Thursday, January 28, 2021

BikeWalkLee: Risk vs. responsibility

BikeWalkLee Column ‘Go Coastal’
The News-Press, January 28, 2021
by Ken Gooderham

Image: The News-Press
I believe people have the inalienable right to be stupid – as long as the only person you put at risk is yourself.

But if anyone else could be harmed by your actions (or inactions), then you put aside vanity or politics or whatever else is motivating you, and worry about the greater good.

Right off, let me reassure you this isn’t about masks… an issue where the only consideration should be scientific. Instead, this is inspired by something only slightly less contentious: Bike helmets.

Most cyclists have an opinion about helmets… and sometimes (but not always) those opinions are even supported by facts.

There are riders who are vociferously pro-helmet, and others equally as energized against them. Sometimes, amazingly enough, both sides are using the same argument to make their case.

Take safety, as one example. The pro-helmet proponents rightly claim that helmets can reduce the chances of brain injuries resulting from accidents. The anti-helmet response is that helmets might help in low-impact interactions but don’t really matter in a high-impact crash (think moving vehicle vs. cyclist).

Pros say helmet use lessens rider risk. Antis say requiring helmets drive people away from cycling – which increases risk overall since cycling in general is safer if there are more cyclists on the road to remind motorists to be careful.

Pros say helmet use promotes safe cycling. Antis retort that helmets can create a false sense of safety, which can result in more aggressive cycling that’s ultimately more risky.

Antis also point to the preponderance of non-helmeted cyclists in Europe, where cycling is considerably safer than in the U.S. Pros point out that drivers and roadways in Europe are more cycling-friendly, and infrastructure plays a BIG role in bike safety.

Antis also note that there are many other activities cyclists routinely undertake (such as riding with earphones) that put them at far more risk than no wearing a helmet. Pros agree, but argue that wearing a helmet AND not doing the other risky stuff is an even smarter way to ride.

All this brings me back to my opening statement: People have the inalienable right to be stupid.

If you, as an adult cyclist, simply cannot abide the thought of wearing a helmet – don’t. That’s your choice.

But if that’s a risk you’re willing to take, then you take responsibility for it as well.

What you don’t get to do, however, is to push that responsibility for risk onto others.

If you are participating in an organized ride or group event where helmets are required, shut up and put one on. Those event organizers are liable for your safety, at least while you’re part of their activity, and their insurers and sanctioning bodies almost certainly require anyone participating wear a helmet – to hopefully reduce the risk and lower the liability.

If you are a parent, put helmets on your kids when they ride. Not only is it the law (in Florida, for any cyclist under age 16), it’s also a way to protect your kids and their young-and-growing (we hope) brains. And while we’re getting legal, it’s also against the law to ride while using earphones or headsets.

Finally, if you’re trying to be a responsible rider, you may at least want to adjust your helmet attitude to the circumstances around you.

I ride a couple of times each week on a variety of road and path types, from on-road bike lanes to very protected neighborhood streets. Out in serious traffic, most cyclists you see are wearing helmets. On the quiet low-speed streets, most cyclists are not.

Whether it’s the perception of risk and safety – wear a helmet when riding in or close to serious traffic, don’t when the vehicles around you are less and slower – even if the reality doesn’t match up, I can’t say… and, frankly, I don’t care. That’s your choice as a cyclist.

You just need to take responsibility for that choice, whatever the consequences.


Here’s the latest in organized running and biking events locally… but confirm with the organizers and be flexible in case conditions change and large-group activities are limited. Of course, wear a mask and act appropriate to your age, condition and medical concerns.


  • Strides for Education 5K, Florida Southwestern State College, Saturday, Feb. 6 (in-person and virtual).
  • Downtown Dash, 1-mile run/walk, in person in downtown Fort Myers, Friday, April 16.


  • Run for the Paws 5K, Saturday, Jan. 30 (in-person and virtual only).
  • Naples Golden Eagle 5K, Saturday, Feb. 13, Lowdermilk Park, Naples.


  • Venice Half Marathon and 5K, Saturday, Feb. 13.
  • City of Palms Half Marathon and 5K, TBD.
  • Paradise Coast Half Marathon and 5K, Saturday, March 13.


  • Busey Bank Run for Prevention 5K run/walk, in-person on Sunday, Jan. 30, at Jaycee Park ( or virtual. 
  • Cape Coral Animal Shelter Rescue Run 5K (dogs welcome), Saturday, March 20,
  • Publix Run to the Arts 5K run/walk – in person on Feb. 7, 2021, or virtual Jan. 30-Feb. 7 or
  • Running Into 2021 Like…. virtual 5K/4 Mile/10K/1 Mile fun run, through Jan. 31, Supporting Pace Center for Girls.


The Caloosa Riders are offering member rides, but some are open to non-members (and it wouldn’t hurt you to join the club); check their ride calendar ( for a description of the distance and speed, and to see if the ride is open to all.

SW Florida Critical Mass is offering their usual slate of family-friendly rides. Check out their line-up online ( for details and times (and to make sure the ride is still rolling).

  • SW Florida Critical Mass ride, first Friday of the month. A family-friendly slow night ride through Fort Myers. Front and rear bike lights required. Helmet and lights required, meet in the parking lot at 2180 West First Street, Fort Myers.
  • Sanibel Critical Mass night ride, second Tuesday of the month. Gathers at Jerry’s Shopping Center, 1700 Periwinkle Way, on Sanibel. Lights required, helmets recommended.
  • NE Lee Critical Mass ride, third Friday of the month. Gather in the Winn Dixie parking lot on Palm Beach Blvd. about five miles east of the Interstate; gather at 7 p.m. and roll at 7:30 p.m. for a slow ride through Fort Myers Shores.
  • Cape Coral Critical Mass ride, fourth Friday of the month. Gather at the Southwest Florida Military Museum parking lot at 4820 Leonard Street for a family-friendly night ride through the Cape; helmets and lights required.
  • Saturday Morning Slow Roll, fourth Saturday of the month. Meet-up at 2160 McGregor Blvd., Fort Myers. Recommended for inexperienced/young riders. Distance is 6 miles, includes group ride instruction.

If racing is not your thing but you’d like to support their return nonetheless, consider volunteering to help out at the few in-person offerings ahead. With Covid concerns still confining some of the usual volunteers, a few new helping hand would certainly be welcomed.


Have a favorite route you like to bike, or a unique walk you’d like to share with others? Tell us about it at, and maybe we can feature it in an upcoming column.

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Ken Gooderham writes this on behalf of BikeWalkLee, a community coalition raising public awareness and advocating for complete streets in Lee County — streets that are designed, built, operated and maintained for safe and convenient travel for all users: pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists, and transit riders of all ages and abilities. Information, statistics and background online at

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