Home
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

Avatar
freespirit1 [258 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes

I always thought that every road user had a responsibility for their own actions.

Avatar
parksey [342 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes
dreamlx10 wrote:

Why don't people drive hi-viz cars ?

They do. The reason why new cars are sold with LED daytime running lights is to make them more visible to other road users.

Avatar
thecyclingbear [1 post] 3 years ago
0 likes

In most of the cycling debates shown on TV or discussed on the radio, Chris Boardman is the only one really that talks sense. I find most people have very little knowledge and experience to base their opinion from.

GET THE MESSAGE HELMETS DO NOT MAKE US SAFE

However, cycling with consideration for the rules of the road and other road users, and other road users doing likewise, make our roads safer. Education has got to be the answer to narrow the void between cyclists and vehicle users attitudes towards each other, surely or is that like too much common sense for people who are in a position to influence such changes....  1

Don't forget "It's NICE to be NICE!

Avatar
rore [26 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes
parksey wrote:
dreamlx10 wrote:

Why don't people drive hi-viz cars ?

They do. The reason why new cars are sold with LED daytime running lights is to make them more visible to other road users.

Lights are not hi-viz  24

Avatar
horizontal dropout [298 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes

i already posted this in another news item but I'll post it again here because I think it's relevant for different reasons. And because I think it should be shared far and wide.
a) it's the voice of reason.
b) refreshingly many of the cyclists are not wearing helmets (it's filmed in Cambridge as far as I can see.

Blaine Walsh of Driving-instructor.tv and Michael Frearson of The Association of Bikeability Schemes share their thoughts why cyclists sometimes ride in the middle of the road, on how "right of way" doesn't exist, and how driving instructors have a vital role to play in teaching the next generation of drivers that everybody has a right to use roads, not just motorists.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lJHXzt7TC2k

Avatar
michophull [143 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes

I have great respect for CB but I always remember him saying that his helmet saved his life when this happened:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/special_report/1998/07/98/tour_de_france/1319...

And whatever "normal" might be, I don't want to be it thank you.

Storm in a teacup though imo.

 39

Avatar
michophull [143 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes
thecyclingbear wrote:

GET THE MESSAGE HELMETS DO NOT MAKE US SAFE

Maybe not, but helmets CAN and DO save lives and prevent head injuries every day.

 3

Avatar
CXR94Di2 [1856 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes

High viz does stand out on country lanes. I today saw a woman cycling all in black except for a few white stripes, she was on a main A road and I could see traffic making late braking and swerving around her. Where I cycle there are number of riders who wear fluorescent yellow tops and stand out a mile against the background. Add a smattering of reflective strips and you would be a complete knob not to see them in virtually any scenario

Avatar
kubla [15 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes

wearing a helmet is not safe - it improves safety but does not make cycling safe

we all know that being taken out from the back or not being seen at on coming junctions are the things that will kill us

and until we have a system of perceived liability then nothing will change

i cycle without a helmet all the time - i also use them when am out for long all day cycles

cyclists biggest problem is the car lobby

Avatar
DaveE128 [952 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes
dreamlx10 wrote:

Why don't people drive hi-viz cars ?

Hehe, that made me chuckle, but then I realised that's exactly what daylight running lights are for...

Avatar
kraut [154 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes

Where I cycle there are number of riders who wear fluorescent yellow tops and stand out a mile against the background. Add a smattering of reflective strips and you would be a complete knob not to see them in virtually any scenario

The world of drivers is clearly full of knobs.

I wear bright stuff, lights even in the day, and a helmet, not because I think it makes much of a difference, but because I don't want someone who hits me to have any excuse.

Avatar
Leviathan [2863 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes

...

Avatar
drfabulous0 [409 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes

Hey, Look. Chris Boardman got loads of people talking about cycling again. Nice one!

Avatar
rore [26 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes

I'm (un)lucky enough to almost be as old as Chris Boardman and therefore started cycling when no-one wore a helmet, yes, that's right, no-one. Even the pro's fought against them being made compulsory when racing. I feel this has given me a very different attitude towards wearing helmets to people who've started cycling since then.

I don't have a fear of being safe on the road and I've had a number of accidents like most cyclists. I don't wear a helmet all the time or hi-viz. I've only worn a helmet when it's been required by an event I'm taking part in and feel no safer with one on, just the opposite, I find other road users treat me differently and give me less space, but that's just my own opinion and my own choice for me.

If you choose to wear a helmet and hi-viz because you've weighed up the pro's and con's and feel that's right for you, chapeau.

