17 September 2009

Fear of Cycling 03 - Helmet Promotion Campaigns

Third installment by sociologist Dave Horton, from Lancaster University, as a guest writer. Dave has written a brilliant assessment of Fear of Cycling in an essay and we're well pleased that he fancies the idea of a collaboration. We'll be presenting Dave's essay in five parts.

Fear Mongering for Profit
Fear of Cycling -
Helmet Promotion Campaigns - by Dave Horton - Part 03 of 05

Like road safety education, campaigns to promote the wearing of cycle helmets effectively construct cycling as a dangerous practice about which to be fearful. Such campaigns, and calls for legislation to make cycle helmets compulsory, have increased over the last decade. In 2004, a Private Members’ Bill was tabled in the UK Parliament, to make it an offence for adults to allow children under the age of 16 to cycle unless wearing a helmet. Also in 2004, the influential British Medical Association, in a policy turnaround, voted to campaign for helmets to be made compulsory for all cyclists (for comprehensive detail on these developments, and debates around cycle helmets in general, see The Bicycle Helmet Research Foundation).

Helmet promotion, especially to children, has become an established part of the UK road safety industry. In 2005, Lancashire County Council’s road safety team ran a ‘Saint or Sinner?’ tour, with anyone cycling without a helmet deemed sinful; sinners were given the opportunity to repent by pledging to ‘mend their ways’, and always wear a helmet when cycling (Lancaster and Morecambe Citizen 2005).

Helmet promotion is hugely controversial among UK cycling organisations (Hallett 2005). The 2004 Parliamentary Bill was unanimously opposed by the cycling establishment, with every major cycling organisation and magazine rejecting helmet compulsion (Cycle 2004). The groups opposing the Bill included CTC (formerly The Cyclists’ Touring Club, and the UK's largest cycling organisation), London Cycling Campaign, the Cycle Campaign Network, the Bicycle Association, the Association of Cycle Traders, British Cycling, Sustrans and the National Cycling Strategy Board. These groups are not all anti-helmet, but argue for the individual’s right to choose. This section cannot hope to do justice to the various arguments for and against (the imposition of) helmets, which can anyway be found elsewhere, but key issues include:

- Efficacy at the individual level. Does wearing a helmet reduce or increase the risk of sustaining a head injury? Here there are three relevant concerns. First, the technical capacities of helmets, which are designed only to resist low-speed impacts, and only then if correctly fitted (Walker 2005). Second, the concept of risk compensation which suggests that both cyclists wearing helmets and motorists in their vicinity possibly take less care (Walker 2007), which therefore increases the likelihood of collision; in implicit recognition of the existence of risk compensation, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents in its leaflet, Cycle Helmets, feels it necessary to caution ‘Remember: Helmets do not prevent accidents … So be just as careful’ (RoSPA n.d.). Third, the greater size of the head, and so increased probabilities of impact, resulting from wearing a helmet;

- Efficacy at the aggregate level. Do helmet promotion campaigns make cycling more or less safe, overall? There is evidence that cycling levels decline when helmets are promoted and collapse when they become compulsory (Liggett et al 2004, 12). Australia, the first country to make cycle helmets compulsory, witnessed a post-compulsion fall in levels of cycling of between 15 and 40 per cent (Adams 1995, 146). According to ‘the Mole’ (2004, 5), in Melbourne 'compulsion reduced the number of child cyclists by 42% and adults by 29%'. Because cycling tends to be safest where there are many cyclists (Jacobsen 2003), and most dangerous in places with few cyclists, and because helmet promotion campaigns reduce the overall numbers of cyclists, helmet promotion increases the risk of cycling. The relationship between increased cycling and increased safety appears to be confirmed by the experiences of the Netherlands and Denmark, which have high levels of cycling, very low rates of helmet wearing, and low rates of death and serious injury among cyclists;

* Equity. Mayer Hillman (1993) claims that cyclists are at lower risk of head injury than motorists, pedestrians and children at play, yet none of those groups is encouraged to wear helmets (see also Kennedy 1996). Risk theorist John Adams suggests that equitable application of the logic applied to cycle helmet promotion would result in ‘a world in which everyone is compelled to look like a Michelin man dressed as an American football player’ (1995, 146)!

This should be sufficient detail to indicate why the issue of cycle helmets creates so much interest and controversy among health promotion and accident prevention experts, as well as cyclists. But in the context of my overall argument, my chief point here is to note how helmet promotion campaigns play on people’s existing fear of cycling, and contribute to the reproduction and magnification of that fear. One recent UK Government campaign demonstrates my claim in a particularly vivid way.

