CitiBike riders forego safety, leaving shop owners with inventory

No protection: Gary Bowers of Manhattan could have purchased a helmet from Han’s Market, which is right beside this Citibike rack on Clark Street, before his bike ride.
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

A Brooklyn Heights bodega owner thought he could cash in on bicycle renters looking for a safer way to ride by selling them helmets — but instead ended up with the foam noggin protectors collecting dust on the shelves.

The owner of Han’s Market on Clark Street near Henry Street stocked up on helmets when workers learned that a CitiBike station was coming in for a landing right outside his window, assuming that the constant stream of casual bikers would make captive consumers for his new product line, but his investment did not exactly pay off.

“We only sold one helmet,” said Han’s Market cashier Sadie Gorkhali.

The city doesn’t mandate helmets for CitiBike riders, claiming it would be nearly impossible to enforce, according to a city spokesman. But some experts, including John Pucher, a Rutgers University professor of public policy, predict that the launch of New York’s bike lending program will lead to a significant increase in serious bike accidents. There have not been many CitiBike-related injuries so far.

And riders we spoke to said they do not need to purchase a $20 helmet to make them feel safe.

Han’s Market in Brooklyn Heights started selling bike helmets after a Citibike rack was installed in front of the store.
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

“My friend and I are just going over the Brooklyn Bridge,” said CitiBiker Nina Melmkovec. “It’s going to be only 30 minutes.”

Some longtime city bicyclists say they have seen a mix of CitiBike riders with and without helmets and suspect that those who do not wear them either do not believe the research on helmet safety or care more about looking stylish.

“I wear a helmet when I ride because even though the research isn’t great on how effective they may be in big crashes, I think that anything that slows down my skull from impact is probably a good thing,” said Michael Silver. “Even if I look like a doofus.”

If that isn’t enough to put a crimp into the Han’s Market business model, this probably will: The city occasionally gives away free helmets, with fittings included, at scheduled events throughout the year. The next one in Brooklyn will take place on Tuesday in Marine Park from 5:30 pm until 8 pm.

Reach reporter Jaime Lutz at jlutz@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-8310. Follow her on Twitter @jaime_lutz.

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