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Hair raiser

11 September, 2013

Photo: Richard Jupe Photography

Margot McGovern comes to terms with the dread helmet hair.

Like so many girls before me, I was introduced to bike riding by my boyfriend. At the time he was not yet my boyfriend and I was doing everything in my power to change that, so when he suggested lending me his mum’s bike and riding to a cafe for breakfast, my first thought was “how romantic”, quickly followed by a stricken “but what about my hair?”

At that point I was still trying to maintain the illusion that perfect hair was something I woke up with rather than an elaborate construct requiring a hair straightener, hairspray, a fist full of bobby pins and twenty minutes behind a closed bathroom door. By the time we reached the cafe my once-flawless do would surely be a sweaty mess plastered to my forehead looking anything but alluring. How could I explain this to my boyfriend-to-be without sounding like a high maintenance princess? I couldn’t. Fortunately, he found my mere willingness to ride a highly attractive quality.

During those first enthusiastic months as a rider when I found myself hanging out with other bike nerds and my fitness rapidly improving, helmet hair went from being an eyesore to a badge of honour, evidence of an active, healthy lifestyle, not unlike the inevitable windblown tresses that accompany a brisk walk. I took pride in whipping off my helmet to reveal a dishevelled do with an air of “that’s right, my hair’s all mussed because I got here by BIKE.” It was proof that I, the bookworm who until that point had rarely ventured into natural light and for whom ‘exercise’ meant retrieving hefty tomes from the library stacks, had achieved the seemingly impossible and become the ‘sporty type’.

…helmet hair went from being an eyesore to a badge of honour, evidence of an active, healthy lifestyle, not unlike the inevitable windblown tresses that accompany a brisk walk.

However, I was overzealous in my enthusiasm. As my relationship with my bike progressed from that first heady flush of romance to a deeper, more enduring kind of love, helmet hair again became an issue. It was dispiriting to rock up to my weekly girls’ dinner with my friends looking like they’d just stepped out of a shampoo commercial and me looking, well, like I’d ridden my bike, or to turn up to my then-job as an English tutor looking like the madwoman in the attic. As I no longer felt the need to announce that I’d arrived by bike every time I ventured out, it was time to tame the bird’s nest.

Eventually, I came to realise that implementing a significant lifestyle change, such as making bike riding a part of my everyday life, without allowing for any other changes was equal to shoving a square peg at a round hole. I needed to make a slight paradigm shift and allow the bike to have a ripple effect on other areas of my life. I had to plan for shorter travel times given I no longer had to queue in inner city traffic, I had to eat more to have enough fuel to get from A to B and I had to get used to having an extra $50 a week in my pocket as I wasn’t paying for petrol. Adjusting for helmet hair was equally a part of that shift.

A full fringe that had been a nightmare to manage pre-bike was finally sacrificed. I experimented with styles not easily mussed—the low ponytail and bun are nigh indestructible—and, when an occasion demanded something special, I arrived early and used the time I would have spent stuck in traffic or at the petrol station if I were driving as styling time. When I became really committed I played with cuts that better suited my increasingly active lifestyle and found that a messy bob and pixie cut both had reasonable defenses against the dishevelling powers of the skid lid. But I’m not suggesting all riders need go to that extreme. Keeping a hair brush in your backpack or pannier and giving your locks a quick ‘zhush’ is usually more than enough to restore their former style.

So while helmet hair can be a nuisance, and is something you need to adjust for, it’s certainly not the headache I once imagined.

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26 Comments leave one →
  1. Alison permalink
    11 September, 2013 4:16 pm

    Bravo Margot! Until recently I cycled my 25km each way commute and kept a hairbrush and wand in my desk drawer. It’s not just vanity; I need to look neat and tidy for work.
    One method is I always wear either a thin merino skullcap or a cotton or silk bandana under my helmet – keeps you warm / cool, prevents hair breakage and keeps your locks under control.

  2. 11 September, 2013 4:26 pm

    The LDP (Liberal Democrats) would solve this problem completely – Repealing mandatory bike helmet laws is how.
    For that ride around the block or along the beach It would be 100% YOUR CHOICE to wear one or not.
    No more would you have to fear the police stalking you and blasting their sirens at you to issue a fine or possibly chase you down to arrest you for the heinous crime of not bothering to wear a nanny state helmet and displaying some individual freedom.

    Many thanks to the people in NSW for electing the first LDP senator ever.

    • Alison permalink
      11 September, 2013 4:30 pm

      It’s an interesting situation which I feel comes down to personal responsibility – if you don’t want to wear a helmet then don’t – but if you do get injured you’d better have health insurance.

