Oct 21, 2009

10 Reasons NOT to Wear A Helmet

All Rights Reserved © 2009 Thomas W. Day

I've spent way too much ink ranting about why helmets are good for you. I'm a believer in protective gear, but that's just me. Most crash landings begin with a face plant, so I think anything short of a full-face is mostly pointless. You can argue that the DOT thinks a beanie-brain-bucket is "protection," but I'm unconvinced. The federal government is the last place I'd look for technical advice.

If you have some question about how well your gear will work in a crash, put a bow in your do-rag or button down your beanie and slam your face against a hard surface. If you snap off your front teeth and break your nose, you might decide to buy a real helmet before you try the same exercise on hard, unforgiving asphalt at 30mph.

Lots of solid cases have been made for every piece of protective equipment that is sold today. Other than the "live free and die young with a really gory corpse" and the "I scream like a baby when I put one of those boxes over my head" arguments, not many people have spent time (or beer or mixed drinks) coming up with good reasons not to wear a helmet, especially a full-face helmet. So, with a beer and a mixed drink in hand(s), I thought I'd give it a shot.

  1. Nobody will ever say anything you want to hear. You are past 25, so you'll never enjoy any new music beyond this point. You ride without a helmet because you are trying to destroy your hearing.
  2. You can’t smoke inside a full-face helmet. Cigars are especially incompatible with face shields and such. Since smoking is one of those "little suicide" activities, making the step to a larger, less passive, suicidal activity (riding helmet-less) is a short jump.
  3. You can't eat or drink and ride. Even jerky is tough to filter through a face shield. Forget about ice cream cones. Since you're proud of your stylish American bulk, you are more concerned with getting your daily caloric intake than worrying about the goo inside your skull. You ride to eat and eat while you ride.
  4. Hip wrap-around sunglasses won't easily stuff into a helmet, so, you're stuck wearing dorky geek glasses. This has inspired several shade manufacturers to make dorky geek glasses and call them hip. My last visit to a Harley shop was made much more entertaining by the collection of $5 tinted industrial safety glasses being sold as designer shades for twenty-times what those same frames (made of more durable materials) would bring in a welding supply shop. Looking like a geek has never been so expensive.
  5. You can't pick your nose and wear a helmet. Even if you could get a useable finger past the shield, the chin guard gets in the way. Personally, I think that's a good thing because a small pothole and a cruiser's suspension would probably result in a finger poking through the back of your skull.
  6. Telephones, you gotta have 'em, but you can't do telephones and wear a decent helmet. These days, nobody can do anything or go anywhere without a cell phone, so it's damned important that you be able to answer the important question of the day (which is either “Can you hear me now?” or "Where are you now?" or "Waz up?") whenever it's asked. The entire planet revolves around the concept that someone's lack of planning is someone else’s emergency, no matter how trivial the problem. Wingers display insane levels of connected-ness lunacy with headset installations in their helmets and Microsoft Office displays on their face shields. You, however, simply need to be able to answer the phone when it rings.
  7. An excellent reason for not wearing a full face helmet is that you have nothing to lose. You hate your job, your wife is having an affair with your boss, your kids are on crack, and you're broke. What's the worst thing that could happen? You crash and survive, but are stuck at home recovering on the couch while your wife and boss hold business meetings in your bedroom.
  8. Good hair days, you can’t have ‘em and wear a helmet. Helmets will turn any hair style to a greasy pancake look. Which raises an important question, does Donald Trump ride to work every day? Is his bad hair because of a helmet or did an ugly squirrel curl up and die on his head and the Donald hasn’t taken the time from his busy, motivational day to have one of his Fox News eunuchs scrape it off?
  9. The "vision thing." From listening to years of lame excuses about helmets obstructing vision, I've decided this isn't about being able to see, but it's about being seen. Racers, two and four-wheel varieties, wear helmets and nobody needs to see better than those folks. After spending $45,000 on a custom cruiser, you probably want people who know that you have that kind of credit line. We're all equal inside a helmet and you're probably not happy about that.
  10. Finally, the best reason to not wear a helmet is that you know your genetics have absolutely nothing of value to contribute to the human race and you want to make the ultimate Darwinian sacrifice for the greater good of the species. Good for you. Your contribution to the universe will not be remembered, but you are still doing a good thing. Consider immediate sterilization so that no nasty little accidents happen before your nasty big crash.

