James Cracknell gets behind Surrey safe cycling campaign + Video

Olympian urges use of helmets based on his near-fatal experience

by Mark Appleton   August 10, 2011  

James Cracknell.JPG

James Cracknell is lending his weight to the Surrey Cycle Smart campaign and was at Box Hill on Friday to promote the cause which is jointly supported by Surrey Police and Surrey County Council.

The campaign is about encouraging safe cycling, including the use of safety equipment, and the double Olympic gold-medallist credits his protective headgear with saving his life after being hit by the wing mirror of a passing truck while cycling in Arizona last year. He has become a vocal advocate for helmet-use since that incident, going so far as to suggest that it is "selfish" of cyclists not to wear them.

"As a result of the accident, I had a massive head injury," said James. "When I came out of intensive care, I wasn't me anymore. My personality changed, I couldn't make decisions and I had no motivation.

"Luckily, I was wearing a helmet. If I hadn't been, I'd be dead. Cyclists are so vulnerable and I am really keen to encourage them to take extra care on the county's roads."


James, a native of Surrey, is a regular rider at the local beauty spot which will form part of the Olympic road race course. He has also witnessed another rider suffer a head injury after a crash in the area.

This Sunday a shakedown test event for the Olympic road race, the London-Surrey Cycle Classic will be held on the course to be used next year, and the National Trust which owns 1200 acres in the area has said that there has been a 30-40% increase in cyclists in and around Box Hill.

Cycle Smart, is a campaign to encourage motorists and cyclists to look out for one another and share the space on the roads. It forms part of the county council's and Surrey Police's Drive Smart campaign, which aims to improve road safety and tackle the problem of selfish and anti-social driving in Surrey.

Neighbourhood Inspector, Terri Poulton, from Surrey Police, said: "We want everyone to enjoy the build-up to this year's cycle event and the Olympic road races next year, but all road users in our area need to be aware of the dangers of sharing the space with others.

“Cyclists can keep themselves safe by never riding more than two abreast and riding in single file on narrow or busy roads. They should also manage their speed and wear appropriate safety equipment. Meanwhile, motorists can play their part by giving cyclists plenty of room and avoiding the use of the horn when waiting to overtake."

Surrey County Council Cabinet Member for Community Safety, Kay Hammond, said: "We're trying to persuade all road users to abandon their selfish behaviour and give more thought to each other.

"I would urge motorists to allow cyclists enough time and space and I would ask people on bikes to make sure they obey the rules of the road and wear clothing that makes them visible to drivers and pedestrians. There's room for everyone to use roads safely as long as we all consider each other."


13 user comments

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What evidence is there for Cracknell's belief the helmet saved his life? E.g. there is evidence motorists tend to make closer passes when cyclists wear helmets, so for all we know it could be that Cracknell nearly lost his life and suffered long-term brain injuries, *because* he wore a helmet.

Anecdotes are not evidence.

posted by Paul J [816 posts]
10th August 2011 - 11:39

1 Like

[cyclists]should also manage their speed ...


What the hell does that mean?

djcritchley's picture

posted by djcritchley [181 posts]
10th August 2011 - 12:23


It is "selfish" of people not to wear helmets.

Maybe that bump on his head knocked something loose?

I choose to wear a helmet but that is my decision and at least I wear it correctly unlike Mr Cracknell in the photograph that accompanies the article.

BTW, I can't find any details about the campaign on the Surrey Police or county council websites and apart from news reports the search results came up with cycle-smart.com and cyclesmart.net which are nothing to do with this.

djcritchley's picture

posted by djcritchley [181 posts]
10th August 2011 - 12:53


Education, persuasion etc. don't work.

"The first Cochrane Review looks at the effectiveness of driver education in existing drivers. The schemes that have been trialled particularly focus on advanced driver training — the sort of programme that is designed to improve hazard detection and reduce error making, and which is frequently recommended for professional drivers — and on the remedial programmes that are increasingly offered to drivers who break the rules as an alternative to a driving ban. These are lessons and lectures rather than marketing campaigns, but the remedial programmes — lectures on why speed limits matter — are particularly relevant to the “be nice” approach to making our streets nicer places where people feel able to ride bicycles."

"The trials typically checked up on participants two years later and compared the rate of rule breaking and/or the rate of crashes in those who received the education programme and the controls who did not. There was no difference. The education programmes didn’t stop drivers breaking the law or having crashes. The authors concluded that companies shouldn’t bother with driving courses for their staff, but should let them take the train instead."


Conscientious Objector in the War on Vulnerable Road Users

t1mmyb's picture

posted by t1mmyb [87 posts]
10th August 2011 - 13:08

1 Like

Oh, it seems James Cracknell is an ambassador for a cycle helmet company, Alpina, and his US trip was actually sponsored by their UK distributor:


So he may be somewhat biased (even if subconsciously) in his regular pushing of the "Cycling: Fear! Helmets!" line.

posted by Paul J [816 posts]
10th August 2011 - 15:08


Does anybody know what sort of, if any, helmet James Cracknell wears when he is on his high horse?

posted by farrell [1948 posts]
10th August 2011 - 15:31


Hopefully, one whose strap fastens properly so it doesn't pop off his head the instant it takes a knock (sse pic with this article).

Actually, it probably does make sense to wear a helmet - properly - around Box Hill, but Cracknell's luck in that incident in the States was that the truck didn't hit him more head on, not that he was wearing a helmet. In a proper collision with a motor vehicle the helmet would have been about as much use to him as a fart in a spacesuit. Unless riding off road, or racing, collisions with motors are much the most probable cause of cyclists' accidents.

There is no mention of the baleful "Bicycle Helmet Initiative Trust" in this feature. Do I detect their hand in it nevertheless?

posted by Paul M [345 posts]
10th August 2011 - 16:55


Wasnt it mentioned that he was wearing a fairly non-standard helmet that covered more of the back of his head than usual?

posted by farrell [1948 posts]
10th August 2011 - 17:51


"Does anybody know what sort of, if any, helmet James Cracknell wears when he is on his high horse?"

Probable a Alpina Pheos, after all that is the lid he was being paid to wear when got clout on the head before...

posted by Kim [208 posts]
10th August 2011 - 22:33


In addition to lacking any scientific basis for his claims Cracknell is, as Kim points out, being PAID to promote Alpina helmets:


He's a puppet.

It would be better if James supported positive campaigns persuading drivers to look out for cyclists and pedestrians in the first place. So-called 'road safety' campaigns like this do nothing to address the real dangers people face on the roads.

Simon E's picture

posted by Simon E [2416 posts]
11th August 2011 - 14:04


He's competing in the CTT 12-hour race on Sunday which starts in Shropshire. I've half a mind to pop up there and ask what evidence he has for his ridiculous claims.

Simon E's picture

posted by Simon E [2416 posts]
11th August 2011 - 14:05


Kim wrote:
Probable a Alpina Pheos

A quick google tells me that it wasnt just an Alpina Pheos but it was a lightweight, carbon reinforced Alpina Pheos....

posted by farrell [1948 posts]
11th August 2011 - 15:13

1 Like

Gosh, if I were Merida bikes, or the product managers behind the Alpina brand helmets I certainly wouldn't want James Cracknell wandering around demonstrating that you get severe brain damage when you wear them.

posted by Ush [539 posts]
12th August 2011 - 1:09