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"For me the joy of cycling is to have the wind in your hair, such as I have left…"...

He may have swung the axe that felled Cycling England but Transport Minister Norman Baker, whose portfolio includes cycling, walking and local transport is said to be lifelong bike enthusiast.

When he swings a leg over his bike, however, he does so without protective headgear and perhaps befitting a Liberal Democrat MP he says he feels it his “libertarian right” to do so.

"I don't wear a helmet when I cycle. The first reason is that I don't want to. I don't want to wear something on my head," he told the Guardian.

"For me the joy of cycling is to have the wind in your hair, such as I have left. It's free, it's unencumbered; I don't want to be loaded down."

But the Minister added that he is not suggesting that all cyclists follow his lead.

“The responsibility is only towards myself. It's not like drinking and driving where you can damage other people. You do no harm. I'm not encouraging people not to do this, I'm just saying I make a decision not to," he said.

"I don't always have to live government policy," he continued. "We all have a life outside politics.The official government line is to draw attention to the benefits - especially for children. I don't dissent from that line. I'm just saying personally I don't want to have to wear one."

But Joel Hickman, spokesman for the road safety charity Brake, told the Guardian:.
"Ministers should practise what they preach and when a minister directly responsible for cycling safety refuses to wear a cycle helmet, we then have to look at their suitability for the role."
 

26 comments

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Chris James [396 posts] 5 years ago
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Brake are a tedious bunch of windbags.

Presumably they will also be insisting that any health minister eats five portions of differing colours of fruit and veg a day, drink less than 3 units, don’t smoke etc.

Norman Baker wearing a helmet or not will make no difference to whether I choose to wear a lid (and I do, as it happens).

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BigDummy [314 posts] 5 years ago
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Baker doesn't preach helmet compulsion, and thus even under Joel Hickman's "why are you speaking, idiot?" brand of face-hole-flapping ought be perfectly entitled to practice not wearing one. As will I.

Small round of applause for Mr Baker.

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GrimpeurChris [60 posts] 5 years ago
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Campain of encouragement is the only way on this subject.
I wear a helmet all the time because I've had so manty incidents where it has almost certainly prevented brain damage or worse!
I've been trying to encourage a friend in Cologne to wear one too ... she cycles with a trailer with her 2 young children in it, but does not wear a helmet because no one else does. If she was to get her wheel stuck in a tram line and come off hitting her head then she would be unconcious with her children left vulnerable in the middle of the road!!
Well may be I have made the arguement for compulsary helmet wearing when you are responsible for another human's life!?
Other than that I know the risks and take the appropriate risk mitigation action. If others choose not to then that is their freedom to do so but to my mind expect no compensation in court as you have already accepted the increased risk!

By the way my Cloogne friend did get her wheel stuck in a tram line and did fall off, hitting her head and bending her bars ... but her kids were not with her at the time!

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cavasta [216 posts] 5 years ago
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It's not very often I find myself agreeing with a politician but I am in this case. How refreshing to find one that's not prepared to kowtow to convention. Like a previous poster says, small round of applause for Mr Baker.

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STATO [508 posts] 5 years ago
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Chris, you talk about understanding the risks and taking appropriate mitigation but you dont pursuade your friend not to take her kids out on the bike? as it would obviously be safer for her to take them by car, to that end she should not be cycling at all as we know many cyclists die on the dangerous roads and that would leave her children without a mother!

You see what happens when you try and apply that sort of logic to the situation? it just gets silly.

As you say we have the right to choice, i tend to not hit my head when i fall (not even when MTBing) but i mostly still wear a helmet, by my choice. Infact the one time i destroyed a helmet was when i got hit by a car, sure it saved me from injury but from death? i dont think so.

