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Interview: Samantha Taylor on e-bikes, helmets and looking good by bike

Posted by on October 6th, 2017 at 7:35 am

(Photo courtesy Samantha Taylor)

This is the sixth installment of our Women’s Bike Month interview series written by Steph Routh. This content is sponsored by the Community Cycling Center and Gladys Bikes.

Samantha Taylor learned how to ride a bike when she was a kid, but cycling didn’t become a part of her life until last August, when she saw the job opening for Development Manager at the Community Cycling Center. She lives in the New Columbia neighborhood near The Hub and, in her own words, “put two and two together and realized that the Cycling Center was behind The Hub.”

“Cycling was never a mode of transportation for me before,” Taylor said. “When I learned more about trimodal transportation and transportation equity at the Cycling Center, I became a lot more interested in cycling not just as recreation but also transportation.”

Working at a nonprofit replete with bicycle access doesn’t magically remove all barriers to cycling, however. Cost and adaptive needs can still prevent cycling from being a convenient choice.

For Taylor, an e-bike turned out to make a huge difference.

“I decide whether to ride or not based on whether or not I have an accessible bike available to me,” Taylor noted. “It depends. The most that I’ve ridden a bike was this summer when I had a GenZe bike. I have chronic pain, and I have arthritis. I know that there are other people out there with similar experiences. Having an e-bike allowed me to ride comfortably in a way that suited my body’s needs.

“I want bicycling for Black folks to be a reliable and safe transportation option, but that is going to take a concerted community effort to make happen.”
— Samantha Taylor

“It’s unfortunate that e-bikes are so expensive. Since I had to give mine back, I haven’t been riding. I have an old Schwinn, and I’d like to be riding around my neighborhood, but I can’t commute on it.”

Taylor was loaned an e-bike as part of a pilot program with GenZe Bikes. The program includes an orientation to e-bikes and free access for five weeks, followed by a request for feedback. During that time, I would watch Taylor rock up to the back door of the office. It was a highlight of my morning.

“Riding an e-bike was a great way to start the morning. That was my favorite thing about it. Commuting with music and riding by myself is nice. And when people ride by and like my music, too, that is really fun. I rode it mostly for commuting, so that was 10 miles round trip per day. It was so much more conducive to transportation than recreation. But the recreation happens at the same time, which is just…fun.


“The e-bike is also fast, so when there were dangerous situations or a White man was intimidating me, I could just torque up and zoom off. So I had this realization of how nice it felt to not be cramped on the bus or the MAX. When I first got my bike, my roommate said that she was so glad I didn’t have to be on the bus, because it was good for my safety. But of course many of us have to take the bus in our daily lives.

“I can’t afford to already have the deck stacked against me and then contribute to that by showing up to work disheveled.”
— Samantha Taylor

“I want bicycling for Black folks to be a reliable and safe transportation option, but that is going to take a concerted community effort to make happen.”

Another consideration that Taylor has to take into account that I don’t have to think about at all ever is how Black hair will (or rather, will not) fit into and emerge from a helmet. This issue is far from trivial. As this New York Times article notes, “America has always had trouble with [B]lack hair.” Just like cycling apparel has historically been designed for men and then “shrinked and pinked” for women, helmets have not been designed with Black hair in mind.

Here are some of Taylor’s thoughts on hair, helmets, and systemic oppression:

“First, I am not the spokesperson for all Black people. Now that that’s said, I remember when I met LaQuida Landford. The first thing she said to me after saying, ‘Hey, how are you?’ was, ‘Do you wear a helmet when you ride?'”

This is a conversation that Black people have among themselves, and so the exchange with Landford is not the first, nor will it be the last, conversation Taylor has had about Black hair and helmets.

(Photo courtesy Taylor)

“To be presentable, to be clean, to have your hair looking right after Black people have endured hundreds of years of being called “dirty and stupid,” is important. When people call church clothes your ‘Sunday best,’ it is from when enslaved Black people would wear their best clothes on Sundays. It’s not superficial. And showing up sweaty for work is not an option.

“For me, I need to get to working looking right. I can’t just get off my bike. I have to arrive clean, professional, and then still deal with all the biases. I can’t afford to already have the deck stacked against me and then contribute to that by showing up to work disheveled, like a hot mess.

“And when my hair is longer and I have an afro, it doesn’t work. Some people have locs and braids and other protective hairstyles that helmets don’t fit over. So then what? Helmets are not made for us in mind. This is an unpopular opinion, but wearing a helmet is not a priority for me.”

As with all interviews in this series, we ended the interview by asking Taylor about her sheroes.

“I don’t know Barbara Smith’s take on cycling, but she is definitely a shero. She is the founding member of the Combahee River Collective, which was formed in 1974 and has since disbanded. It was a group of women working towards feminist values and were one of the first groups who named intersectionality, including genders outside a binary.

“Barbara Smith is a local politician in Albany in NY and a Black feminist. She is still alive and is this amazing community organizer, politician, lesbian, author, Black person. She started community organizing when she was 15 in the 1960s. She’s still alive and out there doing it.”

— Steph Routh is the communications director for the Community Cycling Center.

