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British Cycling policy advisor responds to criticism, saying it "obscures real issues"...

Chris Boardman’s appearance on BBC Breakfast this morning has provoked a flurry of complaints about his not wearing a cycle helmet – even though the segment began with him explaining why he chose not to do so. In a detailed explanation this afternoon, Boardman says that while the reaction was "understandable," it is also "unfortunate because it obscures what I believe are the real issues."

The early morning TV show is featuring a report on cycling each day this week. It is broadcast from Salford, close to the Manchester headquarters of British Cycling, where former Olympic champion Boardman is policy advisor.

Prior to going on a bike ride with him, presenter Louise Minchin asked Boardman, “Viewers will notice I will be wearing a helmet but you won’t. Why not?”

He replied: “It’s a very long answer and more time than we’ve got here," before summarising his position briefly.

“It discourages people from riding a bike, you’re as safe riding a bike as you are walking, statistically, you’re much safer than you are going in your own bathroom and you don’t wear a helmet there," he explained.

“There’s absolutely nothing wrong with helmets, but it’s not in the top ten things that you can do to keep safe.

“We’re going to look at all of those things, but for me, I want bikes to be for normal people in normal clothes.

“About 0.5 per cent of people wear one in the Netherlands, yet it’s the safest country in the world,” he added.

“There’s a reason for that.”

Despite his explanation, the backlash on social media was predictable, many pointing out that the Netherlands already has the type of infrastructure that Boardman and others are campaigning for in the UK.

One Facebook user, John Stimpson, said: “Chris Boardman wearing no helmet and riding in black jacket and jeans. For an item on cycling safety you can't get more stupid.”

Another, Toni Smith, said: “How can you show a piece about cycling safety when the ex-champion is not wearing any safety gear? This is not acceptable! Please in the future choose an ambassador who practices what they preach!”

Many others leapt to his defence, however, with Morgan Lewis saying: “For all those people expressing outrage, I wonder if you have spent the same amount of time looking at the evidence about helmets over the years as Chris Boardman has. His view is not idly held. There is a lot of knee-jerking in these comments.”

Jonathan Richards pointed out: “About two thirds of fatalities WITHIN cars are caused by head injuries - why not a call for compulsory helmets for those travelling in cars? And as for pedestrians ....”

Meanwhile, Chris Myrie couldn’t resist asking: “Does this mean his £80 endorsed helmets from Halfords are useless?”

There was a similar division in reaction to his comments on Twitter, where Boardman himself tweeted this morning after the show: “Hi All, rather than try to address the helmet debate (again) I'm going to pen something for people to read and point you to it this PM.”

That response has now been published on the British Cycling website. Boardman acknowledged the BBC Breakfast piece had “got a lot of people fired up,” and that “my riding a bicycle in normal clothing, looking like a normal person was greeted by some with cries of horror. It’s both understandable and unfortunate because it obscures what I believe are the real issues.”

Foremost among those issues is why some cyclists in the UK believe they should have to wear a helmet while cycling in the first place, he said.

“People wear helmets and high vis as they feel it’s all they can do to keep themselves safe. It shows just how far away Britain is from embracing cycling as a normal and convenient form of transport,” he added.

Pointing to the example of Utrecht in the Netherlands and providing a link to a video of people cycling there he went on: “I’m willing to bet that even those that swear by helmets and high vis would feel comfortable discarding their body armour in such an environment. And that’s the point; in Utrecht they have addressed the real dangers to cyclists.”

While he admitted that the situation in the UK is vastly different, he said helmet compulsion was not the answer, citing drops of between 30 and 50 per cent in countries such as Australia and New Zealand that had introduced such legislation.

“If cycling looks and feels normal, more people will cycle,” he said. The more people cycle, the safer they are - the safety in numbers effect. The more people cycle, the more lives will be saved from amongst the 37,000 that die each year from obesity-related illnesses. Never mind the more than 27,000 that die annually from pollution-related illnesses.”

Boardman said he understands “exactly why people feel so passionately about helmets or high vis,” and “why people wish to use them,” but said he would not promote helmets or hi-vis nor be drawn into a debate on a topic that he considers “isn’t even in the top 10 things that will really keep people who want to cycle safe.”

