My safety rant

Helmets are not the answer

Wearing a helmet might protect us against a some of the dangers of riding a bike but please don’t think that you’re safe just because you wear a hi-vis shirt and a lid.

Riding a bike is not safe. Get over it and take steps to mitigate the risks you assess for yourself, or stay inside wrapped up in cotton wool and risk developing any of the non-exercise health conditions that will take you out instead.

However, it is your job to look after yourself. Our nanny state has imposed a law about helmets on cyclists which might help in certain cases but they do not guarantee safety and there as as many arguments against those laws as there are for them. Take it as good well-meaning advice from Wellington, and if you’re really worried about TBIs please don a helmet before standing on a chair to reach the top shelf in the kitchen because that’s much more dangerous than cycling.

My list of risks to my personal well being while riding my bike is

  1. Sunburn
    I have had SCC removed in spite of decades of doing the right thing in our sun so …
    Long sleeves, sunscreen and a legionaire cap. The cap can reduce the value of wearing a helmet so I double check the fit when I’m wearing it
  2. NZ drivers
    Our drivers are rated by cyclists from around the world as being the least skilled, rudest and most dangerous to share the roads with so I

      • Avoid roads whenever possible, choosing a longer route on tracks or quiet roads over the most efficient route. Yes, I do ride on footpaths if there’s a line of parked cars, carefully and very aware of pedestrians and driveways
      • I have a rear view mirror and use if frequently
      • When the light turns green I count to three slowly before taking off because I’ve often been nearly taken out by red light runners
      • Our helmets have intercom so we constantly tell each other about cars around us
  3. Walkers with earphones
    They can’t hear my bell or my increasingly loud and less cheery “Excuse me” calls and I wish I had a handlebar mounted paintball gun sometimes. The big danger to me is that I start to think like a kiwi car driver and do bad overtaking
  4. Dogs
    I like dogs so I pause, say hello to them and their owners, but we’ve had a couple of bad experiences out in the country with bad boys and girls and I’ve considered getting a pepper spray
  5. My own inattention
    Probably my biggest risk but …


Helmets? Gloves?

A poorly fitted helmet gave me a badly scraped face when another cyclist caused me to fall a few years ago, but the night I spent in hospital was due to the threads from my gloves being embedded into my knuckles causing an infection so I didn’t wear gloves again until recently, and that was only for a medical necessity.

My helmet has saved me from countless bruises from trees and sign posts (see inattention, above) but it won’t prevent the sprained thumb (recently), scraped shins, sore shoulders or bruised ribs that I get from time to time, and it definitely won’t have any effect at all when that double cab ute takes me out. There’s plenty of research that shows that drivers behave more badly when they see bikers with helmets, and that mandating their use only reduces the number of cyclists, hence the total number of injuries but not the number of injuries/cyclist. I wear mine automatically the same way I do my seat belt even when just reversing up the drive, but I’ve had a lot of strange looks when biking in almost every other country where helmets are a personal choice. Trauma surgeons will tell you that it would make more sense to make helmet wearing compulsory in cars, for pedestrians and when climbing more than two rungs up any ladder because that’s where they see the most TBIs.

Do your own research. Start here perhaps, but please don’t assume that you are safe on a bike because you wear a helmet.

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