Le casque

bike helmet

One of the great things about living in Paris is that it’s a pretty good city for bicycling. It’s relatively flat, the city has installed a network of bike paths, many one-way streets have been accommodated with a special lane off to the side for bicyclist going the other way (provided you don’t mind the terror of seeing a car coming at you full-speed, head on), and in spite of what’s between those previous parentheses, Parisians actually respect bicyclists. Even though pedestrians n’existe pas, I think that comes from the fact that a lot of drivers are actually cyclists themselves, or were in the past.

But unlike America, where people like to do things like see how close they can sideswipe cyclists, just for fun (often with a “Hey, the road is for cars!” – before speeding off, chuckling at how clever they are), bicycles are just a natural part of the streets and roads in Paris. One does need to be careful, though, because people in Paris drive like they walk, and there doesn’t always seem to be much sense of order to it and spatial relationships are…well, sometimes those n’existe pas as well.

(In a yoga class, a late arrival put her mat right on top of someone else’s, as if the other person wasn’t even there. And anyone who has done laps in a public pool invariably comes away with a few bruises.)

However in spite of running helter-skelter on sidewalks, and in the streets (and in yoga classes and public pools), there are not as many accidents as one might think. Unfortunately, I recently had two accidents while minding my own business on my bike. One was with on of those pesky men with unusually small zizis who compensate with an engine between their legs pesky motor scooter drivers, who like to rev their engines any chance they get…especially when they are stopped at a red light and a pedestrian crosses in front of them – which is something I don’t get.

(In fact, I usually stop where I am, right in front of them, and pretend I am checking my watch or messages on my phone. Then, when the light changes, I take a few extra seconds because as everybody knows, people riding scooters need to make every possible second count, because they are The Most Important People On the Streets – and almost as often, the sidewalks – in Paris.)

Anyhow, where was I? Oh yes, my accidents. The last one, I was riding through the Place de la République when one of those scooter drivers, who had revved his engine to get 4.25 centimeters ahead of someone else, suddenly slammed on his brakes, prompting me to slam on mine as well. Unfortunately the taxi behind me wasn’t as prompt as I was, and he slammed into the back of my bike, sending me flying.

After getting up and insisting to everyone who was kind enough to stop and make sure I was okay (except for the motor scooter driver, who, of course — split), I grabbed my loaf of bread that escaped less-scathed than my right leg, and hopped back on my wrecked bike, and headed home. And then I decided I should wear a casque, or bike helmet.

A casque is not to be confused what I was told* was called a casquette, which is for motorcycles – which is admittedly hard for Anglophones to say. (I got some funny looks when I told some French friends that a ‘casket” is actually something we bury people in…although the translation kind of makes sense if you consider the way motor scooter riders drive.) After scouting through most of the bike shops in Paris, where the pickings were rather slim, I found out why Parisians don’t wear bike helmets. It’s not because people want to look as if they don’t care if they perish (comme les motos); it’s because the helmets in Paris are invariably rather ugly.

Granted, few people look good in a bike helmet. But it doesn’t help things when they’re festooned with green frogs leapfrogging over dancing pink butterflies, the British flag (if you’re going wear one of those, heck, you may as well put a target on your head**), or Spiderman being chased by his nemesis over your skull.

(Okay, another reason folks don’t wear helmets can be pretty much summed up by this woman: When the city introduced the Vélib’ system of free bikes – “The city should get further subsidies and give Vélib’ subscribers vouchers to get helmets from big stores”, which would certainly reduce injuries. Although with 33,000,000,000 euros needed to balance the budget by 2013, those funds might be tied up for a while.)

Even though we’re being asked to shell out for our own helmets in Paris, I’ve been seeing more and more people wearing them on their heads, fashion (and non-reimbursable cost) be damned. A majority of bike riders fasten them to their head, but I’ve seen a few heretics “go rogue” and not bother to click together on the straps. I want to say, “Um, that defeats the point” – kinda like when I said to the scooter driver the other day when I stopped at a red light next to her, who she got mad at me for blocking her view of the light so she couldn’t see the nanosecond that it changed. I don’t think she was expecting me to rely with – “Really? That’s the worst of your problems? At least you don’t live in Syria”***.. and rode away. Fortunately I had on my helmet, so I didn’t have to worry about her running me off the road as well.

ironing board

It’s said that French is a country of high taste, and not-so-high taste, with not so much in the middle. Since I live in the middle myself, I keep looking for things that are functional, priced moderately, and, most importantly, are void of unnecessary ornamentation. Consider my ironing board, which lives in plain view of me. I needed a new cover and was looking for one made of plain fabric, that was unobtrusive. It didn’t matter the color, it just had to be solid. I searched and searched and searched and searched, and found ironing board covers with designs depicting everything from bunches of balloons heading skyward, to ones with cow prints on them, which didn’t quite fit into my urban décor. After weeks of searching, I finally found the perfect iron board cover, in sold white. In England.

(However my initial excitement wore off soon after I realized that now that I had an ironing board cover, there went my excuse for walking around covered in wrinkles.)

While it’s true that bike helmets aren’t exactly flattering, neither is permanent brain damage. Another thing we’re seeing a little more of in Paris are les sacs à dos, or backpacks. As for myself, my kinéthérapist told me that I should stop carrying a messenger bag and start carrying a backpack. “True” he said, “eez not very estéhetique…” So I started shelpping around a modest black nylon number from Go-Sport until someone I know from Coach kindly offered to send me a nifty black leather backpack. Because, well, I couldn’t be responsible for making Paris pas esthétique.

sac à dos

Fortunately it doesn’t have any bunnies, balloons, or caped crusaders on it. And it matches my new helmet, (which, like my plain ironing board cover, I also had to find online), which makes me feel a little safer out there. But even though I don’t have a superhero protecting my head, I’m riding a little higher. True, there’s likely a nerd-alert out there in the city for the dude with the bike helmet (which hopefully it mitigated by a sac à dos très esthétique). But I don’t care, because someone – and something – has got my head covered, as well as my back. Which is a good thing, because I haven’t quite gotten around to picking up that iron yet.



