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Lothian-based group hits out against “the creeping growth of semi-compulsion"...

Spokes, Scotland’s leading cycle campaign group which covers Edinburgh and the wider Lothian area, has announced that it is to stop publicising events that require participants to wear a helmet in the face of what it describes as “the creeping growth of semi-compulsion.” The group’s stance regarding making helmets mandatory is in line with that of  the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RosPA), which says it is impractical to make use of helmets compulsory.

According to Spokes, the increasing requirement of organisers of events such as sportives and other rides for participants to wear a helmet – in some cases applicable to all riders, in others only to those below a certain age – fails to take into account arguments against helmet compulsion.

It also believes that the requirement to use a helmet reinforces the perception that cycling is an inherently dangerous activity, and is calling upon government-funded bodies such as Cycling Scotland and other organisations to cease using images in promotional material that only show cyclists wearing helmets.

Spokes maintains that in some types of crashes, wearing a helmet can actually lead to an increased risk of injuries, and also points out that research has established that drivers give less space to cyclists wearing helmets than those without – as established, most famously in a study carried out by Dr Ian Walker of the University of Bath.

Instead of forcing cyclists to wear helmets, Spokes insists that the best way to improve the safety of cyclists would be to encourage more people to get riding, something that it claims is being undermined by there being too much emphasis on using a helmet.

Spokes’ position was outlined in the latest edition of the bulletin sent to its members, in which it said: “We are concerned at the creeping growth of semi-compulsion, for example charity bike rides insisting on helmets for young adults and government-funded websites picturing all or nearly all cyclists helmeted, thus creating a climate in which total compulsion could eventually happen.

“Helmet advertisers, promoters and government agencies bombard us with the benefits but, disgracefully, we are never told of the risks – although there is evidence on both sides, and crashes and injuries occur as a result of the risks of helmets.

“Compulsion, or one-sided promotion, is very wrong – even more so as they put people off the healthy choice of getting about by bike. Therefore, Spokes will not, after this [bulletin] issue, publicise charity rides or other events involving helmet compulsion. We call on all other organisations concerned about public health to do the same.

“Helmet manufacturers and sales outlets, in the interest of public safety, should have to make clear on boxes and in sales literature a helmet’s impact design speed (usually around 12mph) and the potential risks as well as benefits.”

In news report on Spokes’ move, The Scotsman pointed out that road safety charity Brake supports helmets being made compulsory, quoting senior campaigns officer Ellen Booth as saying: “We encourage cyclists to do everything they can to reduce risks, including wearing a helmet and high-visibility gear, and choosing the safest routes possible.”

However, Michael Corley, campaigns manager at RoSPA, argued against compulsion, saying “We do not believe it is practical to make the use of cycle helmets mandatory.”

In the section of its website devoted to the issue of helmets and the arguments for and against compulsion, national cyclists’ organisation CTC – itself strongly opposed to any such measures – points out that “several recent reports (including four papers in peer-reviewed medical journals) have found no link between changes in helmet wearing rates and cyclists' safety - and there are even cases where safety seems to have worsened as helmet-wearing increased.”

Helmets are mandatory for under-18s on all sportives registered with British Cycling, with the governing body’s guidelines adding that “senior riders are encouraged to wear helmets” and that “the organiser is at liberty to make it a requirement of the event that all participants wear helmets.”

The terms and conditions of Cycling Scotland’s own Pedal for Scotland ride say that “cycle safety helmets are recommended but not compulsory.”

It should be noted that in many instances the issue of whether helmets should be compulsory or not for all riders is out of organisers’ hands, with the requirement for participants to wear a helmet imposed by insurers.

Use of a helmet is recommended in the Highway Code, which says: "You should wear a cycle helmet which conforms to current regulations, is the correct size and securely fastened."

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.

