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Get off yer bike, Boris!

October 18, 2010

And put on a ruddy helmet.

Being a new resident of London town, there are most definitely a few things that I still need to learn about the big city. However, one thing that I fail to understand is many London cyclists’ inability to don a helmet before heading out onto the bustling London roads. I am sure that this is an issue which has been addressed umpteen times and yet still I see countless cyclists travelling on the roads without helmets or any other form of protective clothing.

Advertisment for the Barclay's Bike Hire Scheme


To add insult to injury, it seems as though Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, is condoning and perhaps even encouraging such idiotic behaviour, through the various advertisments for his Barclays Cycle Hire scheme. I have seen numerous adverts promoting the popular campaign, however I have yet to see one which portrays the users of the ‘Boris bikes’ wearing helmets. Boris himself has been pictured again and again cycling through London without a helmet, sending out a message that it is alright to put your safety at risk, as long as you do it whilst using HIS cycle scheme. A wonderful image of our Mayor leading by example? Let’s hope not.

I cannot claim to be an avid cyclist myself, I much prefer the warmth and (occassionally) the convenience of public transport. However, my first thought whenever I do consider using a bicycle is to make sure I have a helmet. Surely this is common sense? It is a lesson which was drilled into my head as a child and has remained there ever since. It would appear as though the people of London have, sadly, not had such clear guidance from their elders, or perhaps they simply chose to ignore it? It should, then, be up to Boris to pick up the slack and reaffirm the message that cycling without a helmet is foolish, reckless and, above all, incredibly dangerous.

In May 2010, Boris, along with TFL, launched new plans for a cycle safety scheme which detail a number of initiatives aimed at tackling road safety for cyclists. These included a number of ‘edgy’ TV adverts warning drivers about the severe consequences of a lack of bicycle awareness, construction of two ‘Cylcle Superhighways’ and increased criminal justice procedures for dealing with cyclist deaths and injuries. Not once does it mention promoting the use of helmets or perhaps increasing campaigns to raise awareness about cyclists wearing helmets. In the entirety of the press release from there is not one mention of helmets at all.

We must all face the sad truth: accidents DO happen. Particularly in London where the chosen driving style of the masses can be described as nothing other than ruthless and cut-throat! It would make sense then to take every precaution against potential accidents would it not? It would appear that many of the cyclists in London do not agree.

As part of the Newspaper Journalism MA we are required to make several Freedom of Information (FOI) requests in order to gain information which might add to or even inspire a news story. As part of this assignment and for my own interest, I plan on submitting an FOI request to the relevant body in order to ascertain how many cyclists are killed each year due to the fact they were not wearing a helmet. Hopefully the publication of the figures will help to emphasise my point and make clear to all cyclists that a helmet should be as regular an item of clothing for them as their underpants. CYCLING = HELMET. Perhaps even Boris will get the message in the end.


7 Comments leave one →
  1. Bemsy permalink
    October 18, 2010 1:47 pm

    Good point! The dutch rarely wear helmets, but then their cycle routes are far safer than the almost non-existant cycle paths in london. Having said that Elly learnt her lesson when she was our age and her brakes broke, sending her flying in to a coma. She’s scarred for life, physically and mentally, and now cycles around verbier in a what to me looks like a motorbike helmet!

  2. Giles permalink
    October 18, 2010 1:48 pm

    I can’t agree more with this article as I grew up in London and was repeatedly told by my parents to wear a helmet. The day I didn’t wear a helmet I was knocked off my bike by a car and received pretty severe head injuries requiring stitches, leaving a scar (still visible today) on my face.

    Seeing cyclists without the necessary protection now angers and confuses me, surely it should be law to wear a helmet when using any transport on the road that doesn’t encase the passengers. (Yes I’m adding skateboarders and the like to this)

    Finally, parents that take their children’s safety by gearing them up in all the safety gear available then wear NONE themselves, you are just as bad, how will your child feel if they los you to an accident!

  3. Hilary Wingfield permalink
    October 18, 2010 2:04 pm

    Great item Charlie. I was amazed when I saw my first Barclays Bicycle docking station and there was not a helmet in sight. I notice that within the scheme’s Code of Conduct, right down at number 10 on the list of ‘Do’s’, is ‘DO consider wearing a cycle helmet’ – but only ‘consider’. You do have to be over 18 to sign up which means that cyclists using the bikes are not required by law to wear a helmet. I think the scheme is a great idea – but it seems unlikely that people will be carrying a helmet whether their decision to take a journey is either planned or spur of the moment. There are not many cycle helmets that slip easily into a handbag or briefcase. I understand that wearing a helmet that others have worn may not be relished – but surely there is some sort of solution.

  4. October 19, 2010 10:35 am

    There was an article in the Metro today which gave details of a cycle accident involving a six-year-old boy cycling into an extendable dog lead. The young boy was thrown from his bike and his ‘cycle helmet cracked open as he landed on the pavement’. Luckily he sustained no serious injuries other than the wounds he received from the dog lead itself. Had he not being wearing a helmet, however, things might have been very different.

  5. October 20, 2010 3:22 pm

    Surely, though, we are all responsible human beings, and therefore able to make our own decision about wearing helmets or not. A decision not to do so will harmly only the cyclist himself, and although there are plenty of accidents, the chances of, firstly, being in an accident, and, secondly, a helmet preventing you from breaking your leg, are surely not that great. Far greater a priority is surely the construction of adequate cycle lanes, which ensure the cyclist is properly sheltered from London’s qualmless drivers.

    • October 20, 2010 3:32 pm

      A fair point. I suppose I just assume that wearing a helmet would be an obvious choice for a responsible adult cyclist.
      I do disagree, however, when you say that the choice to wear, or not wear, a helmet harms only the cyclist. As a driver, I have been warned countless times about remaining vigilant and to actively look for cyclists. However, as I said in my blog post, accidents do happen and, at times, these accidents are caused by the cyslists themselves. If there is an accident between a car and a cylclist who is not wearing a helmet, and that cyclist dies, this will remain on the conscience of the driver for the rest of his or her life. I am in no way trying to trivialise the death of any cyclist however it should be made clear that the choice to cycle without a helmet has the potential to cause further hurt that what is first apparent.
      I think there is much to be done to improve cyclist safety in London but, as we so often see, relying on TFL and the government to make improvements is not always the most effective use of our time. Surely whilst we are sitting and waiting for wider changes to be put into effect we can make a little difference ourselves and take whatever precautions possible to increase cyclist safety?

  6. limey permalink
    October 27, 2010 3:53 pm

    Certainly wearing a helmet is ideal.

    However, in order to make the bike hire scheme accessible to all, mandating helmets is very restrictive. How frustrating would it be to have a need of a bike but to be unable to due to not having a helmet. Including a rack of helmets at each stand, while technically possible, will add significantly to the cost of the scheme and how long before they all go AWAL anyway?

    A far greater contribution to personal safety is for cyclists to stick to the mantra ‘see and be seen’. The recent campaign for cyclists to avoid undertaking at corners is a very good example of promoting safety positively.

    Making helmet wearing law is not the answer. Its nanny-state at its worst.

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