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Mayor of London rejects calls to provide helmets with hire bikes and says he doesn't always use one himself...

Mayor of London Boris Johnson says he "won't be bullied" into wearing a cycle helmet and has no plans to provide them for users of the Barclays Cycle Hire Scheme, asserting that evidence is mixed as to their usefulness. In an LBC phone-in show hosted by Nick Ferrari, Johnson – more often photographed cycling without a helmet than with one – admitted he doesn’t always wear one himself, preferring a beanie hat, for example, in the winter.

A listener asked Mr Johnson whether he planned to make helmets available to people hiring ‘Boris Bikes’ in the light of London’s second cycling fatality of 2013 earlier this week when Dr Katharine Giles was killed by a tipper truck on Monday.

The mayor - who later in his reply would make the point that helmets afford no protection whatsoever in many incidents - said: "Obviously one cycling fatality is one too many, but the fact is that the numbers certainly this year are not anything out of the ordinary in April.

"What I won't do is take measures that I think will drive cyclists off the roads," he went on.

"What we want to do is make it safer and that means investing in stuff that improves life for cyclists – and for motorists – investing in the roundabouts, in the signalling, but also training people, particularly bus drivers, who I think are doing much, much better over the past few years, but training lorry drivers as well.”

Ferrari asked the mayor: “Next time I hire my Barclays bike, commonly known as Boris bikes, shouldn’t I be forced to have a helmet?”

“No, I don’t think so," he replied. "The evidence is that in Australia, where they made helmets mandatory, actually what that led to was a decline in cycling overall.

“I know people get very worked up about this, but actually the evidence about the usefulness of cycle helmets is mixed.

“I do encourage people to wear one. I generally wear one in the summer. I don’t always wear one myself, I didn’t wear one to come here today because I wear a beanie hat in winter.”

“But that’s not going to protect your head if you have an accident,” Ferrari pointed out. What example are you setting to younger cyclists?”

“The evidence, as I say, is mixed about the usefulness of cycle helmets,” replied Johnson. "If you look at some of the fatalities we've had, I’m afraid it's not clear that they would have been saved by a cycle helmet.

“I don’t propose to make them mandatory.  As I say, I do sometimes wear one – I am nothing if not inconsistent in this matter. But when it’s cold, I don’t.

"I'm not discouraging anybody from wearing a cycle helmet if they want, loads of people do, but all I'm saying is, no I'm not going to make it mandatory because I think on balance there are other things we can do to make cycling safer, and that is what we are doing."

Johnson’s predecessor as mayor, Ken Livingstone, said ahead of last year’s London mayoral elections that when he first gave he go-ahead to what would become the Barclays Cycle Hire Scheme, he envisaged helmets being supplied along with the bikes.

“It was always the plan that you should make certain that people who are cycling have got a helmet. You almost want to have a way where the helmet is actually chained to the bike, so people who don’t bring one can have one.”

As we reported last month, Victoria’s state government is to trial providing free helmets to people using the bike share scheme in the Melbourne, with Australia’s mandatory helmet laws believed to have discouraged uptake of the scheme, launched in 2010.

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.

33 comments

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hounslowrob [28 posts] 3 years ago
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In a sidenote to the safety issue, the hygiene issue surely? Would you want to wear a helmet that has been worn by 100s or 1000s of other people in all weathers?

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jollygoodvelo [1540 posts] 3 years ago
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Dangerously sensible words from Boris there; or at least, completely matching my thoughts. Yes, helmets are recommended because in some types of accident they may help. No, you don't mandate them because otherwise no-one will take up cycling.

But it won't make a shred of difference whether you're wearing a helmet or not if you've just been run over by a 40-tonne truck.

Comments descending into the usual argument in 3... 2... 1...

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Stumps [3414 posts] 3 years ago
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Well he cant say it would spoil his hair, now would it...  21

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comm88 [76 posts] 3 years ago
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That's probably on account of his big fat head!!!

But it isn't the bike providers responsibility to provide helmets- it is the rider's ... who should observe "due diligence" whenever they cycle on the road. If they are knocked off, what's their defence for not being "adequately and properly protected"?

Couldn't happen to me Guv, honest!! But it is hard to argue the case when you're dead, or seriously brain damaged. For my money - you'd have to be seriously deranged to ride without a helmet ... however big your head is, Boris!

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bambergbike [89 posts] 3 years ago
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Amused that Boris doesn't always wear a helmet in the winter. I don't always wear one in the summer, but in the winter I am happy to don one. Partly because I'm more likely to slip on ice and bang my noggin in the winter, but mostly because it stops the peaked cap keeping my ears warm and my glasses snow-free from being blown away.