In 2004 the UK Department for Transport launched ‘Cyclesense’, a multi-media ‘teenage cycle safety’ campaign centred on a series of images of skull x-rays and helmets, which is now taken offline. Various captions accompany the different images of the helmet-wearing skulls.

The script alongside x-ray 01 reads: ‘It’s no joke: cycling is a fun, convenient and healthy way to get around - but if you don’t follow basic safety guidelines the results could be very unfunny’

It continues that ‘in 2001 nearly 3000 cyclists between 12 - 16 were killed or injured on the roads. If you want to protect yourself you must take your cycle safety seriously'.

The text accompanying x-ray 02, a helmeted and apparently laughing skull, reads: 'It's no laughing matter’, before insisting ‘Get yourself a helmet. No joking - in a study of admissions to an A&E Department nearly 50% of injuries suffered by cyclists were to the head and face’. Elsewhere on the Cyclesense website, on the ‘Protection’ page, the text reads: ‘If you like your face and head the way it is, then wear a helmet!’.

These captions make clear the central and over-riding message of the campaign; if you want to cycle and keep your skull intact, you must wear a helmet. The campaign portrays cycling as dangerous, and instils fear.

The CTC responded angrily to the images. A rare letter to all members from CTC Director, Kevin Mayne (2004), set out potential consequences of the imagery; children could be frightened from cycling, and their parents and teachers might feel reluctant to let them cycle.

Mayne writes: ‘CTC believes [these images] will do huge damage to the perception of cycling as a safe, enjoyable, healthy activity’; and such campaigns ‘raise unfounded anxiety about the “dangers” of cycling, and are known to drive down cycle use’.

Against the context of broad governmental support for cycling, Mayne’s tone becomes incredulous:

"Images which link cycling with X-rays of skulls can only mean one thing - if you cycle you will end up hospitalised or dead. What sort of message is that to give to young people? … The last thing the Government should be doing is frightening children into NOT cycling!" (Mayne 2004, original emphasis)

Of most relevance here is that every call for cyclists to wear, or be forced to wear, helmets demands the association of cycling with danger, and thus the production of fear of cycling. Whilst I am happy to align myself with CTC's position, my wider point is that the promotion of cycle helmets is just one more way in which a fear of cycling is constructed.

People with experience in the politics of cycling might realise how controversial are calls for cyclists to don helmets, but the majority of people in societies such as the UK are much more likely to take such campaigns at face value, and to be surprised by those of us who adopt a more sceptical line (although scientific research into how different audiences receive helmet promotion campaigns is clearly required).

In other words, even in this, the most contentious of areas, constructions of cycling as a dangerous practice, and thus the production of fear of cycling, proceeds for the most part in a remarkably insidious way.

- Adams, J. (1995) Risk (London and New York: Routledge).
- Cycle (2004) ‘Helmet law stalls’, Cycle, June/July, 12.
- Hallett, R. (2005) ‘Who Needs Helmets?’, Cycling Weekly, February 19th, 28-9.
Hillman, M. (1993) Cycle Helmets: The Case For and Against (London: Policy Studies Institute).
- Jacobsen, P. (2003) ‘Safety in Numbers: More Walkers and Bicyclists, Safer Walking and Bicycling’, Injury Prevention, 9: 205-9.
- Kennedy, A. (1996) ‘The pattern of injury in fatal cycle accidents and the possible benefits of cycle helmets’, British Journal of Sports Medicine, 30: 130-133.
- Lancaster and Morecambe Citizen (2005) ‘Saints and sinners ride smart’, Wednesday 1st June, 17.
- Liggett, P., A. Cook and K. Mayne (2004) 'CTC and helmets', in Cycle, April/May, 12.
- Mayne, K. (2004) 'This is not another circular: Act now before taxpayers' money is used to damage the future of cycling', letter to CTC members, (Godalming, Surrey: CTC).
- RoSPA (n.d.) Cycle Helmets, Birmingham: The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents.
- The Mole (2004) 'Ear to the Ground', A to B, 41: 3-6.
- Walker, B. (2005) ‘Heads Up’, Cycle, June/July, 42-5.
- Walker, I. (2007) 'Drivers overtaking bicyclists: Objective data on the effects of riding position, helmet use, vehicle type and apparent gender', Accident Analysis and Prevention, 39, 417-425.

