February 01, 2007

Cycle safely – always wear a helmet!

Coast to Coast?

White Line

One wheel cycling

White Line

A few months ago a friend of mine caught a kerb whilst turning, came off his bicycle and broke his collar bone. He, of course, opinioned that he was wise in wearing a helmet. Exhibiting wild lateral thinking I asked why he hadn’t seen the kerb. The crash occured in the dark while cycling on an unlit country road with a feeble front light.


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  1. The crash occured in the dark while cycling on an unlit country road with a feeble front light.

    He should be glad he only broke his collar bone. If a car had come down that unlit country road and not seen his feeble light, he might well be knocking at the pearly gates by now. I hope he’s learned his lesson.

    01 Feb 2007, 12:38

  2. I expect any motorist coming from the opposite direction would have seen him – he had reflective clothing and reflectors on the bike.
    Of course watch out for inattentive drivers

    01 Feb 2007, 13:03

  3. Harsh Mr Riches.
    Who the hell are those fearless peeps?!

    01 Feb 2007, 19:30

  4. I expect any motorist coming from the opposite direction would have seen him – he had reflective clothing and reflectors on the bike.

    You say it was an “unlit country road”. A lot of the country roads I know have bends in them. Unfortunately, reflectors don’t work particularly well round bends. You can, however, see the beam from a powerful light approaching from round a bend. That was the point.

    Of course watch out for inattentive drivers

    Very cheap shot, George, and in this case rather irrelevant. I didn’t actually intend to provoke another car v bicycle pissing contest (although let’s face it, they’re fun ;-) )

    And cool pictures. You wouldn’t catch me cycling up there. Especially doing wheelies.

    02 Feb 2007, 05:30

  5. I got the photos from someone in Warwick Fire Brigade. Perhaps a search engine will give some links to Victor Lucas.

    Guessing, I suppose people in the Fire Brigade have very mixed feeling about risk.

    On the one hand I suspect only people with rather high risk thresholds ever join the fire brigade, perhaps they get a buzz from danger, on the other hand (if they survive their injuries and as an alternative to being pensioned off?) they also have to inspect places for fire risks. I do think there are plenty of people in the H&S community who are hyper risk averse. So there’s a tension there.

    Many people take pretty big risks with certain things while being over-cautious about other things. Getting a sense of perspective about risk is not straight-forward.

    02 Feb 2007, 14:34

  6. Re comment 2 – I agree I was inattentive at that point in time, but that does not mean I always am! I also know that when you’re inattentive accidents happen and, as I think my blog covers, I am very grateful that nothing did happen. Certainly an eye opener.

    Unfortunately we are all only human and we can’t concentrate 24-7. Which is probably why your friend hurt himself as well. So it’s not just car drivers.

    03 Feb 2007, 13:28

  7. I’m not suggesting that you are in the habit of driving inattentively – it’s welcome that you note the sort of occasions which could cause problems.

    Unluckily for Zak Carr one motorist didn’t.

    My view is that the most important thing a cyclist can do to improve their own safety is to attempt to predict the behaviour of drivers and act to minimise the risk of a crash. Not to place reliance on equipment which makes no more than a minor impact on safety . Simple things like giving parked cars a good leeway in case someone decides to open a door, making oneself as visible as possible at night, reflecting on any near-misses or road rage incidents which come to attention etc.

    03 Feb 2007, 15:25

  8. “Very cheap shot, George, and in this case rather irrelevant.”

    Here we go again with the ‘cheap shot’ response.

    Of course; if drivers only ever drive at a speed at which they can stop safely, on their side of the road, in the distance they can see to be clear, then the fallen cyclist wouldn’t be in danger would he?

    04 Feb 2007, 00:23

  9. ”...making oneself as visible as possible at night…”

    Surely this entails using ‘equipment’, eg reflective clothing or as Ben suggested a powerful light.

    04 Feb 2007, 00:26

  10. “My view is that the most important thing a cyclist can do to improve their own safety is to attempt to predict the behaviour of drivers and act to minimise the risk of a crash. Not to place reliance on equipment which makes no more than a minor impact on safety”

    Although I can’t comment on the contribution equipment makes to road safety I agree with the first part of your comment but would suggest this applies equally to all road users. Indeed, it is more pertinent to motorists as a misplaced reliance on safety features can also have an adverse affect on other road users’ safety.

    04 Feb 2007, 00:45

  11. Here we go again with the ‘cheap shot’ response.

    Well it was! There was no need to single out Elizabeth as an example of an inattentive driver when the point I was trying to make was whether of not the cyclist was properly lit. The fact that inattentive drivers are out there is unfortunately a given – nobody likes it, me included, but unfortunately that’s the way it is. As a cyclist at night, being more vulnerable to injury than a car driver, I would have expected the cyclist would take ALL possible precautions to make his/herself as visible as possible. I think that was a fair point. Swinging the argument round on to another blogger who had nothing to do with this entry was, if you ask me, a bit lame.