He added: “I want cycling in the UK to be like it is in Utrecht or Copenhagen and more recently New York City – an everyday thing that people can do in everyday clothes whether you are eight or 80 years old. I want cycling to be a normal thing that normal people do in normal clothes. Is that wrong?”

In the BBC Breakfast report itself, Boardman outlined his top tips for cycling safely including planning your route, how to negotiate junctions and roundabouts safely, road position, stopping at red lights and giving large vehicles plenty of space and not going up the left-hand side of them.

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.

285 comments

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Andy G [26 posts] 2 years ago
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With the bright sunlight we had in Manchester this morning, dark clothing may well have been safer than dayglo yellow

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HarrogateSpa [462 posts] 2 years ago
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Working on the technical/equipment aspects of British Cycling's programme, Boardman has been notable for worrying about what works and doesn't when things are tested, not the pre-existing prejudices or practices of the cycle racing community.

It's good to see him working on the basis of facts in this debate, too.

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KiwiMike [1290 posts] 2 years ago
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Please, Road.CC denizens, let's not replicate the canned idiocy and quasi-religious bullshit that filled the Facebook and Twitter all day.

If you don't get what Boardman is saying, better to remain silent and think him an idiot than open mouth and be proved one yourself.

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HKCambridge [223 posts] 2 years ago
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"Please in the future choose an ambassador who practices what they preach!”

HE IS PRACTICISING WHAT HE'S PREACHING YOU IDIOT.

And breathe.

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700c [1110 posts] 2 years ago
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I think Boardman's position is spot on here. Refusing to be drawn on the personal choices he might make - and respecting and understanding the choices of others.

He is far more concerned about the bigger picture of cycling in the UK and so for his cause, the pro/ anti helmet debate is an unnecessary distraction

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pol sifter [8 posts] 2 years ago
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Having just spent two months in NZ and two weeks in Sydney I can attest to the fact that cycling numbers are incredibly low and the general feeling is that cycling is too dangerous. Sydney is doing ok though and a good number of people are flouting the helmet law, myself included... With the cops seemingly having better things to do, even the two horse cops I rode past the other morning not even batting an eyelid as I sauntered past with *shock*horror! No helmet.

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pol sifter [8 posts] 2 years ago
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Having just spent two months in NZ and two weeks in Sydney I can attest to the fact that cycling numbers are incredibly low and the general feeling is that cycling is too dangerous. Sydney is doing ok though and a good number of people are flouting the helmet law, myself included... With the cops seemingly having better things to do, even the two horse cops I rode past the other morning not even batting an eyelid as I sauntered past with *shock*horror! No helmet.

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cat1commuter [1422 posts] 2 years ago
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Chris Boardman wrote:

an everyday thing that people can do in everyday clothes whether you are eight or 80 years old

Yes!

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DuncanMc [31 posts] 2 years ago
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Where a helmet if you want I do. I also wear gloves for the same reason. It/they may stop some cuts and bruises but expect nothing more.
As for hi-vis, 2 deaths on Hampshire roads, because of sun in drivers eyes the inference was it made the wearer near invisible.
Ride safe folks but keep riding

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IngloriousLou [139 posts] 2 years ago
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DuncanMc wrote:

As for hi-vis, 2 deaths on Hampshire roads, because of sun in drivers eyes the inference was it made the wearer near invisible.
Ride safe folks but keep riding

In one case the driver was acquitted thanks in part to the jury falling for his hard luck sob story  2

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IngloriousLou [139 posts] 2 years ago
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[Back on topic]
Sweet Jesus not this again.
You can see why CB sees this as a distraction!

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Quince [381 posts] 2 years ago
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I once saw some-one washing up without wearing washing up gloves once. Totally irresponsible. Washer Uppers should do all they can to protect themselves. What sort of message do you think it sends to their kids? It's shocking. This is why I have no respect for Washer Uppers. They bring it on themselves really.

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Northernbike [229 posts] 2 years ago
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I caught a brief glimpse of Boardman in his jeans and bomber jacket this morning and he made the BBC idiot in pointless tickbox plastic hat and yellow top next to him look completely daft and over the top when side by side with him.