Fear of Cycling - Part 01 - Introduction
Fear of Cycling - Part 02 - Constructing Fear of Cycling / Road Safety 'Education'
Fear of Cycling - Part 03 - Helmet Promotion Campaigns
Fear of Cycling - Part 04 - New Cycling Spaces
Fear of Cycling - Part 05 - Making Cycling Strange

Dave Horton is a sociologist and lover of all things cycling. He is part of the Cycling and Society Research Group, which has pioneered a ‘cultural turn’ in cycling studies and which holds an annual symposium in the UK. Dave works at Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University, on the project ‘Understanding Walking and Cycling’. He tries to do, to write about, and to promote all kinds of cycling, because cycling is essentially good.


Trolly said...

A five-part article with footnotes AND a bibliography. Are you trying to bore us into agreeing with you?

Mikael said...

Are you talking to me or to Dave, who wrote the article? Whatever the case, the internet is a big place. As far as I'm aware, I'm not sitting next to you and forcing your hand on the mouse to click onto the site. :-)

Anonymous said...

@Trolly - you wouldn't by any chance sell bike helmets for a living, wouldya?

Lol - if there weren't footnotes, citations etc, you'd be pooh-poohing it as unfounded opinion and demanding to know where Dave got his facts.

Anonymous said...

Great series. I'm sharing with friends. Thank you!

Trolly said...


Nor am I forcing you to read my comments... I'm really mystified why you don't just ignore me. ;-)

Anonymous said...

What I always find amusing is that any well researched article such as this one is usually met with scorn and derision by those who promote helmets, on the basis that "statistics can't be trusted; anyone can manipulate them to prove anything they want". Of course, to support their own position, they have a story about someone whose "life was saved" by wearing a helmet, and one (now infamous) study showing that helmets can prevent 80% of bicycle related head injury. No other statistics are acceptable, and I have a feeling that they don't really want to hear my stories about my years of riding and frequently falling before bike helmets were even invented. Oh, well. An excellent article so far; one can only hope that it gets extensive exposure. Val

Anonymous said...

What I appreciate about Dave's series so far, is how he is not vilifying bike hemlets. Instead, he is critiquing the tone and focus of bike helmet campaigns.

kfg said...

The number of people whose "life was saved" by a helmet, annually, appears to exceed the total number of head injury related deaths since the invention of the bone shaker.

As I recall, working strictly from memory without bothering to look up the data and provide a citation, the total number of cyclist head injury fatalities that would have been prevented in Western Australia, over a 15 year period, going by ACTUAL fatalities to people NOT wearing helmets and assuming that EVERY one of these fatalities would have been prevented by a helmet was:


Less than one a year. For an entire territory. And yet I know (as I'm sure many of you do) several people in my own neighborhood who swear that a helmet saved their life.

What we have here is one of the standard modes of failure in empirical reasoning; self reporting to reinforce one's beliefs. I know of one case where a woman, about to have an accident, closed her eyes, let go of the steering wheel and asked Jesus to drive the car for her. Since she survived that accident she did not conclude that the accident wasn't sever enough to kill her; she concluded that Jesus drove her to relative safety. Sure she got pretty badly hurt, but just imagine how badly she WOULD have gotten hurt if Jesus hadn't taken over the wheel.

Now getting a knock on the head is a pretty reasonable thing to be concerned about. After all, if you want to kill someone giving them a good knock on the head is a pretty effective way to go about it, but the fact of the matter is that MOST knocks on the head result in no more injury than the knockee yelling "Ow! Quit it."

Because the head IS a helmet, and a pretty damned good one at that. When you put on a helmet you are putting a helmet on a helmet, which immediately raises certain engineering issues.

But if you believe that helmets protect you from injury and, while wearing a helmet, get a knock on the head without injury, or at least a sub-fatal injury, you might be prone to report that the helmet saved your life. Not because it did (it can be shown by examining post crash helmets that a good many of them did nothing at all to even mitigate concussion, the helmets exhibiting either no interior damage at all or a rather dramatic failure mode. Thus if the wearer did not suffer a concussion it was simply because the impact was not severe enough to induce one in the first place), but because that was the a priori assumption of the wearer.

A condition of patterned behavior arises that Skinner called "Extinct Proof," because all trials lead to a reenforcement of the behavior and subsequently the subject refusing to put itself in a situation which would provide a contrary experience. A subject may well starve itself to death to avoid a harmful situation - which does not exist.

