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"Not at all surprised": Cyclists react to research showing riders wearing helmets and high-visibility clothing seen as "less human"

The new study from Australia found that an alarming number of people do not see cyclists as human, 30 per cent saying they considered those riding bicycles as less than fully human

With hundreds of comments and replies across our story and social media posts, yesterday's article about the new research from Queensland University of Technology and Flinders University in Australia — showing that cyclists wearing helmets or high-visibility clothing are dehumanised more than those without — has certainly got people talking.

For those who have not yet seen the results, in summary, 30 per cent of 563 respondents said they considered cyclists as less than fully human. Charming. Those wearing helmets were perceived as less human compared to those without, while cyclists with safety vests and no helmets were perceived as least human.

Notably, the researchers also concluded that dehumanisation related more to visible safety gear than obstruction of hair or eyes, and while we are on the topic of caveats, the study was undertaken in Australia where mandatory helmet laws exist, perhaps also worth considering when looking at the results.

Cyclist in the evening 02 © Simon MacMichael.jpg

But is anybody surprised? 

One road.cc reader said that in their experience they get "much more room riding my mountain bike" compared with on their road bike while wearing the same clothing and helmet. Any clever academic people fancy doing a study on bicycle type?

On the same topic, another road.cc reader replied: "I think you could be on to something there. Motorists probably are more triggered by 'does he think he's in the Tour de France' than by 'regular Joe on a bike like what I once rode as a kid'."

Over on Facebook, Jungo Merry told us: "I've also noticed a difference depending on what you wear. A lot less respect shown to me when riding in road kit/bike compared to riding with touring kit/bike/luggage."

Isaac River Stevens said: "I intentionally just wear my normal everyday clothes when I ride to work and back. Drivers need to see that people on bikes are just that — normal people... on a bike."

Tim Holman reckons "the question should be, how to humanise cycling. Start writing things like this on our Lycra? 'Father of two. Be nice?'"

If only we had some of that enviable Danish cycling infrastructure too...

Over on Twitter, regular Near Miss of the Day contributor from Ireland, Righttobikeit, who often uploads footage of dangerous driving to social media said the study backed up something he has "always said... hi-vis makes me a target".

Another cyclist added: "Interesting. I dont wear hi-vis (apart from a
PassPixi sign) and ditched the helmet for a cap. I don't get that many bad passes or any abuse. I wonder if they do humanise and make me more relatable to others."

An account called Makecyclingsafeagain said the researchers' findings were "not a big surprise based on my own experiences".

But what do you think? Do you notice much of a difference in the way other road users treat you when wearing cycling kit versus pootling to the shops in your civvies? Would the study make you think twice about what you wear on the bike? Let us know in the comments...

Dan joined road.cc in 2020, and spent most of his first year (hopefully) keeping you entertained on the live blog. At the start of 2022 he took on the role of news editor. Before joining road.cc, Dan wrote about various sports, including football and boxing for the Daily Express, and covered the weird and wonderful world of non-league football for The Non-League Paper. Part of the generation inspired by the 2012 Olympics, Dan has been 'enjoying' life on two wheels ever since and spends his weekends making bonk-induced trips to the petrol stations of the south of England.

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16 comments

Avatar
froze | 10 months ago
0 likes

It doesn't matter what you wear, cyclists are inhuman because the punishment for hitting a cyclist is too weak compared to hitting a pedestrian.  But we have an added problem, and that is distracted driving, which is causing a lot more deaths than what we wear, so what this article really is about is a distraction, it's distracting us from the real cause, in hopes that cyclists won't create a political movement to ban the use of phones when driving.

Avatar
Sriracha | 10 months ago
1 like

It's made the Telegraph, which seems to have dropped its paywall:
https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2023/06/08/cyclists-bikes-drivers-roads...

The encouraging thing is the comments are not all rabidly hostile!

Avatar
hawkinspeter replied to Sriracha | 10 months ago
0 likes
Sriracha wrote:

It's made the Telegraph, which seems to have dropped its paywall: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2023/06/08/cyclists-bikes-drivers-roads... The encouraging thing is the comments are not all rabidly hostile!

Probably something to do with it going up for sale: https://www.theguardian.com/media/2023/jun/07/daily-telegraph-and-sunday-telegraph-newspapers-to-be-put-up-for-sale

Without a paywall, I can put a link to their own coverage: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2023/06/07/telegraph-media-group-barclay-lloyds/

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bikeman01 replied to hawkinspeter | 10 months ago
0 likes

Paywall is certainly there now.

