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Dumbest move on two wheels

OPINION

October 21, 2013|By Kate Bernot, @kbernot | RedEye

Here's a confession: When I'm pedaling home on my Schwinn and I reach those semi-deserted stretches of Hubbard Street between Ashland and Damen avenues, I allow myself a little "Premium Rush" fantasy.

I narrow my eyes and pump my legs even faster, and suddenly (completely in my head) I'm Joseph Gordon-Levitt, zigzagging through invisible traffic and flying around nonexistent curves. Thank God I'm wearing my helmet.

If I were riding on a Divvy bike, it's unlikely I would be. As a cyclist, I'm generally a fan of the bike-share program that allows more Chicagoans and tourists access to an environmentally friendly and generally awesome mode of transportation. But what are Divvy-ers to do for helmets?

I've heard others raise this question, then drop the subject with a shrug. Last week's "Kodak moment!" photos of Mayor Emanuel on a Divvy featured not one mayoral helmet. If you're going to stage a photo shoot, shouldn't you set an example of safe biking practices?

Divvy users who are new to the city can't be expected to have a helmet handy, and infrequent users aren't likely to lug one around either. This creates an unsafe situation for riders who already are in the precarious position of having to navigate busy streets that may be unfamiliar to them.

The numbers—and ancedotes—are sad. A city of Chicago report from 2012 found that an average of 1,500 bicyclist injury crashes occurred annually between 2005 and 2010. Ask any serious biker, and she or he likely has a personal story of a crash, or one narrowly avoided. Helmets decrease the likelihood of head injury in these collisions, but Divvy users are given few convenient options for finding one. The FAQ section of Divvy's website states that "Divvy strongly encourages you to wear a helmet when you ride," but gives no tips for finding one.

Surely there must be a system for helmet-sharing that can be implemented alongside Divvy stations. I haven't found such a system when I've used other cities' bike-share programs, but if Chicago can erect 300 stations in just a few months, I'm confident it can also protect its riders by offering a helmet rental system, or even encouraging local cycle shops to offer hourly helmet rentals to Divvy riders.

Divvy need not force riders to wear helmets—if your awesome hair day is more important than your cranial safety, that's on you, doll—but for the city's largest public bike-sharing program and its mayor to ignore a basic bike safety rule should be unconscionable.

I look forward to the day when helmets are available via some sort of Divvy vending machine—then we can get started on rent-by-the-hour Chrome bags.

Kate Bernot is RedEye's nightlife reporter.

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