(oh, and by your logic i would not ride on the road as that is the only 100% mitigation for not getting hit by a car)

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a.jumper [846 posts] 5 years ago
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14 peds/year are killed by cars when on the pavement IIRC so it's not 100% mitigation

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joemmo [1164 posts] 5 years ago
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Interesting how this is even a story. "Minister refuses to wear lycra shorts and fingerless gloves" doesn't make much of a headline yet there's the same absence of legal compulsion to do so.

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cat1commuter [1421 posts] 5 years ago
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GrimpeurChris wrote:

I wear a helmet all the time because I've had so manty incidents where it has almost certainly prevented brain damage or worse!

Wow, that's pretty extreme. Most cyclists will only wear one whilst on a bike. But you're right to do so - pedestrians have a greater chance of head injury than cyclists, and car occupants even more.

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GrimpeurChris [60 posts] 5 years ago
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Well thanks cat1commuter for pointing out the blindingly obvious … I only wear a helmet when riding my bike!

STATO: Yep I have failed so far to convince her, she is very stubborn and Cologne is supposed to be a “cycle friendly city”, she can’t drive (at the moment)!! So she has no choice but to cycle or use public transport (which she hates! Stubborn!!).
As for the hazard logic assessment it is in my mind the most credible hazard that endangers not only her life but the children’s too I cannot see anything “Silly” about that. These are not particularly dangerous roads and the cologne drivers have a lot of respect for the cyclists but the roads do contain hazards which she has fallen foul of in the past (eg tram lines). Is it not correct that a mother should do her upmost to protect her children? If she wants to take the risk with her own life then that’s up to her but the father, I know, would like to have his children alive and with him at least.
Can I ask what type of bike you were riding with your unfortunate accidents? I have experienced 3 occasions where at least a serious head injury would have resulted if I hadn’t been wearing a helmet (all on road bikes): 1. Dropped it on a bend on black ice, broke helmet and got a sever headache; 2. Dropped it on a bend with a smear of diesel on the road, broke helmet and fractured cheek bone (the day of the 7/7 bombings!); 3. and potentially the worst, cycling in the dark was hit square on head, at about 20mph, by a hanging tree branch dislodged by a lorry on an unlit road, stunned and helmet cracked but better than lying in the said unlit road unconscious waiting for a car to run over me!!
The 2 times I’ve been hit by cars it has been at low speeds and the helmet wasn’t needed!
The “Logic” as you put it is to control the hazards as best we can and mitigate them as much as possible. They are by definition impossible to eliminate as we have to share roads with other users!
Safe cycling out there  3

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handlebarcam [682 posts] 5 years ago
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BigDummy wrote:

Small round of applause for Mr Baker.

As much as I loath politicians, I do think a small golf clap is in order in this one rare case of common sense.

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Michael5 [121 posts] 5 years ago
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Grimpeur Chris.. the point is, having advised of the dangers of not wearing a helmet it then becomes everyone's personal choice whether or not to do so. Constant preaching merely makes you sound obsessed.

How many of you who wear helmets also have life/critical illness and income protection insurance? Thought so.

I have fallen off and banged my head only once. A depressed skull fracture changed my mind about helmets, but I can quite understand the viewpoint of those who don't want to wear one. (For the record, it also changed my mind about those insurances too!)

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STATO [508 posts] 5 years ago
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GrimpeurChris wrote:

These are not particularly dangerous roads and the cologne drivers have a lot of respect for the cyclists but the roads do contain hazards which she has fallen foul of in the past (eg tram lines). Is it not correct that a mother should do her upmost to protect her children? If she wants to take the risk with her own life then that’s up to her but the father, I know, would like to have his children alive and with him at least.

It sounds like your criticising her abilities as a Mother to be honest, perhaps you should suggest the father leave her and you could give evidence at the custody hearing to prove she is 'putting the children in danger'. Perhaps you should also start a pettition to stop shops selling child-seats for bikes, that would stop those crazy parents risking their kids lives by taking them outdoors.

Or, the more resonable option, perhaps you could suggest she takes some cycle tuition so she dosnt fall foul of the dangers. Then not only would her kids be safe, but it would also help keep her safe, you know, be supportive rather than critisicing.