*I’ve since figured out that a casquette is usually what we’d call a baseball cap, in English. Which I guess just goes to show that even the French sometimes get confused about their own language. Or maybe it was just me. (Which is the likelier possibility.)

**The French and the British have traditionally had a love/not love relationship with each other. It goes back a long time, historically, and nowadays it’s more of fodder for some ribbing rather than an actual dislike.

***This is not to make light of the situation, which is truly tragic, but meant to put things into perspective. It’s just that there are worst things in the world than not being able to take off on a motor scooter the precise second the light changes to green. Unless she was going to an emergency medical appointment or late for an organ transplant. If she was, I apologize and am sorry that I blocked her view of the light.

(Even though there are often two traffic lights in Paris – one street level, and another one higher up. And all she really had to do was tilt her head upward.)


96 comments

  • When I was in Paris about 7 years ago, a huge number of Parisian men were wearing Eastpak backpacks. No other brand–Eagle Creek, forget it, North Face, nothing doing, had to be Eastpak. And of course they wore perfectly ironed jeans.

  • It’s a really good idea to wear the helmet…We want to hear much more from you in the future. Was the bread damaged?

  • that coach backpack looks perfect for schlepping multiple boxes of macarons.

    so apparently … la vie en velo – c’est la guerre! the helmet seems like a v. sensible move.

  • I rode a bike through Paris for the first time this Sunday, and it was absolutely terrifying. Especially since my bike’s brakes were broken.

    I guess I contributed to the sac à dos trend, because it’s so much easier to carry baguettes for a picnic in my backpack rather than in a purse strapped across my chest!

  • I’m french and I ride a scooter….
    I totally agree with you, and you are right about everything.

    Parisians are in a constant rush.

    The truck drivers hate the car drivers,
    The car drivers hate the motorcycle riders,
    The motorcycle riders hate the scooter riders,
    The scooter riders hate the cyclists…
    Cyclists hate pedestrians ;)
    As for the pedestrians, they hate all of them.

    Paris is very dangerous for Cyclists.
    There must be a law that force Cyclists to wear an helmet.

    Car drivers don’t really realise how dangerous they can be for others…

    • One thing I’ve noticed on the streets of Paris, is that everyone – and I mean, everyone – respects (and perhaps fears) the bus drivers. Because they have to move those buses through the crowded streets, and they do it well. And they’re not afraid of anyone else. (After all, they’re the biggest things on the roads.) Interestingly, the bus drivers are usually the nicest people and seem to have a “zen-like” attitude as they drive. I guess if they let the stress get to them, they wouldn’t be able to do it very long.

  • When I visited Paris last year I used a Velib for much of the trip. I ride/race a bicycle around 200 miles per week so I am on a bike all the time. How I didn’t get killed in the first 2 hours riding around is pure luck. I’d do it again.

  • If I had a cute pink ironing board like yours, I’d probably use it a lot more!

  • Hello – just wanted to send a comment to David, not necessarily for posting:

    As a fellow bike-riding helmet-wearing pickle-loving adopted-parisienne american, I just wanted to thank you for your pickled pepper post from 2009! (sorry I can’t post there directly, so I am here) I have a similar obsession for pickles – doesn’t help that I’m pregnant now! And last night I was inspired by your pickle recipe to turn my montmartre balcony (markedly bigger than in the Marais!) banana peppers into pickled peppers for a little mexican dinner. They were delicious within hours and I expect I will continue to enjoy them for the next week! I used apple cider vinegar since it somehow seemed more ‘whole’ than the medicinal white vinegar I have which I have been using for cleaning. Any reason not to use cider vinegar?

    Your baba ganoush has also been a mainstay of our summer picnic rotation.

    Thanks and hope to see you around!

    Sarah

  • I have been using the BIXI system in Toronto (similar to the Velib in Paris) but I don’t have/use a helmet. If you ride your own bike you can lock up your helmet with your bike when you go into a store/etc. With BIXI I go from station to station but then maybe walk around and leave using a different station. I guess I would have to always carry a bag around with me to carry my helmet…… I should really consider doing this because it sounds like it is just going to take one “close call” or worse to make me realize I should have one.

    I am curious if cyclists in Paris follow the rules of the road in general? It is great that you have seperate bike lanes, I remember them even from being there in 2001/2002. In Toronto it seems like a lot of cyclists don’t care about stop lights/stop signs or one way directions (the “bike lane” on one way streets in opposite direction is a great idea).

    • Bicyclists in Paris don’t always follow the rules of the road, in general. (Although some do, some don’t.) Riding on the sidewalks is something they are constantly admonishing cyclists not to do in Paris, but we…er, I mean, they still do it.

      Interestingly, they just initiated a ‘right turn on red’ for cyclists at some intersections in Paris.

  • funnily enough, I won’t ride a bicycle in traffic in Canada even if you paid me, but I willingly paid to nearly go to my death on a Vélib without a helmet! LOL And I found, that no matter how hectic it was, they were still more respectful and tolerant of one more silly tourist on a bike than they would be here any day of the week! (P.S. When I tell that story here, people think I am crazy…. :-p) Cool back pack though :)

  • So glad to hear you are wearing a helmet. I’m pretty sure I’m invisible when I ride a bike. You really have to be extra vigilant. Unlike car or scooter/motorcycle drivers, bike riders have a harder time being aggressive. Unless you’re a food delivery or bike messenger in Manhattan, then they rule the road- and sidewalk. Be safe out there!

  • I used to bike home through two countries- Switzerland and France. I’d start off my commute in Switzerland, then bike through the main douane (customs), through a bit of the neighbouring French town, then along a part of the main commuting road leading to the autoroute, off that and back through the douane, and onto little Swiss roads… and home. Used to take me an hour.