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Gkam84 [9092 posts] 3 years ago
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I was a "I never wear a helmet" guy until recently. Now its a choice for me, Do I use the FUGLY flag that came with my trike, which I KNOW helps me be seen or do I risk it and wear a helmet instead. In the summer, I know it will be neither and as the nights are stretching out. I won't be wearing a helmet as much.

But I have started wearing it as a just in case on shorter rides.

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belgravedave [270 posts] 3 years ago
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Ok going on 2011 figures the death rate for cyclists on roads in the UK was 35 per billion miles. To put that into context the death rate for pedestrians on UK roads was 41 per billion miles.
So it makes more sense to put on a hiviz and helmet if your going out for a walk than if your going out for a cycle.
Now can we get back to discussing more important things like which was the first manufacturer to kick start the black on black ( a'la latest Canyon) look that we been seeing the last few years.
My money is on Cervelo.

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Tom Amos [236 posts] 3 years ago
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I agree with Gkam. I never used to wear one but now always try to. I think that much of the evidence that helmets don't help in the event of an accident is somewhat questionable. Personally, I'd prefer not to leave it to chance.

For the record, still believe it should be voluntary.

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Gkam84 [9092 posts] 3 years ago
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I still know the helmet will be of NO use to me once I leave the safety of my 20-30 mph village.

I mainly wear it to keep others happy if I'm 100% honest, I would rather do without  19

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Some Fella [890 posts] 3 years ago
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Please dont make me bring your attention to this video *again* !
 20http://youtu.be/FXw_t172BKY

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davebinks [152 posts] 3 years ago
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Why stop at helmets?
Why not hi-viz jackets?
Why not flashing rear ligts?
Why not flashing front lights?
Why not knee pads?
Why not elbow pads?
Why not lucky rabbit's foot?
Why not just ban cycling?
Why not force occupants of cars to wear hard hats?

It's your choice what to wear, or not

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davebinks [152 posts] 3 years ago
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Surely the poor air quality from the pollution is a far higher risk to the health of EVERYBODY, not just cyclists using the Barclay's bikes?
I think we should make everybody wear one of these, then we wouldn't have to worry about pollution.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-china-22133913

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burtthebike [496 posts] 3 years ago
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Since all the reliable evidence shows that at best, helmets make no difference, and at worst, increase risk, the question should surely be why are some people still so convinced that they are beneficial? All the anecdotes in the world don't amount to a hill of beans, and are not in any sense data.

Those kind Aussies and Kiwis were kind enough to do the helmet law experiment for us, and the results are extremely detrimental, with increased obesity, illness and deaths. There is nowhere that increased helmet use has been associated with reduced risk, and some research shows increased risk with helmet wearing.

Check out cyclehelmets.org for the facts rather than the endlessly repeated but meaningless helmet saved my life stories.

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comm88 [76 posts] 3 years ago
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If the "evidence" is SO incontrovertible ... then tell me, why does EVERY PRO CYCLIST ride with a helmet??? It sure ain't to keep their hair clean!

...and the results are extremely detrimental, with increased obesity, illness and deaths. There is nowhere that increased helmet use has been associated with reduced risk, and some research shows increased risk with helmet wearing.

Erm ... where are the "fat" pro cyclists, cos they wear helmets? How many of 'em have died recently? How many don't start events cos they're ill?

You can't ride a motorbike, scooter or moped WITHOUT A helmet. That is the law.

So, how can you justify riding a racing cycle that can easily reach 30-50pmph (ok, downhill maybe) without a helmet ... when other road users by law have no choice?

Helmets help to make you, the rider, visible. Against asphalt and your head, helmets are the clear winner - every time. I believe a helmet should be mandatory for every cyclist on the road ... but then again, I really do care about my head and what's inside it!!!!

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Northernbikeguy [43 posts] 3 years ago
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I'm pretty sure that the UCI mandates helmet use. You'll always see every rider wearing a helmet in a race but not necessarily when they're out on the roads training.

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doc [167 posts] 3 years ago
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comm88 wrote:

If the "evidence" is SO incontrovertible ... then tell me, why does EVERY PRO CYCLIST ride with a helmet??? It sure ain't to keep their hair clean!

...and the results are extremely detrimental, with increased obesity, illness and deaths. There is nowhere that increased helmet use has been associated with reduced risk, and some research shows increased risk with helmet wearing.

Erm ... where are the "fat" pro cyclists, cos they wear helmets? How many of 'em have died recently? How many don't start events cos they're ill?

You can't ride a motorbike, scooter or moped WITHOUT A helmet. That is the law.

