Day 3 of the Times Cities Fit for Cycling Campaign… a bit of a backlash

Hackles raised by focus on helmets & high viz + James Cracknell helmet article

by Simon_MacMichael   February 4, 2012  

The Times Cities Fit For Cycling logo

Day 3 of The Times newspaper’s Cities Fit For Cycling Campaign sees the paper publishing a 12-page ‘Guide To Safe Cycling' and encountering something of a backlash from some cyclists in the process. Parts of today's guide have not been universally well received, and while there is undoubtedly huge support for the campaign amongst cyclists, The Times is also finding out that they can also be an independent and prickly bunch, who don’t like being lectured or told what to do.

Among criticisms levelled at the paper on social networking sites such as Twitter are its decision to include an article from James Cracknell, now a strong supporter of helmet compulsion, who amongst other things likens those who cycle without a helmet to football hooligans, plus the newspaper’s own advice that cyclists should wear a helmet as well as high visibility clothing.

Cracknell, the Olympic rower turned TV personality, almost lost his life in 2009 after he was struck in the head by a truck’s wing mirror while filming in the United States. He believes the fact he was wearing a helmet saved his life.

However, with helmet compulsion being a subject guaranteed to incite heated debate, Cracknell has come under criticism from some quarters for the pro-helmet stance he has adopted in pieces written for The Daily Telegraph.

As one blogger points out, Cracknell appear on Alpina’s UK website as a “sponsored athlete" despite insisting, after mentioning his Alpina Pheos helmet in The Telegraph that, “I don’t have a commercial relationship with the manufacturer, by the way".

Cracknell's piece in today's Times is accompanied by a picture of him holding the helmet, still stained with blood, that he was wearing when he was struck by that lorry, although there is no mention of his apparent sponsorship by the manufacturer.

Cracknell also likens those who choose to cycle without a helmet to football hooligans.

“If you are cycling without a helmet, you are being selfish to your family and friends,” he asserts. "It is like with football in the Eighties, when a violent 1 per cent minority of football fans meant the other 99 per cent were tarred as hooligans."

The Times itself suggests, in a two-page spread under the heading ’12 ways to cycle safely’ – there’s an interactive graphic here, under the ‘Graphic: 12 safety tips’ tab – wearing a helmet and high-visibility clothing; it cites a statistic, unsourced, that “60 per cent of cyclist fatalities are head injuries,” but fails to acknowledge arguments against them often outlined by opponents of compulsion or that in the case of cycling fatalities involving motor vehicles - which make up the majority - the outcome is unlikely to have been altered by the wearing of a helmet.

On a day when coverage in the main newspaper focused on the success of the municipal authorities in Copenhagen of getting people cycling, the focus on helmets and hi-viz strikes a dissonant note for many – seeming to miss the point that when a city is fit for cycling there should be no need for helmets or high viz cycling gear. In Copenhagen and in other cities with high levels of cycling such as Amsterdam, such equipment is noticeable more for its absence than anything else. Cycling is an everyday activity, carried out in everyday clothes something that was achieved by getting more people on bikes and changing the attitudes of drivers in particular about interact with other road users.

Among those interviewed for the newspaper’s supplement today are Rebecca Romero and Chris Boardman, as well as several everyday cyclists who have no ambitions of following that pair to Olympic success, but simply want to get around on their bike, safely.

There is also an article penned by Jon Snow, the Channel 4 broadcaster and CTC President, although he is writing in a personal capacity. A couple of his comments do give food for thought.“The Times Cycling Manifesto is good as far as it goes, but there is a serious dimension missing: human rights,” he says.

“The dominant creature on the urban road is the single-occupancy car. One person in a motorised 60 sq ft metal box.
And what are we cyclists — one person on a thin strip of tubing with two wheels.

“One has the power, the presence and the rights; the other is deprived of all three. Is that equality under the law?

“I would willingly pay a licence fee for my bike if it meant that separated cycle ways were provided as my right,” continues Snow.

“My children were deprived of the right to cycle to school, even of the right to cycle safely at university — it was, and is, quite simply too dangerous.”

