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The consumer watchdog tackles a sensitive area for cyclists

The consumer magazine Which? have tested cycle helmets in their July issue, and at the same time launched a Which? Conversation (that's a blog post to you and I ) debating whether or not EU law mandating helmets for the under-13s should be enacted here in the UK.

Regular road.cc'ers will know that's a hot topic in these parts, with those believing in personal resposibility and free choice noisily battling it out with those who think helmet-wearing saves lives and serious injury.

Which? set their stall out firmly with the following words:

There have been plenty of reports to support the use of cycle helmets spanning the last two decades. But an international review of the evidence gathered by the UK Department for Transport in 2009 concluded there was no reliable evidence that helmets resulted in a lower risk of head injury for cyclists.

While not mandatory, we think bike helmets are worth wearing when in the saddle – if you buy a good one. However, our testing found a few helmets that seriously underperformed.

For example, we awarded the Met Camaleonte Executive adult bike helmet our Don’t Buy status, having failed to meet the European Standard in our tests. We’ve even asked Met to recall the helmet. But do you think it’s better to wear a low-quality helmet than to not wear one at all?

The publication included a poll for readers, asking whether cyclists should be made to wear helmets by law, and the results were very interesting.

69 per cent (375 votes) said "No - cyclists shouldn't be legally required to wear helmets", while just a third of that number, 23% per cent, or 126 people said yes. Four per cent thought only children should have to wear helmets, and the same number weren't sure.

The comments below also gave rise to a number of interesting points.

The user Robwiz said: "For mountain biking and road and track competitions a helmet is essential. Just as a helmet is worn in motor sport. However, for everyday cyclists a helmet is an irrelevance. Cycle helmets are designed to absorb the impact of a rider falling off a back onto the ground – an accident which hardly ever happens in the real world. The most common collision mode is a motorised vehicle turning across the path of a cyclist, who is riding straight on a major road at a junction with a minor road.

"If you look at accident statistics, there are more UK fatalities from drowning and falling down stairs. Should it be compulsory to wear a helmet when going up or down stairs? Or to wear a life jacket when walking along a canal or river path?"

Other users invoked the seatbelt law for cars in the UK.

Wavechange said: "It is interesting to read the comments that fewer people would cycle if there was a requirement to wear helmets. I cannot remember if people gave up driving and motorcycling when seatbelts and motorcycle helmets became compulsory."

Another user cited the helmet laws in Australia and New Zealand.

John Irwin wrote: "So in light of no compelling evidence that wearing helmets results in a lower risk of head injury for cyclists why go ahead with it? In the countries which have implemented similar legislation (Australia & New Zealand) the result has been a significant drop in the numbers of people cycling."

The Which? helmet test sounds like it will make for revealing reading - Which? have the resources to actually test helmets to the standards they claim to meet, something most specialist publications aren't able to do. As for the Which? helmet debate… from all at road.cc to whoever from Which? has to moderate it, a hearty 'Good luck!'

 

After an unpromising start, having to be bribed by her parents to learn to ride without stabilisers, Sarah became rather keener on cycling in her university years, and was eventually persuaded to upgrade to proper road cycling by the prospect of a shiny red Italian bike, which she promptly destroyed by trapping a pair of knickers in the rear derailleur. Sarah writes about about cycling every weekend on road.cc.

44 comments

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antonio [1119 posts] 3 years ago
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Interesting, cyclists here frequent canal towpaths, life jackets and helmets mandatory ?

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doc [167 posts] 3 years ago
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Fall in most canals and food poisoning would be the major concern - one mouthful and off you go to the hospital/afterlife!

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Ciclismo [21 posts] 3 years ago
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"John Irwin wrote: "So in light of no compelling evidence that wearing helmets results in a lower risk of head injury for cyclists why go ahead with it? In the countries which have implemented similar legislation (Australia & New Zealand) the result has been a significant drop in the numbers of people cycling."

Dear John, please supply us with some valid statistics to back up your claim. As my statistics professor loved to repeat ad nauseum "correlation does not imply causation".

I used to live in NZ and worked in the cycle industry. The main arguments I heard by people who gave up riding were that cars had gotten so cheap that the huge number of vehicles on the road made riding to commute too dangerous. Never was "helmet hair" used as an excuse.

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horizontal dropout [266 posts] 3 years ago
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"please supply us with some valid statistics"

Hi Ciclismo, here's a few links:
http://www.cycle-helmets.com/zealand_helmets.html

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Municipal Waste [238 posts] 3 years ago
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I like wearing my helmet... I don't feel like a 'proper' cyclist without.

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horizontal dropout [266 posts] 3 years ago
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I read the article and the comments and I was impressed that the comments were mostly quite objective and non-religious - quite a change in the helmet debate.

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horizontal dropout [266 posts] 3 years ago
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antonio wrote:

Interesting, cyclists here frequent canal towpaths, life jackets and helmets mandatory ?