Having said all that, when they bring in the airbag suits like MotoGP I'm having one and saving my collarbone  16

Avatar
JonD [493 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes
CXR94Di2 wrote:

High viz does stand out on country lanes. I today saw a woman cycling all in black except for a few white stripes, she was on a main A road and I could see traffic making late braking and swerving around her. Where I cycle there are number of riders who wear fluorescent yellow tops and stand out a mile against the background. Add a smattering of reflective strips and you would be a complete knob not to see them in virtually any scenario

A TRL study wrt hi-viz for motorcyclists would seem to indicate that it's the clothing/background contrast that is the issue - which could even be white or black clothing. To paraphrase part of the conclusion - not likely to be a one-size fits-all solution and that motorcyclists need to be aware of its limitations.

An Oz study into hi-vis/reflectives found that a disproportionally higher proportion of incidents were during low light levels, and that reflectives were more effective in those conditions.

So rather - it depends, and don't blindly rely on them.

Avatar
700c [1171 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes
DaveE128 wrote:
dreamlx10 wrote:

Why don't people drive hi-viz cars ?

Hehe, that made me chuckle, but then I realised that's exactly what daylight running lights are for...

Quite.

I can't even turn the damn things off on my Volvo!

Avatar
Quince [381 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes
michophull wrote:

I have great respect for CB but I always remember him saying that his helmet saved his life when this happened:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/special_report/1998/07/98/tour_de_france/1319...

And whatever "normal" might be, I don't want to be it thank you.

Storm in a teacup though imo.

 39

There's quite a difference between hurtling down winding roads 30+mph in a packed peloton and doing... well, something more like this (www.youtube.com/watch?v=n-AbPav5E5M&noredirect=).

While I'm generally quite ignorant on the issue, I'm pretty sure I support compulsory helmet legislation in the upper echelons of cyclesport. Confusing sport with transport though, is folly.

Riding a bike needn't be dangerous, so helmet use needn't be compulsory in all situations. It CAN be (and for that reason I'm glad I own one) - just as being a pedestrian can be dangerous dangerous if that pedestrian has jumped out of an airborne helicopter without a working parachute - but it needn't be. And I'm awfully glad I don't have to carry a parachute for my normal daily activities.

Avatar
Paul J [946 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes

Note that the daytime running lights on cars can make other road users, with less bright lights or no lights, less visible.

Good to see we have the "A helmet saved my life" brigade in attendance. Note: If you consistently wear a helmet walking, in the bath or shower, or when you go out drinking, you will end up with the same tale in time.

So don't be a hypocrite now: Always wear your walking helmet. Always wear your bathing helmet. Always your drinking helmet!

Avatar
Tinternet_tim [118 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes

I'm feeling this pro / anti helmet debate will never end!! I'm also loving how defensive and personal each side of he debate get towards the other side! Why does it bother so many what others do (who I'm guessing are complete strangers to you?)

I personally choose to wear one. I don't expect to be judged by others for doing so...however, having read the above it would appear people do.

If on the other hand this discussion was about cyclist who cycle in the dark on the public highway with no lights, then that would be a different matter. This really annoys me as you are not only putting your own safety at risk but also the safety of others you might run into (pedestrians) and also risk ruining someones else's life if they knock you off and kill you. I mention this as the 'no-light' brigade are out in force again due to the clocks changing.

Avatar
Paul J [946 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes

Tinternet_tim: It bothers some of us, because the other side often lobbies to have laws passed to make helmets compulsory to wear. Successfully in places.

Once that type of idiocy got going, the other side had no choice but to get very vocal.

Avatar
jarderich [94 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes

I no longer wear a helmet, instead I wear a St Patricks Day Guinness hat.

And I don't wear hi viz. I wear a full Mapei team kit.

So far I have not been knocked off my bike.

Avatar
farrell [1946 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes
CXR94Di2 wrote:

High viz does stand out on country lanes. I today saw a woman cycling all in black except for a few white stripes, she was on a main A road and I could see traffic making late braking and swerving around her.

So if they had accelerated early and drove straight through her that would have been proof she had been seen?

Avatar
ironmancole [355 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes

Agree with Chris entirely. The sole reason for protective gear is to try and minimise damage caused by, principally with rare exception, idiots in steel cages propelled by increasingly fast engines.

To ridicule and berate Chris for his choice of no helmet (bearing in mind a camera car was obviously present no doubt invoking the 'look at my safe driving, aren't I a little cherub' response seen whenever a police car is in view is the same as criticising a rape victim for not wearing a metal chastity belt.

If we sort the aggressor out there will be little need for helmets and body armour. Seems this concept is wasted on many MPs who find it very inconvenient.

