‘God only gives you one brain - protect it!’
Long before she and her husband created Cape Cod Beer, Beth Marcus pedaled around her neighborhood to deliver newspapers.
“Even then, I was always pretty vigilant about wearing a bike helmet,” she said.
The importance of wearing a helmet became all too clear one day when she was in her late 20s. “Out of nowhere, a large pickup exiting a local pizza joint struck me from the side,” she said. “I hardly saw it coming and the next instant I was sprawled across the hood of the truck. My head and cheek struck the hood hard enough to crack my helmet. I was shocked and a bit bruised but basically uninjured, and I knew that 100 percent of that was due to wearing a helmet.”
That lines up with what emergency physician Jacob G. Crowell, MD, sees on a regular basis. Dr. Crowell practices at Cape Cod Hospital and at the Cape Cod Healthcare Urgent Care facilities.
“Bike helmets make a difference,” he said. “The patients who are not wearing a helmet tend to have a far higher likelihood of having very serious brain injuries that can leave people debilitated for the rest of their life. They tend to have a lot more potential for death as well from a bicycle accident.”
On the other hand, he says, for people who are wearing a properly fitted helmet, the most common types of injury are road rash and abrasions.
It doesn’t take being struck by a car to suffer a head injury, he said. A simple tumble can be dangerous because you’re higher off the ground when seated on a bike and traveling at faster than walking speeds. “There's a lot of energy when your head hits the ground if you fall or get knocked over,” he said. “Wearing a helmet just in case is the best way to add a lot of protection to the most important part of your body, which is your brain and your skull.”
A National Transportation Safety Board study showed that 75 percent of the fatalities associated with bike accidents were in people who weren't wearing helmets, he added.
It all comes down to this, according to Dr. Crowell: “Probably the best way to make a nice bike ride a safe endeavor, that’s not going to have long-term implications on your life and well-being, is to make sure that you wear a helmet every time you ride a bike.”
Some other safety tips worth following, he said, are:
- Have reflective lights on your bike or wear reflective clothing, to make it easier for drivers to see you.
- Be extra cautious around sundown. “Solar glare can make it very difficult for drivers to see bicyclists,” he said. Being aware of where the angle of the sun is hitting helps cyclists keep an eye out for the driver who can't see them, he added.
- Don’t drink and ride. Just as motorists shouldn’t drink and drive, cyclists shouldn’t either. “The same way alcohol affects your ability to drive, it affects your ability to react and make decisions while you're riding a bicycle,” Dr. Crowell said.
But the most important guideline, he emphasized, is to always wear a helmet, and Beth Marcus agreed.
“Ever since that day, I have been vigilant about helmets, to the point that my kids used to tease me about it,” she said. “I was constantly stopping the kids riding in the neighborhood to adjust their bike helmets. It’s amazing how many kids wear their helmets on the back of their heads like a skull cap. I’ve even pulled my car over to adjust a helmet, and every time I hear in the back of my head my own mother saying to me, ‘God only gives you one brain. You’ve got to do your part to protect it from getting hurt.’ I may have even said it myself.”
Voices of Experience
We asked members of the Cape Cod Cycling Club what they thought about bike helmets. Here are some responses from the group’s Facebook page.
“Car ran a red light, hit me, helmet saved my life.” - Seamus Woods
“Crashed badly 3 years ago - 8 broken ribs, punctured lung, damaged shoulder and hand - helmet cracked but saved my head.” - Steve Keches
“I had a head-first collision into a rock border wall in 2019, and my helmet absolutely, positively, no-questions-asked saved my life. I'm a huge advocate.” - Jay Batson
“Passed out in an extremely hot day at Ironman Louisville on last mile of the bike. Woke up on side of the road. Helmet banged up but worked! Shook it off, went to medical and finished the race. Helmet was literally a life saver.” - Gravity Goldberg
“Tunnel near Arnold’s in Eastham. Kid decided to pass another cyclist INSIDE the tunnel! I crashed head and went over the bike. Helmet and bike gloves saved my head and hands. To this day I’m freighted of tunnels. Always wear my helmet.” - Karen Smith
“Was hit by a drunk driver 2017. Broken neck but helmet saved me from being paralyzed.” - Norm Atchue
“I crashed last summer on the Cape Cod Rail Trail and the helmet saved my life!” - Mariah Kelly
“If it weren't for my helmet, I would not be here today and that is for sure!” - Phil Kirby
“I am a paramedic and a rider. My helmet did its job and minimized injury when I left the bike trail and entered a log pile a few years ago (pay attention to the road, not the Strava stats). In my medic experience, a rider wearing a helmet is the difference between cuts and bruises vs. MedFlight for treatment of a life-altering traumatic brain injury.” - Sam Blakeslee