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andylul [410 posts] 5 years ago
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"For me the joy of cycling is to have the wind in your hair, such as I have left. It's free, it's unencumbered; I don't want to be loaded down."

How many times have I been slapped across the head by overhanging vegetation, or hit by road grit or debris? Just once was enough to justify popping on a lid.

I too get the wind in my hair, thanks to the numerous ventilation holes in my helmet - to me, it's like driving a car with a seat belt on. The absence of it feels wrong somehow, despite knowing that 99% of the time it's perfectly safe.

I don't think it should be a legal compulsion to don safety gear - common sense or conscience should dictate what you wear.

Me and my cycle buddy were run down by a car on a clear section of road, great visibility, perfect weather. I don't blame the guy who hit us - he had a momentary lapse on concentration with potentially tragic circumstances but thankfully my mate, who took the first hit suffered nothing more than a taco-style rear wheel and a crack in his good quality head gear. Without that, the mild concussion could have been a fracture, cranial bleed or death.

Is the 'wind-through-hair' feeling a good trade off for pre-deceasing your children or eating your meals though a straw?

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Paul M [360 posts] 5 years ago
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This seems to have degenerated into an argument between cyclists about the virtues of wearing a helmet, and misses the real points, which are:

- a helmet probably does mitigate some risk of head injury on a bike, but
- forget about all those anecdotal "a helmet saved my life" examples, statistically the incidence of head injuries among cyclists is fairly low, and indeed lower (proportionately to time spent/miles travelled etc) than the same risk in both pedestrians and motor vehicle occupants
- cycle helmets are only rated for falling off a bike at medium speed, ie up to 12mph, so are useless if colliding with a car doing 40
- so, unlike car seat belts and motorcycle helmets, there is no clear evidence to support cycle helmet use
- most important of all, the Guardian, which published this story, utterly failed to exercise any scepticsm or journalistic rigour on the claims made by Brake's Joel Hickman, who claimed that (a) the vast majority of the 17,000 annual cycle casualties (which must include all slight injuries, because the KSI numbers are only a fraction of that) whereas the truth is that only a few percent involve hospitalisable head injuries and (b)"most of our European partners" (whatever that means)and many countries worldwide have made cycle helmets compulsory, whereas in fact hardly any of them have. None that I am aware of in Europe (Netherlands?? Denmark??) have done so, and I can only think of parts of Canada and Australia.

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cavasta [216 posts] 5 years ago
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Does this count as compelling evidence for not wearing a helmet?

http://www.cyclingnews.com/news/photos/photo-gallery-carnage-on-the-cobb...

 24

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crunch61 [31 posts] 5 years ago
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The guy would get my vote - just because of his no helmet idea!
In 20+ years of cycling, I've had odd falls and crashes, but not once have I felt the need to wear some crappy piece of plastic coated, so called helmet. Riders that believe they wouldn't be safe without them should hand their bikes in and collect a bus pass...

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step-hent [723 posts] 5 years ago
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crunch61 wrote:

Riders that believe they wouldn't be safe without them should hand their bikes in and collect a bus pass...

Right. I feel safER with a helmet than without. Should I collect a bus pass? I've never had a car accident, but I still wear a seatbelt. I would wear it even if the law didn't make me. Should I stop driving a car too?

Helmets, for most people, are just an easy way to reduce risk. Your argument seems to go that, because you have never suffered a head injury whilst cycling, people who would like to protect themselves against head injuries whilst cycling should not ride bikes. Have I got that right? Sounds like you should have been wearing a helmet after all - one of those crashes clearly caused some damage.  3

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Viro Indovina [81 posts] 5 years ago
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How much is the bill for fixing a depressed-skull fracture? (sorry to hear about that, BTW). What are the cumulative costs of cyclists (and their families) receiving catastrophic injuries that could have been prevented by wearing head protection?

Surely helmets are protective gear, not (just) fashion accessories.

