15 September 2009

Australian Cyclist Prepares for Court

I wrote about Sue Abbott recently. She's the Australian woman who was ticketed for cycling without a helmet and who decided to tackle it in court.

Now it turns out that Mike Rubbo, the Australian documentarist, has hooked up with Sue to document her case. I remember studying Rubbo's films at film school, in particular Waiting for Fidel (1974).

The film, above, is the first installment in a series about Sue. Mike, the cycling documentarist, has his own blog, too. Situp Cycle.


Anonymous said...

Sue Abbott rocks. Listen to her speak - intelligent and rational. She also looks fabulous in comparison to how ridiculous the rest of us look with our helmets, fluorescent jackets and tights.

I will never understand the attitude towards supposed bicycle safety in this country. Whenever I put on my helmet in the morning I quietly fume and wish I was more like Sue.

I really enjoy reading this website (and Amsterdamize and David Hembrou's) but it also makes me quite sad when I see how far ahead of us other countries are.

I wish Sue the very best.

Anonymous said...

Hi Anon. So glad you found Sue inspiring.

What we need to think more about is, what we communicate as riders?

As I point out on the blog,A nd So To Bike, Sue is what I'm calling an open faced rider, the head held high, ready to smile, all this going with her waving to drivers as you see in the clip.

The helmets we wear, together with the absurd forward lean of most Aust. cyclist, make for a closed face and a seemingly grim relationship with the world, or a sort of inward turning, self absorbed, state.

Imagine if walking down a sidewalk, on-coming pedestrians had their heads down at that same angle, heavy browed headgear on their heads. How miserable walking would be.

The first thing to do, since most of us wont throw away our helmets till we get some safe cyclways, is get our heads up, and do so by changing to handlebars which come back to embrace us.

If your handlebars are eager to hug you, things are on the right track.

You might be a bit slower, but you'll be happier, and when you give your bum the wide soft seat it deserves, instead of the usual genital groin grinder, a new day will dawn

Sue had incrdible difficulty getting a bike like that. We'll tell that story in the next video with her. Mike rubbo

lagatta à montréal said...

Mike, plase sign in - there is no reason for you to be an anonymous poster!

Bravo to Sue and to you. And I hope Australian workaday cyclists will find the courage to take civil disobedience action against this absurd, anti-cycling - and ironically, anti-safety - legislation.

Vélo vaincra!

Andy B from Jersey said...

Go Sue!

But I'd wish you wouldn't ride so close to the edge of the road. In that opening section I kept on thinking she was going to tumble off into the weeds.

Don't be afraid to ride further towards the center of the road particularly when going downhill. You need the extra room to maneuver and your less likely to get pushed off the road by overtaking motorists.

I know. So "vehicular cycling" of me but on empty, lightly traveled rural roads there will never be special bike facilities and there really shouldn't be. This is where vehicular cycling principles come in handy.

Anonymous said...

Here's hoping this selfish, Luddite is put in her place by the courts. We can't afford to have loose cannons like her preaching stupidity in our courts. And we can't afford to pay for her brain surgery when she cracks open her skull.

Helmets are good for you, for your family and friends and for society. If you insist on misreading the mountains of evidence to that effect, at least have the decency not to put your stupidity on public display.


Anonymous said...


Don't waste your time on that here. Any evidence on the effectiveness of helmets is dismissed by this blog's owner as a big conspiracy. The "evil" capitalists at the helmet companies etc. You can't reason with this guy. He's a true believer.

Cheryl said...

I saw a gentleman here in SF on Market Street recently pedaling along calmly and thought, wow, that's the first Sikh in a turban I've seen in SF on a bike. What would he do in Australia with the helmet law? I don't think a helmet would ever work over a Sikh turban. Any one have any idea how Australia handles that situation.

Me, I'm for freedom of choice. I used to be an avid all-helmet all the time, but now I assess the risk of my planned ride and choose.

Adrienne Johnson said...

Cheryl- I have wondered the same thing. What if your religious leanings make wearing a helmet impossible? Or what if you are like a friend of mine who had hydrocephalus as a baby and can not find a helmet that will accommodate her head? What if you have arthritis in your neck- the extra weight and increased wind drag would cause significant pain.