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  • Dave October 6, 2017 at 7:49 am

    Serious suggestion–since e-bikes aren’t motor bikes; you still have to pedal part of the time; and since the pedaling can help numerous medical conditions I have to wonder if any insurer will cover the price of one. Years ago a friend bought a new standard bike as part of his rehab from a work injury–he already had a bike but the new Holdsworth was a good “rehab device” that his insurer partially paid for.

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  • Lester Burnham October 6, 2017 at 9:24 am

    Hate to break to her but “showing up sweaty for work” is not an option for most of us.

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    • Dawn October 6, 2017 at 11:17 am

      Way to let your privilege show. I guess you missed the part where she says, “To be presentable, to be clean, to have your hair looking right after Black people have endured hundreds of years of being called “dirty and stupid,” is important.”

      Of course being presentable at work is important for all of us, but it is particularly important when lots of people/employers carry implicit and explicit biases against POC.

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      • Dulcie Canton October 12, 2017 at 12:13 pm

        I agree Dawn! I haven’t chemically relaxed my hair since I was 14. I have worn braids with extensions and at one point dreadlocks but was not cycling at the time when I had those hairstyles. I still wear my hair natural because I sweat A LOT, especially from my scalp and face. My natural hair is really short cut now in a black Caesar, very low. If my hair were chemically straightened(relaxer) the sweat would cause my roots to become curly or nappy all over again which would defeat the purpose of the costly, time consuming and sometimes painful chemical relaxer.

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    • Hanna Davis October 6, 2017 at 12:53 pm

      I think Taylor is highlighting the fact that there is zero flexibility for her in this regard. She’s saying she has to work harder than most to overcome decades of negative bias. Listen to the whole message, rather than picking apart one detail that contributes to that whole.

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      • Kyle Banerjee October 7, 2017 at 12:00 pm

        Sounds like a messed up workplace. Double standards are an ugly fact of life, but one would hope they wouldn’t be in play in a cycling oriented workplace — especially in Portland which is generally more informal than other areas. Most of us probably at least have access to a restroom where we can clean up and change to the point that no one could guess our mode of transport. That this opportunity doesn’t appear available is particularly appalling.

        Hair is an issue with many people. Many hairstyles are incompatible with cycling, and certain types of hair are more difficult to manage. There are airbag helmets where you don’t put anything on top of your head and it deploys only in a crash, but these are expensive and won’t help with rain or wind which are common.

        I hope she’s been working with Black Girls Do Bike — I expect they’d be a valuable resource with excellent understanding of the specific challenges she faces.

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        • Carrie October 9, 2017 at 2:13 pm

          I don’t want to begin to speak for Samantha, but I suspect the biases are not necessarily from her coworkers or employers but from customers and other members of the public she interacts with. And it’s hard enough to be taken seriously as a woman in the cycling industry, I can only try to put myself in her shoes to think of how much higher the bar when there are additional racial social biases to overcome.

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          • Kyle Banerjee October 11, 2017 at 5:35 am

            Still sounds messed up. I’m familiar with the external stakeholder and public issue you raise. We have to work with this too.

            Businesses and places of employment need to promote a supportive environment and back up their people from boneheads. When specific problems are identified such as presumptions of ability or subtle biases, others present are obligated to help guide things in the right direction.

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            • Carrie October 11, 2017 at 9:09 am

              Wow Kyle. All I’m asking is for you to step outside of your perception and try to pretend to walk in someone elses shoes (or ride their bike). What you’re familiar with in your world is probably not at all like what some others are familiar with on a daily basis, no matter how firm you are in your conviction. Why can’t you just LISTEN to others experiences and BELIEVE them to be true, even if you’ve never experienced that yourself?

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              • Kyle Banerjee October 11, 2017 at 9:34 pm

                Pot. Kettle. It’s interesting what you know about my experience.

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  • Champs October 6, 2017 at 10:28 am

    It sounds like she needs more time to finish her thought about the problem of e-bikes being privilege for the privileged.

    I feel the helmet issue and I don’t know why it gets so little attention. With shorter hair I’m a medium but right now with an afro and a size large helmet it’s basically cramming six pounds of head into a five pound bag, and as rigorous as helmet safety has ever been it’s doubtful that this has ever gotten any design consideration. Suffice to say I don’t bother with it very much anymore.

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  • Eric Leifsdad October 6, 2017 at 11:36 am

    There are some very usable e-bikes starting around $1200-$1500 even with cargo capacity and 750W motor (it’s like 7 people helping.) Battery capacity is a major factor in cost, but ~500Wh is good for 20 moderate miles. This is not nearly as affordable as a pushbike, but it’s certainly in the range where subsidies could make a big impact for relatively little shared cost. Instead of “not everyone can ride a bike”, we should be thinking “nearly everyone can ride an assisted or adaptive bike or trike”. Convenient personal mobility shouldn’t be just for the fit and able-bodied white man. Indeed, the power to leave a situation is often a motivator of drive-alone trips by people who would be more vulnerable walking or biking alone.

    I would like to invite others (especially You Other Privileged White Dudes) to join me in normalizing free choice of hat/cap or just letting the sun shine on your head. Blaming dead cyclists for a driver’s carelessness because they weren’t wearing a foam bucket isn’t making us safe, and all of the helmet-shaming just discourages people from riding. If you feel less safe without a helmet, ride more carefully. A more upright seating position might also help (many e-bikes are like this, even some folding e-bikes.)

