June 2012

Helmets feedback & factsheet

The article about creeping helmet compulsion in Spokes 113 attracted wide interest from the media, though much less from individuals.  Encouragingly, most of the coverage was balanced and was supportive or understanding of our position …

[Click here to go straight to the feedback]
[Click here to go straight to Spokes factsheet]
[Click here to go straight to links to evidence]

Spokes had no wish to re-ignite the helmet debate.   We’d rather spend our limited volunteer time promoting cycling and lobbying for improved cycling conditions – one of the best ways to improve personal and public health.

Unfortunately we have reached the position where some major charity rides are now prohibiting young adults unless they are helmeted, where some official websites and publications will not include cycling pictures unless helmeted, and where some cyclists have reported being shouted at for not being helmeted.

The issue was covered in Spokes Bulletin 113, and this generated massive public interest – the majority of it sympathetic to our concerns.

Spokes does not have the time or resources to mount a major campaign on this – that is up to national cycling organisations – but, in view of the interest, we have published a factsheet [pdf 390k] summarising our concerns and the arguments.  Please print or reproduce the factsheet if you find it useful.  We also hope that other cycling organisations will follow our example – and some are already saying they will do so – see below.

Our basic point is that using a helmet should be a choice – but also an informed choice.   Police, sales outlets and other helmet-promoting organisations should give the whole picture.   Public and publicly-funded bodies such as Cycling Scotland should be balanced in their use of pictures.  Bodies with a commercial interest in helmets should be required to explain the cons as well as the pros.

Evidence suggests that compulsion or heavy promotion of helmets puts some people off – whether because it makes cycling seem risky, or a hassle, or uncool – and so major health benefits can be lost.  Yet everyday non-sport cycling is just as safe as many other daily activities.

And people choosing to use a helmet need to know, for example, that although it may well help protect the head when falling onto the ground, it may also encourage drivers to pass closer, it may give an unwise confidence to use a faster road, and it will do little to help in collisions with a motor vehicle.  This knowledge will itself help helmet users to ride more safely.

A greater understanding of helmet issues is really important because countries where helmets have become more popular (whether through commercialism, public promotion or compulsion) have generally seen no improvement in cycling deaths and serious injuries per mile cycled, and in some the position has worsened.

Note: Spokes is not involved in Sport, and can’t comment on helmets for sport cycling.  See the CTC briefings instead.


Press Articles

Scotland on Sunday, June 3

Edinburgh Evening News

Radio Scotland ‘Call Kaye’ phone-in, June 4 – no link available, but Spokes representative Ian Maxwell reports that the phone-in went well


Deadline News Agency

Expert Feedback

A quick word to welcome Spokes’ action to stop publicising rides that require helmets. It’s about time that someone took the initiative on this and I hope that other groups will follow suit.”  John Franklin, registered Expert Witness on cycling skills and safety, author of ROSPA-recommended book Cyclecraft, www.cyclecraft.co.uk.

Asked to appear on Call Kaye phone-in to disagree with @SpokesLothian re helmets.  Said I agree with Spokes.  So not on radio today.”  John Lauder, director of Sustrans Scotland.

Bold, rational move – Scottish cycling NGO withdraws support for events that encourage the use of bike helmets”  Mikael Colville-Andersen, Copenhagen, Urban Consulting Expert and CEO of Copenhagenize Consulting.  http://copenhagenize.com.

The Transport and Health Study Group completed an extensive review of cycling for its book Health on the Move 2. We concluded against the promotion of cycle helmets and strongly against their compulsion. … An excessive focus on helmets adds “fear” to the obstacles hindering a cycling revival. Enforced helmet compulsion reduces participation, ironically worsening safety due to lost “safety in numbers”.  Malcolm Wardlaw, Executive Committee, Transport and Health Study Group.   Health on the Move 2.

Other Organisations and Online

Cyclenation [which links campaign groups throughout the UK]  “Spokes’s laudable and brave initiative is supported by Cyclenation, which urges other groups to consider whether to follow suit.”  www.cyclenation.org.uk/news.php [see June 8 news item]

www.cycling-edinburgh.org.uk [website of organised bike rides around Edinburgh]  “I’ve now decided to adopt the same policy for the Cycling Edinburgh website.  From 1/7/12, I will no longer list organised rides where it is compulsory for adult riders to wear a helmet.  Also, in choosing photos for the site, I’ll try to select examples that show a mixture of helmeted and non-helmeted riders”  [Note – the spokes policy is not restricted to adults only].

City Cycling Edinburgh Forum An extensive discussion of the Spokes decision took place.  http://citycyclingedinburgh.info/bbpress/topic.php?id=6916

Member Feedback

Interestingly, we only had email or twitter feedback from 4 Spokes members, 3 in support, 1 against.  Since one might expect those not supporting the new policy to get in touch, this is an encouraging ratio.   The responses were…

You are to be congratulated on standing up to the increasing obsession that some people, mostly non cyclists, have with forcing cyclists to wear helmets.  Please keep up the good work.

“Cycle campaign group @SpokesLothian stops publicising events requiring participants to wear helmets<quite right too!!”

I like the interest this initiative is drawing!   I have sent a note to Cycle Nation highlighting our experience and encouraging them to promote the idea amongst groups nationally.  One point you could add is that young people are more at risk as drivers than as cyclists. This is well established from government data. I think if we could get the road safety people to grasp that point, they would be less hide-bound on the subject.

I’m very disappointed to see that Spokes has been captured by the
anti-helmet brigade.  It’s much too easy to read a biased selection of
studies and reach an unsupported conclusion, and using medical
language without being an expert on head trauma is misleading at best.
Just ask yourself: Would you send your child to school on a bike
without a helmet?  Would you commute to work on a bike without a
helmet? I’ve come off my bike perhaps half-a-dozen times in 40 years of
commuting, and I’ve bounced my head off the pavement on three
occassions.  Suggesting that by wearing a helmet I was contributing to
low uptake of cycling is just silly.  Also, I’m _very_ concerned at your new ‘policy’ to punish helmet-requiring rides: this is often an insurance requirement, and amounts to Spokes _advocating against_ helmet use, which is not what we should be doing.  Any long-time cyclist knows that this is an incredibly long-running and complicated debate.  Adopting a high-profile position on _either_ side is bound to be divisive, and given the incredible complexity and wealth of competing ‘evidence’, it seems entirely inappropriate for Spokes to be seen to support one side or the other.  Please rescind this new ‘policy’ and focus on positive cycling promotion!

From non-members we had several supportive comments and only 2 against – one from an individual and one from an organisation which sells decorations for cycle helmets!


For a picture of everyday cycling in a European country where helmets are not an issue, see…


Links to the research evidence on helmets have been moved to our documents – advice – helmets page.




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