09 April 2008

Fear-Mongering on the Silence Ride

I just had to chuck this post up. I'm in the midst of reading reams of research studies and formulating a blog response to the world of bike helmet advocacy.

Regarding the fear-mongering inherent in the whole debate, I was quite shocked to find this video. It's absolutely mad. It's from the Ride of Silence website.

The Ride of Silence is apparently some kind of memorial event where cyclists honour cyclists who died over the past year with a tribute ride. Which sounds nice.

They have a video on their website about last year's ride, where the ride went around a lake.

Here's a link to the page - it opens in a new window and starts playing automatically.

Here's what the speaker says:

"This has grown way beyond anyone's dreams. No one ever saw this happening. South Africa, Scotland, England, Brazil, Greece... the list goes on and on. You'll be riding with them, 'cause there's still carnage goin' on out there on the roads.

Someone's going to ride around the lake with us tonight... and they won't be here next year."

Get that last bit. He's basically saying that out of a couple of thousand cyclists present at the ride, at least one of them is dead next year. Period. Fact.

Every rider in the short video looks like they're trying to make the cut for the Tour de France [and looking dreadfully incapable of doing so...] They don't exactly look like a group of cyclists who ride casually and attempt to share the road. How many challenge the traffic instead of working with it? And where's the 'Cycle Defensively' angle in the video? Or a sense of 'Let's be careful out there...'?

No, no. Cyclists are helpless victims of 'carnage out there on the roads'. It is an absolute certainty that someone will die.

Nevermind the fact that all scientific statistics show the opposite. That cycling is safer than walking and certainly safer than driving. [more on that in a later post]

It's a nice, beautiful idea, this Ride of Silence. There's a lot of potential for a good, simple memorial. What a horrible, horrible shame that they use fear-mongering to sell their message. Preying on people's emotions in order to get more people to show up next year [after all, they have to replace the dead ones...]

One thing is certain, if anybody gets together to ride in memory of me - unlikely, i know - I'll be having no lycra, no goofy specialist bikes and no helmets. Promise me that. And tell the world that facts and science beats fear-mongering any day.

Ride of Silence Website


Bike Jax said...

"And tell the world that facts and science beats fear-mongering any day."

You have to remember that the video was from the US. The country that gulped up our current presidents "fear mongering" not once, but twice.

And as far as science and facts are concerned. We don't need all that hooey. We have the word of god.

Well at least the majority of US citizens seem to believe that way it seems.

As for the clown costumes most cyclist wear. I also have not ever understood the fascination either.

Helmets on the other hand, should be and are unfortunately are very necessary on our streets and roads.

David P. said...

I'm glad someone is commenting on the over sell of helmets. I personally prefer to ride without and hope that the ineveitable laws will keep at bay. I wear normal street clothes and shoes and use my bikes as transportation to/from work or to run errands. I can appreciate the need for a helmet if riders are spinning balls to the wall on plastic road racers and tricked out trail bikes but my style of riding is simple, slow to moderately paced and observant of others around me. I enjoy the challenge of finding routes that have little or no auto traffic even if it means going out of my way. I don't feel a helmet is necessary for me and I hope that it will always be MY choice.

Anonymous said...

'Ride of Silence', accompanied by bagpipes??


Fritz said...

I too appreciate the idea behind the Rides of Silence, but I try to avoid mentioning them and ghost bikes too much because of the fear mongering.

Bike Jax: While cycling in the USA is somewhat more dangerous than cycling in, say, Denmark, it's not all that more dangerous than driving. You're about as likely to get a serious head injury while driving as you are while cycling. If you believe helmets are necessary for cyclists on American roads, you also believe they're necessary for motorists.

A cyclist was run over by a cement truck in Santa Cruz (where I live) yesterday. I'm talking he went under the wheels and was crushed. What did the news media report about the cyclist? That he wasn't wearing a helmet. As if.

Nomes said...

If you live in Amsterdam or Copenhagen where there is a fantastic bike infrastructure than helmets are not necessary.

If however, you live somewhere like Sydney - obsessed by cars not many cycle lanes and a generally bike intolerant society (its changing slowly), then a helmet is a must.

I would love not to wear one - I want to look cycle chic too but here its just too dangerous and will get you a fine.

P.s. Sometimes lycra is just more comfortable than normal clothes - for long rides its a must not really a fashion choice;)

UltraRob said...

I've done the local Ride of Silence and plan to again this year. Ours is pretty small and there's no fear mongering just respect for those killed. Just on Sunday, 2004 RAAM finisher Randy Van Zee was hit from behind and killed. It does happen. I've had close calls on the bike but I may get killed in a car accident. You never know. You just can't take for granted you'll be here tomorrow.

SiouxGeonz said...

Welp, it *could* be that statistically speaking, one of those people is likely to croak in the next year... (shot by jealous lover, perhaps)
... and I will ride in our Ride of Silence, but frankly, I hate that attitude more for the acceptance of victim status.
On the other hand, I know I posted at least once today about how, in this country anyway,just baout *any* "let's talk about cycling" media thing is about "and of course we have to be safe! This is the gear you will need and ride as if... adn..."
Now, do we treat skiing that way? No. Everybody knows you can break your leg, your neck, whatever.

Ed W said...

