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Wiggle rides into Twitter storm over 'make helmets compulsory' blog

Social media turns on online bike shop after guest post blog

Online cycling giant Wiggle got into a spot of bother yesterday when it emerged that the company had posted a blog supporting the mandatory wearing of helmets.

It all started with this message, subsequently deleted, from the @WiggleCulture Twitter account: “Should cycle helmets be compulsory? WE SAY YES! http://blog.wiggle.com/2013/08/05/cycle-helmets/

The blog entry - originally posted in August - backed Sir Bradley Wiggins’ support for mandatory helmet use. It was credited to Wiggle employee Tim Wiggins and was therefore interpreted as reflecting Wiggle policy.

Reaction from the cycling community on Twitter was swift and less than laudatory.

The GB Cycling Embassy tweeted: “Newsflash - company that sells lots of bike helmets thinks you should be forced to buy helmets.”

Guardian reporter and cycling columnist Peter Walker commented: “@wigglebikeshop argue for compulsory bike helmets. Not sure I'll want to shop with them again immediately “

Cycling blogger David Arditti added: “@wigglebikeshop A company that opposes freedom of choice & spreads misinformation on bike helmets loses my custom.”

Wiggle found itself accused of an ill-informed contribution to the helmet debate because of passages like this:

“With a surge in the amount of cyclists on the roads there is always the worry that there will also be an increase in the number of cyclist deaths and number of cyclists injured from road accidents: it is usually the use of a helmet that dictates who falls into each of those two categories.”

And this:

“In the early 90’s, Australia passed a law for compulsory helmets which saw cycling rates plummet, particularly in teenage girls who thought that helmets were not fashionable: in fact cycling rates in this group fell by around 90 per cent. But is this initial drop in cycling rates worth the risk to save hundreds of lives? I think so.”

Cycling blogger Stan F was one of many who attacked the content of the article, calling it: “Poor science, scaremongering and linked to a buy a helmet button.”

The blog was swiftly modified to indicate that it was a guest post from the Ryan Smith Foundation, which campaigns for mandatory helmet use. The company also added: “Wiggle’s stance on the helmet debate remains neutral.”

Tim Wiggins posted: “I did not write this article. It was just published on my account. It's not my personal view. Thanks.”

Wiggins also said he had deleted the original tweet from the @WiggleCulture account. “It was a miscommunication within our team and didn't reflect my own or Wiggle's view,” he said.

But while the blog is now correctly credited, not everyone is happy with the end result. Wiggle have been criticised for the buttons on that link to Wiggle’s helmet pages and @ShoestringCycle commented: “still not clear enough it's written by that charity”.

Others have commented that it’s odd for a cycling retailer to appear to back helmet mandation at all, as cycling has decreased in jurisdictions such as New Zealand and Australia that have made helmet use compulsory. Wiggle might sell more helmets, but their sales of everything else would therefore probably go down if helmets were mandatory in the UK.

Acknowledged by the Telegraph as a leading cycling journalist, John Stevenson has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.

He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.

Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for CyclingNews.com. Along with road.cc editor Tony Farelly, John was on the launch team for BikeRadar.com and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.

John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of TotalWomensCycling.com before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.

He joined road.cc in 2013 and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.

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