So, how can you justify riding a racing cycle that can easily reach 30-50pmph (ok, downhill maybe) without a helmet ... when other road users by law have no choice?

Helmets help to make you, the rider, visible. Against asphalt and your head, helmets are the clear winner - every time. I believe a helmet should be mandatory for every cyclist on the road ... but then again, I really do care about my head and what's inside it!!!!

If you did the slightest bit of fact finding you would see that helmets are mandated for racing. That is the reason people wear them - or they get disqualified, or denied a start.
Helmets are legally required for motorcycles which at the upper end of power can reach between 200/300 kph. In fact heading a solid object at much over 35mph will probably turn brain into grey mush anyway.
Quite how helmets make a rider more visible is beyond me, that is a simple nonsense assertion.
Cycle helmet test for CE appears to be dropping a weight on it, and design spec is for about a 20kph impact. A helmet MAY help in a glancing blow situation, but who can tell until it happens. people who assert a helmet saved their life cannot do so unless they test the theory by recreating the real incident helmetless and measuring results. So far no one has wanted to do that! What a surprise.
It really is best to check some facts before making unsupportable assertions.
Personally I believe it should be a matter of choice, if you want to wear one, fine, if you don't, that's fine too.
A good comparison might be religion with all it's vagaries and peole asserting you will be "saved" (from what?) if you follow their faith, or that "their" God or prophet is better than someone else's God or prophet.
That's a matter of choice too.

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giff77 [1258 posts] 3 years ago
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Seriously, a helmet makes you more visible? I ask the question. What do you see first, the cyclist or their helmet/hi viz? You see the individual before you take note of what they are wearing. When driving, the cyclists who I find difficult to see are those who hug the kerb and those that have no lights after dark.

If you are to wear a helmet then a bmx 'skid lid' which covers the whole skull or a mountain bikers full face helmet is what you should wear. The 'road helmet' is similar to the old motorcycle 'pudding bowl' helmet which is now discouraged by a number of motorcycle groups. Other than that, learn not to fall and if you insist on falling, learn how to fall.

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Krd51 [28 posts] 3 years ago
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Assos started black clothing more than 15 years ago!

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Krd51 [28 posts] 3 years ago
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comm88 wrote:

If the "evidence" is SO incontrovertible ... then tell me, why does EVERY PRO CYCLIST ride with a helmet??? It sure ain't to keep their hair clean!

...and the results are extremely detrimental, with increased obesity, illness and deaths. There is nowhere that increased helmet use has been associated with reduced risk, and some research shows increased risk with helmet wearing.

Erm ... where are the "fat" pro cyclists, cos they wear helmets? How many of 'em have died recently? How many don't start events cos they're ill?

You can't ride a motorbike, scooter or moped WITHOUT A helmet. That is the law.

So, how can you justify riding a racing cycle that can easily reach 30-50pmph (ok, downhill maybe) without a helmet ... when other road users by law have no choice?

Helmets help to make you, the rider, visible. Against asphalt and your head, helmets are the clear winner - every time. I believe a helmet should be mandatory for every cyclist on the road ... but then again, I really do care about my head and what's inside it!!!!

Why worry about YOUR head it's full of sh!t.

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AndrewRH [57 posts] 3 years ago
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Why don't people wear helmets when riding in a car?
Or even when out for a jog?

Thousands of head injuries in each of those cases.

By all means, please wear a helmet if you wish; just know that it may make you act in a more dangerous manner eg travel faster or in a more reckless way because you perceive that you are safer than you actually are; Or, from the point of view of people in a car, drivers not giving you as much space because a helmet makes you appear to them to be a professional. Ref. I.Walker research

Best to wobble a bit too, so people in cars see you and give you more space: perhaps out of fear of scratching their paint!  4

~Andrew~

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abudhabiChris [692 posts] 3 years ago
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comm88 wrote:

If the "evidence" is SO incontrovertible ... then tell me, why does EVERY PRO CYCLIST ride with a helmet??? It sure ain't to keep their hair clean!

I have often wondered why pro cyclists aren't used as a sample in a helmet safety study.

You have a very similar group of people riding the same routes over a period of years, and as far as I can see very few other variables. Changes in road surfaces and layouts perhaps, but nothing major.

They've been mandatory in pro races for what, 15 years now.

If helmets really did save lives or reduce injury then one would expect to see significant improvements in those figures.

Presumably it would be possible to get them from the UCI or race organisers, who must keep medical records.

The fact that it hasn't been done makes me wonder if it because the result would not be favourable to those who have an interest in selling helmets and safety gear.

