Don’t mention the helmets

For a number of years now, a small group of keen cyclists (myself included) at my workplace have formed a cycling group. The original intention was to offer a place for all cyclists in the company to come together, do cycling things. It’s morphed, slowly, into a group that spends more time encouraging people to cycle to work, attempting to encourage the company to invest in cycling facilities and also working with the council to try and encourage better facilities. We talk to people to try and help them get past the barriers they erect for themselves to stop them riding to work, we provide an on site repair service which is very popular and we provide route guidance, facility support, purchase guidance…lots of things. I’d like to think we have made a difference but it’s hard to tell.

Surveys at work during events we hold have taught us that the absolute, main cause of ‘people not cycling into work’, is safety, especially amongst the women we talk to. They’re scared of the roads, it’s that simple and it’s not difficult to understand why. The UK’s roads are incredibly toxic environments which is very much a cultural issue. Not only are the roads populated by a proportion of aggressive, selfish drivers who actively resent cyclists being there, there is also a sub-culture of people who may not have a problem with cyclists but believe cycling is far more dangerous than it really is. These people are vocal. 

At work we have an intranet as most large workplaces do (we employ over 2500 at our main site), with open forums. One such group has been set up specifically to discuss roadworks in the area around the main site. This is currently a very active forum as there are lots of changes taking place in the area. It’s not uncommon for people to complain about delays here including this quality post recently from one lady.

It took me 50 minutes to drive 2.5 miles the other day”

Now any cyclist, or indeed, any person whose legs work fine could tell you a much quicker way to travel than that but this is a corporate environment, you can’t just blurt out the ridiculousness of the statement so after some thought I typed up a new post in that forum.

It sounds like the continued roadworks around the site are causing lots of problems for people travelling short distances. Allow me to help .;-)

***********  is extremely well served by a network of segregated, safe, well maintained cycle paths. It is possible to travel from one side of Warrington to the other without ever riding on the road more than a few meters. Cycling has the benefit of no queues, no delays. You can consistently guarantee how long your journey will take no matter how many roads are being dug up, no matter how many cars are around.

If you’re frustrated by all the cars holding you up, there are alternatives. All you need is a bike, you don’t need a helmet or special cycling gear, if you pedal gently you can still do 8-10mph quite easily without raising a sweat. If you want to pedal harder, there are a good selection of changing, shower and locker areas on site. You’ll save money quickly and will get fit without even realising it.

The ********* cycling group are based at ******* and can provide guidance on the best routes in, where to store your bike, where to get changed. We can even fix a puncture, adjust your brakes or mend a broken chain if you get here and have an issue. if you’ve not got a bike we can help with suggestions on which bikes would be most appropriate. The weather is getting better, now’s the time to make a change.

Doesn’t read like it’s too controversial, does it? Of course, those of you who are used to discussing cycling advocacy will already of seen my naive and silly mistake.

I mentioned helmets. In fact, I did worse than that, I mentioned, no helmets!

So, as expected, I got some comments back. One from the lady whose journey which as one Twitter user stated ‘I could forward roll faster’, whose friends son crashed a bike and had to have some bowel removed. Another lady, equally concerned about my recklessness, highlighted how her husband got knocked off his bike and broke his arm. They both advocated helmets.

87% of Twitter users who responded to my poll, guessed the correct answer.


How many people, reading those responses, who were previously thinking about cycling into work, are going to now? Not many, that’s how many.

It’s terribly sad and while I’d be happy to argue the case and shoot their anecdotes down on this forum, it’s harder to do on corporate forums. The damage is already done too, no matter how much data I provide, now matter how many coherent arguments I put forward, any potential cyclists will only have visions of someone impaled on a bicycle handlebar and losing a portion of intestine. 

It’s almost a one way street, these people, even though their intent is good (I think), have permanently impacted any opportunity the delays may have had to move people away from their cars and onto their bikes. They are unpaid shills for the motoring industry, something I was called paranoid for suggesting last week. The very cause and solution to their complaints, is right in front of them and yet the instant an opportunity to seize that solution presents itself, they shoot it down. Even if they don’t get on their bikes and solve their own issues, less people in cars would help them too but they’re not interested in that.

