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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Keep a lid on it

As a cyclist the ability to recall horror stories about bad motorists is as common as the name Wong, in a Chinese telephone directory.

Some months ago I was cycling in York, a city that is no stranger to cycles, with a positive and sympathetic cycle policy. It is somewhere that you should always feel comfortable to cycle, to be able to relax as you turn the pedals.
Whilst pedalling around the inner ring road, I was forced into the gutter by a motorist. The driver was a large female who had decided to swap lanes. Apparently in her world, this would enhance her progress and reduce her travel time by 0.51 seconds. Really!!!!
The manoeuvre was magnificently choreographed.
As well as turning the steering wheel with her knees, she was able to graze on an over sized sandwich, talk on her cell phone and preen herself in the mirror - all at the same time.
The additional and perhaps most important task, of looking at the road appeared to be beyond her comprehension or ability.
IF she had done so prior to the manoeuvre she would have seen me in a more favourable disposition.
A happily cycling chappie, brightly dressed and wearing a helmet.

Having delayed her observation until I had hit the pavement, she missed my metamorphic transition from ‘Mr calm and reasonable’ into ‘Mr Turrets’.

I was so animated that I might of EVEN frightened myself.

In the cycling world it is sometimes all too easy to become blinkered by the transgressions of other road users and to forget about ourselves.
Sometimes our halos drop too.
At work I often get into debates about cycling and cyclists with non cyclists.
One of my colleagues lives in the Yorkshire dales where he complains of being impeded by groups of cyclists riding in large groups two or three abreast along narrow and winding country roads.
I too have seen this practice, which can be dangerous as well as irresponsible.
If I were cycling along such a road and came across a group of pedestrians in the middle of the road, I too might have felt a bit disgruntled.

Arrogance in any road user, only causes further divide.
In England you don’t have to wear a helmet to cycle a bike on any road.
This cant be right!!!
Most parents would never let their children ride their bikes on the road without a helmet, so why undermine yourself by not wearing one.
Every weekend I see dozens of cyclist (usually my generation) riding with no helmet. Its so disappointing. Why should we expect motorists to take more care when we don't even look after ourselves.

When I ask helmet less riders why? The answers are varied.
'I want to feel liberated'
'I am an experienced cyclist and don’t need a helmet'
'I am not letting any civil servant tell me what I have to wear'.

As soon as the sentences start with I, then the accompanying arrogance usually causes any rationale argument to be lost.

There is also a lot of controversy over traffic lights, with cyclists often disobeying them and running red lights. It only adds fuel to the flames of motorists displeasure.

"And why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye, but do not perceive the plank in your own eye? "Or how can you say to your brother, 'Brother, let me remove the speck that is in your eye,' when you yourself do not see the plank that is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck that is in your brother's eye."

Luke 6:41-42


  1. I understand and respect your point- bear in mind I'm in Germany not tue UK, but here's my reasoning:

    1. I looked at the evidence of effectiveness for bike helmets, and I'm not convinced that they would help a lot, especially in a car/bike impact. Or even just falling over. Helmet test standards aren't as high as I thought.

    2. The chance of having a serious head injury is higher in a car or as a pedestrian, so if I wear one on my bike I should wear one in a car.

    3. Helmets give the impression cycling is a dangerous activity, which it isn't, and this makes people less inclined to ride bikes, which is bad for everyone.

    4. Where Helmet promotion is strong, the number of cyclists goes down. I don't want that to happen.

    5. German drivers are far more aware of cyclists than British ones, and far better behaved, and we have a better infrastructure for bikes.

    Now, you are cycling in a different environment, so I can't comment on that. My memory of cycling in the UK was that it felt very dangerous, so I understand you wanting a lid, and at the end of the day, if wearing a helmet get's someone cycling, that's fine by me. If I find tomorrow that a credible study shows helmets are effective. I'll put a lid on.

    But for now I'm just glad to see people cycling.

  2. PS: I agree on stopping at traffic lights. That does just wind motorists up.

  3. The trouble with bike helmets is that the figures don't show that they work - helmet laws have stopped a lot of people cycling and have done nothing for head injury rates, see Robinson DL. No clear evidence from countries that have enforced the wearing of helmets. BMJ 2006;332: 722-5. It appears that helmets break easily, but don't absorb the impact, see the engineers quoted at A broken helmet has simply failed. At my moderately advanced age it's far too dangerous not to cycle - regular cycling, Danish style, not too far, not too fast, nearly halves the death rate, see All-Cause Mortality Associated With Physical Activity During Leisure Time, Work, Sports, and Cycling to Work. Andersen et al, Arch Intern Med. 2000;160:1621-1628. Helmets have also strangled some young children who were wearing helmets while playing off their bicycles.

    I no longer wear a helmet and haven't pressed them on my children. I do check that their brakes work and that they have a good idea of the rules of the road.

  4. It isn't about helmets or riding three abreast on a road- it is about being patient with one another. If we all just slowed down and payed attention to one another, there would be a lot less strife.

  5. Thank you gentlemen,
    I fully appreciate a healthy debate, and your well argued comments.
    Whereas I accept that wearing a helmet is unlikely to save your life when hit my any motor vehicle, I do not accept the subtle suggestion that helmets are worthless or that that they do more harm than good.
    If you fall off your bike under your own steam or through contact with another bike, wearing a helmet must surely assist with such low velocity impact. There will be no or very little statistics detailing people who have become uninjured or have not recieved medical attention due to their helmet use.
    I have fallen off my bike half a dozen times, all low velocity, and no vehicles involved. Twice there was impact with my helmet onto concrete.I was glad to have worn my helmet.
    Cyclist may argue that they rarely come off my these means. That may be true to certain individuals but if that is the case it certainly condraticts cyclists rationale for shaving their legs. They often say its to ensure that any potential road rash wounds are clean. Is that not an acceptance of low velocity impacts ???

  6. Adrienne,
    Now thats the sort of sentiment I can really relate to, but there are too many selfish people in the world.....that should stop us from trying though

  7. Philip, I started with your assumption that helmets must do something useful. I wore one for years. The problem is that the figures don't show any useful effect. Yes, the figures are a crude instrument, and there's always the possibility of undetected trivial effects and effects of trivial injuries. But, as Robinson finds, enforced helmet laws have made no perceptible difference to the proportion of head injuries among cyclists. That just doesn't leave much room for any important effect. In fact I'm sorry to have devoted so much time to the subject; the point about helmets is that they're not worth wasting time on.


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