Olympic champion rower James Cracknell switches to cargo bike after driving licence revoked

Seizure brought on by head injury highlights need for drivers to disclose conditions and accept consequences

by Simon_MacMichael   December 13, 2011  

James Cracknell race across America

Olympic champion rower James Cracknell has revealed how he has taken to using a cargo bike to get around after his driving licence was revoked after he suffered a seizure, a consequence of the incident that almost claimed his life last year when he was struck by a lorry while cycling in Arizona.

In an article written for The Daily Telegraph, Cracknell, who has pursued a media career as a TV presenter and adventurersince winning Olympic gold at Sydney in 2000 and Athens four years later, accepts that he is lucky to have survived, but points to his new mode of transport as evidence of the incident’s lasting impact on his life.

In doing so, he also highlights that those who suffer from some condition that may impair their driving ability have a responsibility to report that to the DVLA so that their condition can be assessed, and that they have to be prepared for the consequences should it be decided that their licence be taken away.

After describing his slow recovery from being hit in the rear of a head by the mirror of an overtaking truck while filming a TV show – Cracknell insists that had he not been wearing a helmet, he would be dead – he goes on to explain the process he went through with the DVLA.

That began when he returned home with wife Beverley Turner three months after the July 2010 incident, which resulted in him have to rebuild his memory and relearn skills such as walking that most of us take for granted.

“I filled in a questionnaire for the DVLA designed to assess my medical fitness to drive,” explains Cracknell. “Along with highlighting the damage to my brain's frontal lobes, I had to submit confidential medical information and a neurologist's assessment. The result? My licence was withdrawn, leaving a pregnant Bev with two children to ferry around.”

The 39-year-old goes on to relate how, after applying for a Driving Ability Assessment in April 2011, he took a practical driving test, not because it was required but because “I didn't want to drive loved ones around until I'd been properly assessed.”

In June, he learnt from the DVLA that he had met "the medical standards for safe driving," and with three children now to ferry around as well as the associated kit that entails, swapped his BMW M6 for a BMW X5M.

“Then, while at home watching television on October 8, I had a seizure," he continues.

“Coming around in the ambulance I felt lucid, aware of where I was and genuinely OK, but then I saw the colour-drained faces of Bev and my son Croyde, and the look of fear in their eyes. It was a horrendous episode for them to witness – they'd become used to seeing me slowly improving, to the point where I'd regained consistent day-to-day memory.

“My driving licence was taken away, this time for a whole year. Was it fair? Aside from a little tiredness, I felt no different to how I did before the seizure, but the thought of having another one and being behind the wheel, rather than in front of the television, made disagreeing unthinkable.”

As a result, Cracknell says he has had to rethink the logistics of each journey he makes, with more planning involved than simply jumping in the car and heading off to his destination. He acknowledges though that the fact he lives in West London helps: “If I lived in a rural area it would be significantly more difficult to cope," he comments.

Switching to a bike for some of his journeys proved impractical, however. “I began figuring out ways to work around it, like when I recently filled up the trolley on a weekly supermarket shop and then asked the store manager if he could look after my shopping while I cycled home and back three times with a crammed rucksack.

“And now, in a bid to reclaim independence and be of some use around the house (at least on the transport front), I've bought the tricycle. This is no ordinary trike, but rather one with an enormous box on the front that contains four kids' seats, meaning that I can easily cope with the weekly shop but not, sadly, the journey to the mother-in-law in Manchester.

“It's from Christiania, a self-proclaimed autonomous neighbourhood in Copenhagen, where, among less productive pursuits, they build cracking bikes and trikes. I'm clearly still hankering for an alternative lifestyle, despite living the stereotypical suburban existence in leafy west London with three wonderful kids.

“Although the trike's box is decked out in 2012 Olympic colours, I don't anticipate Sir Chris Hoy beating a path to my door to give it a spin around the velodrome next July.”

Cracknell reveals that while he has nicknamed the bike “the beast,” his wife has given it the soubriquet of “the eyesore.”

Despite that slight marital difference, Cracknell is also planning to use his new mode of transport to help him get back to full fitness, describing his exchange with the salesman who asked him if he wanted electric assistance to be fitted to it.

