by Thomas Burns
(USAF CMSGT Retired) Supervisory Logistics Management Specialist / Senior Logistics Management Specialist DoD Civilian, NATO Support and Procurement Agency Capellen, Luxembourg
Photo by Gorillaimages /

Now that the weather is warming up most of you bicyclists have probably already tuned up your bikes and are out on the bike trails … not without your helmet.                     

It was late summer and the days were getting shorter as daylight was slowly yielding to darkness.  I had had a long stressful day at work and wanted to squeeze in a quick bike ride before I ended my day.   

As I cruised along the bike path, I enjoyed the fresh air and the opportunity to reflect on the day’s events.  It was getting late, so there was not much bike traffic along the trail.  After approximately 35 minutes into my ride, I — unintentionally — left the paved area of the bike path and was now riding on a graveled area.  As I was trying to maneuver my bike back on to the paved area, I lost control and was surprised to find myself on a collision course with the pavement.  Seconds later I hit the pavement with a force that seemed to rattle every bone and internal organ in my body. 

I took a couple of deep breaths and attempted to get up.  Broken and unable to get up, I realized I had sustained some serious injuries; after a few more seconds of dealing with the pain, I wondered, “What now?” 

As I glanced over to my left, I was pleased to see my cell phone on the ground next to me.  Fortunately, I had made it a habit of always bringing it along.  I called my wife, explained what had happened, and she was promptly on her way. 

As I lay there in pain, for what seemed an eternity, I glanced over to my right and noticed my safety helmet lying on the ground.  Fortunately, I had made it a habit to ALWAYS wear my bicycle safety helmet when biking.  I was thankful that it had protected my skull during my fall.  Moments later I was consumed by a great sense of relief as my wife arrived. 

Through some creative maneuvering and assistance from my wife, in spite of the severe pain, I managed to get into the car.   During the drive to the hospital, it seemed that every bump and crevice in the road enhanced the pain.

As I arrived at the emergency room and after checking my vitals, they wheeled me off for x-rays.  After a series of unpleasant maneuvers in the x-ray room — rolls, bends, twists, turns, etc. — the doctor examined me and sent me back for additional x-rays and round two of this series of torture. 

Every twist and turn translated into severe pain.  Afterward, I welcomed the dosage of painkiller the nurse injected into my IV tube to make the pain bearable.  I was left wondering why she had not given me that dosage earlier.

The doctor studied the x-rays and informed me of the damage:  separated shoulder, dislocated thumb, two broken ribs, and some additional dents and stretches, but no head injuries!

After a late night at the hospital, I was in early the next morning to see orthopedics where they reset some bones.  Ouch!  Conscious of my wife’s presence in the room, I tried to bear the pain.  However, that was the first time my wife had witnessed me overcome by pain.  After that, I was off to see the trauma surgeon who informed me that my injuries would not require surgery. 

Then he asked me the magic question, “Were you wearing your bicycle safety helmet?” 

My response was a proud, “Yes!” 

He explained that he had years of experience dealing with bicycle accidents and how, in spite of my banged-up condition, my injuries could have been a lot more severe had I not been wearing my safety helmet. 

The following statistics support his claim:

Head injuries represent one of the most serious and potentially life-threatening injuries that can be sustained by bicyclists

Recent figures show that there are over 800 bicycle-related fatalities annually in the USA, and an additional 45,000 bicyclists are injured

Almost three-quarters of fatal crashes (74 percent) involved a head injury

Nearly all bicyclists who died (97 percent) were not wearing a helmet 

Statistics show that in the event of a crash, wearing a bicycle helmet reduces the risk of head injury as much as 70+ percent

In spite of the proven benefits of wearing a safety helmet, studies reveal that only a small portion of riders actually wear safety helmets while bicycling.  The most common reasons for not wearing a helmet are it’s uncomfortable, annoying, it’s too hot, don’t need it, don’t own one, messes up my hair, not cool, etc.

After a couple of months, the doctor assured me I was OK.  I was able to get back on the trail and enjoy bicycling again.

I obviously had not planned to have an accident that day.  As it was happening, I did not have time to pause and don my safety helmet; it all happened in a matter of seconds.  I encourage EVERYONE to heed the warnings and wear your bicycle safety helmet while bicycling.  It may not be the cool thing to do, but it is cooler than having a cracked skull, or even worse.

In my case, I am convinced my bicycle safety helmet made a difference and may have even saved my life.

So, the weather is getting nice. If you are a cyclist, it’s time to hit the bike trail — but not without your safety helmet.  It only makes sense.