At this point one is prone to start report biasing OTHER people's experiences; citing those few cases where someone not wearing a helmet died of a head injury and steadfastly ignoring the billions who suffered no injury at all or bounced off their helmetless heads and yelled "Ow! Quit it."

And VERY pointedly ignoring those cases where someone wearing a helmet died of head injuries anyway, perhaps because the helmet failed to provide protection or because of the impact type and energy being such that even an anti-bear suit wouldn't have prevented the fatality.

Fear takes over, self-reinforces, and might well leave one afraid to even STAND with your bike (because you can point out that someone HAS died doing that) without wearing a helmet - and insisting that everyone else who is not so irrationally afraid is being irrational.

And now we have in our midst an evangelist of fear, fighting the good fight against Sin and Evil. Praise The Helmet, amen!

Disclaimer: I am not anti-helmet. I both own and have been known to wear helmets. I try, however, not to let it make me stupid.

I also try to follow the teachings of the great philosopher, Iorek Byrnison:

Lyra: You en’t afraid, are you?“

Iorek: “Not yet. When I am, I shall master the fear.”

ModelCarGuy said...

The pretense of objectivity would have come across better w/o the red herring about pedestrian helmets.

It's true there are activities more dangerous than cycling - activities for which no one suggests wearing any sort of safety equipment. It doesn't follow that there is no reason to wear a bike helmet. It's also true that various law making bodies around the world make laws that are inconsistent, but agian, it doesn't follow that there is no good reason to wear a helmet while biking.

You undermine your own argument when you present this-

"People with experience in the politics of cycling might realise how controversial are calls for cyclists to don helmets, but the majority of people in societies such as the UK are much more likely to take such campaigns at face value, and to be surprised by those of us who adopt a more sceptical line (although scientific research into how different audiences receive helmet promotion campaigns is clearly required)."

After suggesting Brits are stupid enough to take the campaign at face value you admit that you really don't have any research to back up the claim.

"Images which link cycling with X-rays of skulls can only mean one thing - if you cycle you will end up hospitalised or dead...."

If people actually took that at face value, they wouldn't ride at all - unless they believed that helmets were 100% effective in preventing head injuries. But of course no one is that naive.

Quoting someone's opinion, even when properly cited, does not transform opinion into fact.

My final comment is for Mikael. It strikes me as odd that you claim to be in favor of freedom of choice where helmet wearing is concerned. The reason I find it funny is that you frequently make comments that discourage helmet use. If you were truly open to freedom of choice you'd simply shrug your shoulders when people made a choice different than your own, and go on about your business.

Just so no one leaps to any unfounded conclusions, I am not an advocate for mandatory helmet laws.

Just a cyclist said...

ModelCarGuy, I believe that Dave Hortons assumption "but the majority of people in societies such as the UK are much more likely to take such campaigns at face value..." is reasonable since these same campaigns are indeed taken at face value by the mass media and also by some authorities, who never seem to delve deeper into the subject than, say, being content with the (in)famous 85% statistics.

Also, I don't think that Dave Horton meant the X-ray imagery would lead people to believe that helmets are 100% effective; however, he meant that it was rather effective for instilling and reinforcing fear of cycling.

Anonymous said...

". . .it doesn't follow that there is no good reason to wear a helmet while biking."

I do not believe that is the point. I believe the point is that there is no BETTER reason to wear a helmet when cycling than there is when walking.

That there is no reason to feel any MORE concern biking without a helmet than walking without one.

"It's also true that various law making bodies around the world make laws that are inconsistent . . ."

It is also true that it is a principle of the philosophy of legal justice that such is to abhored and opposed.

". . .you frequently make comments that discourage helmet use."

Being if favor of choice is in no way inconsistent with advocating one's position on the matter.

"If you were truly open to freedom of choice you'd simply shrug your shoulders when people made a choice different than your own . . ."

All matters, buy most particularly those that have entered the political and legal arena, need oppositional representation, other wise there is no way to make what can honestly be described as a CHOICE in the first place.

I once lived in a country not my own for the better part of year, which happened to be a presidential election year. Here's how the "democracy" worked:

They told you who the candidate you were supposed to vote for was; and then you went out and voted for him.

Sure there was another candidate, but it took me several days of reading the major newspaper in a state capital city to even find out his name. I still have no idea what his platform was.

That is not choice. Choice is informed, debated and free of coercion. Choice is synonymous with the ability to speak one's mind and "Live and let live" is NOT synonymous with "Shut the hell up, who wants to hear your opinion anyway."