61 comments

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Some Fella [890 posts] 4 years ago
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Finally -some sanity seems to prevail. I should be looking forward to doing the Manchester Ride tomorrow but “the creeping growth of semi-compulsion” (brilliant phrase) means im not allowed to enter because im a responsible adult who after careful consideration of all the facts has made a conscious decision, that is well within my legal rights, not to wear a helmet and therefore barred from entering.
Kudos to Spokes for taking a sensible approach on this issue and i now fully expect a endless wave of people now telling me what a reckless idiot i am.  37

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SideBurn [890 posts] 4 years ago
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The Dartmoor Classic sportive website states that as a UCI event you must wear a helmet. Obviously creaping compulsion isn't a problem for the UCI.

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JohnS [198 posts] 4 years ago
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SideBurn wrote:

The Dartmoor Classic sportive website states that as a UCI event you must wear a helmet. Obviously creaping compulsion isn't a problem for the UCI.

The UCI is the world racing organisation. To win races, you may have to take risks.

Audaxes, club runs, randoneés, Sunday rides to a country pub for lunch, commutes and trips to the shops are not races. There are no prizes or jerseys at stake, so you do not need to take risks.

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ravenbait [20 posts] 4 years ago
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Good for Spokes! It's about time we saw some common-sense about helmet wearing in events. I don't object to wearing one in a race, but a requirement to wear one in anything else is a sure-fire way to lose my entry.

Sam

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Rob Simmonds [251 posts] 4 years ago
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SideBurn wrote:

The Dartmoor Classic sportive website states that as a UCI event you must wear a helmet. Obviously creaping compulsion isn't a problem for the UCI.

The pre-entry bumf for the 2009 edition made no mention of helmets. Once we had paid and received our entry packs, suddenly there was a requirement to wear one. I considered refusing to ride but ended up riding without one. No-one said anything, which was fortunate, because the resulting argument would have been unpleasant.  14

Good for Spokes. Cycling isn't dangerous and events shouldn't be about promoting the sale of PPE with dubious benefits.

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matt637 [47 posts] 4 years ago
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head + concrete = poorly head. head + helmet + concrete = no poorly head. it's not rocket science. and yes you should be allowed to choose what you want to do, but i can't see why taking a couple of seconds to stick a very light, comfortable, smart helmet on your nut is a big problem.

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zoxed [65 posts] 4 years ago
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SideBurn wrote:

Obviously creaping compulsion isn't a problem for the UCI.

My understanding is that helmets compulsion in racing came in at the behest of the manufactures, not the riders, the teams or the doctors.
I remember watching on TV the rider protests in the TdeF where some (/many ?) refused to wear them and got fined. Of course in the end the UCI won out !!

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zoxed [65 posts] 4 years ago
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matt637 wrote:

...but i can't see why taking a couple of seconds to stick a very light, comfortable, smart helmet on your nut is a big problem.

Some of the 'why' is contained in the main article above !!

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FMOAB [268 posts] 4 years ago
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Sticking a lump of insulating polystyrene on your head, no matter how well it is designed for comfort is sometimes an unpleasant experience. Although I almost always wear one these days, in the recent hot spell, I had a couple of outings without the lid and remembered just how pleasant it can be to go cycling and feel the wind in (what is left of) my hair.

Responsible adults should have the choice of whether or not they wish to wear a helmet, hi-vis clothing or any of the other gear that cyclists are increasingly expected to wear. Knee and elbow pads anyone?

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iammarcmason [47 posts] 4 years ago
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Rob Simmonds wrote:

Cycling isn't dangerous

I think Andrei Kivilev would disagree with you there...

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JohnS [198 posts] 4 years ago
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matt637 wrote:

head + concrete = poorly head. head + helmet + concrete = no poorly head. it's not rocket science. and yes you should be allowed to choose what you want to do, but i can't see why taking a couple of seconds to stick a very light, comfortable, smart helmet on your nut is a big problem.

Head (with or without helmet) without concrete is even better. Crashes are very rare and can be avoided (even if you're bring paid to ride like a nutter i.e are a professional racing cyclist).

BTW, Why do helmet evangelists insist on referring to the head in children's language, with words like "nut" or "bonce"?

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JohnS [198 posts] 4 years ago
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iammarcmason wrote:
Rob Simmonds wrote:

Cycling isn't dangerous

I think Andrei Kivilev would disagree with you there...

