Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Why you should think before saying 'a helmet saved my life'

A deep breath, folks, because I'm going to mention the H word.

I don't usually dip my toe into such muddied waters but a Facebook friend recently published a picture of their cracked cycle helmet, saying it had "saved their life".

This came soon after Richard Branson made a similar claim.

I do wish people would look at the research at cyclehelmets.org before attributing unicorn-like magical powers to their styrofoam shell.

Before I go on (and I will!) please note that I am talking about everyday utility cycling. There are arguments that helmets have a purpose in cycle sport such as racing or off-road. All my cycling is utility riding.

I choose not to wear a helmet; whether you do is entirely up to you and I wouldn't want to influence you one way or the other.

My complaint is over the "it saved my life" claims. These give ammunition to the lobby that wants every cyclist helmeted. They also send the message that "every cyclist should be like me".

Advising people to wear a helmet can put some off cycling, when building a bike ride into a daily routine is probably the best way to fend off obesity, diabetes, heart disease and mental health problems (life years lost through cycle accidents are far outweighed by life years gained through regular exercise).

There's also the issue of false safety, where someone wearing a helmet subconsciously takes more risks (I did this in the heady days when I wore a helmet — I found myself riding along a busy trunk road; it was only when I asked 'would I do this bare-headed?' that I realised the danger I was putting myself in). Would you really want to be responsible for that?

Even if you don't believe Cyclehelmets' conclusions, I would hope you would agree that there is sufficient doubt about the efficacy of helmets that wearing one should remain a matter of individual choice, that people should make their own analysis of the professionals' arguments before lidding up or not.

Helmet science is exceptionally detailed and often counter-intuitive. As an example, look at this video.

Disregard the fact that someone should have dealt with the ice patch by putting salt on it.

In nearly all the falls, the rider's head is very close to the ground. If they had been wearing a helmet, no doubt some would be saying "a helmet saved my life".

However, if they had been helmeted, the extra weight of the helmet could have fractionally increased the velocity at impact, meaning a sharper blow (which could do damage) or possible brain injury.

In my view, the jury is out. I really believe that helmets lead to cyclists taking greater risks. In some falls a helmet may help; in others it could result in a worse outcome. In collisions with cars or lorries (ie those above 12mph) helmets are of very little use at all.

In conclusion, I have made a choice not to wear a helmet but if you want to wear one, please do.

Think carefully, however, before saying "my helmet saved my life".

I don't want to see mandatory helmets here in the UK. I'd give up cycling if I had to wear one ... and I'm sure you wouldn't want to rob me of the joy of riding my bike.

Will Bramhill, August 31, 2016



Friday, August 26, 2016

Richard Branson and the claim that "a helmet saved my life"

When I saw the pictures of British tycoon Richard Branson battered and bruised after a bicycle fall on a Caribbean island this week, I wondered for an instant if Jeremy Corbyn, the UK’s Labour party leader, had pushed a stick through his spokes.

The two had clashed in the #traingate row when the businessman refuted the politician’s claim that there were no seats on a Virgin train and he’d had to sit on the floor.

One can only imagine Mr Corbyn’s fury over Mr Branson’s claims. However, barring a poltergeist-like power that works over several thousand miles, or an exceptionally long stick, Mr Corbyn is probably not guilty of causing this bicycle mishap.

Mr Branson, meanwhile, blames a rogue “sleeping policeman” speed bump for his fall, which happened while he was going downhill during a ride with Holly and Sam, his grown-up children.

Both Mr Branson and Mr Corbyn appear to agree on one thing though: the power of cycle helmets.

Mr Branson told the Daily Mirror newspaper that his life was only saved because he was wearing a helmet, even though his only facial injury was to his cheek.

The fact that a helmet would have been next to useless if he’d gone off the cliff, where his bicycle ended up, seems not to have occurred to him.

Mr Corbyn, meanwhile, always wears his silver-and-black helmet, which serves as a  counterpoint to his grey goatee beard.

Mr Branson’s claim is bound to upset the growing number of cyclistas in London who are riding bare-headed — putting their faith in the data at cyclehelmets.org rather than a relatively flimsy piece of polystyrene.

Roger Geffen, campaigns and policy director of Cycling UK, Britain’s national cycling charity, wished Mr Branson a speedy recovery but cautioned that helmets were made only to withstand simple falls not high-speed impacts. He said: “One cannot safely assume that a cycle helmet would have ‘saved Mr Branson’s life’

“Some evidence suggests that helmet-wearing may make cyclists more injury-prone, possibly due to riding a bit less cautiously.”

Mischievously he pointed out that the British billionaire had been stopped by police in Australia three years ago for not wearing a helmet.

As to the future, Mr Branson will, no doubt, be developing a Virgin-branded suit of armour that will protect cyclists’ entire bodies in any situation. In fact it may just make him his next billion.

Mr Corbyn, meanwhile, is probably reflecting that his helmet gave no protection from particularly vicious silly-season political fallout.

Will Bramhill, August 26, 2016

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Essex up to its old anti-cycling tricks





What's the difference between three seconds and nineteen? Wake up at the back! What's that? Sixteen?

Yes, you're right, but it's also the difference between a good council (Colchester when it was highways authority in the 1980s) and one that pays lip service to the idea of being cycle-friendly (the car-orientated politicos and officers of Essex in the 2010s).

That 16 seconds is the extra time it takes for cyclists to get a green light at East Bay, Colchester -- on Route 51 of the National Cycle Network -- after Essex replaced the traffic lights and a nearby mini-roundabout.

Over in Denmark, Holland and Germany, traffic engineers are implementing "green waves" so  cyclists can complete their journeys across town efficiently and in comfort.

The idea is that once you hit a green, it will be go, go, go at all the other lights on your route so long as you're riding at 12mph. By and large such plans don't inconvenience drivers ... it is the classic carrot rather than a stick.

Here in Colchester, East Bay was the one junction where cyclists could press a button and have the lights change instantly. If you started counting and got to "three" you thought you were hard done by, or you realised someone else had triggered the crossing in the 60 seconds before you arrived.

Then Essex hit the jackpot. It won a wedge of cash from the Department for Transport, the distribution of which was carried out by the South East Local Enterprise Partnership, in reality a Quango of businessmen (who like cars) and politicians (most of whom can't say no to people who like cars)  which refuses to accept that the public exists.

The rationale was to improve the town prior to the explosion in new homes expected before 2040. The result, however, has been a hotchpotch of schemes that has included Mile End Road, moving the Cymbeline Way crossing ... and the little matter of widening Colne Bank Avenue, St Andrew's Avenue and Cowdray Avenue to squeeze in, you've guessed it, more cars.

Back at East Bay, cyclists press the button and have to count to n-n-n-nineteen. On the way to work and school; whatever the weather, and all the time while chewing on diesel particulates next to one of the worst pollution hotspots in south-east England.

And does it help drivers? Response from motorists suggests not. They say the jams are still pretty much the same.

Is there a safety reason for the longer wait?  Well, Essex will try to spin a story about how drivers have to see you waiting before the lights change, which is a nonsense: most drivers can't even see the lights when a cyclist presses the button.

In the meantime, the Bike Committee's attention is turning to the Cowdray Avenue works and whether we can expect Dutch-style roundabouts at the junctions with Ipswich Road and Harwich Road.

Don't hold your breath, though.

Rodney Bass, one of Essex's transport chiefs, was asked recently by CCC's Paul Avison if he thought Essex was doing enough to double its pathetic cycling levels, as promised in the county's spanking new Cycling Strategy. "Probably not," he said, and moved on. To talk to someone about cars, we presume.