Avatar
caaad10 [190 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes

Pity the man whose pleasure depends upon the wearing of a helmet

Avatar
noether [96 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes

Many commentators focus on the fear that wearing a helmet when riding abike will be made compulsory. They are totally right. Once such law passes, it will be extremely diffcult to repel it. Therefore the usage of bikes as a means of transportation for "normal" people in "normal" clothes must be accelerated in order to create enough momentum to relegate the wearing of helmets to realm of personal choice.

I suspect that the helmet regulation lobby is disingenuous, trying to smother the "bike as means of transport movement" at birth, lest it encroaches on the disproportionate privileges of the motoring industry at large. Which of course it will, if succesful.

But again, can helmet regulators not look over their shoulder at Germany and the NL, countries with an almost pathetic affection for the car, but which nevertheless have made cycling mainstream, without clothing regulations?

Avatar
Huw Watkins [158 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes

Wearing hi-vis gillet, a helmet and having lights on at 4.30 last Saturday afternoon did absolutely nothing to stop me getting taken out by a car side on and spending 6 hours with emergency services.

Nor did carrying a hi-vis rucksac and wearing a helmet stop me getting turned left on and left in the middle of the road 4 weeks previously

On each occasion, the driver professed not to have seen me. The driver in the first instance has been charged with driving without due care and attention, the driver in the second instance just drove off after checking I wasn't dead.

It's not about us or what we wear, it's about drivers who do not actively look out for cyclists and other vulnerable road users when they get in the car and turn the key. Get learner drivers out on bikes in traffic when learning - help them to understand what it is to be a cyclist.

Armouring ourselves does not address the real problems.

Avatar
Gus T [321 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes

Tinternet_tim wrote
"If on the other hand this discussion was about cyclist who cycle in the dark on the public highway with no lights, then that would be a different matter. This really annoys me as you are not only putting your own safety at risk but also the safety of others you might run into (pedestrians) and also risk ruining someones else's life if they knock you off and kill you. I mention this as the 'no-light' brigade are out in force again due to the clocks changing."

Now that is something I agree with, we bang on about how great Copenhagen, Holland etc are but forget these places legislate that bikes must have lights fitted at point of sale, it's only road bikes & MTB's that don't have them fitted as standard by manufacturers, both of Mrs G's town bikes have lights fitted as standard but there again one is a Dutch steel town bike and the other is a Belgian town bike that she bought especially in Belgium because you can't get it in the UK. Maybe the Government can actually do some positive legislating for once & require bike manufacturers to fit lights as standard, it's not a massive cost and might actually keep someone alive plus think of the fun you could have speccing your lights as part of your bike choice.  16

Avatar
oldstrath [919 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes
Gus T wrote:

Tinternet_tim wrote
"If on the other hand this discussion was about cyclist who cycle in the dark on the public highway with no lights, then that would be a different matter. This really annoys me as you are not only putting your own safety at risk but also the safety of others you might run into (pedestrians) and also risk ruining someones else's life if they knock you off and kill you. I mention this as the 'no-light' brigade are out in force again due to the clocks changing."

Now that is something I agree with, we bang on about how great Copenhagen, Holland etc are but forget these places legislate that bikes must have lights fitted at point of sale, it's only road bikes & MTB's that don't have them fitted as standard by manufacturers, both of Mrs G's town bikes have lights fitted as standard but there again one is a Dutch steel town bike and the other is a Belgian town bike that she bought especially in Belgium because you can't get it in the UK. Maybe the Government can actually do some positive legislating for once & require bike manufacturers to fit lights as standard, it's not a massive cost and might actually keep someone alive plus think of the fun you could have speccing your lights as part of your bike choice.  16

The other side of that though, at least for Germany, is that the regulations specify lights that are utterly and completely inadequate for rural riding, and probably not enough to waken the average half-asleep texting nobber (aka the normal car driver). The main motivation is 'we must not dazzle the poor motorist', with the implied threat that if they are dazzled most of them are too thick to stop, and indeed so lacking in control they'll drive straight into the source.

Avatar
Storck Rider [5 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes

Boardman, the helmet debate has been raised yet again as a direct result of the fact that you refuse to wear one. You harp on about getting to the real issues but surely by virtue of the fact we are sat here discussing it now and of all of the criticism you have had this makes it a real issue.

Chris Boardman, JUST WEAR A HELMET AND STOP BANGING YOUR OWN LITTLE DRUM! and then you could actually move on to discuss those 'real' issues.

You'd make a s**t politician!
 102

Avatar
Reg Molehusband [58 posts] 3 years ago
0 likes

I wear a helmet because I want to protect my head. Regardless of so called statstics, there is always a chance that I might come off the bike, whether by accident or through someone else's actions. I've seen the results of someone's (helmetless) head hitting a solid surface. Ride round without one if you wish, it's your head. I wear bright clothing as well just so that others can see me coming. We don't need more laws, just common sense out on the roads.

Pages