Isn't it funny that when someone sticks up for themselves and fights for what they believe in, they are "selfish" and "stupid". It is amazing what the selfish and stupid have accomplished in this world- civil rights, modern medicine, literacy for the poor, political representation of the masses..... how have we survived it all?

Just a cyclist said...

May this lead to the dawn of cycling safety taken seriously by governments, where helmet wearing isn't the paramount (and only) consideration.

kfg said...

I'm a huge fan of the folding helmet design. It can't hurt to wear one. It can't do any good either, which doesn't really matter since anyone who wears one is already brain dead, but at least it acts a visible marker as to the brain function of its wearer so the rest of us can take that into account when maneuvering in close proximity to them.

Don't forget your St. Christopher's medal and "Jesus is my stoker" fender sticker, both of which are equally efficacious as the above helmet.

And Mikael is the one who gets accused of being a true believer. Go figure.

I am not a true believer. I am a physicist/engineer. I do not believe, I evaluate. Some helmets might be of some value at some time for some impact. NO helmet, because the laws of physics are what they are and the human body is structured the way it is, can be of general value. They must be designed around a very LIMITED and precise set of parameters. The world "out there" obstinately refuses to behave in such a limited and precise manner.

EVERY helmet is deeply flawed in some aspect when used in the randomness of the real world. There is ONE helmet which has been refined over a long period of time to give the best OVERALL performance, statistically speaking, in protection, weight, sight lines, cooling, etc.

The fluid suspended brain encased in hard bone covered with live leather. It is the PROVEN, tested against actual DEATH over millions of generations, optimal solution.

It can be improved upon in some parameter, but only at the expense of degrading some other; the end result being inherently a deviation from the optimal. As helmet designs strive to be more optimal, they necessarily give LESS ADDITIONAL protection. Today's racing helmet, the lightest, smallest, most aerodynamic, and most ventilated, give the least protection of all. Go figure.

The reasons that people give for wearing helmets typically reveal their faith based reasoning. The reasons they give for wearing helmets often have NOTHING to do with the function of the helmet, OR (as is most common) the reasons they give are for protection against situations in which helmets are the LEAST likely to be of value (riding in motor traffic or at high speed) and are MOST comfortable riding without one in the very situations for which today's helmets are actually DESIGNED (low speed on protected cycle ways).

They FEAR. Then apply the helmet as a way to alleviate that fear, whether the application is rational or not. Fear is not rational and more often than not fear is actually the only thing we need protection from. IT is the mind killer.

If you fear, your brain is already damaged, at least as far as its ability to act with rationality is concerned.

I can find flaws in Michael's writings about helmets, but they are relatively minor. The average helmet wearer, on the other hand, nearly to a person, is liable to say things that are utterly and completely disassociated with empirical reality as it can be demonstrated in any high school physics lab.

I wish Sue well. I do not expect her to prevail, but I wish her well. The law is logical to a fault, but it is internal logic. It is a branch of PHILOSOPHY, not science. It need only be logically consistent within its own frame work, not consistent with that which is so.

Anonymous said...


Poor analogy. The jury is in when it comes to the protections helmets provide. If you choose not to wear one, fine but that doesn't give you the right to endanger others with ignorant pronouncements.

It's a flat earth argument at this point.

Anonymous said...


I'm wondering what "high school physics lab" has lucked out with you. Maybe you clean the lab at night--between drinks?

There is a good reason that helmets have been mandated in the more dangerous cycling spots such as America. If you live in Denmark, fine, skip the helmet. You'll probably be fine since you have separate bike facilities in most places. In an American city, however, if you fall you are probably going over your handlebars onto your head. It's basic physics.

Anonymous said...

Anon- Q.E.D. and don't forget to tithe.

Taliesin said...

I think it unfortunate that she seems to have to fight on the grounds that helmets are dangerous in a direct manner. As far as I can tell from the various sites on the topic, the potential for increased rotational injury to the brain, impaired hearing/sight, etc, are still very hypothetical, and difficult to prove experimentally.

