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British Cycling policy advisor says it's time to stop distracting helmet arguments and concentrate on real safety issues...

British Cycling policy advisor Chris Boardman says it’s time for the cycling community to put the debate about mandatory cycle helmets to bed and get across the message that helmet use is one of the least important cycling safety measures.

Even talking about making helmets mandatory “massively puts people off” cycling, Boardman said, and likened the culture of helmet use among keen cyclists to people wearing body armour because they have got used to being shot at.

Talking to road.cc at the London Bike Show, Boardman said, “I think the helmet issue is a massive red herring. It’s not even in the top 10 of things you need to do to keep cycling safe or more widely, save the most lives.”

You’re being shot at, put on body armour

Boardman returned to an analogy he has made before, and which even he admits is a bit melodramatic, though it gets the point across

“It’s a bit like saying ‘people are sniping at you going down this street, so put some body armour on,’” he said.

Government encouragement to wear helmets was therefore “a big campaign to get people to wear body armour, by the people who should be stopping the shooting.”

Widespread use of helmets, he said, sends the wrong message.

“Once you see somebody wearing body armour, even if there’s no shooting, you think ‘Christ I’m not going down there if they’re wearing body armour to go down that street.’ It scares people off.”

There’s a better solution to the problem of cycle safety, Boardman said. In the Netherlands, just 0.8 percent of cyclists wear helmets yet the Dutch have the lowest rate of cycling head injury, thanks to segregated cycling infrastructure. Thirty percent of journeys in the Netherlands are made by bike, he said, and 50 percent of children’s journey to school.

”The best way to deal with [the head injury issue] is what the Dutch have done,” he said. “Where you have the Highest rate of helmet use, you also have the highest rate of head injury: us and the US.”

Yet there’s also an almost-fanatical, knee-jerk devotion to helmet use among enthusiast and sporting cyclists.

Boardman said: “People who are wearing body armour get used to being shot at, when it’s the getting shot at that’s the problem.”

A distraction

Talking about helmets had become a time-consuming distraction, he said. “We’ve got to tackle the helmet debate head on because it’s so annoying,” he said. “It gets a disproportionate amount of coverage. When you have three minutes and someone asks ‘Do you wear a helmet’ you know the vast majority of your time when you could be talking about stuff that will make a difference, is gone.”

He said the focus on helmets had made cycling seem more dangerous than it really is.

“We’ve gone away from the facts,” he said. “We’ve gone to anecdotes. It’s like shark attacks - more people are killed building sandcastles than are killed by sharks. It’s just ludicrous that the facts aren’t matching up with the actions because the press focus, naturally, on the news stories, and [the notion that cycling is dangerous] becomes the norm, and it isn’t the norm.

“You can ride a thousand times round the planet for each cycling death. You are safer than gardening.”

Cycling’s image

Like many cycling advocates, Boardman wants to see cycling presented as a normal, everyday activity.

“I saw two people riding down the hill to my village. One person coming down the hill to go for the train in high-viz, helmet on.

“A few moments later another guy came down, in shirt sleeves, with a leather bag on his back, just riding his bike to the station.

“Which one of those makes me want to [ride]?”

Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.

Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.

Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.

The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.

198 comments

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Lolo [17 posts] 3 years ago
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noether wrote:

In Holland, no one who uses his bike for simple day to day short distance transport wears a helmet, even the most foul weather. Equally, almost no one who rides a bike for sport goes without a helmet, even in the brightest sunshine. The difference? Speed.

Speed has nothing to do with it. Road cyclists traditionally like to imitate what the pros are riding/wearing. The helmet is just part of the uniform, it makes them look "right".

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cescolini [8 posts] 3 years ago
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Article: There's more to safety than debates about helmets.

Comments: helmet-helmet-helmet-helmet-helmet-helmet-helmet-helmet-helmet-helmet-helmet-helmet-helmet.

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Miles253 [198 posts] 3 years ago
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I've never preferred riding without a helmet unless it's to the shops. On a dedicated ride, I'll take anything that could actually save my life if ahit hits the fan, especially as it weighs so little I barely know it's there so what's the harm?