I think I've provided sufficient justifications for those cute little bikini-beanie "helmets" and the 100% Dacron-reinforced do-rag fashion statement. Even though it's very likely that any crash you may have will result in a face-plant, it's important to consider there are a lot of important things that you can't do while wearing full face protection. What's a little cosmetic surgery and a lot of dental work worth compared to the important issues discussed in this highly academic analysis?

As spectacular as my list is, you can probably think of even better reasons to avoid protecting the insides of your skull. Feel free to contribute your best justifications.

Oct 14, 2009

Consumer Repellants

All Rights Reserved © 2009 Thomas W. Day

Every once in a while, I check out ClusterFox New’s website to find out who is advertising there to be sure I don’t buy anything from their sponsors. It doesn’t mean much to anyone but me, but I’m the only guy I have to satisfy at this late point in life. Likewise, this afternoon--when it turned out that I’d managed to escape my class and arrived early for my wife’s birthday party at my daughter’s home—I found myself with a rare couple of unoccupied hours and an appetite. I’m near downtown Minneapolis, a place with a plethora of great restaurants in nearly every area of the city, and I’m not on a budget or in a hurry. Where do I go?

Dinkytown has great burger joints and designer beer. It also has parking meters and a boatload of underemployed metermaids. Downtown restaurants are practically abandoned buildings at 2PM, but they are surrounded by those damn meters. Riverfront? Nope, brand new meters as of last fall. So, I ended up in a neighborhood bar with “famous” hamburgers and I’m set for the next couple of hours.

The ‘burbs live off of consumers’ rejection of “urban planning” stupidity customer hostility. If I were an owner of a suburban business, I think I’d try to get myself elected to a major city's City Council so that I could increase the number of parking meters and metermaids. I think repelling consumers from the city would be at least as effective as an advertising campaign. I wouldn’t have to pay for the parking meters and metermaids, so on a cost-basis the political campaign might be a lot more effective use of my time and money than advertising. That might explain why so many city council members live outside of the urban centers.

At the least, I think urban business people ought to use accurate terminology when they are describing these meter plagues. I’d call them “consumer repellants.” Parking meters are probably the most effective way to reduce downtown congestion, over-stimulated downtown business activity, and all of the complications that come with customers and money-changing in a living city. Far better to force all of that nasty commerce on to the suburbs where they are better situated to deal with business.

St. Paul, for example, has shed the shackles of capitalism and opted for a purely government-based economy. Every significant downtown building is jammed with city and state offices and workers and that has saved the city from having to mess with sales taxes, traffic, and inflating property taxes. The City of St. Paul is an abandoned ghost town the moment all those city and state employees head back to the suburban homes. So much volume vanishes from the downtown area it almost feels like you’ve entered a low pressure zone if you stick around past 4:30PM in downtown St. Paul.

Minneapolis, on the other hand, has extended metering hours to 10:30PM, so that city’s metermaids prowl the streets looking for stragglers to punish and the rare visitor to downtown restaurants and bars. Duluth just began a major campaign to rid itself of tourists and Canal Park visitors. It will take a few years, but that brilliant strategy will soon solve both city's’ nasty downtown business problems.

For her birthday, this September, my wife wanted a trip to Duluth. Because she was feeling guilty about making me drive our cage through Wisconsin on our anniversary, she pretended she wanted to take the bike. We've done this trip a few dozen times in the last decade and it has always been one of our favorite things to do in Minnesota. The weather report for Duluth was for a 60% chance of rain. She wanted to hang out in Canal Park. Duluth downtown parking is motorcycle hostile and I couldn't think of a good reason to deal with the hassle. I suggested we take the cage so she'd be comfortable. She drove. I read a book.

A couple of years ago, I was forced to travel through downtown Cincinnati and I was amazed at how effective that city’s parking meter solution had been. That large, once-booming downtown was absolutely abandoned on a perfect Saturday afternoon. I think you could walk naked through Cincinnati’s streets and nobody would notice. It was amazing! Cincinnati had such an effective parking meter program that the Amtrak station’s parking lot was teeming with metermaids, like sharks who’d sniffed blood in the water but who’d arrived too late to sample the kill. As I loaded my gear on to my bike in front of the station, two Cincinnati metermaids stopped to warn me that I had ten minutes to move or they’d “have to” ticket me for illegal parking. As I pulled out of the loading zone, they looked absolutely lonely with the station lot back to its natural empty status.