I think you'll find the late Andrei was engaged in a professional sport when he was killed, not riding down a country lane for a pint at the Limping Whippet or around town to the office.

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lolol [203 posts] 4 years ago
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After eight years in australia, being forced to wear a helmet, i came home and while rejoicing in helmet freedom suffered a bizarre pedal failure/ foot into front wheel accident. I landed on the back of my head without a helmet, two months later i still have taste and smell problems, most things taste of nothing, just wrong or incredibly bitter, they say it may go back to normal, it may not. I was always against helmets, i wear one now (bit late), but the resentment of being forced to wear one is very detrimental on Australian cycling, we are all grown ups let us choose.

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matt637 [47 posts] 4 years ago
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so that childish morons who can't spell can understand what i've written.

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iammarcmason [47 posts] 4 years ago
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Quite true but cycling is cycling, just saying. =]

(BTW I'm neither in favour or against the helmet movement, I wear one when I feel like it's needed and don't on other occasions.)

P.S. the Limping whippet, awesome name for a pub.

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OldRidgeback [2658 posts] 4 years ago
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matt637 wrote:

so that childish morons who can't spell can understand what i've written.

I see you've also been influenced by ee cummings with regard to punctuation.

I wear a skate lid (and elbow and knee pads) when I'm at the skatepark on my BMX. Getting a bike airborne over concrete jumps does come with a risk of hard impacts if you mistime a landing and I've collected enough bruises over the years to know I'm right. I also wear an MX lid when I'm training or racing my BMX or my cruiser whether on the local track (which I know like the back of my hand) or others in the South Region, because hard landings on those surfaces can be damaging. If you're pushing a BMX to your own personal limits, then there's every chance you're going to come off at some point (if you don't, you're not trying hard enough) and head (and leg and elbow) protection is just common sense.

Pretty much the same goes for serious off-road mountainbike riding. The terrain can be challenging and if you're in a wood or a forest, there is that risk of headbutting a tree if you mess up. Clearly, a lid makes sense.

But one of the very few times I'll wear a lid when riding on the road is when I'm going to or from the skatepark. When I'm riding on the road, I don't see the risk of head injury as being that acute. I'm a grown up and I've been cycling seriously since the 1970s, long enough to know the risks. The health benefits of cycling outweigh the risks by a factor of 20:1 and crash data shows that most injuries to cyclists are to the limbs rather than the skull. In the case of serious injuries that are crippling or fatal, the wearing of a helmet would be of no benefit in the vast majority of instances according to crash data.

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JohnS [198 posts] 4 years ago
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iammarcmason wrote:

Quite true but cycling is cycling, just saying. =]

(BTW I'm neither in favour or against the helmet movement, I wear one when I feel like it's needed and don't on other occasions.)

P.S. the Limping whippet, awesome name for a pub.

Courtesy of Alan Plater's Beidebecke Affair/Tapes/Connection series.

The redundant planning officer who helps uncover the police corruption (after being knocked off his bike, while wearing a deerstalker, by Sergeant Hobson BSc) spends his redundancy money setting up a jazz club called The Village Vanguard in The Singing Room at The Limping Whippet. It lasts one night, but it's a good night.

Surrealism is all.

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matt637 [47 posts] 4 years ago
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you're wasting your time lolol - no matter how many peolpe we get on here who say they have had serious or semi serious bonce (for you johns) injuries which could have been avoided by wearing a helmet you will still get the selfish muppets who only seem to think that it's their problem and doesn't effect anyone else. I had a mate who hit a pot hole at 40mph downhill, front wheel folded and he was certainly glad he had his helmet on. I got side swiped by a car last year, thrown up and landed on my nut (for you again johns) and was glad to have my lid on (childish word for helmet). I don't know how some people on here ride, or where they ride, but i feel there's a good risk of an accident every time i go out these days with the state of roads / drivers etc.

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paulfg42 [393 posts] 4 years ago
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Crashes are very rare and can be avoided

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Crashes may be rare but are often not avoidable, whether it be mechanical failure, loss of concentration, poor weather or road conditions etc. I've had a couple of falls where more serious injury was definitely prevented by my wearing a helmet. That doesn't mean I think helmets should be compulsory though.