    • Rafael permalink
      12 September, 2013 8:30 am

      I don’t think NOT wearing a helmet is neither a policy to be proud of a political party nor the answer to helmet hair. Helmets are a safe option when it comes to protect yourself in case of the unexpected & they’re not always accidents: mine has been very useful when I come across hanging tree branches & magpies in mating season… Vanity should not be a reason not to wear it but if that is the case, then read this article again! I found it very interesting!!!

    • John H permalink
      12 September, 2013 12:04 pm

      There is no such thing as a victimless crime Steve. A head injury from a minor fall from a bicycle results in a loss of amenity for the victim, a loss of quality relationships for the carer, a lifetime of pain for both the victim & families. All things that can be prevented by wearing a helmet which is simply designed to protect from low speed falls, the kind that happen when riding at a casual pace. Kids are especially prone to these falls & will follow the lead of their adult role models. Imagine the cost to family & community from an easily preventable brain injury in a 10 year old over their expected life of 70 years. Certainly exercise your right not to wear one, but don’t burden the health system, and just pay the fine in protest when stopped by the Police.

      • CycleHog permalink
        3 October, 2013 2:35 am

        John H, your argument is completely fallacious. A head injury from ANY cause would “result in a loss of amenity for the victim”. Only a tiny fraction of head injuries result from cycling crashes. Should we make it compulsory to wear a helmet in all situations where a head injury might occur? Driving a car? Jogging? Climbing a ladder? No, I didn’t think so, so why do we single out cycling? There is no reason except for some people’s irrational and emotive fears. We should allow free choice like the other 99% of countries in the world.

      • John Holstein permalink
        3 October, 2013 3:08 pm

        I agree Cyclehog, any activity can result in a head injury, but you accept seat belts, air bags, ABS Brakes, education on climbing ladders where you are advised not to climb above a certain height, education on jogging where you are advised to wear light coloured clothing & special shoes to prevent foot injury & a raft of other safety initiatives designed to limit the range and severity of injury from participating in the inherent activity of life. Air bags, ABS, early warning devices & so on won’t stop you from being injured in all accidents, but society accepts those costs and legislative requirements.

        Why is cycling so special that you should be exempt from wearing a very simple, cheap & effective device designed to prevent head injuries whilst participating in a body contact activity? I think I will take the helmet option ahead of the brain injury any time. If I get hit hard enough to damage a helmeted head, I am going to have other issues to deal with anyway, something I have experienced on two occasions, smashed shoulders & other injuries, a smashed helmet, but no brain damage. Your choice, post your full name, so I don’t waste my sympathy on you should you become a road cycling statistic.

      • CycleHog permalink
        4 October, 2013 8:42 pm

        Rafael, even with ABS brakes etc, many people still suffer head injuries in car accidents. So why is it so different from cycing? People might have high quality disc brakes on their bicycles, and ride with wide tyres with better stability than skinny racing tyres. Using your logic this should exempt them from wearing a helmet. I would certainly agree, but I’m sure you don’t yet will be unable to see the incosistency in your logic.

        People do not get fined by the police for not wearing light coloured clothing or special shoes while jogging. You seem to be missing the point – it’s not that helmets are good or bad that is the point of contention. It is that we are FORCED to wear them at all times.

        As for your last comments – I think this illustraites your problem. You have had two serious accidents, which is 2 more than me. I suggest you consider whether you might improve your safety in other ways as well, perhpaps by taking more care when you ride. I would not take business advice from a person who thought they were an business expert because they had been bankrupt twice. In the same way I don’t take safety advice from a person who is constantly having accidents and hurting themselves.

      • CycleHog permalink
        4 October, 2013 8:44 pm

        Sorry, John H the above comment was in response to you not Rafael.

  3. Bruce permalink
    11 September, 2013 10:49 pm

    Does personal responsibility include paying for your own medical expenses to repair your head if it gets damaged whilst you are not wearing a helmet?

  4. Ohforcryinginabucket permalink
    12 September, 2013 11:14 pm

    English tutor and mad woman in the attic go hand in glove. Some of us don’t even need to exercise to achieve that…

  5. Ohforcryinginabucket permalink
    12 September, 2013 11:21 pm

    PS I’m with Rafael, John H and Bruce, btw. One of my family members was a medico who regularly used to get called out in the middle of the night to retrieve people’s jaws from their brains in the era before wearing seat belts became mandatory. The decision whether or not to treat the victim was NOT that medico’s choice. This was a MAMMOTH waste of medical resources. To give you an idea of the carnage, George Miller wrote Mad Max after a stint as an ER surgeon. Don’t waste everybody else’s time, and medical resources that could be put to better use. Wear a helmet.