You will have a better argument when you catch Mikael telling people to remove their helmets under threat of force, as MILLIONS of cyclists now find themselves being told to wear helmets under threat of force. A few have even been assaulted and incarcerated for failure to do so.

Mikael is doing nothing more than standing against this. Someone, preferably a good many someones, has to.

Just a cyclist said...

And oh MCG, its strange how any of the supposedly helmet-discouraging content in this blog could be discouraging for those who, by their own will and choice, chose to use a helmet. If so, it has to be someone who is very easily influenced. In that case please grow some spine and don't let Mikael make any decisions for you.

kfg said...

Re; Anon 1:27:

Just for the record I did not mean to post that as Anon. Sometimes in the process of getting a comment to "take" things go awry. This is likely to happen again a time or three in future, as I also do not intend to register.

ModelCarGuy said...

Anonymous - post 11. You make some good points. I wish that you'd put your name on the post, that way I could check out your blog -if you have one.

Anonymous said...

good points... I can honestly say a helmet prevented a head injury for me after crashing at 40 km/h (lost my front wheel in a patch of gravel - spring riding in Canada is fun... its like riding on marbles)...

having worked in some of the poorest communities in North America I think mandatory helmets are a good thing, the kids there were able to get them through a sports charity. There were so many dangers there that don't exist in a "normal" town that having bike helmets reduced the perception of risk.

Trolly said...


You and I both know that helmet advocates could produce plenty of data and quotes, and then *you* would be talking about how "statistics can be twisted."

This stopped being a reasonable debate a long, long time ago, which is why I have embraced the role of the "Troll."


"You will have a better argument when you catch Mikael telling people to remove their helmets under threat of force, as MILLIONS of cyclists now find themselves being told to wear helmets under threat of force. A few have even been assaulted and incarcerated for failure to do so.

Mikael is doing nothing more than standing against this."

No, Mikael has consistently fought no only against helmet laws, but against *any* and *all* forms of helmet advocacy. He has basically accused cycling advocates who encourage helmet uses of being traitors to the "cause." And he has shown no willingness to acknowledge the special challenges facing cyclists who try to stay safe on the roads of North America and other places which aren't Copenhagen.

kfg said...

Anon 4:16:

"I can honestly say a helmet prevented a head injury for me . . ."

All that is required for you to speak honestly is that you say what you believe. What you believe does not necessarily have to be TRUE for you speak honestly.

I'm not saying it's not true, but I would have to examine the helmet and know fairly precise circumstances of the crash, after which I might well say it MIGHT be true (but perhaps for a different sort of injury than that which you believe it prevented).

I can say this: multi-impact helmets are, at least, actually designed with the intent of preventing injuries and are the most likely helmet design to accomplish their design goal (their design goal being fairly modest). Single impact road helmets are NOT designed to prevent injury (let me repeat that, they are not DESIGNED to prevent injury. That is the designer does not even INTEND that they prevent injury) and where they do, they do so essentially by happenstance. Downhill helmets at least strive to do both; resulting in bulkier, heavier helmets.

Invoking the word "helmet" does not invoke protection. A helmet is a physical object with innate properties. Different helmets have different innate properties.

Objects which you do NOT attach the label "helmet" to also have innate properties. Some of these objects may well provide some level of protection equal to, or even superior to a "helmet" in a given situation.

I have never seen an accident in which a helmet certified as a helmet might have prevented an injury which a head covering that is NOT a helmet could not have prevented just as well.

Pain, by the way, is not an injury. It's a feeling like "hot," or "cold, or "fear."


I am, as I noted above, the said anon.

". . .the special challenges facing cyclists who try to stay safe on the roads of North America and other places which aren't Copenhagen."

I am a USian. I cycle in a state the LAB rates in the bottom 10 for cycling friendliness (which they define in Copenhagenistic terms), so not only do I cycle in the US, I cycle in the worst of the US. I cycle in cycling hell.

I know of no such special challenges requiring the use of a CPSC certified helmet (other than local legal requirements and these are the only kind that satisfy said legal requirements) to stay safe.

And of those, speaking off the top of a head not wearing an Internet Posting Helmet (although I have suffered far more injury in my living room over the past 20 years or so than I have on a bicycle (perhaps I need Stay at Home Shin Guards, because moving the damned coffee table would just be giving it power over me), carlessly traversing American intercity distances), I can only think of one which I might posit MIGHT actually be worth a damn; and even there only within a certain limited framework.