    I bought myself a cycling helmet just for the bit along the main commuter road, after doing it 2-3 times helmet-less, thinking that I’d be safer that way. I swear, people would drive a good metre closer to me when I had the helmet on than they did before when I was helmetless! Maybe it was the long blonde hair flying in the wind that ensured that they gave me enough space when they passed… or maybe it was that they figured that if I had a helmet on, I was therefore “safe to overtake at 30cm distance”.

    My verdict- I’d definitely wear a helmet in France, but over here in Switzerland, I won’t bother. Until I get my daughters on bikes, in which case I will be wearing it to set a good example! (I already have them wearing helmets on their micro-scooters).

  • I’m terrible, but I never wear a helmet… maybe because I read somewhere once that it makes drivers act more careful around you. When I lived in Paris, I would fear for all of those babies riding on the back/front of their parents’ bikes around the roundabouts.

  • Casquette-in the 70′s, there was a movie starring Genevieve Bujold and there was a running joke about a casquette, and that’s how I learned about that style of chapeau. I haven’t heard the term since then! Claude Lelouch, Another Man, Another Chance

  • This is funny. And timely. We’ve been considering the fact that it would really be wise to get some bike helmets, and were trying to shop for them on amazon.fr, where, naturally, they were mostly hideous.

  • I was always wearing a bike helmet in Lyon, France, for the same reasons. But now I have seen the invisible bike helmet. Have a look here: https://vimeo.com/43038579 but it is quite expensive with 500€. http://www.hovding.com/
    If the price will drop down in future I will try it. But for 500 some people buy 2 bikes.

  • I love your comment about spatial relationships not existing. It took me a long time to get over this and at times, I still struggle with it. I just did a blog post about a man laying so close to me at the beach that he had to split his legs apart to straddle my towel, which basically left his ‘junk’ in my face…not cool. And I even took a picture of it.
    On another note, thinking about dusting off my bike but haven’t taken the plunge yet for a helmet, think that may be coming here soon. And in all the years that I have been here (9 or so) I have never had a pleasant experience with a scooter, even was hit by one walking across a crosswalk. Again, not cool.
    Have a great day.

    Nikki

  • Please, please, please, please – if you get on a bike, wear a helmet. Someone I loved was knocked off her bike and killed as she didn’t wear one.

    And on a more cheerful note – the helmets on sale in France have the British flag on them because after all, it is a Brit who won the Tour de France this year, closely followed by the Olympic Time Trial Gold medal…..

    Love the backpack. Didn’t French schoolkids used to have ones like that pre-1968?

  • That “invisible helmet” link above is quite humerous: http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/hovding-invisible-bike-helmet-hair-intact-head-safe/story?id=17049677#.UDze9EQZzac

    Has anyone ever seen someone wearing something like that, or perhaps worn one themselves?

  • Funny thing these helmets….at least to us Dutch people. In the Netherlands everyone rides a bike, be it in Amsterdam or out in the countryside and almost nobody wears a helmet wether it be a child or adult. That is except for the people who ride bikes for exercise (mountain bike etc) but obviously they go at amazing speeds. We go to paris a few times each year and always use velib. I think it’s the best way to get around and I have loved every minute of it so far (well maybe except the one time crossing the roundabout at the arc de triomphe..)

  • Timely Article! I just spent three days in San Francisco General after getting my bike tire stuck in the Muni tracks on 17th and Sanchez. I had a concussion and broken forearm. 5 hour surgery. If I hadn’t been wearing my helmet, I would probably be in very bad shape. A helmet won’t save you if a car hits you at 50mph, but it is useful for slower speed falls. Please wear your helmet and consider taking a bike safety class!

  • I think it’s great that you are wearing a helmet. I enjoy your blog, and hope that you continue to post for a very long time!

    I had a concussion from a fall from my bike in 1997; I don’t remember the accident at all. I was wearing a helmet. Can you imagine if I hadn’t been wearing one? Yikes.

  • A friend buying his first bike helmet complained about the cost and asked if there were cheaper ones. The salesperson asked in reply, “How much is your head worth?”

    As one who moved to another city (new orleans) partially to get away from bad drivers after being hit by many cars, the last time almost killing me and costing me a foot (I was on the sidewalk, dammit, where else should I have been), it’s worth it to be here, safe, while waiting for the power to go off again as a hurricane approaches. I mean that too. Of course, braving Paris on a bike could tempt me too.

  • Re your *** item, one must never forget the French need to “gueuler”, something my French friends like to remind me of. They think Americans are way too relaxed that way.

  • I am from Vancouver, Canada, which is supposed to be this laid back, West Coast place where everybody is just chillin’ and is super mellow. Coming to Paris, I was initially terrified of the edgy, nervous drivers in the city’s super busy traffic.

    Much to my surprise, I found Paris to be a much safer place traffic-wise than Vancouver. Despite the fact that Parisian drivers are always in a big rush, always on the go, they somehow tend to drive better and are more dexterous than majority of Vancouver drivers. I remember seeing little 8 to 10 year old school kids walking around Parisian street by themselves, going to school, and I remember how horrified I was at first seeing them out on the street, all alone. But then I realized that these kids are perfectly safe to walk around, to cross the streets, because the drivers are not that dangerous.

    In contrast, drivers in Vancouver give me shivers. As I’m crossing the street in Vancouver, if I even sense that a driver is trying to make a left turn while I’m crossing, I freak out. In Paris, on the other hand, a driver can push his car almost to the point of touching me as I’m crossing the street, and for some reason, I don’t get upset.

    I think people who live and work in Paris had somehow worked out a system, a common-sense based system, whereby they let the traffic flow, and at the end of the day, everyone reaches their destination safely. The proof? I’ve barely heard any car honking in Paris, while in a much less congested Vancouver drivers are constantly at the end of their rope and the constant blaring of car sirens is maddening. That means that they haven’t yet worked out a system on how to behave in traffic.

