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Masks are the New Bike Helmets

September 1st, 2021 by dk

Nobody wants to think about mask mandates, so let’s talk about bike helmets. I took a long walk this morning through downtown during the morning rush hour. I didn’t count the number of bicyclists I saw. It was certainly dozens and maybe more than 100. I didn’t see any exposed skulls.

It wasn’t always like this. When my boys were in grade school, our pediatrician, Dr. Blanton, ended his annual checkups with a checklist for parents. Car seats, vegetables, bedtimes, book-reading, exercise, TV limits — it was a long list. We thought we were doing everything right, until he got to bike helmets. “Gotcha!” he whispered.

The good doctor didn’t need to show us statistics about concussions and brain injuries from naked noggins speeding along pavement without protection. We slapped our foreheads hard enough that we might have wished we’d been wearing helmets inside the doctor’s office.

We started wearing helmets after that, but grudgingly. I missed the air tossing my hair, drying my sweat in the wind. I missed feeling as carefree as I did when I was a teenager. It felt like a genuine loss back then. Now it feels just like the right thing to do. I’m sure my parents felt the same way about seatbelts — a necessary precaution, a small discomfort.

My siblings and I never thought twice about seatbelts. Driving without buckling in would feel weird, even slightly uncomfortable. My sons probably feel the same way about bike helmets. If so, Dr. Blanton would be proud.

It wasn’t very many years ago that bike helmets were still seen as optional. I remember thinking it was a little bit crazy when the city of Eugene spent a summer repainting those pavement signs that indicate bicycle lanes or bicyclists merging. They updated the symbol to make sure the bicyclists portrayed wore helmets.

Changes come slowly. There are always early adopters who immediately embrace any update to the social code. Those bike commuters I observed are undoubtedly different from leisure riders. My sample size was insufficient to claim that we’re near unanimity, but the trend lines are clear.

Some of us change our habits only after somebody we respect points it out. Those who continue to resist change may come along only when they feel alone in their resolve. When even the bike symbol figure is wearing a helmet, it might be time to rethink.

Trouble is, it’s harder to make people feel lonely these days. There’s probably a Facebook group for people who refuse to wear seatbelts, congratulating one another for not becoming sheeple in response to government mandates. Statistics show that even bicyclists with helmets can get concussions, so why give up the hair-tossing wind of freedom?

Will masks or vaccine shots eventually become like bike helmets and seatbelts? I know, I know! We all want to scream at the prospect. We don’t want to feel constrained forever, and maybe we won’t have to. But our children will adapt more quickly than we will. If these inconveniences must become the new normal, they will eventually feel normal.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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