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Cycle campaign group Spokes stops publicising events requiring participants to wear helmets

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."

Simon joined road.cc as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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61 comments

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colinn | 12 years ago
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In response to the "helmet saved my life" brigade: I'm glad it did. A friend of a friend was told that the only reason she didn't die (rather than receive severe injuries) in the car crash that killed her husband who was driving was that she was drunk. So being drunk saved her, so everyone should be drunk when in a car? If the driver is drunk, s/he is more likely to crash, but also more likely to survive the crash.

Some people who wear cycle helmets may risk compensate and therefore be more likely to be involved in an incident and be injured in the helmet vicinity. If they are not wearing the helmet properly, this is even worse.

If everyone wore a helmet and had perfect (not over ambitious) expectations of what benefits it could deliver, perhaps there would be no risk compensation by the helmetee, but there would still be risk compensation by other road users. If we could eliminate that, on paper or in real life, we would be left with the balance between injuries that helmets make worse or more likely, and injuries that they reduce the impact of.

So, whilst experience teaches that helmets have been beneficial in some crashes, it does not follow that helmets are a benefit overall. They may or may not be and we should not pretend otherwise however much we would like it to be true.

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szegerely | 12 years ago
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I work in A and E.
Cyclists injured are surprisingly rare, and most commonly injuries are of the limbs. 1 or 2 a month
Night time alcohol related head injuries are very common, 4 - 6 a week
Heart attacks are very common, 4 -6 a day, about half are in people who should have a healthy heart due to age.
Sports related injuries including head injuries are pretty common, especially in the football season. 2 -3 a week on average.
Car crash related injuries are also very common, and involve the most serious trauma frequently encountered. Head trauma easily preventable by protective headgear is astonishingly common.
In none of the high risk activities are helmets promoted or required, except motorcycling and building sites. Severe motorcyclist injuries are spinal, the head is usually well protected. Building site head injuries are still the most common cause of injury from that type of work place.
Why the fuss about cyclists and helmets is a mystery to me, it seems like a conspiracy to make cycling seem unattractive.
Good call Spokes

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smudgegs | 12 years ago
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Well done Spokes! About time someone showed a bit of guts and challenged the creeping compulsion.
Nobody has yet proven that helmets make a significant difference ("I fell off and skinned my knees and the helmet saved my life" anecdotes do not count, even if they are true!) Boris bikes have been making thousands of helmetless journeys in some of the most unpleasant traffic in the country and guess what, there have been no queues of head injuries in A&E, not a blip on the statistical radar... but what is easily provable is that selling lumps of polystyrene is a HUGE moneyspinner, no brainer for the big companies to push them hard then, even though teaching proper use of primary would do far more to improve peoples safety...

Now all that probably comes across as rabidly anti-helmet, but surprise, I'm not, I wear one almost always when MTB'ing and often in traffic, but I'm a grown up and get to choose.

Spokes are bang on and have gone up massively in my estimation for making this stand for commonsense.

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sanderville | 12 years ago
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Anecdote #4,583: 2 and a half years ago I was taken off on Duke St Hill in that London and although my chin was only slightly scuffed the polystyrene of my helmet was visibly squashed flatter where it took the brunt of my fall. That would have been goodnight Vienna without the helmet.

Unfortunately the rest of me wasn't covered in polystyrene so I broke both hands and did so much damage to my knees that I still can't even rearrange the fridge without a cushion.

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6654henry | 12 years ago
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Choice. Cracknell puts it well.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=endscreen&NR=1&v=nu4QzAIayTU

Personally i always wear one. But Choice is important. They should not be made compulsory but can understand why Event Organisers would say this is so, they are trying to cover themselves in every way they can.

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tarquin_foxglove replied to 6654henry | 12 years ago
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6654henry wrote:

Choice. Cracknell puts it well.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=endscreen&NR=1&v=nu4QzAIayTU

Are the James Cracknell that goes on about helmets & wears an Alpina helmet
http://bit.ly/rsVEdV
& the James Cracknell that state his Alpina helmet saved his life but doesn't "have a commercial relationship with the manufacturer"
http://tgr.ph/ea9H2t
related to the James Cracknell that is a sponsored by Alpina
http://bit.ly/qCGi0V
and rides a bike while not wearing a helmet
http://bit.ly/eZpxtk ?

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SideBurn | 12 years ago
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Personally I love the 'iron spike argument' (veseuner above). My father in law always said that to reduce accidents drivers should be in a glass bowl in front of the car, difficult to argue with! Not saying it is practical! I think that the safer you feel the more risk you take; simple. That said I have got used to wearing a helmet and always wear one. I just don't think they should be compulsory. It makes no sense to me to have police officers enforcing rules for peoples own safety and this goes for seat belts and motorcycle helmets. I would much rather see them investigating/preventing incidents like the 8yo who died or the stolen bikes (Today's top stories). When this sort of thing never happens then the authorities could consider rules for our own safety. Hot topic this isn't it!