Like this you mean? :- )
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_wqgryt5jhA

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JohnS [198 posts] 3 years ago
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Good to see common sense based on evidence from Which? rather than the "Won't somebody think of the children" bollocks from other sources and Radio 4's appalling More or Less programme - supposed to untangle arguments with stats - on cycle helmets which completely ignored the evidence of the public health disbenefits of compulsory helmet-wearing.

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paulfrank [94 posts] 3 years ago
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I'm only going to go on my own personal experience of trashed helmets and not trashed head. There are lies, damn lies, and then there are statistics.

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CarbonBreaker [86 posts] 3 years ago
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I'm from the UK, lived in Asia for 10 years, the last 3 of which in Singapore, (crowded, busy, poor driving). I always wear a helmet. I've just moved to the Netherlands, if I go for a long ride, I see maybe 3 out of 200 people on bikes wearing helmets, and they are usually expats or people going fast on serious kit. The other 197 are crazy in my opinion. But in a country that has so many dedicated bike paths, with even their own traffic lights systems (which no one jumps), why would they need helmets.

I think it depends on your own personal choice, if tis

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SounDaz_7 [48 posts] 3 years ago
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I work in brain injury rehabilitation and see the results of serious head injuries on a daily basis. Protect your head, when you're on your bike always wear a helmet.

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Viro Indovina [81 posts] 3 years ago
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I voted yes.
Helmets save lives and prevent catastrophic injuries.

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tpb1 [7 posts] 3 years ago
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After having had a bad racing bike crash at the age of 13 following which I had amnesia and spent 3 days in hospital (was not wearing a helmet!!), I always wear a helmet now!
I recently saw someone recently get airlifted to hospital during a sportive who also was not wearing a helmet (organisers are making it compulsory next year apparently) I would not risk going without one. Is it worth the risk to not wear one??- yes they are not infallible however if it decreases the risk of head injury if by only a few percent then its still worth it in my mind.

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PhilRuss [370 posts] 3 years ago
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[[[[ So, more folks die falling down stairs than die cycling?
Okay, (I'm no statistician), but surely stair-walkers vastly outnumber cyclists at any given time, so the statement looks vague to say the least. Hmmm...I imagine more dozy pedestrian jay-walkers injure more bikies than the other way round, but isn't there a case for urban pedestrians to wear helmets, given the very serious noggin-injuries they incur when run over by motor vehicles? I'd wear a skidlid myself, if I could find one that didn't make me look like The Mekon...
P.R.

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Tony Farrelly [2868 posts] 3 years ago
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I'd say per mile travelled the stairs are more dangerous than the road in the UK. Let's put it another way, if you treat cyclng as purely a sport the only two sporting activities that are less dangerous are rambling and golf.

That doesn't mean that more couldn't and shouldn't be done to make it safer as a form of transport - especially now that more people who are new to it are being encouraged on to the roads, but also that we shouldn't dangerise cycling unnecessarily. The fact is that for the vast majority that do it, cycling is helping to extend their lifespan not shorten it.

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beastie [1 post] 3 years ago
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tony_farrelly wrote:

I'd say per mile travelled the stairs are more dangerous than the road in the UK. Let's put it another way, if you treat cyclng as purely a sport the only two sporting activities that are less dangerous are rambling and golf.

More people die playing golf than any other sport in the UK, mainly from heart attacks. The left arm comes across the front of the chest on the back swing, and raises blood pressure instantly. Many golfers are elderly and the above is the trigger that causes heart failure. Fore !!!

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bikeylikey [204 posts] 3 years ago
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Quote from Which: 'But an international review of the evidence gathered by the UK Department for Transport in 2009 concluded there was no reliable evidence that helmets resulted in a lower risk of head injury for cyclists.'

No reliable evidence for a thing does not necessarily mean that it is not true. It might just mean that evidence has not been found yet, or is difficult to produce. It seems obvious that if you crash onto your head that you will have a lower chance of injury with a helmet on than with nothing between your head and the road. How would you prove this with 'evidence'? Do you need to prove it?

Quote from above: 'Cycle helmets are designed to absorb the impact of a rider falling off a back onto the ground' - what is this supposed to mean? Can anyone explain?

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spindoctore [53 posts] 3 years ago
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I had a big off in February when riding with the Lotto guys - dislocated my collarbone, and trashed my helmet. it was always an essential piece of kit IMO, but now having seen the damage it sustained, and how well my head was protected I simply would'nt ride without one

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pepita1 [175 posts] 3 years ago
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horizontal dropout wrote:

"please supply us with some valid statistics"

Hi Ciclismo, here's a few links:
http://www.cycle-helmets.com/zealand_helmets.html

Looks like what's needed is a meta analysis.

I myself have personal experience of the life-saving capability of a Snell/Ansi rated helmet so there is no lingering question about whether I should or shouldn't have to wear a helmet.

I'm happy to be here today and typing my thoughts because some bureaucrat 'made me' wear a helmet.

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PJ McNally [591 posts] 3 years ago
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yay helmet related article, what a great place to rehearse a really long boring argument.

I'm going for a bike ride, and i just might wear a helmet.