Now with statistics stating drivers are more cautious around non helmeted cyclists, that could be a valid point toward non mandatory helmets. Otherwise it should be up to the individual

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Welsh boy [420 posts] 3 years ago
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Read it one more time, he is not saying that we would be safer if we all wore helmets, he is saying that even in countries where helmet use is very low there is less head injury than in the UK because motorists do not go around hitting us.
He is not confusing cause and effect, maybe you are just putting your bias on the article.

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goggy [157 posts] 3 years ago
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Once we have segregated cycle lanes I will remove my helmet and hi-viz clothing. Until then, they stay on if I intend on cycling on either a main road that is not in a 30mph limit area, or where there is heavy traffic and risk of SMIDSY accidents.

The one time I did fall off and bash the back of my head on the tar, I was glad of my helmet. But maybe that's just me?

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Trull [81 posts] 3 years ago
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So, some of my mates asked what are the Top Ten Things which affect cycling safety which will have a greater effect on safety than polystyrene bananas strapped loosely to your cranium?

Here's my list:
1) Speed limits for cars based on risks to others, starting with 40mph outside towns on minor A and B roads, 20mph in town with speeds up to 70mph only on dual carriageways/motorways where there is a cycling alternative.
2) Anti entanglement barriers built into lorries to prevent human bodies from being mangled horribly
3) Effective legal means to curb drivers who show little consideration to other road users
4) All junctions to have greater visibility of pedestrians built in by design
5) All major roads to have segregated pedestrian path/cycleways built in
6) Large vehicles to have reduced blind spots by design
7) Vehicles to have injury reducing sides rather than skull splitting edges
8) Fill those potholes and grit roads/cyclepaths/pavements
9) Allow cycles to turn left on a red in a square junction when no oncoming traffic
10) Ban the Daily Fail and Jeremy Clarkson for the bad attitudes they espouse.

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Northernbike [229 posts] 3 years ago
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700c wrote:
mrmo wrote:
700c wrote:

I understand what he's getting at but this is the UK and not Holland

WHY?

a very very simple question, why can't the UK follow the Dutch? the Danes? and actually improve the environment for cyclists.

I'm not saying we can't aspire to something 'Dutch', just that it would be foolish to stop wearing PPE until we have the infrastructure. Currently the UK's roads, particularly at rush hour, are very busy and not always safe.

Saying that more people should ditch the PPE to encourage cycling as a hassle free, accessible way to travel, BEFORE we've sorted out the infrastructure and culture is bonkers.

Like I say, I really think this has been taken out of context. Why would a helmet manufacturer, such as Boardman, be saying 'ditch the helmet'? Can I sue him once I've come off my bike having shelved my Boardman helmet?! Or should I sue now for selling me an 'unsafe' product?!

Answer - he's not saying that, but so many here have an anti helmet agenda that they're prepared to believe that this backs up their choice.

Nobody here has an anti-helmet agenda. I have never heard anyone say helmets should be banned. There are many people with an anti-choice agenda however who think that because they do something the law should require everyone else to do the same. This is what irritates people; the HHH (helmet/high viz/holier than thou) brigade who frequently boast about how many accidents they have had with their 'helmet saved my life' stories and therefore rather undermine their claimed authority to lecture on safe cycling, seeking to impose their choices on others. There is not no helmet debate, there is a helmet compulsion debate; People are pro compulsion or pro choice , not pro or anti helmet.

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DM [45 posts] 3 years ago
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http://www.cyclehelmets.org/
Excellent website.

http://www.cyclehelmets.org/1261.html
Interesting that Dutch cyclists with head injuries are more likely to be wearing helmets.

I'll carry on wearing a helmet when racing (no choice anyway) and when training, but maybe I'll be less obsessive about wearing a helmet when using my bike for transport.

I'd echo the comments that a mandatory helmet law would save more lives if mandatory for motorists and pedestrians and people drinking heavily.

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sponican [96 posts] 3 years ago
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noether wrote:

As usual, the truth of the matter is probably more complex and simpler.
In Holland, no one who uses his bike for simple day to day short distance transport wears a helmet, even the most foul weather. Equally, almost no one who rides a bike for sport goes without a helmet, even in the brightest sunshine. The difference? Speed.

If that's true then it is a stark illustration of the complete failure of logic that pervades this debate. Helmets are tested up to about 12mph, no more. If you are going to go faster than that then you are operating outside of its design parameters and cannot rely on it.

