Hard headed?
June 13, 2012 8:29 AM   Subscribe

You're a motorcycle rider in a state without mandatory helmet laws. You often or always choose not to wear a helmet. Why?
posted by the foreground to Travel & Transportation (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Comfort, and the feeling of the wind blowing through one's hair. (I'm not actually a motorcyclist, but those are my reasons for not wearing a helmet when bicycling.)
posted by infinitywaltz at 8:39 AM on June 13, 2012

When I used to ride, I would go out wearing all of my safety gear with no exceptions and a full-face helmet. That said, I know people who would ride with one of the "brain bucket" style helmets or no helmets at all when possible. It feels glorious, apparently, feeling the breeze in your hair and the sun on your face. Unlike me when I'm geared up (sweating and constricted with somewhat limited agility for gear shifting due to the bulky gear) they feel like they're flying.

And on the subject of flying - I think they know that they're amazing riders who would never put a bike down, but figure that if they're in an accident, they're toast anyway, so why not enjoy it?

It makes me sad whenever I see them on the road. Just the tiniest bit jealous, but mostly sad, because as a first responder I have seen what happens when to fit young men wearing cut-off jeans and t-shirts with tennis shoes when they crash, even when they just put their bike down on its side at a relatively low speed.

There is a reason that firefighters call them "Donor-cycles".
posted by arnicae at 8:42 AM on June 13, 2012 [16 favorites]

Some common answers:
  • I'd rather die than be crippled.
  • It makes cars be more careful around me.
  • It's too hot or too tiring to wear.
  • It interferes with the experience of riding. It takes away from being out in the world when you're inside a helmet.
  • It blocks my vision and makes riding more dangerous.
  • Life is a risk, and this particular risk is acceptable to me.

posted by tumble at 8:46 AM on June 13, 2012 [5 favorites]

The one time I've ridden in a state without mandatory helmet laws, sure enough, I took off my helmet.

1. It feels awesome. The wind in your hair is invigorating, and the view from astride your metal steed is majestic.

2. It looks cool. Maverick wasn't wearing a helmet at Miramar, dammit.

And that's about it. That one afternoon I did the risk/reward/frequency analysis (straight beach highway, low speed, a twenty-minute ride) and it looked good to me.

I few years ago I rode to visit my uncle in the brain injury rehab unit after he'd suffered a stroke. Want to get some *dirty* looks ? Walk into a rehab unit in riding leathers.
posted by Kakkerlak at 8:53 AM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

When the temperature is 45C, a helmet can be pretty stifling.
posted by bardophile at 8:55 AM on June 13, 2012

many folks say it's harder to hear and see other drivers and react to them with a helmet.
posted by couchdive at 8:55 AM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Motorcycle rider here, occasionally in a state without helmet laws. In addition to the reasons already listed, I know peer pressure can be a factor for some -- you're not hardcore if you choose to wear a helmet (and the more helmet you wear, the less hardcore you are).
posted by BurntHombre at 8:59 AM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

You get similar reasons from horse riders, bicycle riders, skateboarders, etc.

Essentially, helmets are literally and figuratively uncool.
posted by pracowity at 9:09 AM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have ridden cycles since about 1995 and I would much rather wear a helmet most of the time, but when we lived in Kansas it was silly hot and if I was just running over to the store or going for a cruise in the country where there would be no other bikes or cars I'd ride sans helmet. I used to go to work without a helmet several days a week because it was only 10 blocks of 40MPH streets away. I don't have the "wind in my hair" feeling because I don't have much hair anymore, but I get the idea and it is nice.

I do very much see the value of helmets, but when it's hot and you just want to get on and go and the roads are calm, I don't really think it makes a huge difference. Of course people get killed walking down the sidewalk at 2MPH but sometimes I'd rather just get on and go and if that's my day to leave this planet, so be it - I had a nice time on the way out.

All that said, I always ride in long pants and sleeves with my thick engineer boots, so make of all that what you will.
posted by Clinging to the Wreckage at 9:31 AM on June 13, 2012

I'm a motorcycle rider in a jurisdiction that requires helmets at all times, but allows people to wear those useless little ones that just sit on the top of your head, held on with a flimsy chin strap. In my experience, the type of helmet people choose to wear seems to be largely a matter of style, not a conscious choice with regard to safety. I know a bunch of guys who ride sportbikes/dualsports, and a bunch of guys who ride cruisers, and they all dress for the part they play.