  • Boy, can I relate! One must be hyper-alert to the surroundings and the vagaries of drivers of cars. Cycling the streets anywhere is placing your life in the hands  of others. Thus, in Los Angeles, I rarely ride in the streets. I mostly ride sidewalks, except in areas without curb cuts or with a lot of foot traffic.

    His comment about bike lanes running against traffic: I much prefer to ride against traffic, because at least that way I can spot the inattentive drivers and can get out of the way before they run me down. Which is damn near impossible when they’re coming up from behind.

    This, btw, I learned in East Anglia in the UK, where, although traffic is generally light, people drive very fast on narrow roads. Even police advised riding against traffic, especially at night.

  • Naomi, that salesman is trying to part your friend from as much of his money as possible. Bike helmets can cost as little as 10 bucks, and will protect just as well as a $100+ helmet. The main difference is the amount of ventilation (and, to an extent, bonuses like ease of adjustability.) Pick something in the middle range that suits your wallet and fits your head. They have all passed the same safety tests, regardless of price.

    David, I am a fan of bike panniers and collapsable bike baskets (though I wear a sac à dos most days when I’m not primarily travelling by bike.) Don’t know what riding is like in Paris, but if you find your back getting damp under that back pack, consider pannier bags that hook on to a rear bike rack, or collapsable baskets that mount to same.

  • “unusually small zizis” cracked me up, thank you David! That’s my kids’ favourite word (usually employed while jumping up and down shouting “Zizi power!” having just gotten out of the bath – don’t ask me why, I have nooo idea…).

  • One of my fondest memories of Paris was our Saturday lunchtime ride with Fat Tire Tours. 30 people riding ‘en masse’ among the traffic through the streets of Paris! Our lone guide said “we’ll move better as a pack, so when I say ‘go’, everybody GO!” It was a splendid afternoon in September, and I will never forget it. (I believe we wore helmets but, as an avid cyclist here in the States, I always wear a helmet – so I can’t really remember.)

  • Jen: The problem with panniers and baskets is that if you keep things in it, not-honest folks can grab your items and take off with them. And you can’t see ‘em, especially if they are behind you. I do have a front basket and wrap the strap around my handlebars to prevent that!

    Bruce: I’ve noticed some of the streets that have a special one-way lane for bikes now have signs telling cyclists to hug the side of the road. Since the roads are kind of narrow in Paris, I still find it relatively terrifying, so often stop and pull over and let the cars go by.

    naomi, Jessica + Michele: Sorry to hear about your accidents. It usually takes one to shake you up enough to realize that a helmet is a good idea. I’m seeing a lot more people in Paris wearing helmets, likely because they’re have some close calls. I would imagine that if some person opened a bike helmet boutique in Paris, with all sorts of helmets – from the fail-safe to the fashionable – they’d do quite well.

    Camille: Yes, I got mine on Amazon. I went to a bunch of bike shops and most only had a few helmets (I think the giant Go-Sport store had maybe 9 or 12 on the shelf), and another shop tried to sell me a child’s helmet (it was their last one in stock and they were probably just trying to get rid of it.) I do think a helmet is someone that one should try on to make sure it fits probably, so I wish the bike shops had a better selection.

  • I really like the snappy backpack and your bike helmet would look ordinary in Australia – we have to wear them by law. Nobody goes commando :)

  • “it’s because the helmets in Paris are invariably rather ugly. ”
    Danish Design comes to the rescue: check out Yakkay. Unfortunately mine doesn’t fit as well as my former, ugly model but at least it looks good.

  • I am leaving this afternoon to come to Paris to start my annual bike trip in Europe. This will be our eighth year to ride there. Last year we started in Bayeux, Normandy at the Channel and rode to the Mediterranean Sea. It was grueling but beautiful despite the dog bite that I received from a French chien. The food, views, mountains, villages, and people were all wonderful!!!

  • as a fellow vélib user, i’m on the fence about helmets. for the moment, i don’t wear one. for one, they are no where near as protective as a motorcycle casque. there have also been studies that show that people who wear helmets have more accidents, possibly because they feel safer with the cask on and unconsciously take more risks. for years, i was scared of riding a bike in paris, but once i started was surprised how safe it is, especially with the new lanes. i have to agree the scooters are the bane of my existence. also cyclists who don’t stop at red lights, i sometimes feel like i’m the only person who does and i feel stupid every time.

  • David, this post was very funny. And informative! In San Francisco we are thinking about a municipal bike rental system. It’s good to hear that Paris and Toronto have functioning, useful systems. Biking is a challenge in our hilly city but the inclines are good for the gluts and thighs, or at least you tell yourself that on the way up. We do have something new called The Wiggle, which is a (relatively) nonhilly way to wend west to east or v-v.

  • and while a lot (most) of the bus drivers are indeed “zen-like” and are considerate enough to honk before bounding up on you so that you can get out of their way, there was that story a few months ago about the bus driver who got ticked off at a cyclist and allegedly ran over him and dragged the bike for several meters boulevard de sébastopol.

  • It is heartened to hear your rant about scooters. The hour and half 30km ride from Geneva is filled with curses and heart stopping incidents. The problem is not just Paris
    but thought we were the only ones with thoughts on the matter.

  • You are so funny. I love your writing. Just FYI, I’m one of the few nice Americans who slow down and slowly go the cyclist who is just squeezed onto the busy streets of my town. People around here just have to go fast. Not sure why? Safe travels.

  • I’m sorry but here in Berkeley, as a pedestrian, I’ve been in 2 almost accidents with bicycles. The first one told me she was riding uphill so she couldn’t stop at the stop sign and the 2nd one called me a fascist because I was in the crosswalk. I find they are worse than car drivers and will go thru a red light because those lights don’t seem to apply to them. The lights are for cars and pedestrians.

  • ‘But unlike America, where cyclists like to do things like see how close they can sideswipe people, just for fun”
    Just a minor change or two…
    walking on New York pavements is much more dangerous for your health than in Paris.

