Cycling, cyclists, helmets and me

When I was in my early twenties I was cycling to work and was forced off the road by a black cab driving incredibly close to me. I hit the kerb, skidded, came off my bike and slid into a bin which was just sitting there minding it’s own business. I hit my head on the way along, scraping it a bit. I scraped my leg a lot, and had to go to hospital for a few check ups. It was a nasty one.

I wasn’t wearing a helmet.

I told my aunt who tutted down the phone at me, screamed at me, and told me to get a fucking cycle helmet. Two days later a box arrived through the post for me. It was a cycle helmet. I called her to thank her and said I’d wear it.

“Good” she said. “Because if you don’t I’ll kill you.”

Listening to the radio this morning I heard that Olympic gold medal winning, sideburn-sporting, Tour de France winning, soon to be Sports Personality of The Year 2012, Bradley “Wiggo” “WigGold” Wiggins made a comment, following a death of a cyclist, about the fact that he believed cyclists wearing helmets should be made compulsory.

He’s getting a lot of stick for this, and this article details how and why he’s getting it in the neck. I guess some people think that he should be using a public forum to speak on other things about improving safety for cyclists on the roads. But it is his opinion and so he’s entitled to that isn’t he?

I happen to agree with him as I’ve had other accidents on the roads of old London town and if I hadn’t been wearing a helmet would I still be here? And, of course I am entitled to my own opinion.

Many believe it shouldn’t be compulsory as helmets don’t do a great deal when you’re hit by a truck or a steamroller. Using the money to promote cycle helmet could be spent on other measures, like campaigns to get motorists to drive more safely, increased cycle routes and the like. Also some quote the experience in Australia where introducing a law concerning cycle helmets saw a reduction in the amount of people cycling. Incidentally it also saw a 63% reduction in the amount of head injuries but one argument for promotes another against, and there’s a whole host of arguments for and against here.

I know I’m a sensible cyclist, and always have been. I treat the road like any other road user should. I don’t go the wrong way up one way streets like I see some cyclists do. I don’t ride on pavements, run through red lights or do anything reckless. I just don’t see the point. It’s dangerous to you and others as @motherventing experienced this week. I don’t talk on my phone or listen to an MP3 player while cycling. I quite like being aware of the very fast moving vehicles around me, so I can, you know, survive and see another sunrise.

I often go shopping in Cambridge. Cambridge has a lot of bike users and, quite frankly, it’s a farking nightmare at times. There’s a lot of pedestrian areas, you earthlings call them pavements, that some cyclist people use. Once I was walking along with my son and a cyclist using a pavement almost seriously injured my son. T didn’t know which way to go to escape the oncoming cyclist heading towards us at speed and almost ran out into the road to escape them. It took me rugby tackling him to the floor to stop him from being seriously injured. A moment that made me incredibly angry and, dear reader, I’m afraid to say I did a very great deal of swearing in the general direction of this cyclist, which is neither cool nor clever in front of a 3 year old.

I’ve had a lot of this in Cambridge. Once I was walking along a footpath and a fucking unicyclist almost ran into me. An unicyclist. That’s just taking the piss.

A different moment that made me incredibly angry was this weekend when I saw a man and his son cycling along the road. The road being the A10, a fast and busy route from London to Cambridge. The man was doing the pedalling while his son was placed on the handlebars. Not in a seat, or strapped in safely. Merely perched on the handlebars. On the A10.

I’m all for sustainable forms of transport but I’m sorry, you’re a cunt if you do that.

Some cyclists annoy a lot of other road users, and a lot of other road users annoy cyclists. In fact a lot of stupid drivers annoy other drivers too, like those one’s who drive really fast right up your arse, forcing you to speed up or move over. But then some pedestrians annoy everyone by stepping out at inappropriate moments, in unsafe areas. Some even do it pushing puchchairs or with toddlers which angers me lots.

It’s a battleground out there sometimes, but I wouldn’t think of entering a battleground without some armour. Which is why I chose to wear a helmet when cycling. And I’ll instruct my children to do the same when they are old enough to ride a bike.

Or I’ll kill them.

What do you think about this? What can we do to keep cyclists safe, decrease dangerous driving, and make the world a sweet and lovely place. Answers in my usual hole please.

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43 responses to “Cycling, cyclists, helmets and me

  1. Brilliant post.

    I do think a helmet should be compulsory. It’s the same as seatbelts in a car, it is just one more thing that can possibly save your life. No it won’t help if you get squashed but it gives you added protection for if you fall and hit your head. Anything that brings an added degree of safety should be embraced not scorned.