The sportbike riders are always in full-face helmets, even the squidliest of squids. Having a really sweet, flashy, top-of-the-line Arai or Shoei helmet seems to be something of a status symbol. Tinted or iridescent visors are also quite trendy. The cruiser riders are always in skull caps. A guy who traded his sportbike for a cruiser also traded his full-face helmet for a skull cap. The crappier and more useless-looking the skull cap, the better and more hard core looking.

Sorry if this doesn't directly answer your question, but I thought it might be along the lines of what you're interested in.
posted by keep it under cover at 10:01 AM on June 13, 2012

My husband would ride without a helmet because of these (his) reasons:
  1. Looked cool.
  2. Felt cool.
  3. Wouldn't get helmet hair (and wind-rustled hair looks cooler)
  4. Better peripheral vision.
  5. Less hassle getting on and off the bike
That being said, he now wears a helmet. He had a scary incident on a snowmobile where if he hadn't been wearing one, he'd have a windshield lodged in his forehead.

I've *tried* to not wear a helmet, but I don't like it. I feel like I can hear my engine better for changing gears when wind isn't blowing loudly past my head. I've worn glasses most of my life, so I'm used to not having the best peripheral vision. I'm a self-identified dork, so the looking cool thing is already invalid. ;) And I can, and do, injure myself on the most benign things ever, so I don't even want to tempt Murphy's Law.
posted by jillithd at 11:23 AM on June 13, 2012

[Maybe quit arguing about this please? Answer the question or move on. It's a simple question. Thank you.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 12:10 PM on June 13, 2012

I don't do this anymore. But when I did: I have very long hair. When I rode, without a helmet, the wind blowing my hair made me look like a Valkyrie.
posted by corb at 12:24 PM on June 13, 2012

I did it when I was a kid because I was a kid and I wasn't riding on the road, and I didn't know any better. (and my dad could kind of be a cowboy about that stuff)

Nowadays in the ER I work in, I see a ton of people coming in after motorcycle injuries who don't wear helmets. I think it's the same principle as the whole "I'll eat whatever I want because I'd rather die in a massive heart attack some day than live a really long time and be old and sickly and frail." (as noted in the answers above, where people cite the mistaken belief that without a helmet, they will just die, whereas if they wear a helmet they will be crippled and live).

Just as with heart disease, you can have multiple heart attacks these days and keep on living through them, developing heart failure and a decreased quality of life with each one, plenty of people live through traumatic brain injuries. Modern medicine can do a lot....
And plenty of these folks then spend the rest of their lives in a brain rehab with someone else changing their diapers. I used to want my own motorcycle when I was a kid, but just a brief thought of the TBI patients I've seen puts that idea out the window pretty fast, helmet or not.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 12:57 PM on June 13, 2012

There is a lot of misinformation in the riding community, and especially in the Harley-Davidson community. I have been told by earnest people who thought they were being helpful that my full-face helmet would snap my neck like a twig in an accident because it's so heavy. They know this because the Safety Officer of their riding club is most emphatic about the risks of full-face helmets.

Assertions like this are easily refuted by science, but the conversation usually mirrors a conversation with a global warming skeptic. There's no amount of facts that will change a person's beliefs if they don't want them changed.
posted by workerant at 2:11 PM on June 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

In addition to what others have said - it's often an attempt to appear masculine. It goes with the sexy risk taker vibe that motorcycles have to begin with.

As a rider I can feel the wind through my helmet pretty easily. I also have a dream in which any given motorcycle thread does not include boilerplate confirmation bias coming from someone's relative in the EMT world who likes to talk about "donor cycles."
posted by MillMan at 3:16 PM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

[I can not be more clear here: this question is not about whether to wear a helmet or not, please do not answer that question.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 3:21 PM on June 13, 2012

I'm pretty much an ATGATT rider (all the gear, all the time) rider.

I'm also in a state that allows licensed adults to ride without a helmet. I haven't given in to temptation, but when I do, it will be because of the heat. Even the coolest (temperature-wise) helmet is hot when you're not moving, and there have been days when I've put on my leathers and helmet, started walking to the garage to go for a ride, and headed back to the house to take off the gear and drive in my air-conditioned car instead.

One other thing they don't tell you is that because you're sweating in your helmet all the time, it gets funky. You can pull out the liner and wash it, but you can't do that every day. That's probably the second-most-likely reason I'll skip my helmet at some point.
posted by DaveP at 4:58 PM on June 13, 2012

Try looking at things from their point of view. Almost all motorcyclists have a car or truck. Riding the bike really isn't about getting from point A to point B. They're not riding a motorcycle despite the obvious dangers. They're doing it partly for the danger and a helmet interferes with that goal.
posted by lamp at 7:39 PM on June 13, 2012

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