  • David.
    maybe ou can get on our bike nd ride over to the left bank to try the cafe “Chez Dumonet” at 117 rue Cherche-midi. I hear they have best steak tartar in paris. do y,ou make your own?
    thank you but i am too old and not too wise, but to ride a bike in Paris as a tourist-suicide. its bad here in Palm Beach as well first,you have 90 year old retirees driving their MB sitting on books, tourists who do not know how to read a one way sign, aliens whose own home worlds consist of donkey paths, bad daddy motorcyclists who care about no one and go as fast as possible not caring who they run into and lastly the young police officer in pb who buzzed the pelaton with his siren on causing many broken bones and bent bikes. The Clymb.com is great plce for bike wear. weekly sales.

  • Ah, I am going to copy your zizi remark and deliver it to a neighbor who revs his motorcycle’s engine and drives over 50 mph down a 25 mph residential street. I now know what most of the drivers’ problems are here in Modesto as they speed and stop past the “stop” line. They are the only drivers on the road obviouisly and need to get thre first and nobody can then have any visibility. Yes my auto insurance is twice what it was in San Jose with a population 10X this area. Nobody rides bicycles here but the homeless (parolees and mentally ill).

  • This was the perfect story to start my morning! VERY happy you are now wearing a helmet. When I was in Paris in May, I was surprised at how few cyclists I saw wearing them and given how crowded Parisian streets are it is a good idea! Oh, and the drivers attitudes are not unique to Paris – in fact I think So Cal may be the capital for them!!!. Speaking of cyclists, when I was there in May I saw a huge group of cyclists dressed in what looked like early 20th century outfits (breeches, caps, bow ties women in longer, full skirts) all cycling with picnic supplies – baguettes jauntily poking out of woven baskets, etc. Not sure what it was all about, but they definitely seemed to be having a grand time. Encountered a group of them in the evening by the Canal St. Martin and never did figure out what the event was – any ideas???

  • I grew up riding in the country roads of S. Louisiana before I moved to Los Angeles where I eventually signed up for the AIDS bike ride, the one that goes from SF to LA in 7 days. They enforce the helmet rule, and it makes sense as none of us want too be organ donors during the fab 7 days ride. Riding on the Pacific Coast Highway in a car can be both amazing and scary, imagine doing that on a bike going 15 to 25 miles per hour while there is little or no space to ride with all the other traffic going 60 to 70 or more miles per hour. You get used to it quick or you get off and walk.
    Then moving to London and riding here…around double decker buses….on the other side of the street. Thankfully my fears were eliminated while riding in California.
    However, so many bikers here in London are fearless and STUPID. No helmet and will hardly ever observe traffic laws.

  • David! Good man (dork alert here); I work in cycling and I can’t tell you what joy it gives me to hear you say that you have the sense to w e a r a b i k e h e l me t. It is astonishing how many intelligent people forgo them and, as you point out, after a bike accident head injury, not so intelligent sometimes.

    So, being also a Mom and a former Nanny I now have to briefly lecture you about wearing your bike helmet right! Actually, I won’t lecture you, this handsome man will in this REI video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vzPlRHsPOMk

    The most important point he makes is that ‘place your helmet in the middle of your forehead’ bit. It feels dorky, even counter intuitive, but if you fall on your bike often you will be projected forward so you want that protection there.

    Adjust the straps (and as you point out actually buckle them) and it’s amazing how well protected your precious head will be. ‘Le Casque; indeed, in the biz they are called ‘Brain Buckets’.

  • I thought at first your reference to a target on the Union flag helmets might be a direct reference to Wiggo and his Mod style headgear but then I read your comments about our entente with the French on this island nation side of the Channel and gotcha. I loved being in France for the bulk of the JO this year and, after some initial light froideur between us, I think the London games may have worked a little magic on that very special relationship. The first photo I saw of a non French athlete in the French Press was of Bradley sitting inelegantly on his Posh & Becks style throne (quel horreur!) at Hampton Court following his victory in the contre-la-montre; reports were also given of how much the French cyclists appreciated the velodrome in spite of being outclassed in the sport this year by the Brits.

    Allez Wiggo! Allez David! Maybe one of those super sleek aerodynamic racing casques would look no less ridiculous than the frogs or butterflies?

  • Even our poor dog fell victim to a scooter on the blvd. Richard Lenoir. I had tied him to a chair leg outside of our neighborhood bread store, Fournil de Richard. There was one of those many manifestations going on, clogging the street all the way up to the Bastille. Some jerk on a scooter just HAD to get ahead, jumped onto the sidewalk and revved his way up, scaring the h*** out of the poor dog, who took off running, dragging the chair behind him–which scared him even more–and finally catching up to the scooter and wedging the chair between a car and the scooter driver. I wish he had bitten the s.o.b., but he’s a golden, and they don’t bite.

    By the time I could catch up to them, his little heart was in overdrive, and I feared he would have a heart attack. A lovely young French couple had stopped the driver, and the dog, and were blessing out the driver in what I would have given my eye teeth to be able to understand. Using their English, they helped me back to the store, where the owner was more concerned about the dog and me than his chair.

    There’s a couple of examples of how good and bad people can be, coming from the same city! I choose to remember the kind French couple and store owner, Mohamed, rather than the scooter driver.

    • I’m sorry that happened. I used to live on a busy boulevard and the majority of accidents I saw outside involved motor scooters. There are responsible scooter drivers out there, but it’s unfortunate (especially in your case) that many act and drive the way they do.

      It is remarkable how French people get involved in things (I think they like the drama!) but like when I fell, people were really kind and stopped to make sure I was okay. Everyone made sure I was fine.

  • As bike helmets go, that is a pretty cool one. Actually, it looks a lot like the ones the
    bike racers wear. And they are way cool.

