24 October 2009

Magpie Attacks and How to Avoid Them

In Australia there is a problem with magpies diving at cyclists. There are many ideas flying around as to how you can avoid this irritation by putting various adornments on your bike helmet if you wear one.

A group of friends in Canberra did a [not very] scientific study to determine the best solution for stopping the menace, including some of the various ideas of what to put on your helmet.

One might conclude that covering the helmet with something less shiny or even a wig might be a good solution. However, helmets have two primary features that are important. One is absorbing impact and the other is being very slippery. That's why they're designed the way they are, with a slippery, thin outer shell.

If the odds are against you and you go down and the odds are further against you and your head makes contact with the asphalt, you really want that helmet to be slippery so your head slides.

Covering your helmet with fabric or what not will increase the risk of your helmet snagging on the asphalt and this will increase the risk of neck injury or worse.

I'll be doing a post about how it isn't wise to cover helmets with fabric in the near future.


missy mookins said...

I thought half the problem was that in Australia there is no "if you wear a helmet", isn't it compulsory to wear a helmet there?

Sue 'sans' helmet said...

eureka! more conclusive proof that helmets aren't needed! - although i do keep jingle bells on hand if they're particularly enthusiastic parents but for the most part magpies rarely show interest in me and my un-helmeted behaviour!!!

...and now due to this you-tube clip my partner has undertaken to divest himself of his helmet on our way to brekkie in the morning - the maggies generally dive-bomb him like there's no tomorrow!!

KDT said...

So what's really revealed here is the incredible extent to which the anti-required-helmet forces have enlisted avian allies in their efforts to overturn Oz's mandatory helmet law.

I suppose we'll next hear about the plague of helmet-nipping marsupials . . .

A Midnight Rider said...

Ah Ha! Now I know why I have never been attacked by a magpie. Besides there being none around here of course.

2whls3spds said...

Okay...now we need to fund a study as to whether magpies attack bare headed cyclists, if they do not, then obviously the helmet is a hazard and the law requiring compulsory use needs to be repealed post haste.

I was riding in Iowa USA a while back and watched with interest as some redwinged black birds were dive bombing the cyclists in front of me that were wearing helmets, the birds ignored us when we rode by. Perhaps they were tired out from their previous efforts?


kfg said...

Once upon a time, the wearers of a certain brand of racing motorcycle leathers had a sudden jump in broken limbs after a fall.

The reason turned out to be because the maker had changed the material of the reinforcement patches and the new material was slightly rougher than the old, creating more friction when it rubbed along the ground.

A change back to the old material eliminated the increase in injuries.

Polish and wax your helmet. It ain't for looks. You don't want to protect your head only to break your neck.

If you feel you MUST wear a cover over your helmet, make sure it is not actually attached; that it will just slide right off if dragged along the ground.

@Missy Mookins

"isn't it compulsory to wear a helmet there?"

Yes. There are in fact MANY things that are compulsory. You may have noticed, however, that people are not so easily compelled. Just stand and observe at any traffic control device.


"I suppose we'll next hear about the plague of helmet-nipping marsupials . . ."

Now that's just silly. Those are being trained to chew the hell out of those funny shoes.

@A Midnight Rider

"there being none around here of course."

True; God gave YOU squirrels. Left, no right, no . . .LEFT - arrrrrrrrrgh!

Mikael said...

ah, you people. sometimes these comments are better than the best british satire shows.

Matt said...

I got done by magpies four times in two weeks one August when I lived in Brisbane. I got two in the helmet. One behind my ear, and one on my cheek. The last two drew blood.

It was as much fun as getting divebombed by giant skuas on Vidoy (and that's an eth, not a dee) in the Faeroes.

And the magpie swooping is a learned behaviour. They don't swoop as much in Adelaide as they do in Brisbane, because people in Adelaide are nicer people and in the past haven't teased the magpies enough to make them learn to swoop.

Also I think you click on my name to see my cycling blog (it's early day's so there's not too much on it yet)


Adrienne Johnson said...

Funny that the birds seem to be smarter than the Gov't on this topic. Either that or they are in cahoots and trying to drive the cyclists off the road completely.

kfg said...

The magpie is the most charming bird in all the world. Treat him gently, treat him kindly.


George said...

I never wear a helmet, and I have been attacked by a magpie once in Canberra, in 3 years. It is painful!

I don't think this is evidence either way, actually. It's just interesting.

Paco said...

It's a very convincing experimental demonstration to me. I'd like to see what happens with a helmet in a duller color with a flat finish. I don't think physics requires that a slick/smooth surface also be shiny. (For example, graphite.)

I'll still follow vehicular cycling proponent John Forrester in wearing a helmet when riding at speed. But in crowded urban environments (rare in Houston), you've convinced me, they're probably more bother than benefit.

kfg said...


"I don't think physics requires that a slick/smooth surface also be shiny."

No, but it does require that such a surface gets hotter and radiate strongly in the infrared under anything like standard conditions.

One of the problems with designing an effective helmet is the multifunctional aspect of the head; one of which is to mediate brain temperature.

"I'll still follow . . . John Forrester in wearing a helmet when riding at speed."

I might actually like to argue this point with him. The helmets *currently made* for riding at speed are those that offer the least benefit; those worn by the European pro racers are actually built so lightly that they don't even meet the pitiful CPSC standard.

". . .in crowded urban environments . . ."

The environment in which a helmet is least necessary, but the one for which today's road certified helmets *are designed.* They are intended to protect against such impacts as you might get when falling out of your track stand at a light; not going over the bars at speed.

Boy on a bike said...

When I was a kid, I had to carry an old ice cream container to school with me with a pair of eyes drawn on the back in texta. When maggies swooped, I'd put the container on my head and the eyes would scare them off (they tend to swoop from the rear).

In recent years, I've had a few bounce off my helmet. It's pretty shocking when their beak slams into the back or side of your helmet with a loud "crack". If the sun is behind you, you will sometimes see their shadow approaching you as they swoop from behind.

I've seen a lot of people with cable ties poking out of the top of their helmet - you get a few long cable ties and attach them like spikes out of the top vent holes. Seems to work, although it makes the cyclist look like a stegasaurus.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm my bare head has been attacked by plenty of magpies

mikey2gorgeous said...

I do wonder if they've been specially bred & trained by the motoring lobby to put people off cycling??

Anonymous said...

The Canadian solution would be to cycle with a rifle and shoot the little buggers. But I'm pretty sure that would be more controversial than the helmet debate.