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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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truffy [650 posts] 3 years ago
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Reggie Plate wrote:

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.

QFT.

Other than that, what CB does is his own business. He hasn't got a debate started, just a little web forum fulmination.

The world will continue to turn.

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farrell [1946 posts] 3 years ago
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Storck Rider wrote:

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

He probably would make a shit politician, as he'd be too busy doing what is right rather than pandering to the spoon fed, milksops like yourself who are seemingly incapable of generating their own thoughts that seem to make up a large hysterically screaming proportion of people nowadays.

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KiwiMike [1310 posts] 3 years ago
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Storck Rider wrote:

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

Bingo - you win the 'Totally and deliberately missing the point' award this year.

...in case you didn't notice, thousands of people who understand the nuanced, intertwined issues support Boardman's stance. Noting it's not even *his* stance - I have thought this for decades, as have many others. The only 'little drum' being banged here is your own.

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bikebot [2119 posts] 3 years ago
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Meanwhile, Nick Clegg and a chubby bloke were offering this essential safety advice for cyclists.

//lbc.co.uk/mm/image/30959.jpg)

I do hope he checked where it was made this time.  19

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brooksby [2639 posts] 3 years ago
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Aside from the pro/anti helmet debate, isn't this also the "what you must be seen to be wearing whether you agree with it or not" uniform-on-television debate? You don't see many presenters on the telly at the moment without a poppy...

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drfabulous0 [409 posts] 3 years ago
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If he had showed up on a DH bike with a full face helmet and goggles I bet they would have asked him to take it off.

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HKCambridge [224 posts] 3 years ago
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Storck Rider wrote:

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

He's trying to sell cycling as an everyday, low cost, low effort means of transportation.

If he does that in helmet and hi-vis, he instantly 'others' cycling and turns people off it, shooting himself in the foot.

And while I might be heartily sick of the helmet debate, it's hardly mainstream. Putting on a piece of protective gear does seem like a 'common sense' solution to danger, until you actually look at the larger picture of issues and stats. If we have to go through this all again so that some of those people who don't currently cycle start to understand why those who do are resistant to it, then good.

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Simon E [3121 posts] 3 years ago
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1,713 people died and 21,657 were seriously injured on Britain's roads in 2013. 46% of the deaths were car occupants, 23% were pedestrians and 19% motorcyclists. But that's just, what... bad luck?

Yet there are howls of indignation because a normal person rides a bicycle without a piece of vented polystyrene on his head while on the telly.

What a screwed-up set of priorities!

@ Storck Rider all you've done a fine job of demonstrating how ignorant you are. Your mum really shouldn't let you play on the internet unattended.

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ct [198 posts] 3 years ago
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Today I wore a helmet, yesterday I didn't, on Sunday I wore during a race, on Saturday I didn't when I was checking my maintenance out. Go figure.

The only people who cared were my wife and someone in our post room who felt compelled to berate me at length about something to do with Eamonn Holmes that I couldn't work out.

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bendertherobot [1471 posts] 3 years ago
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My favourite comment, recently, was when I overheard.....

"I saw this cyclist this morning, and he didn't have any high vis on."

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Storck Rider [5 posts] 3 years ago
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You guys are special!

I can see very well what his end game is and why he makes his points BUT, AGAIN, the fact we are here debating this takes away from what he is trying to achieve.

I'll stop wearing a helmet when somebody can prove to me they haven't saved a single life!

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Rupert [191 posts] 3 years ago
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Not only a great bike rider a clever manipulator of the media ....... That Chris Boardman knows how to achieve his goals. We should all support him even if he does from time to time move in mysterious ways........Chris Boardman I mean not god.

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bendertherobot [1471 posts] 3 years ago
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oldstrath wrote:

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.

I prefer my Philips Saferide 80 to my Lezyne Mega Drive. So am selling the latter. Much better lighting overall.

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a.jumper [850 posts] 3 years ago
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oldstrath wrote:

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.

I've clearly dreamt that my German-spec lights are suitable for rural riding, then. I can see fine, but I didn't buy the bog standard which probably aren't unsuitable, but then a £3 blinky wouldn't be suitable either. My old British Standard lights were far worse.

Not dazzling the motorist - or indeed, other cyclists - is a fine motivation. Many of them do seem to be too thick to stop, but anyway, dazzling lights are illegal and I hope you get fined for inadequate lights if you use them.

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felixcat [486 posts] 3 years ago
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Storck Rider wrote:

I'll stop wearing a helmet when somebody can prove to me they haven't saved a single life!

Will you be applying that thinking to walking and driving, or do you save it for cycling?

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MKultra [393 posts] 3 years ago
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Will someone please think of the children!

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700c [1167 posts] 3 years ago
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felixcat wrote:
Storck Rider wrote:

I'll stop wearing a helmet when somebody can prove to me they haven't saved a single life!

Will you be applying that thinking to walking and driving, or do you save it for cycling?

