Because bike commuting isn’t a sport, this site has made no mention of the Tour de France this year — and nobody seemed to notice. I haven’t mentioned the 2012 Olympics either, and I had no intention of doing so.
The sad occasion is the death of Dan Harris, a cyclist struck and killed by a double-decker bus near the Olympic Park yesterday.
Not just a double-decker bus, but a bus full of journalists. And journalists ran as fast as they could to talk to the most famous bike-related people they could find, and they garnered statements from Great Britain’s cycling stars of the moment, Wiggins and Mark Cavendish.
Cycling is a dangerous sport. I know there are a lot of people out there who ride bikes who abide by everything, the laws, the lights and things.
There have got to be laws that protect both parties. Things like legalising helmets, making them the law to wear. They shouldn’t be riding along with phones and iPods on, shouldn’t be riding without lights.
And the keyword there is sport. Yes, when cycling is a sport, it’s more dangerous than cycling as a way of getting around. And certainly there is more that cyclists and lawmakers can do to make getting-around cycling safer. But Wiggins sparked yet another reflexive blame-the-cyclist discussion in the press.
If every cyclist did the things done by Wiggins, Cavendish, and their racing peers, then mandating helmet use would make sense. If you spend as much of your time as they do at 35 mph in high-risk situations, you definitely need to consider the probability you might hit your head on the ground.
But every cyclist doesn’t perform at the speed or take the acrobatic risks of cycling sports — only amateur and professional sport cyclists do.
Just as most wearers of pants don’t jump out of airplanes, there really are people who — for sport — do jump out of airplanes wearing special pants. (And when they do, I would think it very important to wear a helmet, as well as the best pants for the task.)
We can argue about the benefits of helmets. (Believe it or not, we can, but I don’t particularly want to.)
Someone will be bound to leave a comment here saying, “A helmet saved my life.”
Someone else will be bound to write, “When you are dragged for ten feet under a London bus, a bike helmet won’t save you.”
I just saved you both the trouble. You’re welcome.
But two things are abundantly clear, and borne out by research and data and stuff:
- Where helmets are mandated, cycling is suppressed.
- The health benefits of cycling outweigh the potential risks of cycling.
And in the video report on Sky.com, a non-exciting, non-famous, non-named person makes that case at about 2:20.
The real benefits of cycling come from the physical activity side to it. They outweigh the risks 20-to-1. So there are twenty times as many lives are saved by cycling as are lost while cycling. In order to maximize those, we want to get more people cycling, not deter people.
Wiggins tried to walk back what he said about “making [helmets] the law to wear,” on Twitter:
Just to confirm I haven’t called for helmets to be made the law as reports suggest.
I suggested it may be the way to go to give cyclists more protection legally if involved in an accident.
I wasn’t on me soap box CALLING, was asked what I thought #myopiniondoesntcountformuch.
In other words: Hey! Could we get back to talking about all my racing wins and stuff that I know about.
Wiggins, with all his apparent greatness as an athlete, knows more about the sport of cycling than I ever will. And I respect him for his attempt to minimize the impact of his talking out his accomplished ass — but outside the realm of his own expertise.
The best response came from Michael Hanlon of London’s Daily Mail Online, who shows genuine respect for Wiggins (and writes longer headlines than even I dare to), in an article titled, “Bradley Wiggins knows a lot about cycling. But he might be wrong about the safety benefits of wearing a helmet.”
In fact, Hanlon’s article is the article I intended to write here, but with quaint Britishisms. It begins:
Bradley Wiggins is a top bloke. He lacks the unappealing narcissism of so many athletes, gives the impression that he has a life away from the saddle and is a Mod to boot. But that doesn't stop him being (most probably) wrong about cycle helmets.
Go read the rest of it.
If the British press posts an interview with London’s most prominent celebrity bus driver on the dangers of buses, I’ll let you know.