Reader – and black-belt bollard farmer – Richard Lewis asks this pertinent question…
“In a recent post you asked whether Wiggins’ victory would make more people cycle. Now, the question is, could he be the agent to undo progress with cycling as a transport mode in this country, if the risk-averse and anti-cycling lobby hear what he says and make helmet-wearing compulsory? Shouldn’t he just stick to his day job?”
It is indeed unfortunate that Wiggins was drawn into commenting on the tragic slaughter of Dan Harris. Interpret Wiggins remarks as misplaced professionalism. He was asked a question and gave an answer. Talking to the press is part of his day job. The fact that Wiggins’ remarks are widely reported as if he were an expert on public health is another manifestation of ‘you-cyclists-are-all-the-same’ foolishness which treats people who ride bikes as a homogeneous out-group.
Wiggins is not an expert on public heath. Indeed his chosen métier takes him into the elevated area of performance where health and fitness – which normally complement each other well – diverge drastically.
People get unnecessarily aerated about crash-hats for utility cycle riders because they don’t want to talk about more important stuff. The main thing about helmets for cycling is that they’re a marginal issue, not that important. It’s usually best to avoid getting drawn into arguments about them and move onto something more significant.
We need to be vigilant against creeping normalisation of helmets – for anything other than antagonistic sports riding – and to challenge the exaggerated value some people assign them, despite the very modest claims made by their manufacturers and testers. As this belief is often quasi-spiritual the challenge needs to be made gently to avoid putting
people on the defensive.
It’s a mistake to encourage or discourage an adult to wear – or not wear – a helmet. For adults personal risk assessment is best left to the individual.
Lot’s of people wear bicycle crash-hats on the back of their heads – where they can’t protect their brows and cheek bones in a forward fall – or with the straps so loose the helmet would be useless in an impact. Their helmet is a lucky charm, some kind of bulky and awkward St. Christopher or Ganesh. I once heard a youth worker – with ambitions to become a cycling instructor – say:- “So long as I’m wearing my helmet I feel safe.”
You can find everything – and probably more – than you need to know clearly and calmly expressed here. This page – in particular – is a useful corrective for people who imagine a helmet will protect them in anything beyond a relatively minor impact. It also stresses the importance of correct adjustment. If a helmet is worn it needs to fit, and be held firmly in the right place otherwise it’s value is only symbolic, which is at best no value, and may increase your risk of injury.
It’s true that in Spain national outrage following the running down and death of Ricardo and maiming of Javier, Otxoa led eventually to – lightly enforced – helmet compulsion. In Britain – where bicycle madness has bitten deeper – we who take a professional or amateur interest in public health can use any hysteria over crash hats to rehearse the important truths about who is killing whom.
Use the following simile with care – it’s inflammatory – but nonetheless instructive. When a person who doesn’t travel by bike tells somebody that does travel by bike that they ought to wear a crash-hat it’s not at the same level of infamy as people who aren’t Jews telling Jews to wear yellow stars but there is a clear equivalence.