Most people walk at around 3-4 mph at a steady pace. I tend to cycle at speeds between 10-35 mph on my commute

So you're not comparing like with like. A helmet may offer protection from a fall at cycling speeds. They're fairly redundant when walking.

so a bike helmet may be use to you if you come of your bike, whether through your own fault or that of other road users. They're particularly useful when mountain biking, as the chances of an 'off' are probably higher.

If you are unlucky enough to suffer a direct head injury from two tonnes of vehicle, then the helmet is unlikely to help you, whether walking, cycling, or in a vehicle itself

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MKultra [393 posts] 3 years ago
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700c wrote:
felixcat wrote:
Storck Rider wrote:

I'll stop wearing a helmet when somebody can prove to me they haven't saved a single life!

Will you be applying that thinking to walking and driving, or do you save it for cycling?

Most people walk at around 3-4 mph at a steady pace. I tend to cycle at speeds between 10-35 mph on my commute

So you're not comparing like with like. A helmet may offer protection from a fall at cycling speeds. They're fairly redundant when walking.

so a bike helmet may be use to you if you come of your bike, whether through your own fault or that of other road users. They're particularly useful when mountain biking, as the chances of an 'off' are probably higher.

If you are unlucky enough to suffer a direct head injury from two tonnes of vehicle, then the helmet is unlikely to help you, whether walking, cycling, or in a vehicle itself

A lot injuries are in fact attributed to low speed falls when hardly moving. You tend to bounce at speed, dead falls from stationary seem to result in more head injuries.

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felixcat [486 posts] 3 years ago
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700c wrote:

Most people walk at around 3-4 mph at a steady pace. I tend to cycle at speeds between 10-35 mph on my commute

So you're not comparing like with like. A helmet may offer protection from a fall at cycling speeds. They're fairly redundant when walking.

so a bike helmet may be use to you if you come of your bike, whether through your own fault or that of other road users. They're particularly useful when mountain biking, as the chances of an 'off' are probably higher.

If you are unlucky enough to suffer a direct head injury from two tonnes of vehicle, then the helmet is unlikely to help you, whether walking, cycling, or in a vehicle itself

Is this meant to be an argument for wearing bike helmets but not car helmets or walking helmets?
The figures show that the head injury rates for all three modes are roughly the same. The rates are certainly not different enough to make a distinction in risk levels.
The question remains: is cycling so much more dangerous that a helmet is needed? Or is there something about being on a bike that makes a helmet so much more effective?
Boardman was not riding off road, or talking about riding off road. (and no one posting above mentioned mountain biking) He is being attacked for going lidless on the highway.
Cycling on the road is not so uniquely dangerous that it needs a helmet, and all the fuss about lids only makes it seem to be something that the average citizen should avoid.

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LinusLarrabee [119 posts] 3 years ago
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Sadly, these comments provide yet more examples of how stupid and irrational people can be.

Boardman goes on national TV to make his case about cycling safety and completely drops the ball. All anybody is talking about is his lack of helmet. Way to go you idiot! Any fool could have predicted this is how it would turn out. What a complete lack of judgement. He has appeared on TV plenty of times and worn a helmet whilst doing so. It would not have hurt him to do so this time so that his message about cycling safety wasn't lost in all the uproar about his lack of helmet. It's no wonder he isn't taken seriously.

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felixcat [486 posts] 3 years ago
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LinusLarrabee wrote:

Sadly, these comments provide yet more examples of how stupid and irrational people can be.

It's best not to insult those who disagree with you. It does not make your case more convincing.

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SB76 [102 posts] 3 years ago
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I wear an helmet, do have hi viz stuff but dont tend to care so much about that as it in my view doesnt aid drivers seeing you.

We do need to be careful, a minority easily start to dictate how we should all live.

Why should school kids be banned from cycling to school and forced to wear hi-viz kacket in a walking train when the path/road to school is a lighly lite, wide and speed restricted road? Why because the driving standards are so poor aroudn the school! The logic is flawed. Find a sticking plaster over fixing the problem. Same applies here.

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LinusLarrabee [119 posts] 3 years ago
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felixcat wrote:

The question remains: is cycling so much more dangerous that a helmet is needed?

Shocking.  40

The question, if a person is deciding to wear a helmet, should be: are there any instances where wearing a helmet is beneficial to safety and are there any instances where doing so is detrimental to safety. After weighing up this question you then decide if you have a net benefit or a net detriment. It doesn't matter how small the overall benefit is, or how far down the list of safety considerations it appears to be (outside Boardman's top 10 clearly), if wearing one is beneficial then it is better to wear one than not. Neutral instances, i.e. instances where wearing a helmet is ineffectual, are completely irrelevant to determining if one should be used. It's as simple as that. The same considerations apply to wearing hi-vis clothing or any other action a person can take to make cycling safer.