Perhaps you might wish to learn how to ride a bike without running into anything or having anything run into you. If I can do it, more or less daily in all kinds of northern weather, over a span of decades, in LAB certified cycling hell, I don't see why you can't.

Unless, of course, you have no brain worth protecting in the first place.

Krakonos said...

@ anonymous 4:16:
That's a totally different story. Going at 40km/h means you rode your bike as a sports activity. In that case you deliberately took a greater risk there. You should probably wear a helmet in that case. On the other hand, this might be a nice example of risk compensation. Have you asked yourself before whether you would have gone at that speed at all, possibly even through a bend in the road, not wearing a helmet. You might have had a much better perception of the risk involved, gone slower in the first place and wouldn't have crashed.
Your second paragraph I don't understand at all. You say the helmets were a good thing because they reduced the perception of risk???

About the article itself:
This is great. I find it well balanced. It doesn't conclude whether helemts are good or bad per se and whether they should be mandatory but focused on the aspect about increasing fear of cycling. That was what I expected from it. The bibliography is essential in such an article and provides me with a lot of food for thought.

kfg said...

"Going at 40km/h means you rode your bike as a sports activity."

I'll stand up for 4:16 here, and even invoke Trolly to boot: Canada is not Copenhagen (and Copenhagen is not even Denmark) and 40 kph does not in the least imply riding as a sports activity. Under many circumstances it's a perfectly sedate, getting from place to place while having to ride the brakes to keep the speed that low so you can smell the roses sort of speed - while the lycra dudes and dudettes shoot past you at 80.

The rest I'll agree with.

mikey2gorgeous said...

"Third, the greater size of the head, and so increased probabilities of impact, resulting from wearing a helmet"

Actually the concern is more that the greater size will increase rotational movement not simply be a larger thing to hit. Rotational injuries to the brain are very damaging & significant in RTAs.

No-one here is suggesting that people shouldn't choose to use a helmet if they are cycling fast or perhaps going off-road. The question is about helmet promotion/compulsion making people feel cycling is more dangerous than it is. this has a very big impact on cycling numbers which in turn leaves the remaining cyclists more in danger (safety in numbers - real effect).

Just a cyclist said...

Trolly, I do understand that, for the most part, cyclists face many more dangers in the totally car-centrered US. I also do understand that Mikael in his comments,, for the most part, is a douchebag.

You, on the other hand, seem to believe that lycra and helmets is a flawless and sacred measure against all hazard faced by the US cyclists. How dare anyone ever even say anything mocking about it!
Still, I have not seen any serious intentions of him to interfere with american cycling politics. However, "Copenhagenizing" the US would certainly be advantageous.

Would a visit to Copenhagen make you nauseous of disgust?

Anonymous said...

I have been riding to work without a helmet with no fears. But after all this talk of possible head injuries and the pro and cons I am filled with doubt as to my safety on the road. Bugger!!

Zweiradler said...

@ Anonymous 15:59
As long as you aren’t afraid of going for a walk or using a stairway (both without helmet) there is no need to fear cycling, because it’s less dangerous.

Anonymous said...

4:16 Anon here...

Winter and spring riding is more dangerous in Canada (and the northern US). Almost every intersection is loaded with gravel. Ice is a constant concern. Helmets are a smart choice under these conditions. I have been wearing one since 1991 so I don't really think about it when I am riding.

As for the purpose of that paticular ride I was training that day and 40 km/h was a recovery pace given the tailwind I had that day. While I see the arguements for choice I support enforcement of children wearing helmets. This can be used to get parents and kids to take part in cycling clinics to teach skills & safety in lieu of paying a fine. It works well with car seat legislation.

I own 4 bikes road, time trial, cyclocross and hardtail mtb. I cringe when I see guys riding technical singletrack bare headed. Riding on the road is has different types of risks.

Just a few more ideas to toss around... btw I was wearing a Giro Pneumo... sent it back and got what was a good price for a replacement at that time. The replacement was tossed after 5 years of rotational use (I have 3 different helmets that I rotate plus my TT lid). I get Dave's point about the nature of the campaigns but I think the messaging is more of the problem.

Adrienne Johnson said...

I think that if everyone put this level of energy into changing driving policy and creating bicycle infrastructure, we could chuck this endless, stupid, circular, pointless helmet garbage into the canal along with all of the old bikes and just get on with it.

Just a cyclist said...