    Indeed, it is more pertinent to motorists as a misplaced reliance on safety features can also have an adverse affect on other road users’ safety.

    I agree, but I don’t think there are too many drivers who go hammering round country lanes thinking “ah well I can drive like a nutter, if I hit something the airbags and crumple zones will help me get out safely and the ABS might stop me in time anyway.” The single thing I find lacking in car drivers generally these days is awareness. Awareness of what is going on around them and what might be further in front. Many can only think of what they can see immediately in front of the vehicle – there’s no awareness of what is behind, what might be happening further on, etc. This, in my opinion, is the biggest cause of road accidents and unfortunately the current driving test is completely flawed in this area. It teaches you the technical aspect of how to drive a car but teach you general awareness of the roads you’re on and how to interact with other drivers – I’d say it puts a lot of drivers in an “I’m alright Jack” frame of mind. Getting back to the original point, this applies to the potential scenario of a car driver coming round a bend and hitting the cyclist… a good, aware driver would think “slow down, there might be something around that sharp bend that I can’t see.” A great many will not because their only thought is “am I going to get round that bend without ending up in the hedge”, disregarding anything round it that they can’t already see. This is why I recommend taking the IAM test or something similar, because it improves your ability to think ahead of the car and consider a bigger picture of what is going on around you – rather than just the 50m or so you can see in front.

    I’m sure this has gone way off the point of the original topic…

    04 Feb 2007, 01:12

  12. Sorry, something I wanted to change… read “The single thing I find lacking…” as “The single most important thing I find lacking…” .

    04 Feb 2007, 01:14

  13. As a cyclist at night, being more vulnerable to injury than a car driver, I would have expected the cyclist would take ALL possible precautions to make his/herself as visible as possible.

    I don’t think that a cyclist should be expected to have lighting as bright (or brighter) than a motorist. All road users should have lighting adequate to spot unlit obstructions (e.g. logs, potholes). More than that is a moot point. I understand that at one time it was illegal for cyclists to have more than 2.4 watts for a front lamp, which I think is inadequate to see potholes, kerbs etc. on an unlit road.

    04 Feb 2007, 18:08

  14. Of course watch out for inattentive drivers

    Even if all drivers were fully attentive, this wouldn’t suffice to guarantee everybody’s safety. I’ve suffered an accident at a time when I, and everyone else involved, was fully attentive. Sometimes, shit happens, and we just have to accept it. The situation should be no different for cyclists. I’m sure your friend was doing everything in his control to preserve his safety, but on this occasion he just got dealt a bad hand. There’s no need to stereotype or to condemn any particular motorists.

    04 Feb 2007, 23:20

  15. Chris May

    simple things like [...] making oneself as visible as possible at night,

    All road users should have lighting adequate to spot unlit obstructions [...] More than that is a moot point

    How visible is ‘as visible as possible’ then? I would have thought that it’s a bit more than ‘enough to spot obstructions’. When I’m riding home along the unlit roads between uni and leam, I have two 20W halogen lamps on the front. Not quite as visible as a car, but not that far off. The brightest bike lights which are currently available are 65W HIDs (actually I’m sure I’ve seen an 80W version of these, but I can’t find it now), which are certainly as bright as a motorbike, or one side of a car.

    I hate seeing cyclists with a weedy little 3-LED front light on the road between stoneleigh and cubbington. Sure. you can see potholes with it, but you’re almost completely invisible to the boy-racers hooning along at 70 (pace Ben’s comment above). They shouldn’t be doing that, of course, but that won’t make it hurt any less if they hit you. If you’re serious about ‘predicting behaviour and and acting to minimise risk of a crash’ (and you ride on unlit roads at night) then investing in a decent set of lights is a must.

    Incidentally, it seem to me that wearing a helmet in those pictures is quite sensible. The cliffs look to be made of crumbly shale, so there’s a fair chance of a rock coming down from above. There’s also a reasonable chance of scraping against the overhanging edge of the path – either of those two occurrences on an unprotected head could be enough to wobble the rider over the edge. It’s the same reason that lots of solo rock climbers and mountaineers wear helmets.

    05 Feb 2007, 10:46

  16. I disagree with comment 14. I just don’t understand how someone can clip the kerb when turning right unless they are in-attentive or hadn’t taken reasonable precautions. I agree with Chris May’s observation about people with “weedy little 3-LED front lights” cycling on unlit roads at night. Ok my friend is about 61 so his nighttime eyesight is proabaly far worse than it was 40 years ago; a younger person might have got away with weaker lights.

    I don’t believe “accidents just happen”. There are ways to avoid them, people just can’t be bothered. For example

    Where I disagree with Chris May is about the helmet. Cycle helmets are designed for the case where a cyclist literally falls off the bicycle onto the ground. The ventilation holes aren’t an issue as normally the thing hit is too large to go through the holes. But the ventilation holes would often severely limit the protection given from falling rocks. Would ramblers wear helmets on such a path? A key reason for rock climbers to wear helmets is in case a climber above dislodges a rock. Note that soldiers’ helmets have a very hard shell and no ventilation holes as they are designed to cope with relatively high velocity small objects (slower types of bullet, shrapnel etc.).

