For the love of whatever deity/spirit/tree/thing/nothing you believe in: wear a bike helmet when riding a bike!!
You're saying now "but Allison, they are so dorky and unwieldy and they totally mess up my hair." I understand how you feel. As a small child, I had to wear a bike helmet that resembled the type of helmet they put on people who've had a piece of their skull removed and need to wear the full-coverage helmet to protect their exposed brains. I can blame my father for this - he, like me, is accident prone, only he takes the accidents to a whole new level of badness (ie sawing into arm putting up Christmas tree, cutting finger open after forgetting razor blade in pocket, jumping off highway overpass chasing criminal thinking it was only a guard rail and ripping hamstring off bone). Because he is accident prone, when he put a baby seat on the back of his bicycle he made sure I had the proper protection bike riding required. He of course did not wear a helmet and allowed me to suffer alone in the back seat with the brain-injury helmet. Oh the humiliation. I will say though that my father did dump his bike once with me on it. I believe it was near the train tracks that ran by a few houses down from our old house. He dumped the bike sideways and while he had some nasty injuries, my head simply bounced off the pavement. Of course the helmet protected my jug and I didn't feel a thing - I just waited calmly tilted sideways until I could be unhitched from the baby seat.
When helmet awareness really came on the scene, we got to wear cooler, streamlined helmets, thank goodness. We were the only kids who wore them in the new neighborhood and got some heat for it, but my sister and I are pretty confident kids, so we shook it off and pedaled along the way. I mean, I kind of resented having my dorkiness and awkwardness enhanced by a bike helmet, but the parental wrath of being caught without one was far too great to risk riding without one. As I got older and more sensible, and as our town lost a 13-year old boy to a bike vs. truck accident (the child probably would've lived, had he been wearing a helmet) my mentality about helmets changed. I didn't give a crap what people thought of me or how dorky I looked. My attitude was: Does Lance Armstrong feel like a nerd when he puts on his bike helmet? I can pretty much guarantee you that Lance doesn't do anything that makes him feel nerdy at all because he is a pretty badass guy. I mean a bike helmet is really a piece of sporting equipment, kind of like a cup. I bet if you're a guy and thought cups were dorky or overprotective, the first time you really got hit hard in the balls, you abandoned that sentiment and went out and got a cup. It's the same with bike helmets, except the first time you hit your head may be your last. A brain injury or even death might not give you that second chance you need to go out and get a helmet.
You may ask why I'm writing this seemingly out of nowhere. There are two reasons. The first is an article my friend Rachel sent me. Incredible. The second reason stems from something my two friends and I witnessed yesterday. We were leaving the salon where we had all just paid some people to sexify our hair. We were walking down the street in Boston's *points noise in air* idyllic Back Bay, when I saw a dark green minivan take a left down a side street and clip the leg of a biker. This happened so fast that I thought "no this is NOT happening." His leg and wheel were clipped by the right front fender of the van and the rider went flying sideways onto the sidewalk, and then I heard that unmistakable "thwack" of helmet hitting pavement. Amazingly, the rider got up and was hobbling a bit, his left leg must've been killing him. As we approached we heard him saying "nah, don't call 911." I think some of the people were going to call anyways (there were 5 or 6 horrified and slightly militant people on the sidewalk demanding an ambulance come, which was a bit funny to see - this tall black lady with dreads saying "I WILL call you an AMBULANCE" and have this short skinny white guy saying "no no it's ok, thanks, my leg just hurts"). When we got to the corner, I saw someone jump into the passenger side of the van and speed away. There were so many people there that my friends and I moved on, they didn't need 3 more people shoving in their two cents, and I'm sure that since it became a hit and run situation that the police were called, especially since one old and bent lady said that she was going to get on the approaching MBTA bus and have the driver call the police, LOL.
Anyways, the most important part of my story is that the guy was ok, and I'm convinced it's because he was wearing a helmet. Just this morning I saw a fit guy riding his bike near my office. He looked like the type of guy who rode to work every day - but he wasn't wearing a helmet. He stopped to let me cross the street, which was very nice of him, and he smiled and nodded at me when I said "thank you." BUT it was all I could do to say "where's your helmet"??! I don't mean to preach, especially in a place (and I mean Massachusetts specifically, even more than America as a whole) where the citizens do not like to be told what to do, even when it comes to safety, but I think we would've seen something very different happen yesterday had our bike rider not been wearing a helmet - not to be gross, but they might've been still hosing his blood off the sidewalk as we speak. So if you have a bike, make sure you have a helmet (besides, you saw what happened in City of Angels, right??!?!!! GOSH!) Being safe and wearing one is waaaay cooler than being brain injured, brain damaged, paralyzed or dead, right? Right. Ok, that's it for me, I'll leave seatbelts for another discussion ;)