Click here for Home
GOING THE DISTANCE
"COMING TO A HEAD"
PHOTO BY GENGHIS
Are helmet laws oppressive?
RENOWNED AUTHOR JIM KNIPFEL IN A RECENT "SLACKJAW" COLUMN:
"Not long ago, my friend Genghis posted an essay on his website about personal freedom. Genghis is a biker from way, way back (and several other things to boot), and wrote quite eloquently about his Harley-Davidson "Mabel" and biker culture in general as symbols of personal freedom. He brought in several other things as well, like the events in Egypt, and concluded quite simply that we must always come down on the side of freedom. I'm with him there, but it seems we're in a minority. Maybe that's why bikers have such a dangerous reputation---because they have the balls to take freedom seriously...."
Thanks to my friend Jim for the mention in his latest column. When we speak of the loss of freedom on a scale as grand as we witnessed in Egypt, the loss of "freedoms" like the right to choose to wear a helmet or not, might seem petty and parochial by comparison. I say, "Rightly so." Logical and moral perspective demands as much.
However, the helmet issue is such an entrenched sacred cow in the biker subculture, with so many bikers having devoted much of their consciousness to fighting helmet laws, that any opinion contrary to the absolute right not to wear helmets, are viewed with suspicion.
A biker expressing favorable views toward helmets, might as well be a city-slicker airdropped into a "Deliverance" setting, with banjos and acoustic guitars ominously accompanying his descent.
Some bikers have become so fully committed to this fight, that they cannot possible conceive of any other opinion regarding mandatory helmets, besides their own viewpoint held with an iron grip.
Fortunately for me, I don't have a contrarian opinion about helmets. My opinion is more benign, but perhaps no less infuriating to ant-helmet law activists. Here's how I feel about helmet laws:
Here's the deal: I don't care, one way or the other. There's far more pressing stuff in life to be worried about, than whether I have slip a helmet on before straddling my Harley 74, "Mabel." I get it. I get the argument that goes something like this.....
"If you let 'em make you wear a helmet, what's next? You gonna let 'em take yer bike away? You gonna let 'em outlaw motorcycles?"
I get the logic, but I don't buy it. I started riding in the state of New York in 1968 when helmet laws were already on the books. Except for a short stint in California for a few months when I lived there and enjoyed riding without a helmet, I've always worn a helmet as proscribed by New York law. It never bothered me.
Eye protection is also mandatory In New York, and I say "So what?" I wear cheap hardware store goggles anyway, and they keep my eyes from tearing-up at 70 miles per, man. The reality-check is that you need something shielding your eyes from the wind at speed. My glasses don't cut it. The solution? Four buck goggles from the painting section of the hardware store. I've worn 'em for 42 years. If it weren't mandatory to have eye protection in New York, I would wear goggles anyway. Snow once told me that he liked voluntarily wearing full-helmets, "Because they keep my ears and head warm."
I never felt threatened, that the mandatory wearing of a helmet or goggles, would ultimately lead to the outlawing of my Harley in New York. I saw it as no more onerous, than mandatory vehicle inspection and registration. None of these in my view, made me feel as if I would lose the freedom to own and ride my bike. Would I have enjoyed riding a motorcycle in New York if the helmet law did not exist? Sure. Would I've ridden all these years without one if that were the case? Yes. Do I lose sleep over the fact, that it isn't the case? No. Like I said, there are far more important things to worry about. I've got my Harley, and she runs great---that's all I really care about. After riding Harleys for over 40 years, I'm in no more danger of losing my Harley, than I was 42 years ago.
My freedoms as a biker have not been thteatened.
To the anti-helmet activists out there, I'm not advocating helmet laws. I'm not lobbying for the "safety" of helmet use. I. Just. Don't. Care. Period. Here's a story for ya. After I had my wreck on Mabel in Queens in 1994, my bike was laying on her side on the street, as wounded as my old lady Patty and I were. As Patty and I were being carried into twin ambulances headed to the nearest trauma surgery operating room, I asked a cop to walk to the New York Harley-Davidson dealership, which was just a few blocks from our wreck---to ask the dealer to come fetch my bike and hold onto her. They did. They did this knowing that Andrew Rosa would be repairing Mabel, and not them. They picked up Mabel without a second thought.
After I healed up after several months in the hosiptal and several surgeries, I walked into that dealership---who didn't charge me a cent for picking up my bike and holding her until Snow picked Mabel up and took her out to Rosa's Cycles for repairs---and I bought two expensive helmets for Patty and myself. I believe the tab for the lids came to over three bills. When I told Snow I'd done this, he got the impression that I was bragging about buying such expensive helmets. Here's what he didn't get: my purchase of those expensive lids, was a way of thanking the dealer for taking care of my old Harley, which they did for nothing. I felt they deserved some kind payment, as well as the gesture, for their kindness.
Of course, that anecdote has zip to do with the issue of whether to be in favor of helmet laws ot not. I do wear that helmet I bought from New York H-D 16 years ago, with nary a second thought though, about whether its mandatory use is the harbinger of the futher loss of motorcycling freedoms. It doesn't equate to me. Would I have felt differently if I came up in a state that originally didn't have helmets laws, then had 'em thrust upon me against my will after not using lids? Maybe. But that's a hypothetical question. The fact is, I've always had to wear a helmet on my bike, and it'e never bothered me. Later.