    • I happen to agree, but the arguments are many and varied, and some don’t feel this is the right way to approach it. I can only think it could help in a lot of cases. And not just on the roads either, when off-roading and things like that.
      Thanks for reading and for your comment.

  2. As someone that has been hit by a van (van driver lost control) and ended up in hospital for a week and off work for another 15 weeks, I think a helmet should be compulsory. Mine was cracked in several places. Having to cope with a head injury as well as chipped, compressed vertebrae, broken hand, damaged coccyx and broken teeth wouldn’t of been much fun!

    In terms of making cyclists and pedestrians safer, more split cycle lanes and more control on what cyclists do.

    • Gosh, that sounds like a serious one. Did it put you off cycling in any way? Sometimes when people have an accident it does make them think differently.
      Hope you’re okay now and not got any long term damaged.
      Thanks for commenting and for reading. 🙂

      • I was very put off by cycling, the accident happened in 2006 and it isn’t until 6 years later, a few months ago, I have been happy cycling. I started cycling again as my fiance is a keen cyclist and put the pressure on to get me back on my bike. We avoid A roads now and go mostly off-road. We are lucky in Preston, we have just gained a circular route all the way around Preston plus I live near a lovely park which takes us to lots of lovely places.

        I still suffer from my injuries, mainly just aches and pains. But I was able to get pregnant and have a baby so it isn’t too bad. Had to go back to physio afterwards though!

        Got nice new teeth..and got some compensation, which was spent as soon as I received it, to pay part of the deposit on the house!

        I had severe depression for months, if not years after the accident and to be honest I still suffer from it now and again, not depressed about the accident but I think I have been in such a fragile state of mind, other things have just got to me!

        I would also like to say I have no negative feelings towards the driver, he told me what happened while I was on the floor waiting for the ambulance and he admitted to everything. He even cried while telling me (and I told him off for crying and told him at least I wasn’t dead and I will be OK..even held his hand!)

        Wow, this must be my longest comment…almost!

  3. well if they have a problem with Bradley and his comments about helmets – I suggest they go and speak to James Cracknell and his wife, Beverley Turner. Think they may get short shrift…..

  4. I get very frustrated at adults cycling on pavements, especially in my small-ish town where the roads are not unduly busy. Kids cycling on pavements, I do not mind – but parents should teach them to ring a bell or call out excuse me when they are approaching people. I have had a few near misses with adults & kids zooming by me and I only notice at the last minute, which normally causes me to yelp and jump out the way!
    As for helmets being compulsory – moped & motorcycle riders need them (and some mopeds do not go fast at all!) and so do horse riders; surely cyclists are in same group. Sir (to be) Wiggins travelled at an average speed of 30mph during the time trial yesterday, I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t want to come off a bike at that speed without a helmet!
    I think the main reason for people not wanting to wear helmets is because they look stupid but as I tell my children ‘you will look more stupid with your head bashed in!’

  5. I always wear a helmet when I’m cycling mainly because the majority of near misses I had while commuting happened when drivers pulled out of side roads without looking. If I’d hit a car bonnet at speed the first thing that would have connected with the concrete would have been my head. I don’t agree with making it law but I have no idea why anyone would not wear one.

    Having said that the only time I was knocked off my bike was when a pedestrian stepped backwards into a cycle lane while I was going through Kingston. Cycling safety is a complex issue and it will take more than a few headlines and sound bites to solve it.

    In my opinion cycle safety will only improve when everyone becomes more aware of each other and acts more sympathetically. Cyclists need to be aware of the danger to others of jumping red lights, cycling on the pavement and trying to go past lorries on the inside. Drivers need to be willing share the road and appreciate how much room cyclists need. Pedestrians need to know the dangers of stepping without looking whether they are crossing the road or walking by a cycle path. Education is the key not a quick fix of blaming the other guy.

    The only time I have ever been knocked

  6. I ride a bike… On the road or designated cycle path in as safe a manner as possible….

    People who cycle on the pavement should be forced to use stabilisers, or I should be allowed to push them off.

    As for drivers….. Bastards the lot of them!

  7. I think it should be compulsory purely for the amount of injuries that could be avoided, yes it isn’t 100% guaranteed to save your life but it is like seatbelts, the stats are there how hazardous an accident is without one. I think all road users could do with more common sense, cars ignore cyclists, cyclists think they can beat cars/buses/lorries, just less rushing and more consideration could save a lot of heartache.
    Great post Spencer, shocked about the father/child story you highlighted, idiots!

    • Thanks for reading and for commenting. I agree that all road users could do with more common sense. There’s a bit of me that thinks that cyclists on the road should also have driving licences, even if they are provisional, so if they do illegal things like cycle when drunk or go through red lights then they can be penalised, but I’m probably on my own on this one.

