The Speculist: Marginally Less Dorky


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Marginally Less Dorky

My day job has had me so busy the past few weeks that I haven't been able to put many blog posts out. Now that I'm off work for a few days, I find I don't know where to start.

How about the ever-important question of looking cool? Not being cool, mind you -- as a self-described geek I think actually being cool is probably out of the question. But looking cool can be achieved so long as we're clear that by "looking cool" we mean "taking steps to ensure that I look somewhat less dorky than I would have otherwise."

That goal is achievable.

Take bicycle helmets, for example. I bought a new one today. Let's compare. Here's the old one:


Here's the new one:


I mean, the new one is cooler, right? I think I'll kind of look like the Silver Surfer cutting through the mountain trails with that helmet on.

And there, you see, is our big problem. Some would argue that there is no coolness to be found anywhere in any reference to Silver Surfer whatsoever. But more up-to-date hipsters (See? I'm hopeless) would probably argue that there is something reasonably cool about this:


...but something very sad indeed about this:

No, seriously, brace yourselves.

I'm not kidding.

Ready, then?


In point of fact, I can only hope to be slightly more cool with the new helmet, and the less said about which Marvel villain-turned-superhero I imagine it makes me look like, the better.

However, since we're on the subject, I don't believe that I possess either the coolest or the dorkiest bike helmet in my household. The coolest helmet belongs to my wife:


Schwinn logo notwithstanding. And we won't get into whether this headgear makes her look like any particular Sith lord.The dorkiest helmet belongs to my daughter:


Whoa. Smurf City. Of course, this one dates back to her childhood. How nice that we've been potentially head-crushing-accident-free since she was 10 or so when I bought her this almost unbelievably dorky helmet. These days, as a proud, independent college sophomore, I believe she borrows either my helmet or the cool helmet when she goes out riding. Or she may do the coolest thing of all -- not wear a helmet.

Now some are going to argue that wearing a helmet really is cool. Just like not smoking is cool, not drinking is cool, saving oneself for Mr./ Ms. Right is cool, never eating fried foods is cool. Sure, whatever. Look, people, I don't make the cool rules, so don't blame me.

Anyway, I will point out that the most serious bicycle riders -- the Tour de France wannabes you see out there on the streets, resplendent in their multi-hued spandex -- always wear helmets. But are they cool?

Are they?


So anyhow. Here, finally, is the reason that I will never be anything more than marginally less dorky than I am now. I will not allow myself to go helmetless. Why not?

It's all about the brain. Imagine you had a hard disk that couldn't be backed up or replaced, and on this disk you had a record of every important thing that ever happened to you. In fact not a record, but really the record. The only record that really matters. Moreover, let's say that hard disk not only had all these important files on it, but that it was also the boot disk for...well, you, not to put too fine a point on it.

So if you're going to put that precious hard disk on top of a couple of wheels and let it roll around a city street or a mountain trail for a while, are you going to be satisfied with the manufacturer's casing, or do you think you might spring for some additional foam padding -- just in case? If you're me, it's a no-brainer. As in:

"No thanks, I think my brain is better situated here inside my skull than spread whimsically around a random rock outcropping / patch of asphalt."

Of course, cool people just don't look at it that way. Which is hardly the only reason, and is in fact not even one of the more significant reasons -- let's face it, it's probably not even in the top 50 reasons -- but is still nonetheless one of the reasons that I will never be cool.

Thanks for your attention.

[By the way, if you're wondering where you read the phrase "marginally less dorky" before, it may have been here.]


Making a bicycle helmet less dorky is about as likely as making water less wet. It is an inherent property not subject to manipulation.

What a delightful read. And just yesterday I got my new "motor scooter" 3/4 helmet and yep, dorky as hell. And I don't think anything could even approach making me look "moderately less dorky."

Gotta get photos and post on this... too funny and thanks for the laugh.

I always wear a helmet when I ride. I got a lesson in its value last year - even though I was wearing a helmet, I went off-line for about a half hour after the spill.

I'm using a new helmet now, of course. Helmets are one-use items of a sort.

Helmets are for dorks. Never wore one as a kid, and despite riding my bike in the streets for years, I somehow managed to survive.

Can ya believe it? To celebrate, I'm going to go run around the house while holding scissors. Then maybe swim immediately after eating.

I know, living dangerously.

(A) of course, if you look at it THAT way (the desire to protect your brain being all important) maybe you wouldn't roll it around atop a bike in the first place.

(B) it may be time to get your daugher a new bike helmet -- not just for the coolness, sun and sweat degrade bike helmets over time. If the helmet is nine years old, it's probably time. See

Um, hate to say it, but...

The old helmet is a tad cooler than the new one. Or at least as the photos are perceived by this slightly dorky commenter, it is.

You know, Phil, I may not be the arbiter of all that is cool, but I'll tell you one thing, helmet or not - unless you're Lance Armstrong, do not wear spandex bike shorts! Isn't the picture of the long-faced senator enough of a warning? I have to make sure I'm in another room when my husband leaves the house for a bike ride. I just can't take the dorkiness of those shorts - especially when the rubberized edges don't even touch his skinny legs!

I'd have to see a photo with you in the old helmet for comparison in order to judge the marginally less dorky-ness of the new one. But I will say since you have a "beautiful and brilliant" wife and a talented (and quite possibly cool to the point of helmet-eschewing) daughter, both of whom could just turn away when they see you in the helmet (and should you choose to ignore my advice - the bike shorts) you've really got nothing to worry about. You've got your head screwed on straight and plan to keep it that way! That's always cool in my book.

Thanks for the laugh.

Actually, I think the rock climbing helmet which is black and not aerodynamic is reasonably cool looking.

Also, dressing up in high tech bike gear is extremely nerdy unless you are really, really good (then it is very cool). If however, you keep get passed by more people than you pass, you really do look like an idiot when you wear those duds.

In the photo, you (if that's you) do look remarkably like Jack Bauer from "24". It's not the color of the helmet, but something in the way it frames your face to reveal a structural similarity to Kiefer Sutherland.

Don't let this go to your head, but that's really how it looks. What's anybody else think?

Well, anyone will tell you, I am an authority on "cool". Everyone knows helmets for bikes became cool almost three years ago. The silver and black ones are among the coolest. Avoid yellow and orange.

John: it's a mass- & speed- thing; I go faster now that I'm an adult and weigh a lot more, so when I take a spill there's a lot more energy directed at my cranium. Spills I took as a kid with no problems would put me out of action now. Especially riding in the city - it's other people you need to worry about, when it comes to accidents.

Personally, I find the mountain bike helmets with the visors are marginally less dorky. Regardless, I'll trade some dorkiness for not ending up brain damaged from bouncing my head off someone's trunk.

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