Even in a private capacity, that’s a startling point of view to be expressed by someone who is the figurehead of one of Britain’s leading organisations for cyclists.

Meanwhile, the urgency of the overriding goal of campaign by The Times – to make Britain’s streets safer for cyclists – was underlined yesterday by news of the deaths of two cyclists in incidents that took place in very different parts of the country just minutes apart yesterday afternoon.

A 77-year-old man died in the rural village of Whaplode Drove, Lincolnshire, in a collision with a car driven by an 80-year-old male; in London’s Bishopsgate, a male cyclist said by police to be aged in his sixties died following a collision with a coach.

Broad support for the campaign continues to be strong, with more than 100,000 people now signed up to it. But reaction to the comments by Cracknell and advice to wear a helmet and hi-viz gear do show that while in some cases it’s appropriate to generalise those who choose to ride bikes as ‘cyclists,’ it does need to be remembered that cyclists are individuals too, with views as diverse as the machines they ride.

104 user comments

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I also flipped myself off the bike on a slow right-hander at no more than 10 mph. On a greasy surface I touched the brakes, it was my fault I made a basic and stupid mistake.
My hip took the brunt of the fall and I have been off the bike for 10 days, my head took the rest and bounced like jdmotion's; a really weird experience. The helmet I was wearing provided the necessary protection while suffering only scratches, I was slightly dazed for a few seconds and lay on the road to check there were no bone-breaks or bleeding.
20 Years ago I did the same thing, on that occasion I broke my collar bone and was concussed for an hour or so. The helmet was trashed and ended up being used for instructional talks at the local schools.
Please wear your helmets, they weigh nothing and these days are much improved. They will save you life.

posted by Kevcaster [5 posts]
9th February 2012 - 9:49

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Out cycling when I was 18 I fell of my bike at speed riding down a hill and landed on my head.

Sadly I was not wearing a helmet as I could then have claimed it saved my life as no doubt it would have smashed into lots of pieces.

But as I was not wearing a helmet and still suffered no damage apart from ripping my knees to shreds (should knee protectors be made mandatory) I sadly cannot join the long list of people claiming a helmet saved my life.

posted by Denzilwood [23 posts]
9th February 2012 - 10:32

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Is this argument still going?

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [2114 posts]
9th February 2012 - 10:54

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OldRidgeback wrote:
Is this argument still going?

this one's set to run and run. maybe we should have a rule that we end the thread and post a nice picture of some kittens as soon as someone says 'my helmet broke in two' or 'in australia and new zealand'. something like that?

Dave Atkinson's picture

posted by Dave Atkinson [7237 posts]
9th February 2012 - 10:59

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like this:

kittens.jpg
Dave Atkinson's picture

posted by Dave Atkinson [7237 posts]
9th February 2012 - 11:01

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Apparently so. And when it stops here it will continue elsewhere until the end of time or conclusive proof as to the efficacy of bike helmets, whichever comes sooner.

joemmo's picture

posted by joemmo [768 posts]
9th February 2012 - 11:01

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Yeah. There's evidence both ways, much of which has been referred to above, which I feel means it should be left to personal choice. The main undisputable fact is that the manufacturers do not claim any efficacy on vehicle-involved crashes, which are the main source of fatalities.

It's also a complete distraction from "Cities Fit For Cycling" which should be about changing the cities more than the cyclists. I suspect the Times knew this when they invited Crackpotnell to write... now can we speculate on why they'd subvert/derail their own campaign after gathering so much support?

posted by a.jumper [679 posts]
9th February 2012 - 11:12

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-

kittens.jpg
Dave Atkinson's picture

posted by Dave Atkinson [7237 posts]
9th February 2012 - 11:24

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I hope nobody's suggesting those kittens should cross the road without any hi-viz. That's why cats die, you know. We need a campaign.

SAVE THE KITTENS!

HI-VIZ FOR KITTENS NOW!