My view is that keen sports cyclists wear helmets 'cos the pros do. Pros wear them because they're paid to. Read Sean Kelly's account of his last win in Milan San-Remo - going back to the team car to get his helmet for the last 50k because he would get a bonus from the manufacturer for wearing it if he won.

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sponican [96 posts] 3 years ago
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KGoslan wrote:

Well...I'd have died 3 days before Christmas if I didn't have a helmet on...try telling me they're a bad idea.

A few years ago I had a bad crash and broke my back. I spent 6 weeks in motionless bed rest waiting for the bones in my back to heal. Without fail, everyone who visited me said "it's a good job you had your helmet on".

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kcr [153 posts] 3 years ago
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I sometimes feel that I am banging my head on a brick wall

 41

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allez neg [496 posts] 3 years ago
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kcr wrote:

I sometimes feel that I am banging my head on a brick wall

 41

You wanna be careful doing that

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farrell [1946 posts] 3 years ago
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Last night a DJ saved my life.

This is about as true as your helmet story.

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allez neg [496 posts] 3 years ago
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In all (almost) seriousness, I think that bicycling is still percieved as a bit odd here in the UK, a perception that is diminishing slightly now perhaps, but that wet weather, a lack of fitness in the general population, and insecure bike parking in general and transport hubs in particular stop people riding far more than percieved dangers.

When I was doing an 8 mile each way cycle commute I did deliberately choose a less traffic-heavy route and lit myself up like Blackpool to aid my safety, but it was the rain and cold that sapped my enthusiasm for it, not fear.

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nowasps [519 posts] 3 years ago
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This is great... CB says "Stop talking about helmets, you idiots". Cue massive idiotic discussion of helmets.

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mtm_01 [201 posts] 3 years ago
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I wear a helmet because I know I'm capable of idiocy...I'd rather wear one and give myself a bit of a chance!

I don't wear all that hi-vi gear though, there's rarely any real need for that if you're a confident cyclist and can read the road.

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oozaveared [937 posts] 3 years ago
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KGoslan wrote:

Well...I'd have died 3 days before Christmas if I didn't have a helmet on...try telling me they're a bad idea.

No you wouldn't. I expect like a lot of people that claim this, you had a crash of some sort, your helmet took an impact and split or cracked and you put two and two together and decided the answer was five. ie you concluded that the helmet split so with that would have been your head that had split.

That's voodoo science.

The British, EU and American standard for impact protection is 50 joules. The very best and brand new and perfectly fitted reach 75 - 100 joules. They are supposed to work by using the styrofoam shell to compress and absorb impact. Only frontal impact though not oblique or rotational.

So my friend if your helmet cracked as mine did when I whacked my head mountainbiking in North Wales, then your helmet did not actually work. The impact was too great. When the forces are that large the helmet will compress and break in around 1/1000th of a second. The absorption of the initial force during this very short period is therefore less than the rating of 50 joules. It didn't even provide the minimum protection from impact though it may have saved you having a cut or a graze.

The formula for energy in an impact is Mass times Velocity squared over two. M x V2 /2

Do the maths yourself or look up my other posts.

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oozaveared [937 posts] 3 years ago
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[/quote]
Although the Netherlands is probably the safest country in the world for cycling, helmet wearing among Dutch cyclists is rare. It has been estimated that only about 0.5 percent of cyclists in the Netherlands are helmeted.

However, according to Dutch Government data (Rijkswaterstaat, 2008), 13.3 percent of cyclists admitted to hospital were wearing helmets when they were injured. Why does wearing a helmet appear to increase the risk of being injured so substantially?.[/quote]

The actual helmet has no bearing on this at all. In the Netherlands like here cycle racing requires the use of a helmet. People who race or who are racers ie those travelling fast have more chance of being in an accident. The real statistic is the speed of travel (type of cycling) versus injury. Helmet use is just a proxy for type of cycling being done.

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congokid [323 posts] 3 years ago
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Miles253 wrote:

I'll take anything that could actually save my life if ahit hits the fan, especially as it weighs so little I barely know it's there so what's the harm?

Do you also carry a lucky rabbit's foot - after all, what's the harm?

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congokid [323 posts] 3 years ago
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mtm_01 wrote:

I wear a helmet because I know I'm capable of idiocy...I'd rather wear one and give myself a bit of a chance!