Nah, I don't think so Adrienne. It have going on for quite a while now and have gained momentum. Even if we'll create the best of the worlds for cyclists - against all odds - this "garbage" may be brought up by some who feel that it'll produce government or corporate subsidies for new projects and/or get their names in the limelight for a while. And then we'll be back to square one.

kfg said...


OK, so as it turns out you WERE engaging in cycling as a sporting activity.

I wouldn't cringe seeing someone on the trail without a helmet, but I might ADVISE they wear a helmet - after a bit of discussion. I'd both need some facts and also to provide some.

I would never advise "wear a helmet" though. That makes about as much sense as advising "use a tool." It's important to advise the RIGHT tool for a job. And when the job changes a tool change just might be in order, because the wrong tool, although it appears to function at least nominally, can CAUSE injury (to the user or the TOOL), and thus be worse than no tool at all.

A helmet is NOT a panacea. The laws of physics won't allow it to be. You have to choose WHICH particular ill you wish to affect. WHAT injury is of concern to you?

I cringe when people say/apply "helmet" as if the issue where that simple. It ain't. Which is why it is not surprising in the least that whole population data suggests that they don't mitigate injury when generically applied across a population.


I'm afraid I have to disagree with you on this one, because - I think the old bikes should be dredged out of the canals and either put back into service or put back into the furnace to make new bikes.

Anonymous said...

4:16 ...

A helmet is NOT a panacea.

Good advice! Nothing replaces good street smarts and knowing the limits of one's bike handling skills and abilty to use speed to to your benefit.

Rob - troglodyte said...

Good work.
Keep footnoting, especially good quality evidence.
Here in Australia I was trying the other day to convince a 16yo girl to ride to school.
I thought I'd show her Copenhagen cycle chic - 'See? Cycling's cool.'
Her response?
'Look, they aren't wearing helmets. No helmet hair'

Sue from Australia said...

...brilliant article with some really useful material - could help me with my pending court case on monday! - and for the record, mikael, copenhagenize.com is my most favourite website - i read it avidly whenever i can - so free and uncomplicated, like cycling itself - and strangely enough, i'm so encouraged by all the negative comments - they give me resolve and determination - THANK YOU!!!!

Mark @ ACT said...

As one of the organisation's who opposed with 2004 Helmet Bill we (The Association of Cycle Traders) believe helmet usage is a personal matter.

Whilst we believe in helmets we do not believe in compulsion.

Some people were surprised we supported an anti-helmet compulsion bill because they assumed our members (bicycle retailers) would benefit as a result.

Whilst helmets have high profit margins the short term gain would be significantly undermined by the longer term damage which compulsion would do to the cycle retail sector. Less people cycling is not good for business.

MarkA said...

@Anon, you said:
"Winter and spring riding is more dangerous in Canada (and the northern US). Almost every intersection is loaded with gravel. Ice is a constant concern. Helmets are a smart choice under these conditions."

Sounds to me like you wear a helmet because the conditions you choose to cycle in make you believe you are likely to fall off. In which case why don't you wear elbow guards, and knee pads, or a full body suit to stop you loosing a limb or damaging, say, a kidney?? I think every individual should asses what they wear on a case by case basis and not just a knee-jerk reaction of 'helmets good, no helmets bad' (or vice versa) Which of course is why any kind of law to make you wear one is daft... at the end of the day it should be a personal choice - just like how fast you cycle, or what you cycle or drive...

As for having a dig at Mikael on here - with respect guys, he isn't writing on behalf of any organisation or charity or anything - this is his blog, his opinions and he's entitled to them (and to say what he likes, to be fair) I for one am glad he goes to the time and effort to do so - if you don't like it I suggest you go off and read 'Let petrol engines rule the world.com' or something. I for one found Dave's thesis stimulating stuff. Let's be nice, eh?

Anonymous said...

I believe people don't bike to/from work because of the "path of least resistance"
Here in Canada, the US and most of the Americas, gas is dirt cheap. 55 cents a liter in some places. Why bike?!?!?

No incentive.
From an economic standpoint, people need incentives first.
Gas prices will do that.
Yet, they say peak oil is nearing...


that will change people big time. And, take into account many in the Americas just got caught up in teh housing hype... soon inflation and interest rates will kick in...

Lots more people on bikes soon enough.
No free lunch.
At this time, people will have to change.
No more free bee oil!!!