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    • Ted Timmons (Contributor) October 6, 2017 at 1:33 pm

      I’ll start collecting money, with a goal of $1200-1500. If I don’t get that amount I’ll refund it all.$tedder

      If you haven’t used / Square’s personal cash thing, here’s a referral link that gets you $5. It sends me $5, which I’ll add to the collection too.

      (replying to all to make sure this is seen)

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    • Kyle Banerjee October 7, 2017 at 4:11 pm

      Recumbents are potentially another way to mitigate the helmet issue as the crash dynamics are totally different and head injuries are much less common.

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  • B. Carfree October 6, 2017 at 11:58 am

    It looks like Samantha Taylor would ride a bike if she could afford an e-bike. I wonder if there are enough of us who read and comment here who would pitch in to a fund to buy her one. If Eric Leifsdad is correct that there might be one that would meet her needs for $1200, then just a couple dozen of us ponying up $50 would get it done.

    Think of it as the other side of the “one less car” sticker where we take action to create “one more bike” on our roads. I don’t know how to set this sort of thing up and I don’t know if Ms Taylor would accept a gift from stangers, but it sure seems like a good thing to me.

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    • Ted Timmons (Contributor) October 6, 2017 at 1:32 pm

      I’ll start collecting money, with a goal of $1200-1500. If I don’t get that amount I’ll refund it all.$tedder

      If you haven’t used / Square’s personal cash thing, here’s a referral link that gets you $5. It sends me $5, which I’ll add to the collection too.

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      • William Henderson October 6, 2017 at 2:32 pm


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      • B. Carfree October 6, 2017 at 7:01 pm

        The square cash thing seems to want a debit card number. My last debit card expired three years ago and I haven’t bothered replacing it. Do you have a paypal account that I can drop some $$ into for this? If not, do you have any other options for payment?

        Also, thanks for organizing this fund-raiser. That’s super awesome. I look forward to the follow-up article with photos of Ms Taylor on her new e-bike.

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        • Ted Timmons (Contributor) October 7, 2017 at 4:24 pm

          Yep, you can paypal here:

          I can also take a mailed check or anything else as necessary. Again, I’ll refund if we don’t make it; this money isn’t going to me in any way.

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  • SAM jonas October 6, 2017 at 1:24 pm


    “The e-bike is also fast, so when there were dangerous situations or a White man was intimidating me, I could just torque up and zoom off.”

    Witnessed this first hand multiple times: anger at other cyclists originating from young white men.

    Surprised to read that Samantha mentioned this because I was wondering how often minorities feel marginalized and harassed on the road.

    Thank you Steph for an insightful article. BP need more interviews with POC cyclists.

    And please count me in for financial contributions to get Samantha an e-bike. Especially if it empowers her to ride away from intimidation.

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  • Steph Routh October 6, 2017 at 1:38 pm

    That’s amazing, Ted! I look forward to contributing.

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  • Matddav October 6, 2017 at 3:11 pm

    I admire Ms. Taylor for being willing to be interviewed for this forum. It is probably beyond a middle aged while male’s ability (me) to understand her experience but we can listen and try to learn from her. All people on bikes can go out of our way to make any person of color feel comfortable riding a bike. The more inclusive and welcoming riding a bike is the better for everyone. Let’s contribute to an E-bike.

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    • Dave October 6, 2017 at 4:36 pm

      The more e bikes the better, as they probably are at least as likely to be replacing cars as replacing pedaled bikes!

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    • Mossby Pomegranate October 6, 2017 at 4:52 pm

      Yeah it’s cool helping other cyclists and all but I find her tone a little off putting.

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      • Dave October 9, 2017 at 7:45 am

        I find her tone just fine–she is laying out the facts of her situation as she experiences them. Ms. Taylor is another variant on the “interested but concerned” potential cyclists out there, we should take her seriously as her situation is probably representative of millions.

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    • Kyle Banerjee October 7, 2017 at 6:16 pm

      I also am glad she was willing to share her thoughts. The greater the diversity of people and ideas in the conversation, the greater the potential for progress. Everybody wins.

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  • Kyle Banerjee October 6, 2017 at 5:13 pm

    Very interesting. Her reasons for not riding are very different than those cited most often here. In particular, fear of harassment by peds was particularly eye opening. You can’t outspeed motorized harassers, and a boost that gave her no more speed than a reasonably strong cyclist enabled her to hold her own with the cars.

    SAM Jonas, can you say where you’ve seen this harassment? People are creatures of habit meaning they tend to show up at similar times in similar places. This needs to he addressed.

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  • malegaze October 7, 2017 at 12:09 am

    Be the change you wish to see in the world. I Google searched systematic oppression and bicycle helmet design, and this post is the only article in the free world to bring this up. It’s called “helmet hair”. It effects all who have hair.
    Since the 1980s, I’ve gifted over 200 copies of Major Taylors life story to people of all walks of life. Cycling is for everyone. Build interest in it by breaking down barriers around your own dinner table. No one is stopping anyone from cycling along race lines. This is borderline insanity. I say this out of complete heartbreak and exasperation. Gads.

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    • Beth H October 9, 2017 at 5:08 pm

      “No one is stopping anyone from cycling along race lines.”

      Um. Really?
      I’d say it depends on where you live, your income level, your gender and color.
      If you’re a white guy you simply aren’t going to deal with the same issues and complications as a woman of color.
      It kills me that this has to be pointed out. Again.