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duzza | 12 years ago
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two of my friends have been involved in bad crashes recently, one wearing helmet was in a coma for two days also broke their collarbone the other not wearing helmet broke his shoulder and cracked a vertebrae in his neck. i do not wear a helmet and i am sick of people telling me that i should wear one otherwise i will die or get brain damage. the worst offenders for this are healthcare workers who quite often after telling you that you will surely die go outside for a smoke! i have been riding a bike for over 40 years now and have been knocked off by cars and a hgv and fallen off through stupidity and have never hit my head. the only morons are the people who think they have a right to tell other people what to do.

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Ghedebrav | 12 years ago
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Having just returned from a short break in a country where cycling participation is much more widespread - and next-to-nobody was wearing a helmet - I'd offer the following observations:

1. The UK has relatively few utility cyclists; here cycling is more of a lifestyle choice, rather than just a way of getting from one place to another cheaply and effectively. In more enlightened areas, most who cycle don't see themselves as 'cyclists' any more than I'm concsiously aware of being a 'pedestrian' when I'm walkking to the shops.
2. The UK's cycling facilities really are laughably awful.
3. The above factors push UK cyclists into becoming 'vehicular', and exposing themselves (or rather, ourselves, for I am one) to much greater risk by sharing roads with dangerous road users and, by necessity, travelling at higher speeds.

So, I always wear a helmet. I've personal experience of the benefits, and I'm yet to be convinced that the evidence against helmet-wearing makes sense. UK roads are dangerous. If I lived in Copenhagen or Amsterdam or Berlin or Barcelona - places that make real steps to integrate cyclists into their trasnport infrastructure - then I'd be happy to pootle along at 8mph in my segregated cycle lane with the wind in my hair. Very happy indeed.

However, I live in Manchester. A wonderful place in many other respects, but not a cyclists' safe-haven. I share the roads with all manner of morons and must constantly be aware of inattentive pedestrians, road-hog bus-drivers, flamboyant u-turn artistes, swinging car-doors, red-light jumpers, pot-holes, broken glass swathes, mobile-phone addicts, indicator-forgetters, cutter-uppers and mindless-abuse-hurlers, among other hazards. For these reasons, I wear a helmet.

But mandatorily? No - we must aspire to the state of affairs which would not require cyclists to feel as I do. To give way to mandatory helmets would be to concede that cycling in the UK will always be far more dangerous than it should be. Therefore, I'm with Spokes on this. We're in danger of a sleepwalking our way towards legislation, and this is an important prod in the chest to cycling activists.

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hairyairey | 12 years ago
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There are risks in everything (even in writing this post...) but my head has the scars to prove that wearing a helmet is worthwhile.

Even if cycling isn't inherently dangerous (compared for example to angling) other road users definitely are. There have even been cases where drivers have deliberately driven into cyclists (at least one in is prison now for murder).

Also, it gives a very bad impression of cycling if they don't wear a helmet. There was never this amount of fuss against motorcycle helmets and they are a lot heavier.

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cat1commuter replied to hairyairey | 12 years ago
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hairyairey wrote:

Also, it gives a very bad impression of cycling if they don't wear a helmet. There was never this amount of fuss against motorcycle helmets and they are a lot heavier.

Why does it give a "very bad impression of cycling"? I have no idea what you mean.

Because a motorcycle has a motor, you don't have to pedal it, so you don't get hot. Indeed the problem on a motorcycle is often to keep warm, as you have a lot of cooling air flowing over you. Motorcycle helmets are completely enclosed, cover the back of the head and temples (arguably the more vulnerable parts of the head, which are not protected by bicycle helmets), giving much more protection. And they need to, since the speeds involved are so much higher.

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GeeTee | 12 years ago
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Its all right. If you dont want to wear a helmet on the road - that's up to you. I'm willing to speculate that those that dont wear helmets have not yet had a crash. And when you do (crash)- it will be proof that Darwin was right. Natural selection will reduce the number of MORONS.

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ironbloke | 12 years ago
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I don't think cyclists should be compelled to wear a helmet but simply don't follow the rabid "I'd rather take the car than wear a helmet", "I've had accidents and never landed on my head", or "wearing a helmet could even make injury more likely" arguments.  39 I can't think of a single logical (rather than emotional) reason not to wear my helmet every time I get on my bike. Be it round the lake, off to work or "completing not racing" the Tour of Wessex last weekend. Alone or in a group - I wear my helmet.  4

If the rules say you have to wear a helmet and you don't want to - don't enter the event. If you want to organise a "non-creeping growth of semi-compulsion" event good for you. Can I come and ride it with my helmet on? My head, my bike, my helmet, my choice. Your head, your choice.  1

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veseunr | 12 years ago
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How about the "big metal spike" argument?

