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. 



13 thoughts on “Don’t mention the helmets

  1. Reblogged this on Cycle Bath and commented:
    I think if you’re trying to get people to consider cycling, the easiest option can be to get them to try an electric bike. BaNES council offers an opportunity to loan an electric bike for two weeks. Other councils offer similar schemes. The RAC in Australia offered a 10 week eBike trial at the end of which 50% of users bought the bike they had been using (

    Normal bicycles for many people are that little bit *too* hard to consider despite the immense time savings and health benefits, particularly if you live in a hilly areas. Whereas an electric bike magically flattens hills and gets you to work without being in a sweaty mess. They are just a joy to ride and people “get it” within seconds of being on one. They also give you similar health benefits to a normal bike 😉

    If your company is already supportive of cycling, then it might be worth persuading the company to invest in a good quality eBike to loan out to employees to trial commuting by eBike. I’ve heard of places where there was a 90% take-up of eBikes once people had a chance to try one.

    1. This is a great idea and one we’ve already discussed but not broached with senior management. Do you know which places have already tried this? If we could provide references that would lend some weight to the suggestion.

  2. Try to not lose heart. You cannot change people, all you can do is offer them an alternative, and demonstrate its workability.

    Here in Australia, Mandatory Helmet Laws have been extraordinarily damaging to cycling. The first thing that happened was that most of what we call the “normal” cyclists, commuters, going to the shop, kids riding around, all that stopped pretty much dead in its tracks.

    What was left was the hard -core, the racing and training set. What is now called Lycra loonies. And that is used CONSTANTLY by the media and the commentary and the motorists as a derogatory term that bundles all cyclists together. If you suggest a change to MHLs then you are ridiculed for that as well.

    It is a cultural thing, and a political thing. Cyclists are a highly visible and easily intimidated weaker minority. So motorists here constantly blame cyclists for holding up traffic! The reality is that cyclists in traffic are almost always faster than motor vehicles, and make no difference to traffic times other than to reduce them.

    But facts do not matter here. you have a meme, you have a minority group that can be blamed for any frustration and that is all that is needed. We have seen this many times before in history, and we will see it again.


    Wearing a helmet has been shown to make little difference to overall cycling safety. Countries with mandatory helmet laws, or high levels of helmet usage, show no reduction in head injuries (or injuries overall) compared to countries or areas without these laws.

    Where streets and roads are designed well, cycling is such a subjectively safe activity that people feel as comfortable cycling as if they were going out in a car, or on a bus, or walking about. Good quality infrastructure has a far higher effect on cycling rates and safety than personal protective equipment.

    Conversely, in some parts of the world the environment is so hostile to cycling that many people may feel there is no option but to wear a helmet or other equipment, even if it should only offer the most minor improvement in safety. A high rate of helmet use is a sign that the authorities have failed to design well for cycling.

    The mandating of helmet use is proven to have a negative impact: it discourages people from cycling, thus reducing the societal benefit accruing from a healthier, more active population. It should be an individual’s choice whether to wear a helmet, or indeed any other form of protective gear.

    The effect of good infrastructure cannot be ignored: the Netherlands – which is the safest country in the world for cycling, with the widest demographic of people who cycle – also has the lowest rate of helmet use. Anyone who truly cares about cycling safety should campaign for infrastructure, first and foremost.


    Further thoughts:

  3. Don’t mention helmets is the only approach you can take. You need to find a useful resource to link people to such as British Cycling and keep messages simple”cycling is a safe, healthy means of transport.” repeated often enough has an impact.

  4. Changes in participation demographics and hazard associated with mandatory bicycle helmets in New South Wales, Australia

    Given the effectiveness of bicycle helmets in reducing some head injuries, it is not surprising that hospital treatment studies usually find reductions in the severity of some head injuries that are attributed to helmets (Macpherson and Spinks, 2008). However, estimates of large reductions in deaths and serious injuries attributable to mandatory helmets (Thompson et al., 1999) have not occurred in the population. Additionally, the health benefits of cycling (de Hartog et al., 2010; Gotschi, 2011 ; Lindsay et al., 2011) are sometimes ignored although these may exceed the public health costs of the injuries and deaths suffered.

  5. keep fighting the fight, 35 years on road cycling, some at very high speeds, some on bypass/dual laned roads and a lot in busy urban environments, I’d never wear a helmet, wearing one would have killed me. Even my 9 year od grandson with ADHD understands the futility and reasoning why helmets are a bad thing and increase danger.
    problem is the indoctrination is so far gone, it’s in schools and heads are allowed to force kids to wear them otherwise they can’t cycle to school, LA force kids to wear them for cycle training, cycling events barring audax and British Timetrailling (non BC events) all force to wear helmets, even cycle clubs are stipulating no helmet no ride, charity rides are the same, it’s endemic.
    We are basically fighting an uphill battle, even the EU road commission manipulates data to push for helmet use stating Denmark and Netherlands have a high cycling death rate but avoid mentioning that they cycle a heck of a lot more miles and even then don’t mention how a cycle helmet is extfremely unlikely to be able to prevent a death in the first instance but is much more likely to induce the scenario leading to a death than persons not wearing.

  6. Images speak loudly, it’s often good to pre-empt peoples thoughts with images (or imagery in word form). E.g. a happy image of someone cycling in normal clothing away from traffic can allay that default image of geared up folks squeezing between buses that will occur to some. In fact the image would have allowed you to ‘say’ the same thing without the ‘h’ word 🙂

  7. Hello,

    I like your post and the way you talk about this highly controversial issue.
    Would you mind if I’d translate if to French on my non-profit (small and personal) blog ?


  8. I absolutely agree that people should have the choice to wear a lid or not and am under no illusions after 30 years of cycle commuting that it might not do much good when colliding with a car at 40 mph but I always wear one as a default. In the last two months, I have seen the aftermath of two commuters hitting their heads on towpath rides. If they hadn’t been wearing helmets, the consequences would almost certainly have been grave.

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