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      • malegaze October 13, 2017 at 7:15 pm

        Doesn’t kill me. No one, I repeat, no one in the free world is keeping POC from riding bicycles, or designing helmets to meet their needs. There is a million dollar opportunity here that apparently this young woman is missing out on. peace out. Ride yet friggin bike.

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      • wsbob October 14, 2017 at 10:27 am

        “…If you’re a white guy you simply aren’t going to deal with the same issues and complications as a woman of color. …” beth h

        You’re limiting your reference to while riding a bike, of course. Not suggesting what you say isn’t a reality, but something more tangible to back it up might be worth looking at. A woman of color is riding down the street: Which street? Williams, Hawthorne, Division, Downtown Broadway? Somewhere in The Pearl?

        On a ride over any of these streets, or some other you might suggest, how are people routinely responding to this woman of color in ways markedly different from how they respond to a woman that’s not a person of color, or that’s a ‘white guy’?We all know about catcalls and whistles, and that sort of thing. Annoying, but nothing that should be enough to stop someone from going on their way on their bike.

        If the woman of color on a bike is being physically threatened because she’s riding a bike, that’s different. If that is what’s happening, I’m wondering why you didn’t just come right out and say so. If that’s the kind of thing routinely or even occasionally that women of color are being subject to with significantly more frequency that people that aren’t of color are being subject to….that’s the kind of thing that anyone that cares needs to be joining together with other people to confront head on.

        Out here in Beaverton, there actually are a lot of people of color living here, and using the streets by driving, walking and biking. Here, most people biking, seem to be men. I notice some women riding, but I can’t recall seeing a woman of color riding. A year ago, on the local bike shop Saturday ride, for awhile, a woman that was black, rode on a number of rides. Good rider too. Commuted part way from the Beav to Portland.

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  • buildwithjoe October 7, 2017 at 8:04 am

    Please Jonathan contact her and urge a credit union bike loan from Unitus Credit unions or any other similar one. Point West CU too. Others have personal loans. The Ebike is safer because you can escape safely from almost anything. And 20 is plenty. I often go slower than most bikes in a crowd, then when the road is clear I make up time and never get to work soaked in sweat or beat up. Seriously test drive an Ebike and get a loan. You will change your life. Get a good lock too.

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    • Kyle Banerjee October 7, 2017 at 4:47 pm

      These are certainly available, but I would be careful about recommending a loan for any depreciating asset, particularly one that will involve more maintenance costs with time.

      The very nature of loans is that you wind up paying the full purchase price plus the cost of servicing the loan — i.e. they raise costs for someone who is already stressed unless whatever they borrow for allows them to save more than the cost of the loan.

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      • X October 8, 2017 at 3:01 pm

        Such as a car.

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        • Kyle Banerjee October 8, 2017 at 9:38 pm

          It is exactly the same dynamic on a smaller scale.

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  • wsbob October 8, 2017 at 12:02 am

    Several years ago, at lunchtime Pioneer Square, GenZe e-bikes had several models available for test rides, which I very much enjoyed trying out. They worked and responded, great.

    Never priced them. The burden of paying what they cost, is relative to the individual’s income. I have no problem realizing that 1500 to 3000 bucks would be a major financial challenge for many people to meet. Including myself. Don’t need one now, but eventually, an e-bike might be very nice to have on hand.

    The challenge of fitting hair into the helmet can be major. Not just for Black people. I’m a so called white guy, and my bushy thick hair doesn’t like being stuffed into the helmet if it’s very long. So it’s not long, it’s short. No problem for me really, because in general, every time I tried to grow it out more than about 4″ long, my head got very uncomfortable. Bummed me out sort of, that I could never have natural, flowing, shoulder length hair like Peter Frampton and other rock stars, or the popular pictures of Jesus. Or an afro. Tried to grow it out. My head looked like some old dried brown Eastern Oregon sagebrush, with my tiny face sticking out the bottom.

    Unless she’s 16 or under, to Samantha Taylor, I’d just say if you want an afro, don’t fret your brow too much about not wearing a helmet. Just be careful not to fall or get knocked off the bike and bang your head. Doubt her hair would be thick enough to do it, but I’ve seen people with dreds so thick, I’ve wondered whether the cables of matted hair might fare well at doing the job that helmet foam does.

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  • Doug Klotz October 8, 2017 at 9:57 am

    How do we get to the place where many European cities are, where there is no expectation (or need) to wear a helmet? Is it infrastructure, or legal structure, or cultural?

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    • USbike October 9, 2017 at 12:26 am

      Actually, most bike-friendly European countries have been promoting and pushing people to wear helmets that the Netherlands is the only one left where the helmet usage is far below 10%. But even here, some provinces (Zeeland, see: have been trying for a few years now to get little kids to wear them through educational courses in school. The vast majority of Dutch people still don’t wear them, but you start to see it more in some regions.

      In the end, if you fear-monger about safety enough, more and more people will start to give in to it. Denmark for example, is way ahead with the helmet promotion. From my recent visit in August of this year, I would estimate that probably almost a third (certainly at least a quarter) of all people in Copenhagen use helmets. Whereas during my first visit back in 05’, I remember hardly anyone wore one.