If all car airbags were replaced by a big spike that shot out impaling the occupants then people would drive more carefully and casulties would drop.

Cyclist are more careful without helmets?  39

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Psycling | 12 years ago
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I have cycled for the last 35 years and can happily report I have never had an accident. I have been an A & E nurse for six years and seen the results of cyclist wearing and not wearing helmets. I have seen helmet wearers walk out with cuts and grazes, and I have seen non-helmet wearers who became kidney donors. I wear a helmet. It's my choice. I do believe it should be personal choice but people should be armed with the right information in order to make an informed choice.
In answer to an earlier thread, I believe it was the death of Andrea Kivilev that brought about the UCI decision to make helmet wearing compulsory in races. Not pressure from helmet manufacturers.

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cat1commuter replied to Psycling | 12 years ago
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Psycling wrote:

I have been an A & E nurse for six years and seen the results of cyclist wearing and not wearing helmets. I have seen helmet wearers walk out with cuts and grazes, and I have seen non-helmet wearers who became kidney donors. I wear a helmet. It's my choice. I do believe it should be personal choice but people should be armed with the right information in order to make an informed choice.

I totally agree that people should be armed with the right information to make an informed choice, but I hope you aren't implying that your anecdotes are this "right information". You have to show that your helmeted and helmetless cyclists are sampled from the same population, and this is very hard to do. Do the two groups have the same age and sex profile, and are they cycling the same routes? There are loads of possible biases. Young males are massively more risk taking (ask motor insurers). Are they less likely to wear a helmet? More sensible, experienced riders might be more likely to wear a helmet, and at the same time choose safer routes. Children from poorer families may be less likely to wear helmets whilst at the same time find themselves living and playing on more dangerous streets. Are your better outcomes for helmeted cyclists in A&E due to the protective effects of helmets, or are the helmets simply labelling a less risky part of the population?

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steve oxbrow | 12 years ago
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If I can legally ride a motor trike all day at 70MPH and not need a helmet I sure can ride my trike at 20 (well I used to be able to) without one. I've fallen and been knocked off a bike many times, broken several bones but never ever hit my head on anything. (that includes an "Imperial Crowner" off a high bicycle into the stand at Herne Hill. Landed shoulder first, Ouch! I always claim you can't FALL off a trike, you get thrown off, like off a horse.
My son, then 12 and I very publicly via a front page news item in our then local paper, declined to enter a charity ride because we were both required to wear helmets and as 'under 16' he HAD to be accompanied by an adult. "What utter nonsense" I said. "He is (was still then) allowed with my written consent to ride a 25 mile time trial on the main A1 dual carriageway (motorway standard)without a helmet". I now will not officiate in any event where helmets are compulsory, risk assessment is the responsibility of the rider (or parent/guardian.
The objection is compulsion.
More car occupants suffer from head injuries than cyclists and pedestrians in spite of seat belts (that encourage recklessness). Should they be forced to wear safety helmets too?

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cat1commuter replied to steve oxbrow | 12 years ago
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steve oxbrow wrote:

More car occupants suffer from head injuries than cyclists and pedestrians in spite of seat belts (that encourage recklessness). Should they be forced to wear safety helmets too?

No, I think that safety helmets should be made compulsory for car drivers and passengers, but not for cyclists. It might reduce car use, which would be a good thing.

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dave atkinson | 12 years ago
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I would point out that it's often the insurance companies underwriting these events, rather than the event organisers themselves, who are responsible for the requirement to wear a helmet. they see it as mitigating their risk, no doubt, whether it actually is or not.

i would say that if it's so obvious that helmets are the major factor in the incidence of head injuries among cyclists, that you'll obviously be able to see that correlation between helmet wearing and head injuries from all the data around the world. i won't though  4

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steve oxbrow replied to dave atkinson | 12 years ago
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They need to find a different insurance company, like the ones the CTC and CTT use!

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OldRidgeback | 12 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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Manx Rider | 12 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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Roger Geffen | 12 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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trevorparsons replied to Roger Geffen | 10 years ago
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The CTC resources on helmets are now here:
http://www.ctc.org.uk/campaign/cycle-helmets-evidence

As Tim Berners-Lee says, "Cool URIs don't change." Hope this one will survive future server reorganisations.

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rbx | 12 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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rbx | 12 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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Stumps | 12 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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Simon E | 12 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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burtthebike | 12 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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matt637 | 12 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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