Join AARP at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. ET Thursday for two live Q&A events on the coronavirus and you. Learn more.
by Elinor Nauen, AARP
The rally has a pretty low wuss ratio, at least if you're judging by the lack of helmets, which South Dakota doesn’t require for motorcyclists. Bandanas and do-rags are the headgear of choice, as far as I can see.
I admit I'm a little shocked by seeing bare heads hurtling down the highway. I'm convinced by pro-helmet statistics involving, oh, I don’t know, life versus death, from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Motorcycle Safety Foundation. The latter's Web site states that "approximately 80 percent of reported motorcycle crashes result in injury or death."
So why the debate about helmets—especially for those 50+, with all the worldly wisdom we have garnered in our years? Don’t we now exercise, watch our cholesterol, and maybe wear motorcycle helmets?
These seemingly sane, very nice people I've encountered at Sturgis don't! Is it that they see motorcycling as a lifestyle—even a philosophy—and not a sport? Is that why they don’t get protective gear? Do they equate Harleys with Cadillacs—big, heavy, and protective?
When I ask, what I hear most often is this: Wearing a helmet should be a personal choice. Take Norma and Phil Hohm, from Huron, S.D., who met through ABATE, A Brotherhood for Awareness, Training, and Education. It's a national group dedicated to the rights, image, and safety of motorcyclists.
Norma, 68, calls herself "pro-choice," and Phil, 63, adds that "choice" should not be mandated. "We're not against helmets—I wear them at times—but it should be your choice," he said. Instead, he emphasizes cautious driving and wearing protection, especially long pants. He lets me in on the news that some day soon, bikers might be pulling on inflatable pants and jackets that work like airbags.
Hitting the pavement with your head encased has the effect of "rocks sloshing in a bucket," said Ray Goodman, 48, from Nampa, Idaho. He and his wife Dawn, 50, are anti-helmet, and committed, cyclists who've been coming to Sturgis since 1998. When their grandson Tyler was a baby, Ray remembered, "He would hear a bike go by outside and say 'Harley!' It was one of his first words.
Mary Wommer, 50, is a radiology supervisor from Sisseton, S.D., who wears a helmet to work "because," she said, "short rides are when most accidents happen; you get complacent on the rides you do over and over." Like many others I spoke with, she related that helmets are hot, heavy, and make it hard to see and hear. For her, defensive driving is more critical: "Ride like you're invisible," she advised.
Not surprisingly, U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters, whom I chatted with at the Mayor’s Ride on Monday, champions helmets.
"Motorcycling is a wonderful thing baby boomers can do as we approach retirement," she said. "But everyone should take a safety class and wear safety equipment. Your hair being messed up is nothing compared to your head on the pavement." She advises a U.S. Department of Transportation-certified helmet. See her wearing one in Day Three of our photo gallery, here.
The most daring person I've met this week is the most pro-helmet. Stunt rider Jason Pullen, who can ride a Harley on one wheel for a mile, says he can't understand people going on the highway without a helmet. He declared, "It scares the piss out of me!"
So readers: Where do you stand on the helmet issue? Join the discussion at the Riders U.S.A. Online Community Group.
Tune in tomorrow: Watch for another '80s rock icon!
Please leave your comment below.
You must be logged in to leave a comment.
Enter address, city, state, or ZIP code.
Driver Safety (0)
Tax Aide (0)
Entertainment & Dining (0)
Healthcare & Insurance (0)
Financial Services & Insurance (0)
Member Local Offers (0)
Visit the AARP state page for information about events, news and resources near you.
Members save 30% off the first year of a World Explorer subscription.
25% off device and online privacy protection plans
25% off the first healthy meal delivery of $99+.
AARP members receive exclusive member benefits & affect social change.
You are leaving AARP.org and going to the website of our trusted provider. The provider’s terms, conditions and policies apply. Please return to AARP.org to learn more about other benefits.
Your email address is now confirmed.
Manage your email preferences and tell us which topics interest you so that we can prioritize the information you receive.
Explore all that AARP has to offer.
In the next 24 hours, you will receive an email to confirm your subscription to receive emails
related to AARP volunteering. Once you confirm that subscription, you will regularly
receive communications related to AARP volunteering. In the meantime, please feel free
to search for ways to make a difference in your community at