I think the indirect, or collective harm is much greater, ie the reduction in cycling. But I guess she can't argue that in court. That is a mater for the Australian governments.

Until the Australian cycling lobby grow a backbone on this issue, the chances of progress are perhaps limited. For now, wearing a helmet is seen as a sign of being a responsible cyclist in Australia, at least that is the impression I get, having moved to the UK, where I still have a choice, and choose to exercise it by not wearing one.

Just a cyclist said...

All things considered, one might well argue that the nowadays common practice of only assessing the absence or presence of a cyclehelmet is the most ignorant pronouncement regarding cycling safety.

Anonymous said...

Those who direct their fury at Sue are kicking down the line, meaning they are going for the easier, lower target.

As my narration in the film says, true safety is not on the head but under the wheels.

In the late eighties, the Australian Govt of the day was given 3 recommendations by a high powered commission on how to go forward with bike policy. 1. Build separated paths. 2. Educate drivers. 3. Make helmets mandatory.

To avoid spending money, they followed only the third,helmets, putting all the onus for safety onto the individual cyclist.

From then on, there's been shameful Govt. neglect, dramatically visible in our woeful commuter cycling stats.

So it should be thanks to Sue for airing all this, and now we must put every sort of pressure on our Govt to finally take the safety of cycling as transport, more seriously.

When our team negotiating team arrives in Copenhagen in December, they'll be confronted with the challenge of 200 bikes, being offered by the hosts as delegate transport.

It's a brilliant move on the part of the Danes to draw attention to their achievements in utility cycling with approx. 40% of all commutes in Copenhagen being made on bikes. (Though I'm with Mikael that 500 bikes would be much better)

If the Aust. Delegation accepts a bike, or even takes one for a photo op. they run the risk of our our woeful utility bike performance, for which they are in part responsible, coming out in the media.

I mean, how do you tell the world, "well, yes, we do a a very favorable climate for biking, and yes, there are more bikes sold in the country than cars, but actually our commuter bike usage is less than 1% nationally, amongst the lowest in the developed world."

It might seem like a side matter to the conference, but I claim that a nation's seriousness about climate change can be measured in part by the degree that bikes are used for short trips in place of the car.

By this measure, neither Australians nor their Govt. are serious about climate change.

Tell me why my reasoning's wrong?

Mike Rubbo

didrik said...

Could the person who claimed that the "jury is in" on the effectiveness of cycling helmets point us to the nail-in-the-coffin research finding on this. I'm not being critical, I really want to see it. I've be obsessively studying this topic for over a year and a half now and the more I do, the more skeptical I become.

I think the helmet evangelists that visit this site are missing the point of this blog. It's not about making you out to be evil or stupid if you choose to wear a helmet. It's about negative effect that promoting helmets for everyday cycling has on whether the average everyday person will take up cycling.

If you've taken the time to read some of the research on this you have to admit there is a lot of very contradictory data out there. This is an interesting data point in an of itself. If a small handful of case-control studies claim amazing benefits from cycling helmets, then why doesn't that play out on a larger scale? Any effect as large as is claimed should be extremely easy to pick up in population data. But we actually see the opposite in population data. Every research methodology and study has it's flaws and confounds, which is why the mass of research data is what gives us a better picture.

This contradiction of data doesn't mean you should throw away your helmet if you're comfortable with it. But it does put forth enough doubt that I don't understand where people get their extreme helmet evangelical attitudes from. How does someone go from deciding that a helmet is the right choice for them to deciding they need to make it the right choice for everyone?

Also, does anyone have any idea why there is not a similar helmet fervor for pedestrians and motorists when the data from every country I've seen clearly shows that these two groups are at a much higher risk of head injury than are cyclists--especially in the USA.

The long and the short of it is that cycling--even in the US--is safer than a lot of things we do daily. This is not to say that people never get injured but why would we want to scare people away from cycling given the state of things these days? Once again, wearing a helmet yourself doesn't deter others from cycling. Telling them how stupid or foolish they are for NOT wearing one apparently does, whether done at the individual or national level. You, can call people all kinds of derogatory things for not wanting to wear a helmet if you must, but that's the fact.