  • Finally, a sensible, entertaining and relevant post by someone regarding why one should wear a bike helmet, with the bonus commentary and admission that yes, indeed, helmets do look goofy but brain damage is worse! Thank you! I’ve stopped having conversations with people as to why they should wear a helmet. I only will tell other cyclists that they are too cute not to wear one! I may link this to my blog and facebook pages!

    Since you are in Europe, so close to England, you have many options for way cooler bike helmets than you can get in the States – for me, they cost twice or more the price. Great English-style riding helmets and pith style helmets or other fancier fun gear. Here in the States, BERN or NUT CASE Helmets are all the rage these days. As for me, I never pay more than $40 for a helmet. Safety wise, they are all the same. You are paying more for design and vents!

  • Oh I loved this post! I have been in Copenhagen and Amsterdam of late and bikes are everywhere, but rarely is a helmet in sight! And heaven forbid you not know the biking lane rules, as they are as bad as any aggressive angry driver of a car in the USA! But it was wonderful biking the streets of Copenhagen, though scooters in the bike lane sort of freaks me out. Back in Santa Fe, where I get around by scooter, we sit in the line of traffic like any car and do not get to zoom to the front of the lane as they do in Spain (and France?) I agree about protecting the brain for sure and felt quite naked without a helmet! Glad you are protecting yours, and well, that fashionable back pack looks great! But what’s an iron? :)

  • What a fabulous post. I’m glad you’re wearing a helmet, and thanks for the many laughs!

  • Thank you for wearing a helmet — for being a good role model and keeping your noggin intact so you can keep entertaining us with your musings and recipes. My only addition would be to invest in a good quality helmet. As my father the neurologist once said, “if you think your head is worth $10, then a $10 helmet will do just fine.”

  • I’ve only recently bought a bicycle after a 20+ years hiatus, due to numerous close calls and seeing many not-so-funny accidents ( including quadraplegia ) and I am nervous but also reticent to wear a helmet ( I know ! ) because they are so butt-ugly.
    I have however found a company that makes nicer helmets called Yakkay. There a bit more expensive but I like the idea. If I do get one, it will be that. Happy riding !

  • Love the backpack..

  • Cover that pretty head of yours. USE THAT HELMET! (I keep mine in my closet just in the event I hear the tornado warnings.)

  • The best retort I’ve heard used when a scooter driver reves his motor at you while you are crossing the street in front of him–you stop and say to him, “You summoned?”

  • Ironing board covers should have straight lines, otherwise known as stripes on them. This will help you line up the placket and collar as you iron. I can’t tell from this post if you intend to use the ironing board or forget that you own it because it is fading into the background.

    You obviously have not lived in Brooklyn for a very long time (if you ever did) because patterned helmets? All the rage. Who wouldn’t want to have a pattern up there, it isn’t like you have to look at it.

    Hopefully you will sneak some color in your wardrobe and keep us textile designers in paid work! All this talk of black, dull, pattern free… Sounds like a fantastic but unsalted and unspiced meal, if you ask me! It is like chocolate chip cookies with no chocolate chips!

  • My business partner, who went to boarding school in Paris, was on a pedestrian crossing when she was hit by a Porsche. The driver then got out and berated her for denting his car, before driving off before les flics arrived. I’m very, very glad you’re wearing a helmet.

  • David, loved the post.
    As a cyclist commuter in Vancouver, I’ve noticed a funny (as in, strange) trend where people strap fashionable helmets to a bag or a bike, as opposed to actually wearing them while biking.
    Meanwhile, as Alex mentioned above, people aren’t very good drivers here (I actually think it’s because we’re sooo laid back that no one’s actually paying attention). There’s a lot of debate whether its fair to force someone by law to wear a helmet – and in fact, someone argued in an article that our bike lanes are so safe, who needs helmets? Crazy talk. Good on you, and happy riding!

  • Very funny ,true to life blog.After 7 trips to Paris my co-workers have trouble believing the people there are very nice to visitors(few exceptions to this)and can be screamingly funny at times! It’s a city I go back to again&again with my husband-now planning our next visit -with a list of things we still have to see ,eat and do.Top of the list-picnic at Parc Buttes Chaumont
    Thanks for the cool blog I’m a new reader looking forward to the next installment
    Donna&Roger. Chicago Illinois

  • As a parisian born, living now in the SF peninsula, I’m glad I discovered your blog thanks to Full Belly Farm through a recipe link… It’s really funny to see France with your eyes. I really enjoy reading you. It might be because I haven’t been living in Paris for so many years that I can’t imagine riding a bike in Paris… As for your casque issue, I’m surprised you didn’t mention ” Decathlon” as this is one of our major sports store in France. Their outdoor brand is Quechua. In your US National Park, you can always guess people are French even before speaking thanks to their Quechua outfits…I don’t know where you are leaving but you should check their website :
    http://www.decathlon.fr/F-10899-casque-velo

  • Loved this post (even though not about food this time). It was very timely – I’m a leisure cyclist in Sydney and have enjoyed – and felt surprisingly safe – a lot of Velib cycling in Paris. It seemed to me that vehicle drivers were way more patient than in Sydney drivers. And, right now, I’m cycling everywhere in Manhattan and delighted with the many bike lanes and how easy it is to get around on a bike. Today, I cycled 50 blocks uptown to Zabars (in about 20 mins) and it was so good to ‘park’ my bike right out the front. Of course, I always wear a helmet….. :-)

  • I’m new to your blog but I like you even more now I know you’re a fellow cyclist as well as a fellow gourmand! With your predeliction for desserts and pastries you and my husband would get on particularly well!

  • I have been struggling with this question myself…I don’t want to have to carry a helmet everywhere, but I also don’t want to die! I solved the problem last year by never riding a bike…but that’s too sad to repeat.

  • Donna: There is a funny (and fun) side to French people – including Parisians, and in certain situations, they can be quite caring, especially if someone is in need of assistance. People readily stop and ask people directions in Paris, and folks always give the time to point people in the right direction.