I don't wear all that hi-vi gear though, there's rarely any real need for that if you're a confident cyclist and can read the road.

So you're a confident idiot who claims he can read the road. I think that comes under the risk compensation umbrella.

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ColT [344 posts] 3 years ago
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Fuck me, how many more times will it take before people grasp the basics of this? I despair of the repetition of the countless 'helmet saved my life' stories every time the H word enters this forum.

CB is right. Move on.

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missfaversham [5 posts] 3 years ago
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Here's an idea, lets stop perpetuating this argument, because it's clearly irritating the majority of people.

How about :

No more stories on it from road cc and an agreement from readers not to post comment on this subject?

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birzzles [129 posts] 3 years ago
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I choose to wear a helmet. Wife fell off and hit her head on icy road a few weeks ago, helmet saved her - hit to side of head.

I dont think helmets should be mandatory. Why should i impose my choice on others? It is not clear that helmet wearers are achieving a public good in the way seatbelt wearers do.

If you think people should be protected from themselves you are wrong and possibly an evil dictator.

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gazza_d [472 posts] 3 years ago
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It's all very simple.

If you wanna wear a lid and think it makes you feel safer, fine wear one. If you dont, then don't. Personal choice.

the problem is the people arguing that helmets are the magic bullet to cycling safety, which they are not. CB is right they are a distraction.

Compulsion is WRONG. simple.

Insisting that cyclists in publicity shots & media wear helmets, like BBC do & ASA tried to enforce is WRONG. Simple.

Boardman bikes is a business and I have no issue with them floggin lids. I would have an issue with hard-selling them at bike sale time, or "don't ride without a helmet" stickers on the bikes.

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ColT [344 posts] 3 years ago
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birzzles wrote:

Wife fell off and hit her head on icy road a few weeks ago, helmet saved her...

Case for the defence rests, m'lud.  102

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big mick [186 posts] 3 years ago
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Everything Chris says is true.But have an accident (not your fault) get a head injury and when the case makes court and you win your case you will still lose one third of your claim because you ( failed) to wear a helmet.Trust me right now that's the way it is.Put a lid on then join the debate.Driver ed is the way forward but don't hold your breath.Great Britain is still living in the past when it comes to cycle safety and I don't see change coming anytime soon.  29

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northstar [1107 posts] 3 years ago
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More nonsense...

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andyp [1508 posts] 3 years ago
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'So when doctors and surgeons say "I've seen many cyclists in my hospital, and I am sure helmets save lives"'

This is ok, because they are expressing *their opinion*. Not a fact. Take out the 'I am sure' and you're into 'old quack who needs striking off' territory. I'd imagine very few doctors actually do go down that route, because they understand how the whole 'fact' thing works, unlike Mr and Mrs Numpty on the Daily Mail comments page.

Unfortunately people hear the 'I am sure...' bit and jump straight to 'my doctor said...'

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Paul_C [519 posts] 3 years ago
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Lolo wrote:
noether wrote:

In Holland, no one who uses his bike for simple day to day short distance transport wears a helmet, even the most foul weather. Equally, almost no one who rides a bike for sport goes without a helmet, even in the brightest sunshine. The difference? Speed.

Speed has nothing to do with it. Road cyclists traditionally like to imitate what the pros are riding/wearing. The helmet is just part of the uniform, it makes them look "right".

No, it is the event rules that determine if competitors wear helmets for an event. Wheelrunners (I'm using the Dutch term here) are the ones who like to go fast and in Holland, they're the only helmet riders at all except very young children just starting to learn.

Fietsters (ordinary cyclists to you an me) should not ever need to where a helmet.

Just what exactly is a "road cyclist" anyway? I cycle on roads to work on my MTB, does that make me a "road cyclist"? No, I consider myself to belong to the Dutch class of "Fietster", not "Wheelrunner".

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Ush [1003 posts] 3 years ago
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DaveHemm wrote:

“Where you have the Highest rate of helmet use, you also have the highest rate of head injury: us and the US.”

That is a logical fallacy (deductive or logical)
e.g.
1. All birds have beaks

Is more a counterpoint to this asserted premise above that all birds have beaks: "in fact in these countries you see a large number of beakless birds".

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