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      • wsbob October 9, 2017 at 3:17 am

        I think it’s unfortunate when people use phrases such as ‘fear mongering’, in reference to offers by way of solid information, laboratory established facts about the ability of bike helmets to offer people wearing them, protection from head impact in the event of falls from their bike. Not saying that you’re personally using that phrase to describe the type of fact explanation of bike helmet capability to which I’m referring.

        The kind of facts I’m referring to are those gained from dropping weighted helmets upon a range of objects in a laboratory setting. Offering this information so gained to people, it’s no great wonder that they would see the logic in affording themselves the protection bike helmets can offer them, if it turns out they bang their head from falling from the bike, whether by way of a solo crash, or from getting knocked down by another vehicle.

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        • USbike October 9, 2017 at 8:28 am

          I’m not suggesting that everyone who advocates the use of helmets necessarily has fear-mongering intentions. Many of them do mean well and simply don’t want others to have injuries. However, in the case of Denmark, this is the tactic their government has chosen to use since 2008. I’ve followed this development for many years on the Copenhagnize site. The government constantly cites injury statistics to “encourage” people to use them. A few years ago, they even tried to pass a law to make it mandatory for kids under 16. I also have good friends there and have visited many times since 2005. Despite the fact that these friends have cycled all their lives and only started wearing them circa 2011, they now don’t dare to get on a bicycle without a helmet, even when going to the local supermarket that’s 3-minutes ride away, completely on separated cycle paths. While they don’t demand I wear one when I cycle with them, more and more they make passive aggressive statements like “it’s a good idea to protect nice heads, which we know you have one, and are sure you care a lot about it as well…” Keep in mind that Denmark is considered the 2nd most bike friendly country. Their infrastructure, while lagging behind the Dutch, are still among the best compared to the other bike-friendly countries and certainly reflected by the number of people cycling there.

          I don’t care if anyone chooses to wear or not wear one while cycling. But it should be left to personal choice and nothing more. Should that mandatory helmet law have passed, this would no longer have been a choice any Danish kid. And neither side should try and guilt-trip the other about one’s own preferences. I have never encountered a non-helmet wearer berate a helmeted cyclist. But I have experienced just that many times from people who wear one, lecturing me that I’m being reckless or foolish or what have you. I now live in the Netherlands, and I feel that the best way to keep people safe is to create infrastructure that makes it both safe and convenient for all the different modes of transport, of which separated bicycle infrastructure can play an important role in the larger arterial roads. The safety statistics in the Netherlands for cyclists are one of the best (if not THE best), despite the fact that almost the entire population (all demographics) rides a bicycle at least sometimes. And most Dutch still don’t wear helmets (it’s still well under 1%, even for kids).

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          • wsbob October 9, 2017 at 1:26 pm

            “…The government constantly cites injury statistics to “encourage” people to use them. …” USbike

            If the Netherlands is matter of fact citing those statistics as indication of head injuries resulting from impact to people’s heads resulting from falls from their bikes, I don’t feel that’s a problem, and certainly wouldn’t fit a description of ‘fear mongering’.

            Just of the top of my head, I’d say an example of ‘fear mongering’ might be someone, or some officials simply saying without references to, or actual test data about helmet protective ability to support it, something like, ‘biking without a bike helmet is dangerous’, and doing so repeatedly and maybe with a threatening tone, or one of ridicule.

            Family and friends gently encouraging people to use bike helmets, and being willing to simply discuss in some detail about how helmets work based on test results? I wouldn’t say that’s fear mongering. They say what they do because they love you, and would rather you not take a spill off the bike and wind up with a skull fracture or worse because your head crashed down on the asphalt or a curb. Almost never happens until it does, and then it’s not so fun anymore. In the Netherlands, you don’t legally have to wear a helmet it sounds, so don’t sweat it when people encourage you to wear one.

            Oregon has had a 16 and under mandatory bike use law for years. How big a deal that is, in other words…how many people of those ages, that law may be keeping people from riding? I don’t know. Kind of suspect, not a lot, but maybe. Many people here use bike helmets. It’s not a big deal for most people

            Some helmet age person that didn’t want to wear a bike helmet because of big hair, or having trouble affording a bike helmet that would fit a big head…I’d say, don’t use one, at least for awhile. Try riding without. Most likely, the police aren’t going to stop a kid not wearing one, unless for example, the kid is really young, maybe 5-8 or so, doesn’t seem to know what they’re doing, or looks like they’re possibly up to doing something else besides riding that they shouldn’t be doing, in which case lack of helmet might be a reason to stop them and check the person out.

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            • USbike October 10, 2017 at 1:31 am

              Just a minor correction since you mixed up the two countries several times. But it is the Danish government doing this, not the Dutch; and I was referring to my Danish friends. One example: Collecting data and making it available is important, but there are different ways to present the results. If the goal is to encourage more cycling, then is saying everywhere, how dangerous it is, an effective method? Who are they trying to kid here, other than themselves? The safety stats in Denmark is one of the best. Why don’t they instead focus on how safe it already is AND work towards improving the cycling environment even more? I’m not against promotion of safety practices or equipment per se or even publication of statistics. But if that completely replaces or gets prioritized over other measures such as improving the physical environment and infrastructure, then I feel it’s not the correct order of operations. This is where the Dutch and Danish differ completely. The former doesn’t spend much effort with PR campaigns about safety, and instead constantly works on improving the road network. The only exception I know of is the province of Zeeland, and the target group is only little kids. In Denmark, the target group is the entire population over the entire country. Quite a difference in opinion and approach.

              I think you are totally right that my friends only mean well for me. But an important question I wonder is, why do they now feel it’s so necessary to always wear a helmet at all times and that everyone should as well? As I mentioned, they have all been cycling their entire lives and only started wearing one 6 years ago. Denmark has gradually improved its cycling infrastructure the last several decades. So at a time when an already cycle-friendly country is getting even better, the people somehow feel it’s less safe than before? I feel this is one result of the aggressive promotion by the their government that cycling has many risks and dangers that require safety gear. Perhaps this was never the intention and it’s simply an unfortunate byproduct of the safety campaign. Nevertheless, many Danes feel less secure about cycling now than they did 10 years ago. So what have they achieved out of all this?

              When comparing even a place like Portland to somewhere like Denmark or the Netherlands, there are some things that should be kept in perspective. One is that almost everyone in those countries cycle at least sometimes. This is where the statistics about 18% of Danish and 27% of Dutch trips being by bike become a bit misleading. One might interpret that as only 18 and 27% of the population riding a bike when it’s actually way higher in both. And whereas in the US, more and more adults are only now starting to take up or rediscover the joys of cycling, you’ll be hard pressed to find the same happening in Denmark or the Netherlands. The vast majority of native Danes and Dutch have already discovered that at age 3 or 4, and most continue cycling for the rest of the their lives. So in the Netherlands, almost everyone bikes, they are all quite skilled because they start at a young age, the infrastructure is well developed for cycling and the helmet usage is estimated to be 0.1% and perceived by most to be completely unnecessary. The only way to change this on a massive scale (as has happened in Denmark) is to try and convince everyone that the risks are too high and they should all wear protective gear.

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              • wsbob October 10, 2017 at 12:29 pm

                hey USbike…sorry about missing the distinction you’re making between the Netherlands and Denmark as to the latter being in your opinion, being emphatic that use of a bike helmet is necessary for biking to be a safe means of travel.

                Here in comments to bikeportland, ideas about safety of biking come up periodically. Some people are very convinced that biking is a very safe mode of travel. They seem to be drawing their confidence based on low numbers for crashes and injuries compared to those for travel by motor vehicle.

                Personally, I don’t rely on numbers for ideas about the relative danger or safety of biking. I look at the relative danger and safety of biking in I think, a much simpler way. Basically, as it concerns falling from a bike, what might happen? Bones might break, head could get banged up. On a bike, it’s not really practical to wear something on arms and legs to resist breakage, but for a person’s head, a helmet is an easy aid to at least some protection.

                I couldn’t say why your friends seem to be more intent of late, in encouraging people to be wearing bike helmets while riding. Maybe over there in Denmark, it’s just becoming a thing, a recent trend, and they like the idea of helmets, wearing them and seeing other people wearing them. Personally, I never have had great objections to wearing bike helmets. For awhile, I tried to wear those cycling caps with the little brim and that fit tight to the head for aerodynamics. Cool look, but didn’t work well at all for me. That was early days in the R&D for bike helmets, which at the time, mostly looked fairly awful to me.

                Today, different story entirely in terms of style and design for bike helmets. They get better and better, fit better, do more things. There’s MIPs, smart helmets with lights, intercom. Bike helmets are evolving rapidly, and I imagine people are becoming more aware of this, and are definitely interested in possibly wearing them, out of excitement about the latest thing, rather than fear of falling off the bike, or being knocked off. Bike helmets have gotten to be kind of a cool thing.

                You’ve got your own mind. Follow it, do what you think is best for you, and if you think it’s not for you be wearing a bike helmet, don’t do it. The biggest thing I don’t like about bike helmets, is the waste, the millions and millions of cubic feet of foam and plastic that’s never going to break down like organic material does. So most old helmets, aside from maybe some recycling…are going to the landfills around the world. Except in China, apparently which of late, doesn’t want anymore of our junk plastic.

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            • USbike October 11, 2017 at 7:30 am

              Thanks wsbob. I really enjoyed the discussion with you these last few days! Sometimes it’s difficult to do so in a cordial and constructive way, particularly when it comes to topics such as bicycle helmets. But that wasn’t an issue at all here. In the end, I’m just happy when people bike, regardless of the reasons or the type of biking they choose to do. Have a nice day 🙂

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              • wsbob October 13, 2017 at 10:33 am

                USbike…glad you felt the discussion was worth your while. It’s unfortunate I think, that it seems so many people have reacted so strongly in opposition over questions associated with wearing bike helmets while riding.

                Much if not most of that opposition not based on the absence of common knowledge about simple proven facts regarding the level of protection bike helmets are capable of providing the wearer with. To help guide their personal decision to wear one or to advise others to wear them, I think people need more simple, matter of fact awareness about what that level of protection is.

                There are and always have been, far more important issues to address in regards to street use with a bike. Such as making streets easier and safer to ride a bike where motor vehicles are in use. Where practical, and there a lot of places in cities and around neighborhoods where it is, bringing down speed limits of 40mph to 25mph and 20mph, can help a lot to have biking and walking be the great mode of local travel it’s should be allowed to be.

                Keep us posted on what’s happening for biking and walking where you live… in the Netherlands I think I remember you’re saying…tried to check past comments to be sure, but may have got that wrong. More first hand perspective on conditions over there as compared to visitor’s impressions, are helpful I think.

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              • wsbob October 13, 2017 at 1:31 pm

                Looks like I made a mistake in writing something. Should be:

                “…Much if not most of that opposition occurring in the absence of common knowledge about simple proven facts regarding the level of protection bike helmets are capable of providing the wearer with.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) October 9, 2017 at 6:49 am

      all of the above Doug.

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    • Beth H October 9, 2017 at 5:12 pm

      Well, I think it’s probably too late in the US. Because there’s no way in hell cities will do a complete redesign of their transportation grid to make room for protected/divided bicycle lanes that actually go somewhere.
      And so, to get somewhere real, we have to use the same roads as those who drive cars, which means that even a helmet won’t save my little head if the collision is big and bad enough.
      I’ve taken to eschewing my helmet lately, because I want to poke holes in the lies that (a) a helmet will absolutely save my life and (b) my wearing a helmet somehow absolves car drivers and the planners who built entire cities for them.

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      • Kyle Banerjee October 11, 2017 at 5:00 am

        Not wearing a helmet to protest opinions held by idiоts you haven’t even met is once of the worst reasons I can think of (BTW, I’ve never actually met someone who actually thinks the opinions you’re protesting). May as well get fat to protest negative societal body images.

        Helmets don’t make you safe, but they are a simple method to mitigate head injuries — which are involved in the vast majority of cycling deaths and which account for over 85,000 hospitalizations of cyclists in a year

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      • wsbob October 13, 2017 at 10:13 am

        Doug Klotz’s original question to which you responded:

        “How do we get to the place where many European cities are, where there is no expectation (or need) to wear a helmet? Is it infrastructure, or legal structure, or cultural?”

        Your answer:

        “Well, I think it’s probably too late in the US. Because there’s no way in hell cities will do a complete redesign of their transportation grid to make room for protected/divided bicycle lanes that actually go somewhere.
        And so, to get somewhere real, we have to use the same roads as those who drive cars, which means that even a helmet won’t save my little head if the collision is big and bad enough.
        I’ve taken to eschewing my helmet lately, because I want to poke holes in the lies that (a) a helmet will absolutely save my life and (b) my wearing a helmet somehow absolves car drivers and the planners who built entire cities for them.
        Ridiculous.” Beth H

        It’s not too late in the US to build some communities and neighborhoods in which affording oneself of the protection a bike helmet can offer from a fall from a bike seems more than just a little beneficial.

        In European cities often cited as strong on everyday biking where it’s not expected that people riding a bike should be wearing a bike helmet as standard practice, I’d venture to say I think the reason for this, is likely that the chance of falling or being knocked off the bike is far less than it is on most roads and streets here in the the US. Pictures of those European cities hailing the practice of riding without a bike helmet, typically show streets with mostly people biking and walking not very fast, and very few motor vehicles in use.

        Totally different situation here in the US. We don’t have a lot of self contained, small communities and neighborhoods where everyone mostly riding a bike or walking not very fast between destinations is feasible. We instead have population centers with residence and employment points spread far beyond a feasible walking or biking distance for most people. People have to, or feel the need to do everything at kind of a brisk pace, including walking and biking amidst a lot of motor vehicles in use. Risk of falling or being knocked off a bike in most communities here, can be high, so wearing a bike helmet is something many people here feel is sound practice.

        Here in the Willamette Valley, where cities and towns outside of Portland still are mostly small, but growing, I think we could be making some new neighborhoods or transforming older ones, that are self contained and that allow commuting on foot and bike at a not very fast pace…in which wearing a bike helmet wouldn’t necessarily seem to be the necessity it’s seen to be in most US cities today. Except that the call for such neighborhood designs here, seems hardly to exist at all.

        In Beaverton, just 6 miles or so from Portland, around town, I see examples of neighborhoods I’ve described, that could possibly be set up to provide riding conditions that didn’t have people feeling that a bike helmet should be standard equipment. But…I don’t hear people out here asking for those kinds of riding conditions to be created. It’s a big advance out here in Beaverton, just to get the addition of a 5′-6′ main lane adjoining bike lane to roads never having had them before.

        If people in Portland and in cities and towns outside the big cities really want some neighborhoods offering riding conditions that don’t make wearing a bike helmet seem to be a necessity, they’re probably going to have to be asking in large enough numbers to redirect standard procedure…for neighborhood designs that will support that type of riding.

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  • BikeRound October 8, 2017 at 5:45 pm

    Am I the only one who is deeply troubled by the anti-white racism so prevalent in this article? If anything, somebody riding an electric motorcycle in the bike lane can be intimidating to those actually riding bicycles, but not the other way around–unfortunately, I experience this sometimes even in Amsterdam. Further, discrimination against blacks in the United States ended two generations ago, and today they are just as much in control in their lives as any other citizens.

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    • Kyle Banerjee October 8, 2017 at 9:44 pm

      Discrimination against blacks is far from having ended, and it certainly didn’t two generations ago.

      Am I to understand you feel victimized by e-bikes traveling at 15mph on flat ground? European e-bikes definitely aren’t like the ones people complain about here.

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    • Steph Routh October 8, 2017 at 9:52 pm

      Discrimination against Black people ended two generations ago? Did reparations happen and I somehow missed it?