When I toured North Dakota, I was sort of impressed with that state’s attitude toward ghost towns and empty business buildings. It seemed to me that a year or two of abandonment was justification for bulldozing a building or town. I wonder how long it will take for the major cities to take this approach? St. Paul has a “World Trade Center,” but if al Qaeda had blown up that collection of empty office spaces nobody in the state, let alone the nation, would have noticed. The city could save itself a lot of energy by knocking down at least half of the downtown buildings and making something useful out of the space; like more empty parking lots. At least you don’t have to heat a parking lot. It’s not like the city’s metermaids are so busy that adding a couple thousand more spaces to their route would cause an inconvenience.

Oct 3, 2009

Aerostich Earplug Sample Kits

All Rights Reserved © 2009 Thomas W. Day

Disposable Kit: Photo courtesy of the 2007 RiderWearhouse Catalog.

Sometimes a product is more than a product. A really good product can even be a public service. The RiderWearhouse Aerostich Earplug Sample Kits (offered in a "Disposable Kit" for $10 or a "Reusable Kit" for $25) are that kind of product.

Riding a motorcycle is a well-known cause of hearing damage. It's almost impossible to find a hearing damage chart that doesn't include a picture of a motorcyclist with a suggested decibel caption beside the picture. Those charts seriously disagree about the level of noise exposure a motorcyclist suffers (from an impossible low of 85dbA to a more believable 125dBA), but they all agree that motorcycle riding is detrimental to the health of your hearing. If you experience the joy of a continuous tone, whine, "metallic waterfall" noise, or hiss when you are in a quiet room, you're one of the millions of tinnitus sufferers. Don't worry, if you like the sound of that tone, it won't go away for the rest of your life. Enjoy.

One of the additional joys of the "loud pipes" theory is that while you may think other people can hear you and, accordingly, watch out for you, you're not hearing much because you're driving yourself deaf. Helmet haters are getting the same benefit from their preference.

Exhaust noise is not engine noise and is mostly useless for troubleshooting purposes and wind noise is totally distracting. Lowering the overall noise level allows me to discriminate odd mechanical sounds, sirens, car horns, and even voices from the two major useless noises. The obvious solution is to ride wearing hearing protection. In a 90-125dBA environment, you have lost much of the subtlety in your ability to discern noises; important from unimportant. A high-noise environment is well known to cause fatigue, stress, loss of concentration, circulation and respiratory anomalies, and a weird psychological characteristic known as "learned helplessness syndrome." I've found that, if I want to hear the sound of my engine, I have to reduce the overall noise level to something tolerable. So, if you want to be able to put in a long, focused day on the bike, you're going to need to protect yourself from the noise of your vehicle, helmet, and wind.

Reusable Kit: Photo courtesy of the 2007 RiderWearhouse Catalog.

That's easy to say, but it's difficult to find an earplug that fits. At the corner drugstore, Walmonster, or hardware store, you can find all kinds of earplugs and maybe you'll find one that works for you. I've tried the cylindrical industrial foam earplugs and they do a great job of shutting out noise, but they irritate my ears after a few hours. The latex flanged plugs I found in an industrial supply store were even more painful. The waxy sleep plugs work, but they get filthy quickly and stick to my helmet and are expensive. My expensive "musician's earplugs" work really well, but I'm afraid I'm going to misplace those $140 plugs in a restaurant after a long day's ride. When I discovered these kits from Aerostich, I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to try out a variety of plugs (many of which are stocked individually at RiderWearhouse) to see what best fit my ears and personality.

The "reusable" kit comes with ten different pairs of reusable plugs. Moldex Rockets, North Com-Fits, and others are in that kit. Seven are corded (for us forgetful types) and three are not. The "disposable" kit supplies you with twelve different pairs of plugs, six corded and six not. This kit includes Howard Leight Max's, EAR Express Pod Plugs, Moldex Pura-Fits, and others.

Most of the plugs in both kits were reasonably comfortable and all of Aerostich's choices provided good hearing protection. I found the reusable latex (or latex-like) plugs to be too stiff for long use, except for a couple earplugs (I liked the Moldex models). Some of the disposables wouldn't fit in my ear well enough to provide good isolation. In the end, I found that the Howard Leight Multi-Max was the optimum protection and most comfortable fit for my ears. I bought a case of 200 and I use them on the bike, mowing the lawn, working in my shop, in the recording studio and around live music, and when my wife is trying to get me to do some job I don't want to do. Your mileage will probably vary, which is the point in these two kits. Like snowflakes, no two ears are alike (even your own, probably). What fits and works for me probably won't work for you. The best way to find a good fit is to try a lot of earplugs and, for $35, you can try out 22 of the best.