I had a topic for today. The column was half written. But then a couple of events changed everything.

If you read here regularly, you know that I’m a biker (non-motorized type). I love everything about two wheels. Road biking on our country lanes. Mountain biking, any day, any time. Gravel biking — I’m especially fond of Rich Mountain and Citico Road.

If you ride WITH me, you know I’m all about safety. Respecting the rules of the road. Protecting each other. Being smart on the bike. Part of that is self-preservation. In a collision with a car or truck, I lose. Every time. My 20-pound bicycle is no match for a 2,000-pound vehicle. So on the road, I’m going to be watching everything.

Even though you might catch me on my mountain bike tearing down a trial like a 20-something, I have no death wish. I want to arrive home with all my body parts intact and healthy. Same thing on the road. That’s why you will always see me wearing a bicycle helmet when I’m riding. If I’m riding down my driveway, I’ll have a helmet on. Always. Everywhere.

Just this week, a fellow died after wrecking on the Cades Cove Loop Road. I don’t know if it was on that big hill on the back side of the Loop, but that is a common area for wrecks. Even with signs everywhere, folks who shouldn’t will still try and ride their bikes down that hill. Ask the people in our emergency room about that hill. They know it well. Rare is the week when someone doesn’t visit the ER after wrecking on that hill. Broken arms. Broken clavicles. And this week, a head injury from which the rider died.

And to get to the point, he wasn’t wearing a helmet.

Also this week, a young Blount County man was injured in a bicycle wreck in Michigan. His injuries were extensive, with multiple skull fractures, but it does appear that he will be OK.

I don’t have all the details but what I do know is that he was riding down a hill without a helmet when he wrecked.

On Wednesday of this week, I rode across Rich Mountain Road. When I got to Cades Cove Loop Road, I stopped for a few minutes, counting the number of bicycle riders wearing helmets. Wednesdays are a big day for bikers on the Loop, as cars are prohibited. In just a few minutes, I counted 50 riders. Of those, 12 were wearing helmets. Most of those in helmets were children, but I counted quite a few children without helmets, too.

These two wrecks had more in common than just that they were both riding without a helmet. Both were on clear, paved roads without vehicular traffic. Both were participating in what they thought was a casual ride under safe conditions. Obviously, they were wrong. Wrecks on a bicycle can happen anywhere. Another friend wrecked this week in the parking lot, getting ready to jump on the Greenbelt. Estimates from one regular Greenbelt rider are that less than 20% of the Greenbelt riders are wearing helmets. My helmet count on the Cades Cove Loop Road would seem to confirm that estimate.

Several years ago, another friend who rode competitively when younger and who was definitely a good rider wrecked on the Greenbelt. He likely hit a sandy patch under one of the bridges and went down hard, knocking himself out. When he woke up (alone), he checked himself out and rode back to his car. Without a helmet, the results would likely have been very different.

So here’s the question: When should you wear a bicycle helmet? The answer: Anytime you’re on a bike. That little bit of simple technology could save your life.

Joe Black, PT, DPT, SCS, ATC is a physical therapist and athletic trainer at Blount Memorial Hospital’s Total Rehabilitation. Write to Joe at joeblackdpt@gmail.com.

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