    Well, most of the time! ; )

    Ayesha: There was the debate when I lived in the US, whether people should be required by law to wear helmets on motorcycles. (And whether people should be required to wear seat belts in cars as well, although I think that didn’t get much opposition.)

    The bike lanes are great, but they are often strewn with litter, wet leaves (slippery), dog poop (slippery..and icky), and in busy neighborhoods, like the boulevard Magenta, people hang out and stand in the bike lanes, because they are the only open place on the sidewalk, which is pretty dangerous as well. (I’ve seen several collisions with pedestrians standing in bike lanes, by cyclists. And I once crashed into a kid playing with his family who refused to move, even when I rang by bell a few times and tried to swerve out of his way.) But in general, I think helmets are a good idea – even with the system of bikes lanes in place.

    Gavrielle: omg -! But I can (definitely) see that scenario happening…

    Marlene: I love those helmets. When I need a new one, I’ll check those out. Thanks!

  • I am absolutely terrified of buses in Paris, I was standing on the sidewalk waiting to cross the street and I was looking off to the right (my mistake) and a bus wooshed by me so close that the mirror on the side grazed my cheek. I had to find a place to sit down for a few minutes after that moment, an inch closer and who knows what would have happened.

    I agree with the comment above about the fact that they seem slto have figured out how to behave on the streets in Paris. It’s like a wild choreographed dance.

  • Here in Brisbane, Australia we also have the City Cycle like the velib. At first it wasn’t as popular as the city wanted it to be as by law we have to wear helmets. Now the city has provided helmets and surprisingly, not many are stolen! Only problem is one wonders how sanitary it is to wear a helmet worn by someone you don’t know!
    BTW…love reading your posts and have used many of your recipes!

  • For fashion’s sake, you can also check out the Hövding airbag bicycle helmet which folds up in a collar that you wear around your neck. It’s apparently triggered by unusual movement (such as a crash) to inflate over your head. Just saw it on the news the other day. I believe it’s a Swedish product.

  • David,

    I rode for 3 years through center of paris, last year with my 9 year old son by my side, and yes, I mean the center, as in Place de la Concorde. We learned how to time the lights so we were across part of it before the cars started. My son rode RIGHT next to me, so we were more visible to approaching cars. And I felt safer than I feel riding my kids on country roads in the USA. French drivers, for all the heat they get, do mostly what they are supposed to. (At least in Paris, can’t speak for hinterlands…)

    And yes, I had a British flag helmet and we always wore our helmets.

    RE: Buses. They will intentionally cut you off as they want. Spoke to a representative at presentation of road safety at Hotel du Louvre. I mentioned that the bus drivers were the most dangerous things on the road, and they liked to cut you off. No, they wouldn’t do that, he replied. Well, yes, they would, do, and did with impunity. Stay away from buses, get a big bell, assume all pedestrians are idiots, and mostly wear a helmet. You’ll be fine.

  • Every French guy has the exact same, worn-in, Eastpak backpack from school — sometimes I even see them wearing them with suits in La Défense :)

    After biking regularly in New York and Paris, I have to say biking in Paris is a dream compared to NY. In Paris, cyclists are a part of everyday life and the cars are used to having them around; in the bike/bus lane I feel like I can just relax and cruise. However, the bike share program in NY is supposed to roll out in the next month or two, so I wonder how that will change the streets..

    That’s so funny you mention France is a country of high taste and not-so-high-taste. It took me so long to find a simple, plain shower curtain that wasn’t in neon colors, bright red and yellow stripes, or covered in huge polka dots or bamboo stalks!

    • Yes, there are a lot of Eastpak backpacks here nowadays. They must be well-made because a friend (who is a country guy) said that’s the only kind he’ll buy. (Wait ’til he sees my Coach!)

      Speaking of decorations, like your shower curtains (I used to buy them in the states and bring them back, because I couldn’t find plain ones here – and I didn’t want to spend €119 at the department stores…) I was looking for a simple kitchen mat for next to my sink yesterday, and all I came across were ones with race cars on them, or frogs and daisies.

  • One summer in Paris I lost my casquette on the Metro. It had my favorite kite maker’s logo and name on it. I had to get a cap to save my bald head from the sun. I was faced with the problem of buying a cap that made me look like what I was….a tourist. I opted not to get one that had PARIS on it. There were no PLAIN options…like ironing board covers. I chose a Manchester United cap. I figured I would pass it off as my trip to England and getting a cap that was a souvenir. I then thought of the the Love/Not Love relationship that the French and British have. I started drinking earlier than usual that day. Why is it so difficult to find a cap in Paris that does not have a Designer’s name on it, a tourist reference, or look just like a beret which it appears NO ONE actually wears after purchasing?

  • When we were in Paris a couple years ago, my husband & I came up with the phrase, “Scooter Culture”. This combine the fashion, attitude and mechanics (type of bike, accessories, the large chains & locks…etc) of a person owning a scooter.
    During that time we travel through 5 different countries and it was interesting to see the attitudes to bicycles in these different places. In Amsterdam, bicycles rule vs. to what we saw in London.
    In Toronto, unfortunately there is a war between bikes and cars.

  • I sustained a traumatic brain injury after a car accident and thereafter wore a helmet on my bike. I loved this blog. Then I saw this the other day, and it made me cry with happiness and excitement. Your exact bike accident is shown in the video! The invisible helmet-coming soon: http://vimeo.com/43038579

  • haha this post made me laugh. i’m glad you set that rude traffic lady’s priorities straight.

  • Oh, David…..do, please, be very careful….and DO wear that helmet, no matter how ugly it might be….

    I have two cycling friends who, in the past month and in the same town here, have been hit in horrible accidents. One has a pelvis broken in four places, and the other’s had her spleen and a big chunk of her pancreas removed.

    Predictably enough (and even though this is a university town with a lot of cyclists), the majority of our population, when the notion of allocating a few feet of the road to cycling lanes is broached, immediately act as though the city-council had proposed banning cars altogether.