Canadians will suffer horribly at -40oC though. As natural gas is used to boil the oil from the tar sands... poor suckers. They are up next for cheap oil (70 bucks a barrel). Then its off to the artic! The last remaining easy to get at stuff.

read this -


and the book traffic

ignorance is bliss on teh planet.
And, we buy into a lot of nothing really...

cycling clears the mind. Put one back in sync with it all.

Techonology removes us from it all. Into a fake world of existance.

also read - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freakonomics

Anonymous said...

Sue from Australia:

In America, more than 1,000 cyclists are killed on the road every year. Fully 75% of the deaths are caused by head injuries sustained by individuals who were NOT wearing a helmet. Almost all of these riders would have survived if they had just been wearing a helmet.

Your position is so irrational and dangerous that one has to believe that the only reason you are doing this is to get in people's faces. Indeed, when you brag about being "encouraged by all the negative comments" it's telling indeed. It's too bad you are permitted to take up court time. I hope Australian courts take this opportunity to make you pay for what you are doing.


Anonymous said...

Opel: we prefer science to fearmongering. Please commence a serious and sober review of the collective science on the issue, not merely a couple of facts wrapped up in belief.

Anonymous said...

As you know, all the facts I cited are based on exhaustive safety studies. I've cited these here only to have true believers like you dismiss them as propaganda.

Frankly, I don't know where to go from here. You cycle in a much safer environment that most other people. This doesn't give you the right to sneer at those of us who take steps to protect ourselves from potential head injury.

You people are truly dangerous and at this point you have blood on your hands.


Brian said...

interesting, but… wearing a seatbelt just made driving a car ten time more dangerous-looking! wear a fucking helmet. not a silly cap.

Mikael said...

please wear a motoring helmet and a pedestrian helmet as well as a cycle helmet. otherwise there is no logic.

Jason said...

Mikhael : Logic is explained here pretty well I thought :


Cen said...

INteresting reflecting on my experience of being knowcked off my bike and hitting my head on the road 12 months ago. I was cycling in the city and wasn't wearing a helmet. My logic for this was that in the city I wasn't likely to be cycling that fast so didn't think I would collide with the road hard enough to warrant wearing a helmet. On fast rides for sport i would wear one. A car pulled out in from off me, i somersalted through the air, thinkink "don't hit your head on the road" and hit my head on the road. I was taken to hosp in an ambulance as a precaution, but no damage done to head other than cuts and bruises. I wondered afterwards whether I was wrong not to wear a helmet, as this would have saved some of the grazing, or right in my orginal judgement that at low city speeds hitting my head wouldn't cause serious damage (cf the skull IS a helmet else where in these comments).

Anonymous said...

In 2002 after many years of cycling, both for recreation and commuter uses, I started wearing a helmet. It was relatively uncomfortable at first but I stuck with it and eventually got used to it. In Sep 2003 I was struck head-on by a car that made a sudden/unexpected left turn across my path.

The result was I went into the windshield, head-first and was then thrown off the car back onto the pavement, landing on the back of my head.

I spent 5 days in the Trauma Unit of the hospital. The impact on the helmet resulted in a "rimmer", a rim shaped bruise across my forehead and a mild concussion. (Seperated shoulder, broken ribs, torn neck ligaments, internal injuries and road rash all contributed to the hospitalization.)

The helmet was visibly smashed in the front and the back where the impacts occured. Parmedics, doctors and my family all agree I would not be writing this now if it was not for the helmet!

Mikael said...

A helmet is only designed to protect the head from non-life threatening impacts in solo accidents under 20 km/h.

Upon impact, the helmet lining should compress, not shatter. And they're not even tested for impact on the back of the head.

Here's what the Bicycle Helmet Research Foundation has to say about all these 'A Helmet Saved My Life!' tales.

Edward said...

Dear Opel (01:10),

"In America, more than 1,000 cyclists are killed on the road every year. Fully 75% of the deaths are caused by head injuries sustained by individuals who were NOT wearing a helmet. Almost all of these riders would have survived if they had just been wearing a helmet."

That is precisely the sort of flawed reasoning that is the problem. Could you provide the source of the 75% you quote. And what does "almost all" mean when you talk about those who would have survived?

travelling terra said...

Apologies for not reading through all the comments above, so this may be redundant, but have seat belt-wearing campaigns reduced driving in the way helmet-wearing campaigns reduce cycling? If not, do you think it's because the overall image of the automobile has been glorified in other ways (major private money on advertisements...) to be seen as sexy, adventurous, fun, fast, etc?