I felt so demoralised after reading these two comments, I really felt for a short period, what’s the point, they’ll always win, they’ll always have their un-contextual stories to bring up the instant someone says ‘helmet’ or ‘cycling’, their minds are set and they are keen to ensure others feel the same way.

I don’t feel quite so disappointed now after a weekend of cycling, I’ll still continue running the cycling group and I’ll still keep trying to encourage people to ride in. I know there’s people I’ll never convince but have learned a little here, certain subjects are guaranteed to bring out the nay-sayers and should be avoided at all costs.

Enjoy your 50 minute queues. 



Migraine, it’s no headache

I’ve had the ‘I’ve got a migraine’ from someone having a headache today (again), so lets publish my old breakdown of an actual migraine, to help people understand the difference. I’m not saying all migraines are like this but most of mine are. I’m not saying all headaches are minor.  Luckily I only get one every couple of months now but I used to get them at least once a fortnight. And I’m lucky because I’m a bloke, women suffer from migraines far more than men do. I’m not looking for sympathy either, this is how it is, it’s rubbish but at least it comes and goes, could be a lot worse.

My trigger is usually light. Flashes of bright, white, natural light. Looking outside from inside a building at sunlight reflecting off a car windscreen will do it nicely but there are lots of reasons. Lack of sleep, lights, changes of brightness, it’s almost random.

Anyway, here we go. I’ve been triggered.

My migraine normally starts with a blocking in the eyes. It’s hard to explain but imagine black dots in your vision making it hard to look at things in detail. Don’t try reading or looking at a computer screen in this state. This then moves to flickering at the edges of my vision which slowly moves, over say an hour, to my central vision. The flickering is my trigger to speak to my boss, let him know I’m out of action for 24 hours, to get home.

I cycle to work mostly, so flickering in my eyes means I will struggle to get home in the 60 minutes I have left. I have left it too late in the past. That was a bad idea.

So, flickering starts, I tell my boss I’m out of action, he’s good, lets me go. And out of the corporate premise world I go. I ride home, the flickering gets worse, it’s enough to make me feel sick. I get on my bike and set off. On this occasion I’ve left it too late. I start throwing up riding home. Not proper sick, just bile, dry retching. I can’t see a damn thing. I’m looking at the road but all I can see is a line, it’s the pavement edge, I stick to that.

I’m home. My wife is home too. I grunt at her, she looks at me, sees my posture, gets what’s going on. she understands too. She knows she has to take on my responsibilities for the next day or so, that’s all sorted…time to get jiggy,

I get myself sorted. Empty bucket by the bed, jug of water, curtains closed, bring it.

The flickering of my vision will generally have faded by this point to be replaced by a dark shadow covering my entire vision, this will grow darker and darker until I can barely see at all. I lost the ability to recognise any fine detail an hour or so ago, at this stage I could barely recognise a double decker bus. The pain is coming, it’s been a dull ache for 30 minutes or so but now an explosion hits right at the centre of my head, the tendrils of which tunnel out to each nerve in my skull, to my eyes but most of all to my back. The pain spreads quickly and efficiently down my spine and settles in halfway down my back. The epicentre moves gradually to the base of my skull and I am rigid. 

This is how I will spend the next few hours, head arched back, muscles locked against each other, each movement feeling like glass between my vertebra. Sometimes I retch, each spasm pulling my stomach ever closer to ejecting itself. 

The first couple of times this happened in my early teens, I was terrified, I didn’t know what was happening or why, I thought I was dying. As I became more familiar with them I understood how to handle them, they grew less scary but not less pleasant. I know longer fear I am dying, I merely fear that I will not.

If I am lucky, after an hour or so, unconsciousness will take me with it’s deep, dark forgiving caress and temporarily release me. Sometimes I will awake, still gripped by pain, a dark cloud over my eyes and a steel bar for a spine. More often though I will awake, reborn, still in pain but able to see and move. The migraine will leave me aching, sore and beaten. I will spend a few days with a stiff back and a sore head, eyes that feel hard and loose in my head. The world is dulled, muffled and grey.

So it’s over again, for now. Definitely not a headache.