“I declined, mumbling something about using it to get fit. ‘Fill the box full of kids,’ he said. ‘That'll do the job.’”

27 user comments

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Give him a few months and he'll be hankering for a Bullitt - large child seats in front (with side cage bars) and on rear carrier for smaller kids, and potential for trailerbike as overflow

47 years of breaking bikes and still they offer me a 10 year frame warranty!

A V Lowe's picture

posted by A V Lowe [471 posts]
13th December 2011 - 17:07

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Bullitt would surely do the job.

Also, technology is quite useful - lots of supermarkets will deliver nowadays.

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posted by Simon E [1916 posts]
13th December 2011 - 18:01

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I thought you needed to have two seizures before it was determined that you had epilepsy. But maybe having a seizure after suffering a brain injury is different, and is a flag for a high risk of it happening again.

two wheels good; four wheels bad

posted by cat1commuter [1333 posts]
13th December 2011 - 18:22

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Clever - combine a road and mountain bike to create a cargo bike. It looks like an awkward riding position though.

posted by Coleman [329 posts]
13th December 2011 - 18:31

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Hi editors, quick correction, James Cracknell was hit by a lorry not a bike - first para...

posted by horizontal dropout [147 posts]
13th December 2011 - 18:39

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horizontal dropout wrote:
Hi editors,

Indeed - thanks for flagging it up.

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posted by Simon_MacMichael [7933 posts]
13th December 2011 - 18:50

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Seems like a negative portrayal of cycling. Ride a bike and you'll end up brain-damaged. Then you'll "lose your independence". All coupled with a lot of helmet promotion.

I wish Cracknell, the person, all the best, but I detest the role that he plays as a supposed "bike spokesperson".

posted by Ush [379 posts]
13th December 2011 - 22:09

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Ush wrote:
I wish Cracknell, the person, all the best, but I detest the role that he plays as a supposed "bike spokesperson".

Crackpot Cracknell keeps claiming that he'd be dead if he wasn't wearing a helmet, despite them not being rated for the crash he suffered. Anyone think of a way we can test that?

posted by a.jumper [681 posts]
13th December 2011 - 22:32

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I agree with Ush.

Surely the way to proceed though, in the world of real politik, is that in incidents as happened to Cracknell, the judge who doles out fines/prison sentences should point out to the defendant that if the cyclist had not been wearing a helmet, he/she would be looking at a charge of causing death by dangerous driving. Currently, there seems to be an implication that us cyclists *must* wear helmets at all times in case drivers decide to absent mindedly drive into us.

posted by londonplayer [671 posts]
13th December 2011 - 23:05

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a.jumper wrote:

Crackpot Cracknell keeps claiming that he'd be dead if he wasn't wearing a helmet, despite them not being rated for the crash he suffered. Anyone think of a way we can test that?

That's nice, isn't it. Well done you.

posted by msw [125 posts]
14th December 2011 - 0:58

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msw wrote:
a.jumper wrote:

Crackpot Cracknell keeps claiming that he'd be dead if he wasn't wearing a helmet, despite them not being rated for the crash he suffered. Anyone think of a way we can test that?

That's nice, isn't it. Well done you.

+1

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posted by neildmoss [178 posts]
14th December 2011 - 11:00

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londonplayer wrote:

Surely the way to proceed though, in the world of real politik, is that in incidents as happened to Cracknell, the judge who doles out fines/prison sentences should point out to the defendant that if the cyclist had not been wearing a helmet, he/she would be looking at a charge of causing death by dangerous driving.

A judge couldn't do that because helmets have been examined by courts of law for their ability to prevent death and found not to meet those standards of proof. Repeatedly.

londonplayer wrote:

Currently, there seems to be an implication that us cyclists *must* wear helmets at all times in case drivers decide to absent mindedly drive into us.