NEWSFLASH!
FAMOUS OLYMPIC BLOKE TELLS ANYONE WHO LISTENS THAT HIS KITTEN WOULD HAVE DIED WITHOUT ITS HI-VIZ AND HELMET. SAYS THAT KITTEN HELMETS SHOULD BE MADE COMPULSORY FOR ALL FELINES!

(the subliminal small print: his sponsor makes the best helmets for cats. Buy one today. You know it makes sense)

Denzilwood, did your round-the-clock carer that you've needed since your bike crash assist you with that post?

Wink

Simon E's picture

posted by Simon E [1889 posts]
9th February 2012 - 11:42

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Nice pix of kittens.

Unfortunately, the discussion will continue while there are so many people who don't appreciate the difference between anecdote and data.

It doesn't matter that all the reliable data says one thing, an ex-olympian holding up his broken helmet which didn't save him from brain damage is much more convincing.

In the absolutely dire The One Show helmet promotion article last year, the head of BHIT, Angie Lee said "just ignore all the research and go with common sense." Now why would the head of an organisation promoting helmets want everyone to ignore the evidence? Thinking

burtthebike

posted by burtthebike [66 posts]
9th February 2012 - 12:19

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Thinking

kittens.jpg
Dave Atkinson's picture

posted by Dave Atkinson [7237 posts]
9th February 2012 - 12:22

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^^ Those cats' lives are at risk.

Ignore the research, it's obviously rubbish, someone on the telly said so.

This is the essential accessory for your cat:

Simon E's picture

posted by Simon E [1889 posts]
9th February 2012 - 12:42

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I am not claiming it will save your life but sure it will save legal problems in court

big mick

posted by big mick [172 posts]
9th February 2012 - 13:12

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big mick wrote:
I am not claiming it will save your life but sure it will save legal problems in court

How so? Since the only court case to find contributory negligence for not wearing a helmet was someone who inflicted the injuries on themselves by their reckless behaviour, not as the result of a road collision, your assumption is incorrect.

All other cases where the driver's insurance have tried to claim contributory negligence for not wearing a helmet have either been thrown out, or much more frequently, been withdrawn at the doors of the court. There is no instance in this country, or anywhere else as far as I am aware, of a finding of contributory negligence for not wearing a cycle helmet. Since nowhere with a helmet law can show any reduction in risk to cyclists, despite more than twenty years of experience, it seems unlikely that any such claim would succeed.

burtthebike

posted by burtthebike [66 posts]
9th February 2012 - 15:32

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Plain Face

helmetcat.jpg
Dave Atkinson's picture

posted by Dave Atkinson [7237 posts]
9th February 2012 - 15:41

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Surely someone's got their facts wrong here. Whilst big mick claims to have had his damages reduced by 33%, burtthebike states that there is only one case to have found contributory negligence - by which I assume he means the only one I'm aware of, the case of Simon Reynolds last year, where the negligence was not just choosing not to wear the offered protection but also causing the accident. It would be possible that big mick is Simon Reynolds, but the damages in that case were reduced by around two thirds, I believe, not a third.

What gives?

Bez's picture

posted by Bez [363 posts]
9th February 2012 - 16:18

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i feel left out, in all the bicycle accidents i've had, be that wearing a helmet or not, i've never ever hit my head, although i did bang my head real bad on a kitchen cabinet yesterday

i think i'll extrapolate that anecdotal evidence to suggesting that no-one needs to wear a helmet on a bike but EVERYONE needs to wear one in the kitchen, and i've just ordered this for the cat, just in case

posted by VecchioJo [737 posts]
9th February 2012 - 16:19

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VecchioJo wrote:
i feel left out, in all the bicycle accidents i've had, be that wearing a helmet or not, i've never ever hit my head, although i did bang my head real bad on a kitchen cabinet yesterday

i think i'll extrapolate that anecdotal evidence to suggesting that no-one needs to wear a helmet on a bike but EVERYONE needs to wear one in the kitchen, and i've just ordered this for the cat, just in case

I'd love to see it try to lick it's fur!

burtthebike

posted by burtthebike [66 posts]
9th February 2012 - 16:59

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VecchioJo wrote:
i feel left out, in all the bicycle accidents i've had, be that wearing a helmet or not, i've never ever hit my head, although i did bang my head real bad on a kitchen cabinet yesterday

I know what you mean. I sometimes wear one, sometimes not and I've had some quite SPECTACULAR crashes (although not recently because I'm a more careful rider), but I've never hit my head in one of them.