    Well (and I know that you’ll probably respond to this as I do when folks tell me, before I board an airplane, “Travel Safely!”)…be careful.

    Thanks for your always intriguinig blog,

    David Terry
    http://www.davidterryart.com

  • If I could wave a magic wand, I would place bike/walk paths parallel to America’s road system. In Europe, I saw such an arrangement many times, and the increase to quality of life for the lucky people who have access to those MUST be worth the cost.

  • as posted by others, here in the Netherlands hardly any adult will wear a helmet in daily traffic. It’s getting more common for kids though and don’t try to enter a mountainbike track without one…every second fellow biker will yell ‘helmet!’ at you.

    On scooters: we visit or pass Paris quite often, but it wasn’t until a few weeks ago that we noticed their influence in traffic. Stuck in rush hour on the perepherique it was interesting to see how the cars stuck to the sides of the road leaving a thoroughfare for scooters to blast through.

  • First, thank you for writing about the importance of bike helmets! As a cyclist who’s been hit three times, I know that my helmet has saved my life at least one of those times. I think it’s also an important reminder that if you DO get in an accident and impact the ground with your helmet, you need to replace it immediately…you may not be able to tell if there’s a minor fissure in the styrofoam underneath that may not protect you on a second impact.

    Second, the answer to the messenger bag/backpack/pannier question is undoubtably the Arkel Bug pannier. (http://www.arkel-od.com/us/bug-cummuting-bag-1.html). Tough as nails, roomy to hold all your produce and even your baguette, and when you take it off your bike, it converts to a comfortable backpack with padded straps, and you can slide your helmet into the front of the bag. It’s brilliant and has revolutionized my two-wheeled commute. Happy pedaling!

  • I suggest you type “invisible bike helmet” in google. It has been invented by two Swedish women, but I don’t know if it is on the market. It’s very interesting.

  • DL,
    Thank you for yet another entertaining entry which I was able to read in FULL since my 9th Tu bi ‘Shvat cake is in the oven. Might I kindly add as a marathoner and cyclist (who wears a helmet much like yours ((as it was the ONLY one in Chicago that did not have superhero, hello kitty or farm animal photos on it)) that this ‘cake’ is my quintessential go to post workout snack. Perfect in combo of nuts/fruits/egg. I use almond flour in lieu of all purpose. Happy riding. PS: Scooter riders here are also full of self-entitlement and usually too big for the seat and should be riding a bike!! :)

  • Interesting. I was in Paris about 18 months ago, staying near Bastille, and as cyclist was shocked at the absence of helmets. Just for the hell of it I began counting the number of helmet users I saw each day–I think my maximum in one day was 10! Glad to hear Parisians are beginning to see the light. By way, great series on your Israel trip!

  • Hello! I too ride with a helmet now after getting hit by a car that was running a stop sign except this was in SF. It’s unfortunate that it takes an accident for most of us to realize that we need to wear a lid!

    Anyway, I read your book Sweet Life In Paris a while back but I had a DL moment yesterday when I was washing my blender in the bathroom using the shower – so here I am! I dig the blog.

  • Speaking of your kitchen, and looking for floor mats, does this mean we are getting closer to actually getting to see your new kitchen? Unless you are planning on a book about your renovation and are having us hold our breath, we need you to share photos of the finished project – we’ve been through so much of the process together!

  • I hav enot read through all of the comments to see if someone has posted this yet. It has been passed through all the social media sites that I’ve seen. It is the incredible and real, INVISIBLE BIKE HELMET. I totally look forward to finding one of these for my biking adventures… Check ‘er out! http://vimeo.com/43038579

  • funny post David :). I cycle around Dublin all the time and am more scared of other cyclists than the

  • sorry, that went too soon ! … more scared of cyclists than cars ..
    anyway, wanted to say that I also hate those helmets, but have finally accepted that I need one, so have got a ‘flak helmet’ – definitely nicer looking, I hope :)

  • I was almost run over by a guy on a motorcycle this morning while i was walking in the 7th. He was riding on the sidewalk! Glad you wear a helmet. A friend was killed recently after his bike hit a speed bump and he toppled head first onto the pavement. If he had been wearing a helmet he would have probably lived. Very sad. I’ve fallen off my bike twice and hit the side of my head but luckily wasn’t hurt because of my helmit.

  • David, I am sooooo glad you are wearing a helmet. I lived in NYC for 5 years and biked everywhere for most of it and always wore a helmet. I have two friends who had minor biking accidents in NYC, one broke an arm, the other lost her bike, but they were both wearing helmets and things could have been much worse. Now I’m in Lille and have a V’Lille and feel like I’m one of the few people on the streets wearing a helmet. Even though bike helmets look nerdy and they wreck havoc on the hair, they are absolutely essential to bike riding.

  • I ride a bike here in Milan and often people I know in my nieghborhhood will chuckle and say: ” you can tell you are American” because I am one of the few adults here who wear helmets. I ask them how they justify not wearing one whilst forcing their kids to? My daughter started asking me about it when she was 3 and I couldn’t find a good explanation since cracking your head open is as much of a possibility for an adult as it is for a child. It is like telling your kid “I want you to be safe” without thinking that if you die from a concussion you will probably be ruining your kids’ childhood anyway. Anyhow, it is true that more and more people seem to have started using helmets recently, which makes me happy. I was sorry to see they stole the bell of your bike the other day. That kind of thing drives me nuts. What is the point???

  • David,

    I’m a new reader (less than 6 months), but I read every new post thru the e-mail feed. Like them all, just got to comment that this one is funny and refreshing. I like your writing.

    Regards,
    Rafael

  • My partner was once in a bike accident, car v. bike. He was hit by the car very close to a cross-walk, went flying and hit his head on the pavement. The helmet, a sturdy plastic thing, broke flat through in three places. He was injured and endured a long recovery but survived. Without the helmet all would have been over. So helmet’s are generally a good idea.