Seems to me that's just what you argued for.

posted by Ush [379 posts]
14th December 2011 - 12:21

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a.jumper, I think not, a.twat more like

How can you possibly stand here and jump up and down at this poor sod. There but for the grace of God go all of us. He's one of us you idiot and Ush as well. What the hell are you trying to say, that James Cracknell a superstar athlete brought down by a total ar5e whilst trying to ride his bike should sit in a darkened room watching telly and sipping soup through a straw ? He's trying to do the best for his family, believe me whether the law says 2 seizures and you have to give up your licence or 10, if I had one I would never drive my kids around again. He is responsible and trying all he can do. You anti-helmet donuts make me sick. No, there is no way of testing whether it was a helmet that saved his life, but given the state of his injuries, I think its safe to say that if he hadn't been wearing one, he'd be dead, or brain dead at best. My life has been saved twice by a helmet, both accidents absolutely nothing to do with me, but both times I was very grateful to have had one on.

I don't care whether the government says you should wear a helmet, I will wear one. Its your right to not wear one, but don't come crying to me when you're eating your dinner through a straw dribbling.

Well done James, you are making the very, very best out of a bloody bad lot.

posted by roadiesean [69 posts]
14th December 2011 - 18:30

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Once again I would ask anyone of the anti helmet fraternity to join me in a simple test. We can film it for Road.CC. I get you to run head down at railings with a bike helmet on - then without. You then describe which was more painful and whether you thought the helmet offered any protection. Someone once said of US President Gerald Ford that 'he played too much football without a helmet..' I wonder if much the same could be said of those that cycle without them as well?

Silly me. You're probably right....

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posted by MercuryOne [1031 posts]
14th December 2011 - 20:12

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James is quite justified in saying that the helmet saved his life. I've had several accidents in which a helmet saved me from further injury, including coming off without cars being involved (that was quite embarrassing).

I agree with Dave Atkinson, cycling itself isn't dangerous, it's the colliding with the ground using your head to stop that's the problem.

Of course James' accident was partly caused by the Arizona law on minimum driving speeds, so he didn't have an accompanying support car.

As for the fits, no disrespect to James but should he be riding a bicycle at all if he's likely to have a seizure? Certainly he shouldn't be out on his own on the road. I don't even ride a bike if I have a bad cough, especially as I get light-headed if I cough hard and even faint sometimes!

If cycling is indeed a sport of self-abuse why aren't more cyclists sectioned under the mental health act?

posted by hairyairey [278 posts]
14th December 2011 - 20:40

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Hello Mercury one - only an idiot would run into a fence, an iron one at that. It seem you like doing this. How many cyclists actually ride headlong into anything - 99% of the time it's from the rear or from the side. I think the greater twat is someone who looks for iron rails to charge into - personally. No doubt I will get some expletive in reply.

What a pathetic idiotic thing to say. I really hate being bullied into something that is practically impossible to achieve when riding or riding like Mr Mecury one does - head long onto things with no regard where he is going and what the consequences are.

Most cyclists ride with a sense of where they are, Are able to read the road, and ride with awareness.

As for Mr roadiesean I think the anger regarding mr crackenel is his holy than though attitude to this. I reckon he would have had the same injuries with or without a helmet. He makes statements he can't justify and preaches helmets when he is being paid by a helmet manufacturer to sponsor there goods. This smacks as double standards to me. As for doing the best he can - he is making a fortune out it, while preaching this assinine attitude to us all.

Yes it is a shame he was injured - but that does not give him the right to preach to us. I never see him preaching safer roads for cyclists or stronger penalties for those car drives that maim and kill.

posted by Ciaran Patrick [117 posts]
14th December 2011 - 21:00

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MercuryOne wrote:
Once again I would ask anyone of the anti helmet fraternity to join me in a simple test. We can film it for Road.CC. I get you to run head down at railings with a bike helmet on - then without.

Who's "anti helmet"?

I just tend to find the experts who have stated that helmets don't prevent concussion and death more believable than someone who is not an expert.

And, again, I have absolutely nothing against Cracknell the man, I do have an objection to him being positioned by his sponsors as some sort of representative of cycling however: he's not known for cycling achievements; he spreads an image of injury and danger; and now he's linked to an article which portrays loss of a driving licence as "relegation to the bike".

Added to that he was apparently one of those "BMW drivers" everyone likes to fulminate about.

posted by Ush [379 posts]
14th December 2011 - 21:03

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Some rather precious souls on here. The mere mention of a helmet has their paranoia levels rocketing.

posted by paulfg42 [374 posts]
14th December 2011 - 21:43

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roadiesean wrote:
a.jumper, I think not, a.twat more like

How can you possibly stand here and jump up and down at this poor sod. There but for the grace of God go all of us. He's one of us you idiot and Ush as well.[...]