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Paul J | 10 months ago
5 likes

Worth noting that Ian Walker, University of Bath - sometime reader of this site I think - has actually done studies on measuring distance of passes, with sensors, previously. He found that drivers (in the UK) *quantifiably* are more likely to close pass cyclists in road gear and helmets than those without:

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0001457518309928?via%...(link is external)

This Australian study may be somewhat less rigorous in its methods, the results are consistent with Walker's more rigorous prior work.

Avatar
Mungecrundle | 10 months ago
3 likes

I'm pretty sure it doesn't matter what you wear. If they think you have held them up then you are fair game to be taught a lesson.

https://youtu.be/nS1Rnwjzdl4

Normal clothing, cycle helmet, bright jacket, not cycling on the footpath (not cycle path, not bridleway, not shared use path) which is where I guess he thinks I should be.

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HoldingOn replied to Mungecrundle | 10 months ago
0 likes

am chuckling at "seansean" in the comments.
his responses didn't stand the test of time....

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Kirk Patric replied to Mungecrundle | 10 months ago
1 like

Genrally true but I've noticed on the few occasions  that I haven't worn a helmet that many drivers give more space than I usually get.

Having a flashing red light at the rear (in broad daylight) also seems to make some drivers more careful but not nearly as many as not wearing a helmet but for many, particu;lar;y van drivers, like the one who overtook me this afternoon when I was indicating right for a turn, nothing matters and they know they will amost certainly get away with anything.

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ITK2012 | 10 months ago
1 like

If there was ever a survey that could be used to decide if people should hold a driving license this would be it.

 

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cyclisto | 10 months ago
2 likes

I mostly use slow low traffic roads and segregated infrastructure to commute, so in general close passes not a big threat for me.

But if I get stuck in multilane roads and receive close passes, I use my theatrical skills. Just make tiny sharp corrections, as if you learnt to balance an hour ago, and motorists will give you extra space. A 10cm wobble can give you extra 50cm or space or even more.

I don't do it often so use it with caution.

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SimoninSpalding | 10 months ago
2 likes

I would agree with the comment about touring set up vs "racing" set up. For my commute I have panniers (with a Pass Pixi) and I find drivers much more considerate. I wear the same clothes/ helmet as at a weekend on my no. 1 bike.

Avatar
Sriracha | 10 months ago
9 likes

Car drivers don't even see other motorists as human. Pedestrian-pedestrian interactions seldom generate much rage (unless alcohol is involved), nobody gets a red mist when another pedestrian overtakes them or cuts across them. But put them all in cars and the blood boils. It's probably an instinct seated in a primitive area of the brain we still share with dogs - try petting an "adorable" labrador through an open car window (actually, don't).

Avatar
Simon E replied to Sriracha | 10 months ago
3 likes
Sriracha wrote:

Car drivers don't even see other motorists as human. Pedestrian-pedestrian interactions seldom generate much rage (unless alcohol is involved), nobody gets a red mist when another pedestrian overtakes them or cuts across them. But put them all in cars and the blood boils.

Is it not that the car separates and protects them from all those around them? The sense of invulnerability is compounded by many decades of messaging that cars should have priority over 'lesser' road users.

If the driver's seat was at the front and was provided with no physical protection would they still drive the same way? Of course not.

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Robert Hardy replied to Simon E | 10 months ago
0 likes

They did when there was an unyielding steel shafted steering wheel, hard edged pressed metal dash, face shredding glass windscreen and no seat belts, so I wouldn't be too sure of that!

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Festus replied to Robert Hardy | 10 months ago
1 like

I find it differs from one day to another and not what I am wearing, when I use to ride to work the worse day was Monday after a Formula 1 GP the speeds were up and when I mentioned this to other cyclists they suddenly realized the same. Will add this when the GP was live on normal tv

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matthewn5 replied to Sriracha | 10 months ago
0 likes
Sriracha wrote:

Car drivers don't even see other motorists as human. Pedestrian-pedestrian interactions seldom generate much rage (unless alcohol is involved), nobody gets a red mist when another pedestrian overtakes them or cuts across them. But put them all in cars and the blood boils. It's probably an instinct seated in a primitive area of the brain we still share with dogs - try petting an "adorable" labrador through an open car window (actually, don't).

You've never seen me stuck behind a phone zombie pedestian then. Without alcohol. angry

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