However, race organisers can make rules as they see fit and the choice is left to riders whether or not they wish to enter. This 'action' by Spokes will have no effect whatsoever and just makes them look stupid.

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matt637 [47 posts] 4 years ago
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OldRidgeback wrote:

I see you've also been influenced by ee cummings with regard to punctuation.

well spotted oldridgeback - he is a heavy influence on much of my work.

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Rob Simmonds [251 posts] 4 years ago
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The majority of head injuries have nothing to do with cycling.
http://www.patient.co.uk/doctor/Head-Injury.htm

Would you enforce helmet wearing on, say, pedestrians, people doing DIY or people who have been to the pub?

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burtthebike [489 posts] 4 years ago
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And Spokes are absolutely right. Since helmet wearing is not associated, in a scientific sense, with reduced risk, why are some event organisers demanding helmets? Perhaps this explains it:

"It should be noted that in many instances the issue of whether helmets should be compulsory or not for all riders is out of organisers’ hands, with the requirement for participants to wear a helmet imposed by insurers."

Along with the urban myth that helmets are effective, there is the one about "the insurers demanded it." except they didn't. The last time I entered one of these rides, and was firmly told that I'd have to wear a helmet, I asked why, to be told that "the insurers tell us we have to make riders wear helmets." So I asked who their insurers were, and then asked their insurers whether they demanded helmets, and, lo and behold, they didn't. Insurance demands are just BS piled on BS.

The only effects of helmet compulsion is fewer cyclists and obscene profits for the helmet manufacturers, with no reduction in risk to cyclists. Since cycling confers such huge health benefits, regular cyclists live longer, and are fitter and healthier than the general population, it's more dangerous not to ride a bike than to ride one. By deterring some people from cycling helmet promotion denies the health benefit to them and increases ill health and premature death.

Any organisation demanding that helmets have to be worn is lying through their teeth, and you should either not enter, or ride without one. It's time we stopped the H&S zealots ruining our lives with their absurdities.

The ultimate stupidity is the British Heart Foundation demanding that helmets be worn on rides to raise money for them. The best way of reducing your risk of a heart attack is by getting more exercise, so by demanding helmets, the BHF is increasing the risk of heart attacks!

Check out cyclehelmets.org for a few facts rather than organisers' assumptions.

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Simon E [2851 posts] 4 years ago
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matt637 wrote:

i can't see why taking a couple of seconds to stick a very light, comfortable, smart helmet on your nut is a big problem.

One word: compulsion.

Did you actually read the article?

I always wonder at the intelligence of people who throw insults at those who have the opposing point of view to their own. People are putting the case against being forced to wear a helmet, why is that such a problem for you?

Also, anecdotes do not make good foundation for arguments. I'm not saying wearing a helmet is necessarily a bad idea but, as demonstrated in the main article above, it's not a simple case of adding a helmet is necessarily better than a bare head. This has been discussed on road.cc before, there are lots of constructive comments in these two threads, for example:
http://road.cc/31956
http://road.cc/35876

I also recommend www.cyclehelmets.org to anyone who wants a balanced point of view on the subject. I respect people's choice, whether they wish to wear one or not.

I support Spokes' point of view. I don't want people to feel they should wear one and I don't want them to feel cycling is a dangerous activity that requires safety equipment. The single biggest change to improve cyclists' safety is driver behaviour. If being hit by a car, 4x4 or larger vehicle is the biggest risk we cyclists take then a half-inch thick polystyrene hat full of holes isn't really going to make much difference to the outcome.

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Stumps [3414 posts] 4 years ago
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The problem we have here is that some will flatly refuse to wear one cos it doesnt look cool or they cant be arsed to wear one, whether thats through cost or whatever whereas the other side will wear one even if they nip to the local shop.

Spokes has brought it back into discussion by saying they wont advertise a race if the organisers state that you have to wear a lid. To me that reminds me of a saying my mam said of "cutting your nose off to spite your face".

The whole idea is to promote cycling and get it more attention which will ultimately lead to better roads etc etc, whereas their adoption of this policy will have people saying cyclists cant even get their own house in order.

