I do not wear a helmet when jogging!

The standards of living in Italy are much different than those in the US – including general safety precautions. I have commented in the past about the raucous behavior on New Year’s Eve in Florence – my teenage boys were all smiles. The same could be said of professional soccer matches – acceptable activities at an Italian Serie A match (standing, singing, smoke bombs, flares, and an occasional M-80) v. an MLS game (sitting, clapping and horns!) are distinctly different too. Let’s face it: Americans have a more “Puritan” standard when it comes to acceptable social moors and safety precautions. In my humble opinion, the US tends to be a little bit too restrictive (aka party-poopers)!

Nothing could exemplify this “over the top” safety consciousness than my rude awakening in Seattle, when I attempted to casually ride a bike without a helmet on a bicycle-only path in Seattle (the Burke Gilman trail). Please bear in mind, that when actually riding a bike, we always wear a helmet (as in our European ride from Amsterdam to Paris). I would never entertain going for a serious ride and sharing the road with cars for 30-50 miles without a helmet. Pictures on this blog from May, June, July and August 2009 evidence that we always wore helmets when riding across Europe.

However, our family has adopted a truly European attitude toward helmet-use. Specifically, when using the bike as a simple extension of your feet in City Center to run short errands – no helmet is necessary. Using a bike in the City Center is not riding by European standards, but rather fast-walking. In fact, throughout Italy, Netherlands, Belgium and France, it is the norm to use a bike, sans helmet, and fully dressed for work (men in suits, women in skirts, jackets, scarves, leather shoes and holding an umbrella while commuting on a bike). The Dutch mothers are particularly adept, also managing to hold a cup of coffee, talk on a mobile phone, and cart 2 kids to school too! We were awe-struck.

On weekends, however, when European cyclists dart out into the countryside to ride in preparation for the next Tour de France, they do wear a helmet. But, if jumping a bike to go 5 blocks to the office, school or to the farmer’s market – what’s the point? As European women will also point out, helmets are not very fashionable either. ;)

When I returned to Seattle, I bought a vintage ‘72 Schwinn Suburban cruiser to run local errands in our neighborhood - thinking I could bring a little of "Europe" to Seattle. I was mistaken. Despite living just 3 blocks from the Burke Gilman bicycle trail, where I access Zoka Coffee, Gas Works Park, and Fremont (all via a bicycle trail), I have been regularly accosted by Seattle’s helmet-Nazis. Ironically, I cruise on my vintage bike so slow that I can hold & drink a cup of coffee in European-fashion (while reminiscing of my family in Italy). Joggers regularly pass by me and smile! However, the constant barrage of Seattle’s helmet-Nazis is trying. A sample passive-aggressive comment, “Joey, yes, that man is not being smart leaving his helmet at home.” Or, my favorite, “Emmy, I think he might be too poor to afford a helmet.”

Unfortunately, Americans tend to paint things as “black-or-white” or “good v. evil” – our American society doesn’t operate well in the gray. Are we saying that an adult is unable to exercise sound and reasonable judgment? For heaven’s sake, I don’t wear a helmet when jogging! So, why should I wear one on a bike if I am traveling even slower on a bicycle-only path? There are no cars to run me over!

For what it is worth, I did relent and finally buy a helmet to alleviate my own frustration with Seattle’s helmet-Nazis. However, when I relayed this story to my wife and kids (still in Italy), they all laughed and said “not me!”

At least I'm safe now with a helmet if a jogger runs me over!


  1. Anonymous12.4.10

    Yes indeed, the social mores of society sure differ from country to country! I think American kids take longer to develop their sense of balance because they're encumbered by all those pads as well as helmets. Oh but our son Mark would disagree - he says we should visit an ER and see the result of "no helmets." I guess common sense is the best policy. Enjoyed your blog, James. Love, O & O

  2. Anonymous26.12.11

    Yeah, being harassed is no fun. I didn't wear one until about 10 years ago when I fell off in a parking lot once after hitting an unexpectedly deep storm drain and hit my head, knocked my self unconscious, had a concussion and felt rather lucky everything was mostly normal afterwards. Ever since I've worn one, but you wouldn't have convinced me otherwise before hand. I don't think helmets should be mandatory like they are most places in North America, but I don't feel safe any more without one.

  3. Anonymous1.3.12

    Screw the helmet. I often bike through New York City traffic without a helmet. Many people do. When I was a kid, tall flags in the back were the big safety feature for bikes. The local police dept. used to lecture us kids on the necessity of those damn flags (the idea was that cars would easily see the flags and steer clear of us). Well, the flags are gone now. Gone and forgotten. It was a trend, just like helmets.


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