I'm disappointed that the government hasn't seen this as a way to save the NHS money from preventable injuries.

Of course I'd be all for a buy-out clause. The income from this tax ( a blowin' in the wind-fall) could help offset the medical expenses of non-helmet wearing cyclists.

However, it seems that the chances of clever compromise or any real discussion of how helmets actually benefit cyclists and society are even more improbable than a bump on the head.

Hair follicles aren't the only thing missing from the Minister's head.

VI

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hairyairey [300 posts] 5 years ago
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This seems like utter hypocrisy to me not to wear a helmet but advise other people too. I've worn a helmet whilst cycling even when buying a helment was almost impossible (early 80s).

If the Transport Minister does have an accident and suffers a more serious injury due to not wearing a helmet, the taxpayer will have to pick up the bill. His family probably won't be very impressed either. Should he manage to kill himself or otherwise incapacitate himself that he can no longer be an MP that will force a by-election which is more taxpayers money down the drain.

MPs should be the first ones to have to wear helmets by law.

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andy42 [14 posts] 5 years ago
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"It's not like drinking and driving where you can damage other people. You do no harm."

Unfortunately, when he cracks his skull wide open and becomes a vegetable for the state to maintain for the next 20 years he becomes a tax liability for me and my family. I have seen firsthand several crashes in front of my very eyes where folks walked away from bike crashes that could have sent them into a vegetative state.

Sadly the good minister's position is foolish and will likely to send others to a fool’s paradise
.

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Chris James [396 posts] 5 years ago
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'Unfortunately, when he cracks his skull wide open and becomes a vegetable for the state to maintain for the next 20 years he becomes a tax liability for me and my family. .....Sadly the good minister's position is foolish and will likely to send others to a fool’s paradise'

Yes, much better he stay at home eating crisps rather than go out on his bike and run the risk of getting a serious head injury (which incidentally the helmet is unlikley to prevent).

I enjoy mountaineering and rock climbing as well as cycling. More activities that I suspect you would disapprove of, for fear of paying a few pence towards my upkeep in the event of me crippling myself.

It is none of your business if he wears a helmet or not. It's not illegal, so other than sounding off there is naff all you can do about it.

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Paulo [112 posts] 5 years ago
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If you can't respect the right of another human, to not wear, OR wear a helmet... then you are missunderstanding the point that Mr Baker was making, Its about repecting the choices of other individuals.

The Pro vs Anti helmet brigade need to chill out & realize that your comments only reveal that you havn't understood.
The point could be made with not wearing a seatbelt or smoking for example, both of which ARE dangerous to your health, prooven.
Unlike not wearing a helmet on your bike.

Helmets will rarley save lives if ever, they will save you from bumps,cuts,bruises & concusion if the speed impact is not to high.

Unlikely to save anyone from brain injury, a field in which I worked for years.
For that buy a motorcycle helmet... except you won't feel ANY wind in your hair at all...

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Viro Indovina [81 posts] 5 years ago
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In case anyone doesn't want to bother fetching the free report (PPR 446) published by the Transport Research Lab:

"in the event of a collision...
Assuming that they are a good fit and worn correctly, cycle helmets should be effective at reducing the risk of head injury, in particular cranium fracture, scalp injury and intracranial (brain) injury."

It goes on to conclude that, even with a skeptically conservative adjustment (inserted into following):

"A specialist biomechanical assessment of over 100 police forensic cyclist fatality reports, predicted that between 5 and 8% of the fatalities could have been prevented if they had worn an appropriate cycle helmet.
Of the on-road serious cyclist casualties admitted to hospital in England (HES database):
10% suffered injuries of a type and to a part of the head that a cycle helmet may have mitigated or prevented; and a further
10% suffered ‘open wounds to the head’, some of which are likely to have been to a part of the head that a cycle helmet may have mitigated or prevented"

This leads me to believe that helmets do indeed prevent injury and death as well as save money.

