Among cyclists, it doesn't wear so well

February 22, 1992|By Rafael Alvarez | Rafael Alvarez,Staff Writer

It's like a kid being told to eat his spinach: Somehow he knows it's good for him, but he still doesn't like it.

Maryland's new helmet law is to take effect Oct. 1, but even cyclists who regularly wear helmets don't like the idea of being told what to do.

"I have a lot more lawyers and doctors and professional people coming in here buying bikes than most people would believe, and most of them wear helmets," said Keith "Rock" Opeka, 33, who manages the Dirt Shop in College Park. "Most of the people who come in here wear helmets, but they don't want to be told to wear one.

"Once in awhile, they like to go out for a ride and not feel like the state of Maryland is regulating everything they do."

On a shelf above the liquor bottles at Pete Denzer's Ann Street saloon in Fells Point are a half-dozen motorcycle helmets.

Mr. Denzer, who doesn't own a car and rides his cycle about 15,000 miles a year, has been wearing a helmet since he started riding at age 13. Back then, he did so because his mother ordered it.

But ever since, he's been wearing a helmet because he values his life.

"Maryland is one of the few states in the country that didn't have a helmet law. If you wanted to ride across country, you always needed one anyway," he said. "Why is it that Marylanders think they shouldn't have to? Every . . . civilized country in the world has a helmet law."

Yet Mr. Denzer, who has toured Russia, Canada, Europe and the United States by motorcycle, doesn't like the idea of government making him do something, even though he considers it a relatively minor intrusion.

"A lot of the arguments against the helmet law are absurd," he said. "I don't think it should be law, but I'd still rather be told to wear a helmet than have the state tell my wife whether she can abort a fetus in her own womb."

Mr. Denzer pulled a black helmet down from a shelf, a bowl-shaped piece of plastic, and used it to explain why arguments against helmets are, in his opinion, weak at best.

"This is the helmet the cops use," he said. "The argument that helmets limit peripheral vision is [expletive]; you can see anything with this -- it doesn't even come down over your forehead. It has holes in the ear flaps so you can hear, and the third complaint -- which I've yet to see proved -- is that some helmets come down so far in the back that if you're hit, your neck will snap back and break."

As for riding free in the breeze, Mr. Denzer said a helmet actually enhances his joy of riding because it cuts down on high-decibel wind noise.

Jim Geer, whose family has owned Cycle Parts Unlimited in HTC Parkville for 15 years, said the new law wouldn't be a boon for business because most bikers who hate helmets would likely buy junk.

Helmets cost anywhere from $30 to about $200 for one that provides full face protection.

Said Rock Opeka: "People that don't want to wear helmets are going to go to Kmart or Pep Boys and buy the cheapest thing they can get away with.

"It's an attitude, and even though all helmets have to be meet decent standards of the Department of Transportation, you get what you pay for."

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