It is a different question entirely if you are asking if people should be forced to wear one. This seems to be where people lose their minds - so much so that even the mere mention of helmets sends them off into bizarre irrational rants. Personally, I don't think they should be compulsory.

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LinusLarrabee [119 posts] 3 years ago
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felixcat wrote:
LinusLarrabee wrote:

Sadly, these comments provide yet more examples of how stupid and irrational people can be.

It's best not to insult those who disagree with you. It does not make your case more convincing.

I don't need to make a convincing case. I'm quite happy laughing at mugs like you.

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bendertherobot [1471 posts] 3 years ago
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LinusLarrabee wrote:
felixcat wrote:

The question remains: is cycling so much more dangerous that a helmet is needed?

Shocking.  40

The question, if a person is deciding to wear a helmet, should be: are there any instances where wearing a helmet is beneficial to safety and are there any instances where doing so is detrimental to safety. After weighing up this question you then decide if you have a net benefit or a net detriment. It doesn't matter how small the overall benefit is, or how far down the list of safety considerations it appears to be (outside Boardman's top 10 clearly), if wearing one is beneficial then it is better to wear one than not. Neutral instances, i.e. instances where wearing a helmet is ineffectual, are completely irrelevant to determining if one should be used. It's as simple as that. The same considerations apply to wearing hi-vis clothing or any other action a person can take to make cycling safer.

It is a different question entirely if you are asking if people should be forced to wear one. This seems to be where people lose their minds - so much so that even the mere mention of helmets sends them off into bizarre irrational rants. Personally, I don't think they should be compulsory.

There were 700 stair deaths in 2010. It seems to me that wearing a helmet on stairs is not detrimental to safety but may well benefit you. Ergo we should all wear helmets on stairs.

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felixcat [486 posts] 3 years ago
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LinusLarrabee wrote:

The question, if a person is deciding to wear a helmet, should be: are there any instances where wearing a helmet is beneficial to safety and are there any instances where doing so is detrimental to safety.

Don't you think a helmet might occasionally help a car user or pedestrian? If you think like this surely you wear a helmet in the car or walking?

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700c [1167 posts] 3 years ago
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MKultra wrote:
700c wrote:
felixcat wrote:
Storck Rider wrote:

I'll stop wearing a helmet when somebody can prove to me they haven't saved a single life!

Will you be applying that thinking to walking and driving, or do you save it for cycling?

Most people walk at around 3-4 mph at a steady pace. I tend to cycle at speeds between 10-35 mph on my commute

So you're not comparing like with like. A helmet may offer protection from a fall at cycling speeds. They're fairly redundant when walking.

so a bike helmet may be use to you if you come of your bike, whether through your own fault or that of other road users. They're particularly useful when mountain biking, as the chances of an 'off' are probably higher.

If you are unlucky enough to suffer a direct head injury from two tonnes of vehicle, then the helmet is unlikely to help you, whether walking, cycling, or in a vehicle itself

A lot injuries are in fact attributed to low speed falls when hardly moving. You tend to bounce at speed, dead falls from stationary seem to result in more head injuries.

That's interesting, and of course there are all kinds of reasons why someone might fall from stationary without protecting their head (serious and sudden illness, loss of consciousness etc), many of which are unpredictable and unexpected. You judge the risk and and choose your 'PPE' equipment based on the likelihood of injury occurring, how serious it may be and the type of injury that might occur.

So before embarking on a bike ride, you will have different expectations of risk and reach different conclusions about taking precautions than before going for a walk.

I still maintain that likely speed of travel and impact is a factor that could determine ones choice of head 'protection' as well as likely gravity of the injury, when that impact happens.

It is everyone's individual choice to evaluate those risks and take action accordingly (thankfully helmets are not mandatory and I agree with CB's argument here) but there's room for some common sense

Sensible debate should respect individual choice rather than characterising the other side's position or arguments, which unfortunately happens a lot when talking about helmets

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felixcat [486 posts] 3 years ago
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LinusLarrabee wrote:

I don't need to make a convincing case. I'm quite happy laughing at mugs like you.

I can see I have touched a nerve. You do seem to need to tell us your views (and your claimed amusement!) Why don't you just refrain from posting?

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wildnorthlands [34 posts] 3 years ago
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Helmet debates always end in tears. Perhaps more to the point, did he have to wear completely black clothing? Was he in stealth mode?

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Simon E [3121 posts] 3 years ago
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LinusLarrabee wrote:

I don't need to make a convincing case.

Then I can safely ignore every single comment you make, as you are obviously not interested in the facts.

None of the small seemingly pro-helmet minority have produced any evidence to back up their wild claims. I'd be genuinely interested in a pro-helmet post if that person could explain their reasoning (and not just slag off the opposition).

Perhaps there is a correlation between the most irrational, personal, nasty (and pointless) comments and a complete lack of interest in reality. Do these people have a fear of anything that challenges their point of view or do they just like to bicker and throw stones?

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