I recently visit Copenhagen and pedaled all over the city. There were some who chose helmets. But what really struck me is that the helmeted and the helmet-less just got on with it. Even groups of friends--some with and without helmets--would pedal on as if nothing was wrong. I never heard anyone lecturing someone next to them for not wearing a helmet. That's very different from here in the States. Wouldn't it be great if the USA was a tolerant and open minded society too. Someone in the government should write some kind of declaration about that. Hmmmm.

Anonymous said...

Another attack on "dumb Americans...

The Eurotrash are at it again! And you wonder why Europeans have such a disastrous history? They still hate their neighbors. Attacks on neighboring countries and ethnic groups are part of everyday conversation.

ha1ku said...

For those who assert helmets offer no protection, say that to this poor gal: http://www.brocycle.com/2009/08/wear-your-fucking-helmet.html.

ModelCarGuy said...

Just a few thoughts on the first installment and some of the comments-

I look forward to the remaining 4 installments, though it hardly seems "objective". But that's ok.

Safety isn't just under the wheels -whatever that is supposed to mean. A helmet won't keep you out of an accident, but it will help if you strike your head.

I believe that Ms. Abbott is going to loose. She has to argue necessity, and there really isn't any necessity to ride helmet-less.

Someone implied that the US had mandated helmet wearing. That isn't true for adults, except at the municipal level - and only a tiny minority at that. Not one state makes it mandatory for anyone over 18. Often the age of "choice" is 16, sometimes even 15.

I do agree with the comments about sitting upright. Drop bars, thin saddles, and general concern with looking like one is in the Tour de France has made cycling unattractive for many. Much more pleasant to sit up and look around you and interact with people.

Trolly said...

It's not about making you out to be evil or stupid if you choose to wear a helmet.

Sorry, that's *exactly* what it's about, among other things. The persistent implication is that people who wear and promote helmets are corporate stooges, idiotic zombies, uncritical conformists, or all of the above.

Meanwhile, anyone who suggests that it might be safer to wear a helmet is accused of other aspects of bicycle safety. I have *never*, *ever* seen anyone in the comments of this blog claim that helmets are 100% effective. So stop taking cheap shots at straw men.

Oh yeah, and this woman should be free not to wear a helmet, but she's not Rosa Parks, Gandhi, and Jesus all rolled into one, ok?

kfg said...

I, for one, am certainly not one of those referred to above who asserts that helmets offer no protection, however this:

". . .it will help if you strike your head."

. . .is wrong. A helmet MAY help. Whether it does or not will have a lot to do with the particular helmet and the particular strike. Different kinds of strikes are different enough, producing different kinds of injuries, that they actually require different KINDS of helmets to prevent or mitigate the injury.

A standard BMX helmet, for instance, cannot pass any safety certification for road use and might even increase the risk for and severity of a concussion, but wearing a road helmet in a half pipe might well increase your risk of contusion, the most LIKELY head injury in a half pipe.

A construction worker's hard hat (designed to protect against falling rivets) is singularly useless on a bicycle (although one can never tell about meteorites), except perhaps for protection against harassment for not wearing a helmet by the clueless.

It's all about risk factors. We can only be certain about what has happened, not what might. We may assess the risk factors and adopt a strategy based on our understanding of the odds, but after that what happens happens.

Just because you've drawn a queen high straight flush doesn't mean that the other guy didn't draw better, or cheats.

kfg said...

". . .she's not Rosa Parks, Gandhi, and Jesus all rolled into one, ok?"

No, she's just Gandhi. John Forrester is Rosa Parks. Some believe that Leonardo (the best ones end in "o") is Jesus, but there's no contemporaneous supporting evidence and it might just be a mythic forgery created centuries after the fact.

Just a cyclist said...

Trolly, your ferocious resistance here is difficult to grasp. Its not like the standpoints raved out by you and your comrades are those of an underdog. On the contrary, IRL they are relentlessly pushed in order to become an unquestionable norm to permanently transform cycling. This blog is one of the instances that actually challenges this.
Your bitter angryness here appears elusive.