I'd like to see the Minister do something really libertarian and introduce meaningful legislation like, how 'bout, legalizing and taxing all drugs in order to finance transport alternatives and offset the medical expenses from all the stoners who would then use bongs for bar ends.

How can anyone blow so hard about the need for cutting back expenses and then fail to promote something that would so clearly save money like mandatory helmet laws?

I guess if one is that thick skulled then helmets really are not a consideration.

VI

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downfader [203 posts] 5 years ago
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A pointless argument to be had tbh. That conservative 10% is out of 2500 KSIs, so thats 250 KSIs they claim they prevent.. out of an estimated 10 million cyclists in the UK. So whats the point if the risk clearly isnt there?

Add in Erke and Elvik's 2007 study: "There is evidence of increased accident risk per cycling-km for cyclists wearing a helmet. In Australia and New Zealand, the increase is estimated to be around 14 per cent"

And the DFT's own info on how drivers treat cyclists in helmets (as reported here last year under "Oi! Cyclist get off the road" or something similar) - driving closer as they feel their more protected, this seems to back up Dr Ian Walker's hypothesis.

I draw these conclusions:

- cycling is not that risky per billion KM (after you remove the motorway stats) compared to driving
- the benefits of helmets, even in pro studies, seems limited
- no conclusive evidence has come forth even after 30 years of research by the experts. Things would be a LOT more clear cut than 10% and represented across ALL the studies...
- why are we even having this debate when prevention is better than mitigating result..? This to me is the defining question. Tackle behaviour and attitude and you will have tackled the risks (of which they are clearly over-presented by the pro-compulsion lobby of Brake, Headway, BHIT, etc)

I also wonder, have we be pushed into a distraction by those unwilling to deal with the problem at grass roots levels? ...have we been lead a distraction by those who want to mitigate the issues surrounding motor vehicles, that they themselves are scared of what is happening and realise they've handed a loaded weapon to people incapable of finding the safety catch? This too bears some thinkigng about over and above cycle helmets.

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ColT [289 posts] 5 years ago
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What are the rates of head injuries for car drivers, or pedestrians, or people at home for that matter? How long before we'll all be wearing helmets for protection in everything we do?

Just curious, like.  3

As far as I have managed to establish in my research, helmets will save you from injury in some cases. In other cases they will actually cause greater injury. In most cases, however, they will make no difference at all.

Comments such as 'my helmet definitely saved my life' cannot be proven, unless you were to repeat an IDENTICAL accident without a helmet and compare the results.

I'm neither pro nor anti helmets, but I am concerned that most people are not made aware of both the pros and the cons. I'm pro choice, so long as the choice is based on a consideration of as much (reliable) information as possible. Individuals trotting out anecdotal evidence (usually about a one-off incident) either for or against don't encourage balanced decision making.

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bikedoc2 [4 posts] 4 years ago
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I am sorry VI but your argument is nonsense.
Gardening and golf are more dangerous than cycling. Likewise the carnage on the roads, nearly a 1/4 of a million injuries in total and approx 2000 car user deaths on UK roads against 100 cyclist deaths and ( in collisions with car (drivers) for the most part) and , not to mention the congestion in our cities and the concomittent ill health caused by lack of physical activity and pollution amongst motorised vehicle users etc COST the taxpayer much more than the small number of head or other debilitating injuries caused by cycling crashes.
It seems to me that this discussion is much more about the current scapegoat for people to go on and on about, irrespective of the facts. You have got me doing it too !
Anyway here are the figures for 2006 -
Road User Type Killed Seriously Injured
Pedestrians 675 6404
Pedal Cyclists 146 2296
Motorcyclists and Passengers 559 5885
Car Drivers and Passengers 1612 12642
Bus/Coach Drivers and Passengers 19 407
LGV Drivers and Passengers 52 511
HGV Drivers and Passengers 39 344

So cycling doesnt really merit all this vitriol.
Regards
KA