    • Alison permalink
      13 September, 2013 8:49 am

      Good call on the helmet debate.
      When a taxi knocked me off and I hit a tram line elbow-and-head first over 20 years ago, the marvellous doctors at St Vincent’s emergency said my helmet (which split in half) saved my life. I always wear a helmet cycling, snowboarding and when surfing rocky reefs.

      • CycleHog permalink
        3 October, 2013 2:38 am

        Weird. Before we had helmet laws (back in the 1980s when nobody wore helmets) we didn’t have thousands of deaths from cycling. Now that we have helmet laws and governments telling us that “helmets save lives!”, literally thousands of people claim their life was saved by a helmet. It doesn’t add up.

      • Rafael permalink
        3 October, 2013 6:12 pm

        Got news for ya CycleHog: the world has changed a big deal in 30 years!!! Actually, it DOES add up if you analyse closely: In the 80s, there weren’t so many cars out there therefore traffic was a lot lighter; also, the few drivers on the roads were a lot more laid back, not caught up in the rat-race we live today, road-rage was unheard of!!! It was a lot safer those days mate…! …& yes! helmets DO safe lives!!!

      • CycleHog permalink
        4 October, 2013 8:50 pm

        Rafael, actually the road toll was much higher in the 80s for all types of road users (cyclists, drivers, pedestrians) than it is today. The decline has nothing to with helmet laws – the roads have become safer. A helmet could possibly save a life (any a situation). But apparently thousands of people claim to have been saved by a helmet which is completely impossible if you consider the statistics. At absolute best helmet laws might prevent a handful of deaths per year. We would prevent many more if we made it compulsory to wear helmets in cars, while walking, playing sports.

  6. Catherine permalink
    16 September, 2013 3:09 pm

    What I find interesting about the argument for helmet laws is the notion that if we don’t wear helmets we might die. Yes that is remotely possible. If however we’re free to jump on a bike without worrying about whether or not we have a helmet or any other cycling accoutrements, we might just live a little, or indeed a lot longer if you factor in the health benefits (see UK Journal of Medical Ethics study: The impacts of compulsory cycle helmet legislation on cyclist fatalities and premature deaths in the UK). Further, if you’re going to argue that cyclists without helmets who are injured should cover their own medical expenses (which most do anyway via their tax contributions to Medicare) then shouldn’t that rule apply to all risk taking behaviour? How far then do we take it? Should the person who regularly has 2nd helpings of pudding share similar responsibility if they end up with heart disease? Given the great health and environmental benefits of cycling nothing, including helmet laws, should discourage this most excellent pursuit.

  7. John Holstein permalink
    4 October, 2013 9:54 pm

    Cyclehog, I am an experienced & careful cyclist & have an extensive knowledge of the Australian Road Rules. Both accidents occurred at low speeds. The first when I was struck by a car that turned as I was adjacent to it without signalling an intention to do so. No where to go or take evasive action. The second was a classic change of surface accident, turning on to a wet, smooth concrete surface with an oil slick on it. These are the only two accidents I have had in 15 years of commuting, long distance touring, mountain biking & recreational cycling- between five & ten thousand km per year, so the stats are pretty low for accidents.
    You really exposed your agenda with the compulsion comment. Don’t hide civil liberty arguments behind accident statistics. If you choose to ride without a helmet, do so, but be prepared to pay the fines or suffer the consequences of a fall or collision. Cycling is no more or less dangerous than any other activity we participate in, but there are things we can do in every instance to mitigate the risks. The more intelligent among us will wear a helmet on all occasions when we ride so it matters little to me it is compulsory or not. Obviously it offends your civil liberties, so make that your agument, but don’t hide behind accident statistics to do it.

    • CycleHog permalink
      4 October, 2013 11:41 pm

      Of course my argument is about compulsion – that is the problem. I have no problem at all if you prefer to wear a helmet. For your situation (high distances, perhaps relatively high risk) it might make all the sense in the world. Not everyone rides like you. I do not want to wear a helmet. I don’t do 10,000kms per year, but I have been riding for as many years as you. Even without a helmet I am at less risk of a head injury than you are, as is clearly illustrated by our respective injuriy tolls. I should not have to be “prepared to pay the fines”. Why should I? Every other country on the planet allows adults to ride without helmets. But yes, I am prepared to accept any injuries I suffer while riding – which I know will be few or none. You too should be prepared – a helmet will not prevent anywhere near 100% of head injuries (only the truly brainwashed believe this). I think your risk is still small, but because you do so many kms, it is far higher than mine.

