling is, it is also an inherently dangerous activity.

I have always enjoyed wearing a helmet, kept it up to date, and appreciated how it functions to cool my head in the summer and add warmth in the winter, and shield my head from rain, sun, and stuff flying around. A helmet is a comfort when riding and it is also a serious and effective safety measure against the calamity of slamming your head on the pavement. Good helmets have been thoroughly researched and they really work. I highly recommend everyone wear a helmet when cycling, at any speed.

In my case, I was flying east down Route 9 in Windsor as I have done hundreds of times over the years, having just remarked internally to myself how cool it felt to be cruising with such ease at 27 mph. Because I was aware that at age 60 I have been statistically lucky, as I get on in years, not to have had a crash, it would be prudent not to crank it up to 35 or 40 as I could very easily have done, and as I would surely have done just a few years ago,

Helmet did its job

I became aware that I hit something hard in the road, a little bump, and the screen went blank. After what I have determined to be an interval of five minutes I came to and sat up on the side of the road to face my guardian angel, Chris Jones, former Windsor EMT and postmaster at the Williamsburg Post Office now, putting me through my paces on memory, consciousness, and an evaluation of my physical condition. I was very banged up. I landed on my shoulder first but just as instantly I had slammed my head on the pavement. My helmet did its job.

The Windsor ambulance that transported me was headed up by, coincidentally, Chris' husband, Phil Lombardi and John Denno. I will never forget how professional, personable, and downright helpful they were with me.

When we got to the ER at Berkshire Medical Center I was seen by a whole host of courteous, prompt, and effective medical personnel, taking wonderful care of me on a busy night in the city. I feel so good about my care and the caring shown me by the doctors, nurses, technicians, and clerical staff at Berkshire Medical Center. I was reassured at every turn, that although I had significant road rash, deep bruises, and a broken clavicle in four places, I was one very lucky dude.

Lucky, yes, but smart, too. My helmet ensured that the CT scan of my head was normal. I left the ER very sore and with a referral to orthopedics, the next phase of my blessings in the midst of calamity. Thank you for wonderful orthopedic surgeons like Dr. James R. Whittum, M.D. at Orthopedic Associates of Northern Berkshire, P.C. and all the wonderful staff we are lucky to have there.

I am going to ride as much as before, only slower, and on bike paths as much as I can. If I see you on the bike path, and you are not wearing a helmet, I won't hesitate to talk to you about it now in a very nice way, but you must wear a helmet when riding a bike.

President John F. Kennedy famously remarked that nothing compares to the simple pleasure of a bike ride. I'm not about to give that up, ever. But when riding a bicycle, or roller blading, or, yes, skateboarding, please, please just wear a helmet.

Colin Harrington is a writer and educator.


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