Obligatory Motorist: Why I spent on a helmet even though I ride “just a scooter”

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This Tuesday, at just about a quarter past 12 in the afternoon, I purchased a slice of invincibility – an LS2 Rookie lid with a clear visor that set me back by a little over 4k. Depending on who you are, you either think that’s too much money or too little to spend on keeping my head and neck intact. To the latter group, I say this is the best that I can afford as of today – and, for the sake of protection, I would happily part with more cash if I made more of it. Please pray for my stand-up career (playing fast and loose with the ‘c’ word here) to kick off.

Now for the rest of you… I know exactly what you are thinking. That in a sea of lidless, Taliban-scarfed Pune riders, I am an anomaly. That I ride a 2010-spec Honda Dio and not a 650cc superbike. That my daily commute to Kalayani Nagar is not a technical motocross track, but just tree-lined avenues with the occasional traffic.

I’m an anomaly everywhere I go so that point I dismiss immediately. As for the supposed lack of risk involved with my scooter and the route that I take – I want to point out that Newton is right, no matter where you are in the universe we know of. I don’t know how you picture gravity and centrifugal forces inside your unprotected heads. Do you imagine they gather for meetings and draw out agendas to make special exceptions for you on your scooter, so they can direct their full wrath at Kawasaki Ninja riders? They’re not Greek Gods. They’re the laws of this universe and hence, universal. And unprejudiced.

Of course, there are ways to minimise risk along the way – ride slowly (I do), don’t overtake from the wrong side (I don’t), check your mirrors (I do), and generally ride well (I don’t – I have way too much to learn and too many counter-intuitive responses to pick up). So far, thanks to the powers that be, my rides have been without incident. But there is really no guarantee of that from the time I leave my garage in the morning to the time I safely park my bike at office. I can feel the hair on my arms stand up every time a motorcyclist (no helmet, again) looms from behind and (as Pune riders are wont to do) cuts right through that tiny gap between me and the sidewalk. I’ve never been this aware of my heart furiously pumping blood as I clock a school van in my mirrors. There is also that car right behind me, honking away to press me to close the gap between me and the truck in front of me. Or worse, urge me to follow the other two-wheelers on to the soft shoulder of the road so the four-wheelers can claim the tarmac for themselves.

It is at these times I worry about not just my heart but all my vitals. That we’re all just sentient meat, however illusory our identities. That all this flesh and bone is nothing but fragile and there isn’t much you can do to stop the rot. If I could keep it all caged and bubble wrapped on my ride, I would – and you can, if you have the money to invest in full riding gear. With my limited resources, I have to prioritise, and I’ll start with my head. If this little stroke of precaution can bring down my heart rate just a tad bit and stop me from turning into a giant, quivering bundle of nerves at every traffic signal I hit, I’d call those four thousand bucks well spent.

There is another school of thought that I had to mind-wrestle. A comedian and friend put forward the theory that if you aren’t willing to take chances, you shouldn’t be riding at all. That, to me, is an argument equivalent of saying if you’re afraid of burning; you shouldn’t enter a kitchen and order in every day. Are you cooking with alcohol-soaked rags near the burner? Because that is exactly what riding without a decent helmet is akin to.

I am thankful to those who understand that the value of your helmet equals the value of your head – not the make and model of your ride (although there are different helmets for different purposes – we’ll discuss that later when I get to that level in life). They’ve asked me to take good care of my first slice of invincibility and “treat it like a pet”. I assure them that it will be well looked after. Every time it’s not in use, it will be put away inside its designated bag and far away from elevated edges. It will be cleaned regularly and the removable foam will be washed every time the Indian summer renders it sweat-soaked and grimy. I hope I never have to put it to test, but if and when the time comes that my instincts fail me, I hope the LS2 will rise to the occasion. Until I can afford the HJCs, Arais and Shoeis.

PS: I bought the LS2 from Rider’s Den in Fatima Nagar, Pune. I picked this bright fluorescent one because I really value being visible to other road users by night. The clear visors were decided upon after I learnt that they serve better than the mirror finish, when you’re riding at night. Any contradictory thoughts are, of course, most welcome in the comments below.