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Gero [18 posts] 3 years ago
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Go into the garden right now and smash your head against a rock.
In a few days or so when you've recovered do the same thing again but this time wearing a helmet.

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musgrum [7 posts] 3 years ago
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Gero wrote:

Go into the garden right now and smash your head against a rock.
In a few days or so when you've recovered do the same thing again but this time wearing a helmet.

Just in case you didn't read the whole thread. If anyone does this please don't smash faster than 20kph in either round of testing.

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AndrewRH [57 posts] 3 years ago
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THE GARDENING

Gero suggested we head out into the garden.

How often have people smashed their head into a rock whilst gardening, perhaps because of a slip and fall?

It may happen, so should everyone be mandated to wear a helmet when out gardening?  7

No, of course not. It would put people off gardening (mind, an umbrella hat might be a wise idea these days).

 39 Aside: would upturned helmets make good hanging baskets?

THE EVIDENCE

Evidence from NHS for England shows there were 1,276,552 hospital admissions in 2011-2012.

People injured due to FALLS (codes W00 to W19): 473,672 (37%)

  • 193,538 for "unspecified falls"
  • 91,777 for "Fall on same level from slipping tripping and stumbling"
  • 55,916 for "Other fall on same level"
  • 38,672 for "Fall on and from stairs and steps"
  • 22,898 for "Fall involving bed"

People injured in vehicle CRASHES (codes V00 to V99): 62,700 (5%)

  • 28,533 motorised (car,truck,motorcycle*,bus,HGV...)
  • 17,653 cycling
  • 9,633 pedestrian (includes joggers presumably)
  • 4,142 animal rider or cart occupant
  • 1,383 other/unknown
  • 597 watercraft
  • 462 trains
  • 297 aircraft

*[car:14,573; motorcycle:9,976; bus 1,555; ATV 795; HGV 462; etc]

BTW, a description of the various codes used in their spreadsheets is also HERE.

Further helmet research and myth-busting at CYCLE HELMETS.

~Andrew~

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Dr. Ko [193 posts] 3 years ago
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A Boris Barclay bike is a kind of limited in speed by the gearing  37 , so a helmet might not be so much needed as riding a race bike or anything hitting 20 mph upwards.  4

So for me the problem is not wearing the helmet while riding, but where to place when not riding. (Usually strap it to the back pack, or just leaving in on for a speedy dash into (insert supermarket chain of choice).

For tourists we could hand out kind of free bobby helmets (worth 1.99)  13 for riding Boris bikes. In that case black clothing would much just fine. Imagine poor motorists feeling surrounded by police on bikes  4

Coming to think about it I should pick up some helmets myself and cut some vents, add some padding, turning this into a scientific experiment  26

Regards,

Dr. Ko

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PJ McNally [591 posts] 3 years ago
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Mr Ferrari states “Next time I hire my Barclays bike" - really?

It looks like he could do with a bit of exercise. Wonder how he got to the studio.

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abudhabiChris [692 posts] 3 years ago
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Gero wrote:

Go into the garden right now and smash your head against a rock.
In a few days or so when you've recovered do the same thing again but this time wearing a helmet.

Go on then, do that with a helmet first if you're so confident - video and link to upload here please. What have you got to worry about ?

Make sure you do it within the safety specification though i.e. less than 20km/h AND the rock is kerb-shaped, not sharp.

What would be the difference ?

You might have a bit of a bruise without the helmet. You'll still have a headache either way.

If it was going to kill you then the helmet wouldn't save your life.

It's this almost fetishistic belief in the power of helmets which astounds me.

Everything has design standards. Seat-belts stop you being thrown through the windscreen, but are not so good if you get hit by a meteor. Helmets protect you from bumps and scrapes but are not so good in a traffic accident.

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Cranky Acid [40 posts] 3 years ago
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Pro's wear them because they are made to contractually.
Pro's are not fat because they are fit athletes and ride bikes all the time.

Is this some serious argument you are putting forward? Because it's ridiculous.

On the whole normal folk will ride a bike less if they have to first put on a helmet. Many will never ride if it means getting up in special gear. Helmet laws in other countries have PROVED this. Less people riding = more obesity related deaths and illness.

Simple enough for you?

PS I mostly wear a helmet but would fight any law to make them a requirement.

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nowasps [485 posts] 3 years ago
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I was caught in a hail of bullets before falling from a tall building. The doctor said if I hadn't been wearing my cycle helmet I'd be dead.

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burtthebike [496 posts] 3 years ago
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Because if they are professional cyclists, they have to wear a helmet, because that's the rules, and they are paid to wear them.

TELL ME, does putting things in CAPITALS mean they are somehow more TRUE? or do you just not understand data and evidence?

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