And then there was Gabriele Urbonaite, a 19-year-old Emerson College film student, who was pedaling down Mass. Ave. listening to music through earbuds. “I’m from Europe. I don’t have the habit [of wearing a helmet],” said Urbonaite, who is from Lithuania and lived in Paris. As for the music, “I’m aware,” she said. “I’m a safe rider.”
Michael Parsons, 34, from Arlington, did have his head covered — with what appeared to be a furry Russian military hat. His helmet, he explained, was at home, on the back of his door. “I adhere to it about 40 percent of the time,” said Parsons, who runs Pranadudes, a spa consulting company.
There are a lot of reasons people resist helmets, including the way they look. “Personally, I think I look stupid in helmets,” said bike messenger Kevin Porter, 59, of Mission Hill, who refuses to wear one.
Like other American cities, Boston is adopting a more European look in cycling, which isn’t always compatible with helmet use.
“For the last 20 or 30 years bicycling has been dominated by either the messenger types or the sport cycling types,” said Jessica Robertson, transportation coordinator for the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, and a helmet wearer.
Now, there’s a trend toward upright, urban bikes, with riders wearing street clothes — a look common in Amsterdam or Paris where helmets are rarely seen. “It does feel nice to have the wind in your hair and all that,” said Robertson.
There is also the libertarian perspective, expressed by Porter who does “high-speed distance work,” delivering packages in and around Boston at speeds that he says exceed 30 miles per hour. “I get to ride the way I want to ride,” he said.
He also reasons that nothing serious will happen to him. “I don’t feel a helmet will necessarily prevent the kind of injury I’m going to get at high speed, which is probably bodily [injury] rather than hitting my head on the pavement,” he said.
He’s not the only one who feel helmets won’t help them. Bobby Weber, who studies management science at MIT, said he doesn’t own a helmet because he doesn’t ride very far. “If I fall and hurt myself, it’s my own damn fault,” he said.
“[A helmet] is only going to help you if you have a very significant type of crash,” said Robertson. “What everyone should be doing — the city of Boston, the Public Health Commission — is focus on preventing crashes from happening in the first place, not whether they should be wearing a helmet when the crash happens.”
She added: “In a way, it is almost a hopeful sign to see people in Boston not wearing helmets. It says to me they feel safe riding a bike, and they don’t think of it as this daredevil thing where they take their life into their hands.”
Linda Matchan can be reached at email@example.com.