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rbx [226 posts] 4 years ago
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There's another way to look at Spokes' stance. They might be saying (not verbally, but hinting at):

Our mandate is to increase overall cycling public. If your event is dangerous enough to require compulsory helmets for all, then it must be for people already into serious cycling (racing / timed sportives), and not new comers. Thus it falls outside the scope of our mandate and we shall not advertise it.

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rbx [226 posts] 4 years ago
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As for my personal take on helmets, it should be a personal decision. I never wear one when riding to/from work or the pool. I always wear one when heading out for a sportive or a century ride, whether required or not.

Others should be left to make their own choices as well, without prejudice.

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Roger Geffen [57 posts] 4 years ago
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Herewith links to:

* CTC policy briefing on helmets

* Helmet evidence overview

* Other helmet links

* Website of the Bicycle Helmet Research Foundation (provides wide-ranging links, references and commentaries on helmet research literature)

Roger Geffen
Campaigns & Policy Director, CTC

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nuclear coffee [217 posts] 4 years ago
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matt637 wrote:

you will still get the selfish muppets who only seem to think that it's their problem and doesn't effect anyone else.

Well, why isn't it my problem? If I had kids I would understand that logic completely - but I don't. I have a wonderful girlfriend, who doesn't own a helmet because she doesn't want to - I would be devastated if she died, but I realise that protecting her for my happiness isn't love, it's possession - and that feeling is reciprocated when I'm lidless. Potentially you might argue I'm costing the NHS more - but if we're going to restrict freedom of choice to save the NHS money, frankly i'd rather they charged for operations. I mean that: a 'free' NHS is far more than simply one which does not charge at point of use.

Not to mention that if I (or gf) had to choose between using a helmet for every trip and taking the car... frankly, I'd probably take the car. Being left to my own business is one of the things that attracted me to cycling - take that away, and then make day-to-day trips more of a hassle (especially once you add compulsory hi-vis - and I just don't believe anyone who says campaigners would make helmets compulsory and then stop), and you can't be suprised when car use and attendant heart disease rockets. So we end up passing more badly thought-out laws to make up for the previous badly though-out laws - do the campaigners not ever think it would be simpler just to let people make their own mind up? Give the masses an ounce of respect and trust occassionally?

I'm also - like many others - annoyed by this 'I crashed whilst wearing a helmet and didn't die, therefore it must have saved me life'. Apart from the simple fact that, going by my anecdotal evidence and that logic, wearing a helmet will give you brain damage (seen several friends crash - only one brain-damaged was only one wearing helmet)... such poor logical thinking makes me not wear one, just to illustrate that poor arguments do not persuade me. That, and I don't want brain damage - or to become the sort of person who thinks that badly.

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Manx Rider [18 posts] 4 years ago
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I think the issue here is the strange gap that sportives fill. Road racing is dangerous and involves taking risks, hence why we wear helmets. It’s what helmets are designed for. Social rides or riding to the shop doesn't necessarily involve risk taking, we want to encourage cycling participation so compulsory helmet wearing would be a net negative, hence we don’t have a helmet law in this country.

Sportives are in the middle, I've ridden some where the guys at the front are taking it v seriously, whereas the guys at the back are enjoying a social ride. I guess it’s for the organisers to decide if they are promoting more of a social ride or a race.

As for the choice argument I don't really understand, the organisers have a choice whether to make helmets compulsory, and the riders have a choice whether to enter!

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OldRidgeback [2658 posts] 4 years ago
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I ride with my kids a lot and my youngest, like me, races BMX and goes to the skatepark to get as much air as he can. When we're racing or training or at the skatepark, i ensure he's wearing his helmet, just as I do. But I don't enforce helmet wearing when he's going here and there on his bike because I don't think a head injury is the biggest risk he, or his elder brother, face should they have a cycle accident. Now some people would give me a hard time for not ensuring my sons wear helmets all the time when they're on their bikes, but I think there's too much health and safety crap going on. Too many children are so cocooned that by the time they become young adults and leave home, they'll have little experience of the risks they face out in the big bad world.

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