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elvisonwheels [31 posts] 3 years ago
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having survived the etape at the weekend, I got back on my bike tuesday on the streets on london in time to suffer the kind of accident Robwiz describes. While I was lucky it happened at the top of a hill, stead of at the bottom, I was happy to be wearing a helmet as the cut on my forehead from the side of the car would've been something worse. not saying everyone needs to wear a helmet, but i'm firmly in the yes camp after 12 years riding in london.

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Municipal Waste [238 posts] 3 years ago
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Something I found out yesterday which I'm excited to learn more about when I go to the product launch in September, is that Scott say they've got a new bicycle helmet out that has a membrane layer inside it that mimics what the fluid surrounding the brain does in an impact. It's come from their snow sports experience supposedly and is meant to be good at shrugging off 'glancing' impacts that are, according to Scott, the most common type.

 105

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AWPeleton [3277 posts] 3 years ago
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Some say its a financial gimmick that the pro's all have to wear helmets however the UCI say it's safety reasons  39

However if they come off at the speed they travel and its meant to help prevent injury (notice i said help prevent - not stop) then a mere mortal like most cyclists should in reality be travelling slower so the impact they take on their bonce should be less, therefore the wearing of a lid should in turn help prevent more injury to us.

At school in science we were told "for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction" hence my arguement above.

In the end though it will come down to personal choice and i hope those who dont wear a lid dont look back one day and say "if only".

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cborrman [85 posts] 3 years ago
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The only statistic you need to know is how many helmets are left in pieces after many accidents... I have never met a cyclist who does not have a "helmet in pieces" story of their own or fellow riders'

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Cauld Lubter [132 posts] 3 years ago
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I wear a skater's helmet out on the road - much better looking and, imo, a bit more protection than the flimsy things most riders wear. Then again, I'm not trying to look like I'm some saddo emulating Cav or Wiggo.
After decades of motorcycling helmet wearing and being able to say, hand on heart, that motorcycle skid lids saved my head on a couple of sub-30mph occasions, I need no convincing of the efficacy of a decent lid.
It should still be a matter of choice though, and I do occasionally nip down the village without one on.
I'd hate to see it made compulsory.

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OldRidgeback [2589 posts] 3 years ago
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I had a big spill yesterday and was glad to be wearing my helmet. The thing is, I was competing in a BMX event and the reason I went over my bars was because I mis-timed a jump into a berm. If you're racing, then yes a helmet is a good idea because you're going fast and the margins of safety are slimmer. For road riding I don't see the need. I do wear a skateboarding helmet, not unlike Cauld's most probably, when I'm doing regular commuting through London but for shorter trips I don't bother. And when I'm riding my motorcycle, I always wear a helmet because it is a legal requirement.

I'll be curious to see the results of the Which tests. I am a qualified mechanical engineer (even tho I don't work in that field any more) and 90% of shell type cycle helmetsseem to me to be so utterly flimsy that they offer next to no protection anyway.

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giff77 [1232 posts] 3 years ago
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OK - two things -
1) Learn not to fall
2) Learn how to fall if you are going to have an off

The vast majority of people who cycle and will now be attracted ti cycling due to Wiggo's victory will more than likely cycle along cycle paths and round parks. Their avg speed will more than likely be less than 10mph. If they fall off their bikes it will be more of a topple than anything else. The rest - well there may be a case for the wearing of a helmet. Again falls can be avoided by reading the road, not overcooking corners and desents, not cycling through standing water etc.

We are in greater danger from SMIDSY's, boy racers and misled 'road owners' and there is no way a bit of polystyrene and hi viz is going to protect us. The autorities need to emphasise that all road users do not have 4 wheels (min) and 200bhp and respect needs to be given to all.

Again I refer to the first 2 points if you insist on falling off a bike

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sparrow_h [35 posts] 3 years ago
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I grew up in NZ and was at school when the helmet laws came in.

I am pretty sure I have seen stats to back up the drop in cycling after the law change too but I don't keep track of these things so couldn't direct you to them.

From my experience, the area I lived in was not too flash and I knew children who I went to school with whose parents stopped letting them cycle as they weren't prepared to risk having to pay the fines if the kid didnt like his stack-hat and took it off round the corner. Which a lot of us did as they were nasty looking things, made you look like a lego man.

Whatever has done it, discouraging school children from cycling has led to a generation of kiwis who don't have an understanding of what it is like to be passed too close on a bike, or the idea that roads are for sharing with other types of user. I feel so much safer cycling in London than I ever have in Wellington, and I feel I am treated with much more patience. At the same time, kiwis are driving more, walking less, and getting fatter and less healthy (see obesity rates: we are almost up there with the states).

The danger on our roads needs to be tackled at source, making everyone wears hats is a nice way to make people feel like something is being done but if you actually want to save lives in the long term, making sure people feel they have safe and pleasant options other than driving every journey should be the focus.

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cat1commuter [1421 posts] 3 years ago
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Current helmet safety standard requirements are very modest, so it is pretty shocking if some are failing!

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Tripod16 [153 posts] 3 years ago
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I'm more concerned with over-population, so for those who are in with a shout of winning a Darwin Award, excessive smoking/drinking, obesity, not wearing a helmet, etc. more power to you.  19

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