Anonymous said...

Way to go, Trolly!

Many thanks for that much needed dose of reality.

It's one step forward, two steps back on this blog. The many attempts to show the best of cycling now have a sinister undertone.

Angus said...

I was out surfing on Sunday in small 2 ft surf on my Long board. Unfortunately the board hit me on the head very hard and I suffered concussion. I have been feeling sick since Sunday. However when I go out surfing again I won't be wearing a helmet; why? Because everything we do in life has a certain amount of risk and I could hit my head tripping up on a pavement running for a bus, should I wear a helmet when walking in the street? So as far as surfing goes I don't think the risk is worth the discomfort of wearing a gash helmet in small surf. I'm not against bike helmets at all and would wear one if I felt at risk. But that is the whole point that this blog is putting across, it would be my choice and not anybody else’s.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing that you're not going to wear a helmet while surfing.

ha1ku said...

...btw, a cyclist should be free to choose whether or not to wear a lid. The risk is theirs to bear alone.

Whatever happens in court I wish Sue well.

Anonymous said...

please stop posting helmet posts.

they are: tired, bored, silly and tedious.

it would be interesting to steer from this anecdotal propaganda movie to a study of the recommendations in aus. that lead to the helmet, yet not the others, that an earlier comment mentioned. now that was actually interesting.

indeed, helmets should be a choice. but i feel like i lost some of my life by watching that movie.

saying that helmets lead to obesity is silly.

blog master, you really need to go beyond fashion and anecdotal movies and move into some deeper wonky planning studies.

Anonymous said...

Dear Anon, I'm afraid you are plain wrong when you say that there is no link between obesity as cycling.

How do you explain that the countries which bike the most, are the least obese. We have a very serious problem with obesity, up with the US as the world's fattest nation, and biking so little for transport is tragic and costly.

If bikes had been favored as transport by our Govt, that would not be true.

As for helmets, I wear one, but am coming to think that if they keep people from riding, they should be optional.

One should be able to decide whether the trip one is about to make justifies one. Maybe going into the city, you wear one, riding down to the shops, you don't.

My next movie, loading right now and called, Biking up the Wrong Tree, follows my fiend and I as we ride around Sydney on a lovely later winter day.

In 6 hours, we saw 7 other bikes. If that doesn't shock you. it should. As we say in the movie, it if was Copenhagen or Amsterdam, we'd have seen thousands.

Why were not even tourists on bikes that day, when we figure there were 50,000 visitors in the city with us? (based on average visits)

Because you cant rent bikes on the street like in Paris and many other cities. Melb. is supposedly trialling a scheme, but the problem is helmets.

Helmets are hard to include with the bike at a self help station, and many tourists, not used to them at home, don't want to wear them in any case.

We are losing millions though our nanny helmet law. Mike Rubbo

Anonymous said...

Unfortnately Mike Rubbos misspelled the link Copenhagenize.com in his credits the end of the video.
Instea he wrote Copenhagenise.com with an 's' instead of a 'z' and this is a dead link.

It's the British English vs. American English spelling ('s' vs. 'z').

amoeba said...

To those advocates of silly pieces of plastic that you expect cyclists to wear. Cycle helmets are not designed to protect cyclists from collisions with motor-vehicles. They cannot reliably achieve what they weren't designed to achieve.

The question is: Do you wear a pedestrian helmet or a driving helmet?

There is evidence that wearing a cycle helmet may increase the cyclist's likelihood of being involved in an accident. Because motorists apparently drive closer to a helmeted cyclist than one who is unadorned. AFAICT, it's a single study, so there needs to be confirmation.

However, it is absolutely certain that cyclists' and pedestrians' primary cause of death and serious injury derives from collisions with motor-vehicles, so legislators and highway engineers need to find means of separating motorists adequately from cyclists and pedestrians, or slowing motorists down or both.

The solution is very obvious, it doesn't involve any kind of helmet. It also has been proven to work.

Look at the Netherlands.

I recommend you start here: