Bicycle helmets redux: tough organizational choices, but I’m out

I’ve authored three blog posts in recent months about bicycle helmets:

These posts came to the attention of National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA), the national body that governs high school mountain bike racing. I had taken their training to be an assistant coach this fall for the Cannon Valley Mountain Bike Racing Team for area high school students.  They also came to the attention of the Cannon Valley Velo Club (CVCC), where, as a member, I had volunteered to be the mountain bike ride coordinator and therefore became a club officer.

I wrote to NICA, summarizing my position:

I think public officials and other community leaders should stop the promotion of helmet-wearing for around-town bicycling and instead, work on all the other issues related to getting people, including kids, to ride bikes more, including doing what it takes to make the activity safer. There’s a considerable body of research to support this.

I have very few, if any, kids reading my Locally Grown Northfield blog. My blog post that’s titled “Photos of Northfielders biking around town without helmets: all the cool kids are doing it” was not aimed at kids and contains no photos of kids. The phrase “all the cool kids” is a generic, cultural reference that doesn’t directly refer to kids but anyone (for example, Suing Madonna, Self-publishing, Quitting Facebook).

But it’s very likely that kids will find out about my helmet-related blog posts, either on their own or from teachers, parents, or members of the local bike clubs. If they ask me, I’ll explain my position.

In Northfield and elsewhere in MN, the vast majority of high school age teenagers using their skateboards and BMX bikes in municipal skateparks don’t wear helmets. Insurance doesn’t require it as long as the obstacles are under 48 inches high. But if you go to a BMX or skateboard stunt show, all the performers wear helmets. Most kids would understand why: speed and height make a difference. An analogy: should parents let their kids play in the street? Pretty much everyone would say that it depends on the age of the kid, the type of street, and the type of play. Kids gradually learn the subtleties of playing in the street and by the time they’re in high school, it’s a non-issue. Likewise, with helmet-wearing.

Boys especially don’t want to appear to be overly concerned with safety. I insisted that my three sons wore helmets from the time they were toddlers but once they were 14 or so, they refused to do it for around-town biking. They had no hesitation on wearing a helmet when I took them mountain biking or road riding.

I’m 100% in favor of promoting the importance of wearing helmets for mountain biking, road biking, gravel riding, and all forms of bike competition and I would hammer this point home and enforce it rigorously with the high school student athletes. And I would not use my coaching/face time with them to promote my position about helmets and around-town biking.

NICA gave me a choice:

…while NICA’s rules do not govern what Griff does outside of the context of his high school mountain bike coaching, NICA does find his position on helmet use contradictory to our risk management and safety standards. Thus, NICA staff are not supportive of his position regarding helmet use nor his public blogging on this subject. NICA encourages Griff to chose between abiding by the NICA rules at all times – in order to serve as a role model – or not coach.

I replied in part:

One thing I didn’t state in my “Griff’s position” statement was that it never occurred to me that my blogging about helmets for around-town biking would have anything to do with mountain biking.  I simply never made the mental connection. If I had, I probably would have avoided the issue altogether.

While it’s unfortunate, I don’t regret doing it.  I really do believe in what I wrote about the issue so I can’t in good faith go back on it. So I have decided to withdraw as team director and assistant coach.

And while I’ve put in a lot of hours in this over several months, I have no regrets — no bad feelings whatsoever.  I’ve really enjoyed and benefited from all of it, especially the two-days of Leadership Summit training…

I met with the officers of the CVCC to clarify my position that I would always insist that anyone on a club-sanctioned mountain bike ride with me would have to wear a helmet. Their response:

In the end, most felt that we can’t as a Club endorse a position which suggests publicly that riding without a helmet at any time on the bike is advisable.  It was very tough to decide whether this meant that individuals within the Club are speaking for the Club, but in the end it was decided that anyone whose name is on the CVVC home page “Club Officers” table could be construed as speaking for the Club.  Given that your position as expressed in blog posts is in conflict with our helmet policy (and that you stand by this position), we decided that this means your name should not be listed as a club officer.

So as a club member, I can informally invite others to go on mountain bike rides with me. I just can’t be an official ride leader.

I harbor no ill will towards either NICA nor CVCC, even though I strongly disagree with them. It’s a tricky issue and insurance/risk management makes it even more so.

There are many ways for me to contribute to the sport of mountain biking and bicycling in general. I won’t be shy about letting you know what I’m up to.  If it’s Northfield-related, I’ll let you know here on LoGro. Otherwise, stay tuned to my Mountain Bike Geezer blog and/or follow MTBikeGeezer on Twitter.

Minnesota has a new high school mountain bike racing league. Help needed now to form a Northfield area club

Minnesota High School Cycling League Kick-Off Open House Libby Hurley and colleagues at the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) booth Minnesota High School Cycling League 2012 schedule Josh Kleve
The Minnesota High School Cycling League held their Kick-Off Open House at QBP’s HQ last Sunday night. About 100 people attended.

Gary Sjoquist, QBP's Advocacy Director at MN High School League's open house Gary Sjoquist, QBP's Advocacy Director at MN High School League's open house Gary Sjoquist, QBP's Advocacy Director at MN High School League's open house
Gary Sjoquist, QBP’s Advocacy Director, hosted the event and presented the detailed plans in two separate sessions. Here’s the 31-minute audio:

Click play to listen or download the MP3.

Gary said that the League’s first initiative is to form a high school mountain bike racing league in here in MN. Other cycling sports might be supported at a later date but that the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) believes that mountain biking is the ‘T-Ball’ of cycling.  The League’s events will be open to individual student riders but organizers also believe that forming high school teams is the best way for students to learn the skills and how to ride safely.

Minnesota High School Cycling League Kick-Off Open House Minnesota High School Cycling League Kick-Off Open House Minnesota High School Cycling League Kick-Off Open House Minnesota High School Cycling League Kick-Off Open House Minnesota High School Cycling League Kick-Off Open House
Organizers helped the attendees meet each other in geographic groups to facilitate planning. I got together with some guys from Cannon Falls and Red Wing at the meeting and we’re exploring the possibility of forming a Cannon River Valley regional team, to include those towns plus Faribault and Northfield.

On Wednesday, I discussed all this with Northfield High School Activities Director Tom Graupmann and ARTech High School teacher Joe Pahr who both expressed interest and support for the idea. It would be a club sport like the NHS ski club, with no expectations of financial support from the schools.

I’m looking for others interested in helping to get an area team formed. The immediate goal is to get interested adults to attend the Leaders’ Summit, held in Bloomington on April 21-22.

This event is for parents who want to become head coaches, assistant coaches, or ride leaders for the new league. It’s a two-day school on how to work with high school-aged youth, how to teach young riders the skills necessary to become racers, information on Wilderness Training and CPR (both required to be a Head Coach), and is part of a required curriculum to become a licensed MN league coach. We’ll also do a little skills work outside, so come with bikes, helmets, ready to ride.

Interested? Got questions? Attach a comment here or contact me.

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