It was a breath of fresh air to see someone on TV on a bike, and not in a period drama, being shown riding a bike as a normal day to day thing and not needing more safety gear than an assault on the north face of the eiger

I don't agree with his reaction to the frothing at the mouth of the health and safety magic plastic hat brigade as 'understandable' though - it puzzles me why what other people wear on their head seems to get some folks in such a lather. Is it that they can't bear to see their view that something is terribly dangerous exposed as the load of rubbish that it is or just some kind of deep down need to dictate to others? who knows...

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700c [1110 posts] 2 years ago
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Northernbike wrote:

I caught a brief glimpse of Boardman in his jeans and bomber jacket this morning and he made the BBC idiot in pointless tickbox plastic hat and yellow top next to him look completely daft and over the top when side by side with him.

It was a breath of fresh air to see someone on TV on a bike, and not in a period drama, being shown riding a bike as a normal day to day thing and not needing more safety gear than an assault on the north face of the eiger

I don't agree with his reaction to the frothing at the mouth of the health and safety magic plastic hat brigade as 'understandable' though - it puzzles me why what other people wear on their head seems to get some folks in such a lather. Is it that they can't bear to see their view that something is terribly dangerous exposed as the load of rubbish that it is or just some kind of deep down need to dictate to others? who knows...

It sounds to me like you're one of the ones getting in a lather, just on the other side of the debate.

Best to just let people make their choices and respect that. Getting out and riding is the main thing, regardless of how you look or what you wear. Showing the public that cyclists come in all shapes, sizes and outfits (whether 'normal' or not) is a good thing.

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HoldTheWheel [28 posts] 2 years ago
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I wear a helmet but respect it is an individual choice. Boardmans argument is spot on, compulsory helmet wear would have a negative effect. Maybe a few lives could be saved if the rider was wearing a helmet, but the thousands saved by making cycling more appealing for everybody far outweighs that. Also, I don't really buy into Hi viz in the day. Reflective strips at night, yes, but I struggle to believe that dressing head to toe in fluorescent yellow is any more visible to other road users. Black isn't invisible, unless you have your eyes closed.

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2_Wheeled_Wolf [47 posts] 2 years ago
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A lot of fuss about nothing, so Chris didnt wear helmet & hi-viz. What about it? Normal cycling for a change & not trying to enforce others to wear same. Choice is your own, if you feel happier in helmet & hi-viz on our roads then do so, but think why you feel better that way? Its not cycling that making it so, its the crap infra offered to us.

I tried the hi-viz & found I still got the same lame brain excuse of SMIDSY, so thrown them out. I wear a helmet but know if will do sweet FA for my head or the rest of me when under a tonne or so of metal. I wear it to carry my helmet cam & nothing more. I do have reflectives on my jacket, bike & wheel spokes to go with good lights to help improve in getting me noticed at night when drivers can be bothered to look.

As far as I am concerned, Chris Boardman is doing a grand job for normal everyday cycling & focusing in where we really need to focus on. I so would love to thank him personally as no doubt my tweets to him is being drowned out by the ill-informed moans...

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chokofingrz [407 posts] 2 years ago
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I would say that 60% of safety is WHERE you ride, 30% is HOW you ride, and 10% is WHAT you ride IN.

Still, some days I want that extra 10%.

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IanW1968 [307 posts] 2 years ago
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I know the helmet evangelists mean well but I do wish they would just fuck off.

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Quince [381 posts] 2 years ago
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Northernbike wrote:

I caught a brief glimpse of Boardman in his jeans and bomber jacket this morning and he made the BBC idiot in pointless tickbox plastic hat and yellow top next to him look completely daft and over the top when side by side with him.

It was a breath of fresh air to see someone on TV on a bike, and not in a period drama, being shown riding a bike as a normal day to day thing and not needing more safety gear than an assault on the north face of the eiger

I don't agree with his reaction to the frothing at the mouth of the health and safety magic plastic hat brigade as 'understandable' though - it puzzles me why what other people wear on their head seems to get some folks in such a lather. Is it that they can't bear to see their view that something is terribly dangerous exposed as the load of rubbish that it is or just some kind of deep down need to dictate to others? who knows...

I think it's mainly a vague desire to shift responsibility away from yourself and onto a group of people you don't identify with.