  8. Third time lucky…

    There is a rule in our house, no helmet, no cycle (I am very clumsy & fall off without any help from other road users). I’ve even had possitive comments from the Nursery.

    I have also had two dear friends who have had horrendous accidents, which resulted in smashed helmets. They had broken limbs but are sure without a helmet they may not still be here. (your Aunt sounds sensible when it comes to helmets)

    And James Craknell had a horrendous accident, with a head injury which may have ended up very differently without a helmet. Here is his plea…

    My big bug bearance are parents with child seats (we have them) who do not put a helmet on their children or themselves. Though to be honest they are holders of their own destiny and are big enough & ugly enough to make that decision. Small children. Around one and two do not have the choice (and while are most bouncy are fragile and precious too)

    I will stop ranting here, this is something close to my heart and I have meant to blog about it myself.

    But then again, each to their own. If they want to take the risk. I do agree some road users are down right dangerous and barely give you any room as they zoom past. I try and keep off busy roads, but I have had a few near misses myself.

    Better dash, I do hate commenting on the mobile, I always make mistakes…

    • Thanks for your comment and I can see this is an issue close to your heart as you write with such passion. I think you should blog about it if you get the time. It’s always great to know others opinions on different subjects.

  9. I used to cycle when at uni without a helmet, however thankfully had no accidents. I have only recently (ie. since Olympics) been inspired to get back on the road cycling. As I now have a child, I’d looked into a seat for her (it turns out she’s too heavy for it but that’s another story!) I would never dream of going out cycling without safety ‘armour’ for her and for myself. Just idiocy.

  10. Agreed – make ’em compulsory. I never get on my bike without one. It particularly drives me mad when parents go out with their kids not wearing them. Just seems like common sense sense to me!

    • Just been chatting with a health professional who reminded me that a large amount of falls, in any situation, result in some head injury and so it seems to make sense to minimise any potential risk by wearing one.
      Thanks for commenting and for reading.

  11. Cycling in the Netherlands is totally differe t from cycling everywhere else. The Netherlands is THE biking country as per. Almost every Dutch has one or more bikes. We don’t wear helmets really. Small kids do mostly and sports cyclists. The traffic here is as bad as anywhere but the difference is we have seperate bike lanes / paths just about everywhere. It nakes cycling much safer

    • This is a great comment in my view – in a country that is riddled with bikes, people don’t have to wear helmets. It’s a cultural/infrastructure issue in the UK. People love their cars too much.

  12. In Ontario, Canada it is mandatory for those under 18 to wear helmets but you still see some kids foolishly not wearing one. My husband was in an accident with an SUV a few years ago, she pulled out not bothering to look and he slammed into the SUV, flying over the hood of the vehicle. He had quite a few injuries but luckily his head was fine, because he was wearing a helmet! Helmets should be made mandatory for all, because they save lives and those who think it is uncomfortable or whatever, are irresponsible.

    • I find it strange that the more vocal the cyclist, like the CTC for example, the less they are against it. I agree more money should be spent on other things which may have a positive influence but simply putting a helmet on you and yours when you cycle is worth it. Thanks for commenting.

  13. You can never make roads totally safe because there’ll always be drivers – or cyclists – who break the rules or have a momentary lapse. I’d never mount the saddle without a helmet. It may not help me if Eddie Stobart runs over my head, but it could spare me a nasty crack in other circumstances.

  14. Compulsory – yes. Hubby just did a chariddy bike ride (so proud) and his training prompted me to nag him to get a helmet and a flouro vest. I nagged because, as a motorcyclist, I was hit by a Volvo. I was doing less than 20 mph and he pulled out. He said he didn’t see me! I hit my head in the fall. I needed to replace my crash helmet due to the impact – thankfully my noggin was fine. But 20mph is a speed that a downhill cyclist could easily acheive. And I was on a fairly chunky bike (CBR600) with a ‘loud’ crash helmet, slowing down for a junction, and he *still* didn’t see me. Hence the nagging for a dayglo vest. Do everything you can to keep yourself alive, I say.

    As always, great post S. Damn right about the mental Cambridge cyclists. They only have one speed and it’s crazy-fast-I-own-the-road. Gah!

  15. It’s the law here. Why wouldn’t it be? Why anyone would feel otherwise I can’t understand. However, bicyclists on the road during traffic are bloody annoying. x

  16. totally agree with BW. We (cyclists) have to get our shit in order before we start lectureing other road users how to behave. Cross the T’s and dot the I’s. That way motorist will have no come back in the road use argument.

