04 August 2010

the old bell bike helmet

On my drive home from work yesterday, I saw an older guy—60ish, I'd say—who was a waterfall of sweat as he biked on the side of a road that's barely big enough for two cars.

It's one of those roads that, when you see a Hummer or even a "normal" SUV coming your way {you in your little Honda Civic}, you suck in your stomach because you're pretty sure that will help you pass like strangers in the night.

But there he was, toiling away and holding up traffic slightly as the cars weaved around him and each other.  I didn't mind the slight hold up, but I could tell that other people were...well, you know how other people can be.  So not like you or me, with our patience the length of the Great Wall of China.  Right.

No, I didn't mind the biker-induced hold up because I was staring at the man's helmet.  He had on the old Bell bike helmet, something I hadn't seen since the early 90s.  When it had been on my head.

At the time, I pinpointed all my uncoolness on that Bell helmet.

Never mind the pink plastic glasses.

Or the perm {it was the 90s!  I firmly believe that we should all extend grace for any hair or fashion decisions made in the 90s, especially if you were just a kid and therefore at the mercy of your mother}.

Or my tendency to read at recess instead of playing.

Or how I used big words, even if I wasn't sure what they meant.

I despised that Bell helmet—which I think had been purchased before I was born. 
It was my cross to bear {sorry, Paul}, the real reason I'd never fit in and why no one ever asked me to a middle school dance and why I didn't get the allure of hanging out at the mall.

While the other kids wore sleek, aerodynamic, gleaming plastic helmets in ocean blue or sunny yellow or moody purple, I wore a helmet that looked like it had been designed just following World War II.

I'm sure the designers thought, 'Hey, you know what worked well for protecting heads from Nazism?  Those very dense, very round helmets!  If we make it white and stick some reflective strips on it...look at that!  It's a bike helmet!'

And I had to wear that helmet every time I biked.  My parents were fond of saying, "We didn't pay all that money to put an education in your head, only to have it spill out on the pavement if you're in an accident."

As a pre-teen who had yet to fully appreciate the meaning of James 3:6 {The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body.  It corrupts the whole person.}, I thought about saying, "But I go to public school.  You haven't paid anything for my education."

I didn't, though, and that's probably a good thing.  My parents {the accountants that they are} might have taken that opportunity to teach me about property tax and how yes, they did pay for my education.

Also—and this is a tip you pick up on by trial and error-slash-punishment—you should always avoid even suggesting that your parents aren't paying for you.  Suggesting that does not, in any way, endear you to them and they may start thinking about how to pay someone else to take you.

When I biked to school, I wore that Bell helmet.  I couldn't even do the thing where you wear the helmet until you're out of sight and then stuff it in your backpack.  It wouldn't fit in my backpack.

When we took family bike rides, we all wore that helmet.  It was our uniform of dorkiness.

Often on those bike rides {a 5 mile route to the park and back, with a stop to play on the World War I tanks.  My gosh, there's the second time I've mentioned a world war.  Good thing I've run out of world wars to reference}, I would politely, sweetly, yet firmly point out to my dad, "We are the only people in the world who still have these helmets.  Everyone else has gotten rid of them.  Everyone."
I said this with the same certainty my dad used when he said, "Kamiah, all the kids your age want to go on a 40-mile backpacking trip instead of going to Disney World.  All of them."

Turns out neither one of us was right.

That man biking yesterday proved me wrong.  Sorry, Dad.  I appreciate the helmet and your concern for my safety.

I also appreciate the new helmet you bought me when I was 13.  It is a sleek, aerodynamic, gleaming magenta helmet and had—until I picked it off 8 years ago—a sticker on the side that said Rebel {one of the first words that comes to people's minds when asked to describe me, I'm sure}.

That was the present tense there; I still have that magenta helmet, which means it's now 15 years old.  Or 15 years out of date.  But why buy a new one?  It still works.

Oh my.  That must be the logic my parents were using when they strapped that old Bell bike helmet on my head.

Imagine me, pink plastic glasses and permed like a poodle, in this helmet.  Now imagine me in spandex on a family bike ride.  Actually, don't do that last part.  Just stick to the helmet.


  1. And now even I want a new helmet. I think my old Bell replacement is outdated. Could it really protect my head?

  2. Loved your blog, which I came across after I (finally) just bought a replacement for my old Bell helmet. And yes, I'm an "old" 60ish man. Probably not the one you saw. Us old men wearing our old Bell helmets are probably everywhere. We wear those old things as a badge of survival.

  3. bemused, congrats on purchasing a new helmet! That's a big step, I know -- at least it was for my dad when I forced him to give his up.

  4. Whoever wore these helmets (include me) in the 70's were in the vast minority of anyone wearing helmets.
    Lawsuit crazy attorneys changed all that.

    My kids insisted I dump the old Bell or they wouldn't ride with me any more.

    Don't forget the velcro strap you put on your pants bottom to keep the fabric out of the gears.

    Thanks for the memories

  5. I have such a small head that I have to wear a kids helmet! So I always look dorky. There are no unkid-like looking helmets.



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