  8. CycleHog permalink
    4 October, 2013 11:45 pm

    And further, just because a person is experienced or very capable doesn’t ncecessarily make them less likely to be injured. In most things, people naturally perform to their abilities. A professional cyclist might be extremely competent and skilled, but they are at much more risk of injury than the average rider. Their skills allow them to take more risks.

    • John Holstein permalink
      5 October, 2013 7:55 am

      Cyclehog, the most likely place for a bicycle accident is in a low speed situation, generally in a transition area – path to road, bitumen to gravel etc.
      Much of my riding occurs in areas where that is common as I am a commuting cyclist or ride in urban areas. I would feel much safer not wearing a helmet whilst I am touring as I have much more control over my environment, however, I don’t have complete control over mechanical failures or punctures or the actions of other road users.
      Of course I know a helmet won’t protect in 100% of accidents, just as much as seat belts or the myriad of other compulsory safety inclusions in motor cars won’t protect the occupants from injury or death, but it will mitigate the risks of a head injury, so it is worth putting up with compulsion.
      Do you argue a vehemently against compulsory seat belt laws or the costs imposed on drivers for the fitting of safety devices in cars? I doubt it.
      There is far more risk of an accident on a bike on that casual trip to the shops wearing thongs & shorts, sans helmet, than there is of me being injured on a purposeful long distance ride. My attitude is: every bicycle ride, short, long, fast or slow carries exactly the same level of risk & requires the same level of concentration & preparation. Just the same as that short trip to the shops in the car requires the wearing of a seatbelt & the same level of concentration as a trip to Melbourne.

      • CycleHog permalink
        5 October, 2013 11:43 am

        “My attitude is: every bicycle ride, short, long, fast or slow carries exactly the same level of risk…”

        I think this perfectly illustrates your delusion. If you think that riding at 10km per hour through a park carries “exactly the same level of risk” as riding in a triathlon and coming down a hill in a pack of riders at 70km then you truly have no ability to assess risk accurately.

      • Rafael permalink
        5 October, 2013 11:49 am

        I can only assume CycleHog that either you live in a park or you walk your bicycle all the way to the park to start riding it there… otherwise, to get to the park you would need to ride through streets where there are cars & regardless of the speed, there IS risk!!!

  9. John Holstein permalink
    5 October, 2013 6:43 pm

    No Cyclehog, every ride carries a risk. In a triathlon you probably have more risk of drowning, but you are riding in a controlled environment with a group of trained athletes with a determination to stay upright for a variety of reasons. You are likely to be a trained athlete, physically & mentally prepared for a possible fall.

    The type of rider doing a rather slow 10k ride in a park is not concentrating on what they are doing & are more likely to have the exact type of collision a bicycle helmet is designed to protect them from, the slow speed fall resulting from a collision with another cycle, a dog or debris on the road. This is the same risk encountered on a casual ride to the shops where the rider carries home the newspaper or milk in their hand.

    I guess you buy insurance for your house, car (if you own one) & health insurance. I do & have never claimed on house insurance, rarely claimed on car insurance & have had little need of health insurance. I have ridden thousands of kilometres with a helmet on & have had to claim on that insurance twice. It is all about insuring against a risk. I will even put my helmet on to do a lap of the driveway after servicing or repairing my bike – “why”? You might ask – well because I may have forgotten to do up a nut or attach a brake cable & may be at a greater risk of an accident.

    I don’t have a problem with it being compulsory, there are far greater injustices to rail against than the compulsion to wear a helmet.

  10. Carlos permalink
    30 October, 2013 11:06 am

    There is one very simple solution to helmet hair. Move to a country in the free world and ride your bike like god intended. That’s what I did and I ride my bicycle everyday – thanks JohnH and your fellow very officious officers for justifying your persecution of me if I do this in Australia on the basis of a very tenuous bit of illogic.

    • John Holstein permalink
      31 October, 2013 7:49 pm

      There is a strong thread of evidence helmets do minimise injury when cycle riders have mishaps. As for persecution by fellow officers: in 37 years of doing my job, I never once issued a ticket for non compliance with helmet laws. Most of us applied the attitude test when dealing with these type of offences. Obviously you failed the test, the reasons for such failure are patently obvious in the tone of your reply above. If you want to protest on the grounds of personal choice, then be prepared to pay the fine. In other words, put up or shut up.

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