Driving a car in an urban space - or in any space really - puts you in responsibility of a rather large amount of... stuff. I think many people feel uncomfortable about actually accepting that responsibility, and so try and spread it around - inevitably onto the more vulnerable members of the road system.

A large number of complaints about 'cyclists' are found to be so useful, because they shift responsibility so well. They 'don't pay road tax' (i.e. have no right to impede my rightful progress). They don't wear enough hi-vis (i.e. I shouldn't have to look for them). They don't wear enough helmets (i.e. any injury I cause in not my fault but theirs). They look strange [often because of hi-viz and helmets] (i.e. they are second-class citizens). It's largely a childish reaction against something you don't want to do. That is, actually think about other people. Because that's exhausting.

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Quince [381 posts] 2 years ago
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Also, did anyone else notice how Boardman wasn't using stabilisers? Disgraceful.

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dreamlx10 [187 posts] 2 years ago
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Why don't people drive hi-viz cars ?

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a.jumper [848 posts] 2 years ago
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And even on road.cc, the helmet frothing relegates the point of the report (cycling tips) to a paragraph at the bottom and doesn't mention a key part (rebuild bad roads, including challenging the cycling minister)  2

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willdolby [4 posts] 2 years ago
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If you want to wear a helmet, wear a helmet. If you don't - don't. If you crack your head open not wearing one, then that's your problem. I personally will keep wearing one, having been saved by one once already.

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ChairRDRF [354 posts] 2 years ago
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Anyone genuinely interested in the evidence on the effects of helmet wearing can look at www.cyclehelmets.org and helmet posts on www.rdrf.org.uk , starting off with http://rdrf.org.uk/2013/12/17/the-effects-of-new-zealands-cycle-helmet-law/ and
http://rdrf.org.uk/2013/12/27/the-effects-of-new-zealands-cycle-helmet-l....

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nowasps [520 posts] 2 years ago
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willdolby wrote:

If you want to wear a helmet, wear a helmet. If you don't - don't. If you crack your head open not wearing one, then that's your problem. I personally will keep wearing one, having been saved by one once already.

Sweet Jesus.

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Cyclist [295 posts] 2 years ago
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I mowed my front lawn once in flip flops....  35

Boardman  41

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mrmo [2092 posts] 2 years ago
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willdolby wrote:

If you want to wear a helmet, wear a helmet. If you don't - don't. If you crack your head open not wearing one, then that's your problem. I personally will keep wearing one, having been saved by one once already.

Must not rise
Must not rise
Must not rise

Oh for f***s sake,

Go away crash in exactly the same way without wearing a helmet, if you don't come back i will accept the helmet saved you, if however you come back, which i am almost certain you will.... Helmets will save you from a few cuts and bruises, but don't expect much more.

As an aside you do know that helmets are less safe than they were 10-15 years ago?

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antonio [1162 posts] 2 years ago
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Boardman puts common sense first, but, the politicians put money first and because they can't get round his arguments for cycling safety they join the helmet brigade and shout, 'but he isn't wearing a helmet'. Proof again politicians have no sense.

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GREGJONES [296 posts] 2 years ago
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If the argument was of ensuring safety then cars would be coated in a layer of foam and be covered in hi-viz strips.

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Gus T [301 posts] 2 years ago
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Personally I couldn't care less whether other riders choose to wear helmets or not, sometimes I do & sometimes I don't but it's my choice & mine alone. It's not something that should be foisted on my by anybody in my normal cycling time, obviously there are some times where helmets are required such as organised events if the rules require me to wear a helmet I will, that's just part of life. The BBC as a public body should be producing politically neutral reports and promoting cycling as a health benefit rather than producing click bait rubbish on their programs and website, just look at how they support Clarkson & the the piece of televisual junk that is Top Gear which now panders purely to 18 year old boy racers and their intellectual equivalents. This whole issue makes me seethe and the fact that I have to pay a TV License to support this without being given a voice makes it worse.
Sorry for the rant but I just want to go out on my bike without some prick in a car telling me I need to wear "safety gear" to protect myself from him because he can't be arsed to take responsibilty for his own actions.  14 14 14 14 14 14

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