  17. My husband came off his mountain bike 3 years ago and landed on his actual head without a helmet. He actually did more damage to his back by compacting his spine and a helmet would not have helped with this at all. HOWEVER, two inches further over and he would have landed on a tree root and things would have been different. He never rides without a helmet now, he cycles in road races regularly and some of those do not demand you wear a helmet to take part. He also belongs to a cycle club and they do not let members cycle without a helmet. So it won’t stop you getting hit by another vehicle but it could save your life in plenty of other situations. I think the wearing of them should be made law. Look how many people disagreed with the seatbelt law all those years ago, we grew up with it and no one thinks twice about it now.

  18. When I was in Australia I was ARRESTED for not wearing a helmet. And had my bike confiscated until I bought one. It was pretty irritating but less so than if I was knocked down and injured. Mainly because I didn’t have insurance but also because I could have died. So yeah everyone should wear a helmet. It’s not big or clever not too. Everytime one been on a bike since I’ve worn one, it might only have been twice in the six months I’ve been back but both of those times I’ve been helmetted…

  19. More rules!! I live a 2 minute bike ride (on a road) from a very good cycle path that is completely off road. I don’t need a helmet to get there. I’m perfectly happy taking my own life into my own hands. I’m also Australian and have been living in the UK for 20 years. I stopped cycling in Australia once they brought in the compulsory helmet law. I have a very sensitive scalp (it’s true – alopecia and everything!) and cycling helmets are incredibly uncomfortable, itchy and hot in summer. I agree, you can get some half decent looking helmets nowadays, but it would still kill cycling for me. I would look to changing the culture and infrastructure with regards to cycling rather than yet another regulation.

  20. I agree with you. To my mind it’s like wearing a seatbelt I.e there’s a chance it will save your life or, in the event of an accident, make your injuries less severe. So why the hell would you not?

    It’s one of my big beefs. I also believe as a parent you have a responsibility to try to keep yourself safe for your kids so not wearing a helmet, to me, means there’s a greater chance you’ll end up with brain damage which means you’ll likely be much less use to your kids.

    Also to those parents who make their kids wear helmets but don’t wear them themselves: I think you can safely assume that when your kids are old enough to cycle on their own they won’t wear their helmet either. How’s that going to feel thinking about that whilst they’re out on their own on the roads?

  21. It’s not so simple as it seems. Of course, if you have an accident and hit your head, wearing a helmet reduces the chance of injury. But research at Bath Uni has shown that drivers give less room to helmeted cyclists. Also the “risk compensation” effect is well known in psychology (the safer you feel, the riskier your behaviour). The net result is that where helmets are compulsory, across ALL cyclists (not just those who have accidents) they’ve made no difference to injury/death rates. What has happened in such places is that the numbers cycling have dropped spectacularly (30-40% in Australia), so you can factor in plenty of extra deaths from obesity, heart disease and diabetes there.
    Having said that I wouldn’t discourage anyone from wearing a helmet if they choose to. Let’s just say the “jury is out”, so adults should look at the data and make their own decisions. It’s one thing to make your own decision (on behalf of your family) based on what you think, but another to try and force that on other adults who don’t necessarily agree.

  22. I wouldn’t be here without my helmet. I got a lot of stick for wearing one cycling home from school, from the same kids who laughed at me for not smoking. But hey, I don’t have lung cancer and I didn’t get a serious head injury when I got knocked off my bike by a lorry

  23. I’m a naughty cyclist. Sometimes I ride in the path, when it’s empty, because i’m a country girl living in a city, and double decker buses scare the shit out of me. I have ridden without a helmet, but thankfully never come off my bike other than under my own steam. I started to hate cycling so much for the other road users, I stopped cycling. It’s too dangerous. They probably should make helmets compulsory, but under one condition – they can also ticket all those retards that have a motorbike and ride with just tshirt and shorts.

    I got a proper bollocking once from a policeman for riding.on the path during rush hour. I didn’t bloody do it again.

  24. Just seeing this now (all praise, Twitter!). I’ve had one wipe out on my bike, it happened in slow motion — don’t all accidents? — and that inch of styrofoam was all that saved me from … from something more dire than buying a new helmet.

    Relatedly, I learned about this new helmet today: http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/article/1248946—invisible-bike-helmet-created-by-swedish-designers You Euro-types get all the cool stuff first …

  25. I flipped over my bike in 1998 and spent more than a year in and out of hospitals and rehab. I was wearing a helmet and still got a traumatic brain injury. BUT I survived. If I hadn’t had a helmet on my brains would have been strewn across 96th Street in Manhattan. It should be a law everywhere, and anyone who doesn’t wear one is a plain idiot.

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