    The point about the photos is that a helmet of any description is of no use in preventing the most likely type of hazardous incident. Of course government has plenty of better things to do than to try to stop them – it’s reckless behaviour which can have a major affect on other people (e.g. speeding, mobile phone use) that society must clamp down on.

    05 Feb 2007, 12:14

  17. Jane

    My Dad always says that accidents don’t just happen too, George. He says ” The thing with accidents is that they can be avoided.” But he’s a Virgo.

    05 Feb 2007, 13:10

  18. Chris May

    Would ramblers wear helmets on such a path?

    Ramblers don’t have much momentum though – Experiments conducted whilst riding in the Peak district* show that, when hit by a rock, they just fall straight to the ground. Bikes tend to keep on rolling for a while.

    Even if the ventilation holes made up 30% of the surface of the helmet, you’re still 70% better off than if you weren’t wearing it. More if you think that the smaller stones are less likely to be a problem than the big ones.
    Not sure what the point was about soldiers’ helmets, but it’s worth noting that a lot of rock-climbing helmets now use the same ‘foam + plastic skin’ design as a bike helmet does. It turns out, perhaps unsurprisingly if you think about the physics, that just because it’s designed for impacts where you hit the floor, doesn’t stop it from being useful in other kinds of impacts, like a stone falling from above. Such helmets can’t withstand multiple impacts, and have to be replaced fairly frequently, which is why the old style hard plastic / carbon lids are still popular in the big mountains (where you might be several days away from your nearest helment vendor!)

    Incidentally, in my experience(I used to do a lot of climbing) unexpected stonefall from above on seacliffs and the like is much more likely to be caused by punters looking over the edge, than by climbers above – who tend to be very careful not to dislodge anything, and to give their seconds a lot of warning if they do.

    * joke.

    05 Feb 2007, 14:49

  19. julia

    I have just stumbled across this exchange of words whilst looking for research into cycle helmets. is this a wind-up?. my advice is to buy a helmet, get out there on your bike, enjoy the country in the daylight and in the dark, keep fit and healthy – but watch out for meteorites!

    24 Jun 2007, 20:10

  20. My motives in starting the blog entry were in the spirit of a wind-up.
    What sort of research are you doing?

    The extent of helmet effectiveness in laboratory conditions has been well researched and some consideration has been given to the public health issues (do cycle helmet campaigns reduce the volume of cycling?)

    Perhaps the issue of why some people believe others who claim to be experts hasn’t been given much examination. Nor why many cycle advocates resent the publicity campaigns. Then there are the political science issues around the setting the policy agenda.

    My confidence in road safety “experts” isn’t very high. Only a few days ago one claimed in print that “the German rule (introduced in 1997), compelling cyclists to use signed cycle facilities, has resulted in a spate of new facilities built to high standards”. Anyone who knows anything about compulsory use of cycle tracks in Germany knows that compulsion was introduced under the Hitler dictatorship (& exported to the Netherlands during that country’s occupation). Ok they might not know that since 1997 individuals in Germany have had the right to take local authorities to court to contest whether a path, signed as compulsory, should be so signed. And if the local authority loses, the signs are replaced by ones indicating that use of the facility by cyclists is optional.

    24 Jun 2007, 20:43

  21. julia

    Well, Mr Riches, your last comment seems to have stopped the ‘blog’!. I tend to agree with your opinion regarding ‘road safety’, indeed, many public health and safety issues seem to be on occasion quite mad and have little forward planning. I have ben cleaning up my ‘favourites’ and once again find myself on your page. I was doing personal research after noticing that the way some people wear their helmets (I’ve seen them on back to front!) could not possibly prevent serious injury. What annoys me most is when a fly gets into the ventilation holes and I nearly cause an accident trying to get it out. Talking of which, there is little excuse for any operator of any vehicle to be innattentive or careless in the operation of their vehicle. I cold cover many more miles in a much shorter time if I could see around or over the hedgerows. I am amazed at the speed some drivers take the country roads. In a car, we can both stop in a relatively short time and perhaps luckily just need a new wing or bumper. A car at 30-40mph meeting me head on at 20 miles an hour doesn’t bode well for me or my bike!
    Anyway, hope your friend has recovered well and not been struck by any further falling kerbs. Oh, and by the way, the antispam question is a hard one as, although most oranges in the UK are orange, in many countries I have visited, they are most definately green or yellow and taste just as sweet.

    08 Aug 2007, 16:49

  22. Julia,

    I’ve changed my antispam question from the default one to a less ambiguous one. It might seem a ridiculously easy question but apparently it doesn’t take much to stop a spam bot.

    08 Aug 2007, 20:58

  23. julia

    Oh so very orange!
    see E mail

    08 Aug 2007, 21:24

  24. julia

    Oh so very orange!
    see E mail

    08 Aug 2007, 21:24


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