There was a serious point behind my exasperated comment: we can't actually know whether the helmet really saved his life or whether it was a freak type of impact, because this isn't the sort of thing we can do a controlled experiment on, yet he keeps saying it unchallenged in the media.

Sorry for getting exasperated but James Cracknell is absolutely not "one of us" and this was not the first time lately that he's opened his mouth, messing up cycling for the rest of us (intentionally or not). Experts say that helmets are mainly for relatively specific types of impact and that the harm done by compulsion reducing cyclist numbers in general (like down under, where I have cycled - and it's pretty scary and lonely there) would outweigh the benefit to those that keep cycling. Similar sort of reasons why casual walkers aren't forced to wear tons of safety gear. So, people should be free to make their own choice about whether to wear a helmet or not. I often do, but not always.

Also, I agree with those above that say it's about what happens to dangerous drivers, not how much padding we should force on their victims.

posted by a.jumper [681 posts]
14th December 2011 - 22:23

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@ roadiesean

You were so close to house on 'pro-helmet rant' bingo.

Personal abuse - check
Incoherant rant - check
Mention of family - check
Belief in power of helmet to ward off death - check
"helmet saved my life" - check & check
Purport to be anti-compulsion - check
Emotional Blackmail - check

Only missed out on 'personal appearance'.

Better luck next time.

posted by tarquin_foxglove [79 posts]
15th December 2011 - 12:25

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I thought James's "helmet saved my life" statement had been argued to oblivion before (here and here, for starters).

There is no need for personal insults. All you do is make yourself look like an arse.

As anyone who has read or participated in helmet discussions here or elsewhere, even well reasoned arguments won't convince someone who holds a different point of view.

I think the problem some of us have is that what is said by Alpina endorsee and non-scientist James can be influential, and his comments are used as ammunition by interested parties. I'm not saying he isn't entitled to an opinion, but the fact that he survived being hit by a lorry does not make him a road safety statistician.

However, the seizure must have been a bit of a scare. I wish him the very best. I also hope he can promote the trike as a real alternative to the gas-guzzler he was using before.

Simon E's picture

posted by Simon E [1916 posts]
15th December 2011 - 21:07

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If i ran on busy roads, on some kind of ultra marathon, and i got hit by a truck wing mirror, a helmet might save my life. I'd be well within my rights to talk about that, and suggest that other people doing ultra marathons on busy roads protect themselves accordingly.

I *wouldn't* be within my rights to suggest that every casual jogger wore a helmet all the time, even if they were just jogging round the park. Because jogging isn't that dangerous, and my experience wouldn't have made it so.

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posted by Dave Atkinson [7259 posts]
15th December 2011 - 22:57

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not that you'll ever catch me running an ultra marathon. just sayin'.

Dave Atkinson's picture

posted by Dave Atkinson [7259 posts]
15th December 2011 - 22:57

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dave_atkinson wrote:
If i ran on busy roads, on some kind of ultra marathon, and i got hit by a truck wing mirror, a helmet might save my life. I'd be well within my rights to talk about that...

Just make sure that you have the sponsorship deal with the helmet manufacturer first, can't buy that kind of publicity.

posted by tarquin_foxglove [79 posts]
16th December 2011 - 10:59

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Quote:

If i ran on busy roads, on some kind of ultra marathon, and i got hit by a truck wing mirror, a helmet might save my life. I'd be well within my rights to talk about that, and suggest that other people doing ultra marathons on busy roads protect themselves accordingly.

And others would be well within their rights to question whether being banged on the head makes your opinion more useful.

posted by Ush [379 posts]
16th December 2011 - 11:24

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Dave, if you were mad enough to run an ultra marathon on busy roads I think I'd worry about your sanity, never mind your head protection!

Wink

Fair point, though.

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posted by Simon E [1916 posts]
16th December 2011 - 11:49

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Don't hold your breath, Simon Smile

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posted by Dave Atkinson [7259 posts]
16th December 2011 - 14:23

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