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      • BikeRound October 9, 2017 at 6:54 am

        If anyone alive today can make the claim that they were enslaved by a state-sponsored legal arrangement in the United States, then I am all for reparations for that individual. But historical injustices do not ordain special privileges or reparations on future generations. Catholics, Irish, Italians, French, Japanese, Chinese, Slovakians, Hungarians, and Polish have all faced discrimination in the past, but that does not mean that the majority of the U.S. population today is somehow entitled to reparations.

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        • dwk October 9, 2017 at 9:43 am

          Do you think Jim Crow laws ended 100 years ago or something?
          African Americans alive today were the victims of state sponsored enslavement until 1965 in about half the states in this country.

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    • wsbob October 9, 2017 at 1:00 pm

      “…the anti-white racism so prevalent in this article? …” bikeround

      Give an example from this story, of what you consider to be “…anti-white racism…”. I’d already read the story and posted a comment to it a few days ago, but I read it over again because of the thought you expressed. If there’s any anti-white stuff in that story, or specifically in what Samantha Taylor is quoted here as saying, I guess you’ll have to point it out.

      Lots of black people do continue to have specific challenges due to discrimination today, I think. From individuals and groups of individuals that band together formally and informally to bully somebody around. Black people here in the U.S. aren’t slaves anymore, in the legal sense, but the discrimination is still out there. Countering that discrimination requires help from everyone, regardless of skin color.

      If you’re black, just get on the bike and ride. It would help a lot if your manner of riding, shows good display of hand turn signals, proper lane changes, lights as required at night, that you know what you’re doing.

      If black people while riding, are having reactions from road users that are discriminatory based on skin color and that they’re riding a bike, they ought to be talking about that, here, or somewhere else where a broader public can get a sense of that problem.

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    • Karstan October 9, 2017 at 3:18 pm

      There is literally no such thing as “anti-white racism.” Please read a book.

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      • Kyle Banerjee October 11, 2017 at 9:50 pm

        I can’t tell if some of y’all are trying to be comedians, ironic, or are simply cluеless. Simply having pigment in your skin doesn’t suddenly make you incapable of doing all the idiоtic or horrible things many white people have done.

        If you actually believe this, you need to get out more. Portland is not the only city, the US is not the only country, things don’t work the same way everywhere.

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    • Beth H October 9, 2017 at 5:14 pm

      People whose ancestors experience generations of discrimination should not be penalized for speaking out about it. Nor should their speaking out automatically be considered anti-white racism. Take time to dig deeper into the complexity of the situation. Pushback is not racism.

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    • Michael Andersen (Contributor)
      Michael Andersen (Contributor) October 9, 2017 at 7:56 pm

      Alleged ends to discrimination aside (ha!): I’m real white, I edited the piece, and I honestly have no idea what you’re talking about. Nothing Taylor says here seemed anything but a statement of fact.

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      • BikeRound October 10, 2017 at 11:31 am

        The most racist comment in the story is this: “so when there were dangerous situations or a White man was intimidating me, I could just torque up and zoom off.”

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        • SAM jonas October 10, 2017 at 12:29 pm

          Exactly! I too find it extremely racist for white men to be harassing people of color on bikes. I can’t believe this day in age people still have to deal with this kind of bigotry.

          Glad Taylor is brave enough to bring this issue to light and willing to stand up to racism.

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    • X October 14, 2017 at 12:33 pm

      People with names that can be characterized as African-American receive fewer responses on identical job and rental applications. That’s discrimination and it’s right now. Your parent’s economic status is the best predictor of your material success in life so no, the past does not go away. As a white person I don’t recall ever getting advice from my parents about how to handle a traffic stop. What was your experience?

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  • John Liu
    John Liu October 10, 2017 at 12:50 am

    It’s easy to complain that helmets are not designed for black hair, but how could you design a helmet to work with big hair? I don’t think it’s a question of indifference to afro wearers, just a reality about how helmets work.

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    • Kyle Banerjee October 10, 2017 at 10:30 pm

      Don’t even get me started about how glasses mounted mirrors work for those who don’t wear glasses….

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    • Alex Reedin October 12, 2017 at 12:08 pm

      I dunno, people are pretty inventive. I bet making a more-big-hair-compatible helmet could be done, although I also bet it would still mess up the hair some.

      However, the more widely actionable element of Taylor’s comment was this – “This is an unpopular opinion, but wearing a helmet is not a priority for me.” Given the medical evidence on the issue (which shows that the general health benefit from biking far outweighs the total injury risk), the social pressure to wear a helmet (for low/mid speed utility and light recreational biking) seems to be far stronger than it should be. Working to change that pressure to something more reasonable – like comparing helmet wearing to adding wheatgrass on top of an already healthy salad (a completely voluntary measure making an unusually healthy activity even more healthy) rather than wearing a seatbelt (a common-sense measure making a harmful activity less harmful to one’s health).

      **Note: The participants in cycling health studies that I’ve seen have mostly been low/mid speed utility and light recreational cyclists. There may be a different cost/benefit for other types of cycling, such as road or mountain biking, and helmet wearing while doing those activities may well be something that should be pushed in social norms (maybe the analogy would be to not running next to a noxious industrial plant? Don’t engage in a generally healthy activity in a way that eliminates the health benefit?)

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