The only times I've hurt my head in a bicycle-related accident have been hitting it on the door frame of the bike shed. If I don't wear a helmet, it hurts quite a bit. If I do wear a helmet, it hurts much less, but I'm slightly taller so I clonk it on the door frame far more often. So, here's another helmet debate: is a 500% increase in the risk of an accident that's 20% as bad worth wearing a helmet? As a tie-break, should I factor in the cost of replacing the helmet more often as a result of all the taps on the head? Wink

posted by a.jumper [679 posts]
9th February 2012 - 17:26

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I jammed my index finger between the front mech and chainring last year resulting in a crushed fingernail and stitches in my finger tip. It's hard to point to whether a helmet would have helped prevent this, in fact it was quite hard to point to anything for a while.

joemmo's picture

posted by joemmo [768 posts]
9th February 2012 - 18:59

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Fools do not come crying to me saying you were not warned.I can recall saying the same crap before my accident.My line was i have raced moto x and never banged my head so i will not need no helmet on a push bike.What a fool i feel now.I suppose there is no helping some people so just get on with it.I will not trouble you no more with the hard facts of brain injury so keep posting pics of kittens etc because it will never happen to you Yawn

big mick

posted by big mick [172 posts]
9th February 2012 - 19:41

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sometimes i think the only real reason i strap a helmet on is that if i'm crushed by a car it will instantly stop the "should have worn a helmet" (regardless of if i die of head injuries) lazy and yet sensationalist hand-wringing and people might be bothered to look beyond that into the true reason i'm smeared across the tarmac and do something about it

posted by VecchioJo [737 posts]
9th February 2012 - 20:53

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I'm not seeing many kittens, people

Dave Atkinson's picture

posted by Dave Atkinson [7237 posts]
9th February 2012 - 20:56

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sorry

posted by VecchioJo [737 posts]
9th February 2012 - 21:10

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I'm considering riding with a kitten perched on my head for protection. Driver sees kitten and drives considerately

cat-on-head-3_19347_600x450.jpg

posted by lazyusername [140 posts]
9th February 2012 - 22:08

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LID KITTEH GOT TEH WRONG IDEA WHEN HOOJ DAVE SUGGESTD PUTTIN TEH HELMET DEBATE 2 BED.

Helmet kitty.jpg
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posted by Simon_MacMichael [7853 posts]
9th February 2012 - 22:43

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its just the way it is brother.I think the powers that be are mixing motor CYCLE and cycle law.Like i say you can jump up and down all day long but the world isnt perfect.Now i am 300.000 pound down.boo hoo.That is not a problem the fits are.I would give it all back to be unbrain damaged,which is something money cant buy

big mick

posted by big mick [172 posts]
10th February 2012 - 13:03

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VecchioJo wrote:
sometimes i think the only real reason i strap a helmet on is that if i'm crushed by a car it will instantly stop the "should have worn a helmet" (regardless of if i die of head injuries) lazy and yet sensationalist hand-wringing and people might be bothered to look beyond that into the true reason i'm smeared across the tarmac and do something about it

^^^ THIS.

Oh.

Bez's picture

posted by Bez [363 posts]
10th February 2012 - 13:11

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posted by a.jumper [679 posts]
10th February 2012 - 15:38

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VecchioJo wrote:
sometimes i think the only real reason i strap a helmet on is that if i'm crushed by a car it will instantly stop the "should have worn a helmet" (regardless of if i die of head injuries) lazy and yet sensationalist hand-wringing and people might be bothered to look beyond that into the true reason i'm smeared across the tarmac and do something about it

Thank F--k for that.Someone gets it.

big mick

posted by big mick [172 posts]
10th February 2012 - 20:35

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