The air felt a bit fresher yesterday. The wind in my hair was more invigorating. I felt more in touch with the sounds of the world around me. Had the weather really changed that much? Then I realized that I had forgotten to put on my bicycle helmet. Suddenly, the fog that was cool against my skin seemed murkier, and I was concerned. Should I turn back? In the end, I decided to press ahead. I was on a bike path and would be a bit more careful to avoid holes or slippery patches or anything else that might cause me to take a tumble. I had been riding this path almost every work day for six months. I felt I knew the risks, and while I couldn’t eliminate them, I could manage them — this time. I had only begun wearing a bicycle helmet as an adult in my 30s. When I was younger than that no one wore them. Maybe we weren’t aware of the risks. But now, I feel vulnerable without one. Just like wearing a seat belt. Seat belts were only commonly available in cars when I was already an adult, and overseas it’s still possible in many places to get into a car that doesn’t have them — which makes me feel uncomfortable and vulnerable. So, does that also mean that when I’m wearing a seat belt or bicycle helmet I feel invulnerable? Well, probably not. But I do probably feel a bit less vulnerable that I really am. With my seat belt on, maybe I’ll go at a higher speed than I should, or with my helmet I’ll ride my bike in more hazardous traffic, not thinking as much about the risks.
Riding without a helmet brought home that risk management requires being aware of risks and accepting responsibility for managing them. Not simply putting a safeguard in place and ignoring that the risks are still there. There are risks in all that we do, from cycling to investment to exploring social networks. Accepting risk and managing it beats the false sense that risk has been eliminated every time. Having a helmet is important, but knowing the road is better.