Who said there's no such thing as bad weather - there's just a bad clothing choice? Purpose made cycling clothing is utilitarian. Form follows function and riding clothes have to be some of the most conservative designs. They haven't changed substantially for at least 40 years.

I live with wildly variable weather. Lycra cycling clothing makes the difference between riding every day or not. Synthetic fabrics are easier to keep clean and help prevent saddle sores, and believe me, when temperatures exceed 100F here in the summer, preventing saddle sores is key.

Finally, the danger of riding on the road are greatly exaggerated. Partly, that has to do with the egotism of some riders, bravely facing danger day after day - or at least they do in their own minds. Also, if enough of us pesky cyclists can be convinced of the utter horror awaiting us on the road someday, we'll be good little sheep, give up our two wheeled death machines, and drive cars like sane people.

Well, we could. But I won't.

Anonymous said...

I live in the US. A seven year old girl was severely brain damaged while bike riding in our neighborhood. Her back wheel was clipped by a car, and she was thrown backwards off the bike. She was not wearing a helmet, and she suffered permanent brain damage from a closed head injury. She is now 17 and cannot walk, stand, or speak.
If she had been wearing a properly fitted helmet, it seems reasonable to me that her outcome would have been much better. In her case, she hit the street with the back of her head taking the full impact. If she had been hit directly by the car, a helmet wouldn't have helped at all.
While I realize that the probability of being clipped by a car or just randomly falling off my bike is unlikely, I always wear a helmet.

Hayduke said...

Yes, we lost a bicyclist in Santa Cruz yesterday, killed by a trailer pulled by a gravel truck, on a four-lane highway that runs through the western part of town. The bicyclist was deaf, so he couldn't hear the truck approaching on the busy street. We don't know if the truck and trailer crowded him on the edge of the road, or if he swerved behind the truck as it passed, not knowing that it was pulling a trailer.

We also lost two motorcyclists and two automobilists this past week, victims of poor decisions, inattention and alcohol.

Bicycling is still safer than riding a motorcycle or driving a car.

So...Why the fear?

green with a gun said...

So in the stories just posted we have:

1) a driver who carelessly clipped a bicycle
2) deaf cyclists have greater danger on the roads
3) inattention and alcohol make for dangerous roads

I'm not sure how helmets are supposed to make much difference to this.

Car licences are rather too easily given out, I think. And certainly far too easily kept. Car licences ought to be like firearms licences are here in Australia - a privilege, not a right.

Absolutely helmet-wearing by cyclists is a good idea in a country where there aren't a lot of cyclists. However, if we really want to improve cyclist safety the best thing to do is make more cyclists, and to improve vehicle driver standards.

Zakkaliciousness said...

The reason I started this little personal investigation about the truth behind bike helmets and advocacy/legislation is that so many people spout off the same rhetoric, without knowing or caring about the facts.

A bike helmet is tested and designed for a cyclist who falls off a bike at a speed of 20 kph [12 of those mile things] and who gracefully swan dives over the handlebars just right, landing perfectly on their head, or glancing off a curbstone.

[however, if you fall off your bike doing 20 kph then probably shouldn't be riding a bike.]

Not even the most religiously fervent helmet manufacturer/advocate will claim that a helmet will help in a collision with another vechicle.

In fact, the science indicates that a helmet increases your risk of injury in collisons.

I'll get the links up in later posts.

So, as Green with a Gun says, these anecdotes are of little use in a scientific debate.

Anonymous said...

In the USA, licenses to drive are handed out like candy...even those for truckers.

"The former owner of a St. Louis truck driving school was found guilty... for orchestrating a scheme to illegally obtain commercial drivers licenses for over 600 hundred of his students."

The former governor of IL was convicted of the same scheme.

Terrorists flying planes are replaced by those in trucks? It is easier.

Anonymous said...

i don't think recommending helmets for cyclists is recommending them for people in cars. few people in car accidents are at risk of hitting their head on a curb or other car as is the case with cyclists.

that said, i totally agree that it should be a choice for adults.

Zakkaliciousness said...

Although 30,000 people die in traffic accidents each year in the US. If those 30,000 were wearing specially designed helmets - based on motorcycle standards, not cycle helmet standards - i wonder how many would have survived? Even if it was 5000, that is a considerable number.

Bike helmet advocates are shooting their big old bazooka in the wrong direction. There's work to be done elsewhere...

Johnny said...

"Bike helmet advocates are shooting their big old bazooka in the wrong direction. There's work to be done elsewhere..."

While I'm a personal fan of my brainbucket (I am accident-prone, lol), I think that your above statement is very true. What's the point of getting laws for helmets if no one actually goes out to ride?

GB said...

I just came across this blog post that has a chart which lists the odds of dying of various events. The source of the chart and data: http://www.nsc.org/lrs/statinfo/odds.htm

The NSC is a US orgainization as are its stats (I think).

Zakkaliciousness said...

Thanks for that link. Interesting stuff. Looks like HELMETS FOR PEDESTRIANS NOW! will be the next big t-shirt slogan. :-)

Fritz said...

Helmets for peds -- Here you go (speaking of fear mongering -- "Over 500,000 children's head injuries are recorded each year!" BUY A HELMET FOR YOUR CHILD TODAY!!!!

Zakkaliciousness said...

christ, fritz... that is quite possibly the scariest thing i've ever seen. 250,000 years of homo sapains and suddenly we need child helmets.