Geographical fault lines in the helmet debate

After my recent blog post comparing compulsory bike helmets to compulsory armbands on Jews, I have been hounded by facebook-friends (“ffs”) who believe conscientious objectors to bike helmet laws are going to inspire reprisals from motorists. If you think the risk of head injuries can be exaggerated sometimes, you’re not spending enough time with these nervous ninnies who believe every undisciplined act by fellow cyclists is setting them up to be slain. They have temperaments like this poor little Chihuahua who thinks anything moving that is bigger than he is, has nothing else better to do than to kill him.


They also live in the suburbs. In fact anyone who thinks they can join forces with other voters to gang up on those of us wanting to decide for ourselves when to wear bicycle helmets, is likely to live in the suburbs. The whole reason we’re having this helmet debate now, and were silent in the early 1990s when it was first introduced, is now there actually are some Australians living in high density settings where trips are much shorter and going slow on a bike is worth doing often. Four or five times a day.

In Australia our gracious forefathers built cities with small private quarters but great public realms: parks, pubs on every corner, and beaches to turn an otherwise upstanding Dane into a seagull (head spinning around) for the time he was here. Georgian and Victorian Australia has become a site for seeing and showing off abs, boobs and tans all within two minutes of leaving home on your bike. By about the third time you left home for the day, any of you reading would be ready to say, “screw that!” to wearing a helmet.


The suburban cyclist won’t even get on his bike without replacing his gear and brake cables. His helmet is just one of five hundred items on a checklist that he has to tick: $50 for T-shirt and bottle to raise funds for Amy Gillett; tires inflated to 120psi on the rear and 110psi on the front; enough spaceman food for a return journey to Mars in his special little carrying doodad that he’ll only use once; something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue; Strava; then three sleeps before getting out of bed at two in the morning for his supersonic V8 drive to wherever 500 people have agreed to all start some epic ride at 6 in the morning.

Only having to wear a helmet is an insult to this guy! He wants everything I’ve just listed to be written in law. That’s not to make cycling safer. It’s to normalise his addiction to toys and heroics. If it were up to him, you could not check the surf on your bike without fireworks shooting out of your arsehole to ensure you have drivers’ attention. How people might live sustainably and healthily in closer quarters is none of his business at all.


What I’ve learned then from my two weeks giving two hoots about mandatory bike helmets laws, is these stupid darn laws only concern a small percentage of the population who are living sustainably, in high density settings, that were hardly as common back when helmet laws were introduced to no protest. The law doesn’t impact the cycling community more broadly, given it is a community that is largely made up of resource gluttons without the requisite moral authority to open their mouths. And that, my dear friends, is just how it is.


  1. nikdow says:

    That explains why I objected to helmet laws in 1990, because back then I had been living in a high-density sustainable setting for 15 years, using a bicycle for most of my trips.

    • Steven says:

      I think you’re right. Had I been bothered with a longer more thoughtful post I would surely have aired the little I know about David Harvey, who argues that the urban patterns capitalism produces, in turn produce the voters who perpetuate capitalism. I wish I could think of an ism like that!

    • Ian S says:

      Steven, very true. It’s almost like calling it sheep theory. I’ve posed the same thought to my local council member regarding the steady and continual carve up of suburban blocks without consideration for how people can live with efficient design of available space. I propose a more communal rather than capitalist view on the whole development prospect.

    • Steven says:

      don’t get me started on battle axe blocks, and those long deadly driveways!

  2. Ian S says:

    I’m so glad none of my bikes are plastic, none of them trendy and definitely none of them used in the manner stated above. Pro-choice is the only way to go. That, infrastructure, education and road laws that make riding a bike a normal everyday activity. Proper bike safety is only achieved when you have a large contingent of people riding bikes. It’s called “Safety in Numbers”.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Actually I get it now – butt fireworks are needed to draw attention to all the mandatory black cycling gear! Curiouser and curiouser

  4. Anonymous says:

    Most people support mandatory helmet laws because it’s dangerous to ride without one. They know it’s dangerous because it’s the law that you have to wear a helmet. None of them ride bikes because they know it’s dangerous because you have to wear a helmet to do it.

    I put it more succinctly on twitter the other day when I mentioned,

    “Was told by 2 people today I was nuts for riding a bike at night or without a helmet. Both smoke. Graveyards full of cyclists, init.”

    • Steven says:

      I wish I had written that!

    • James says:

      I went for a ride at night without a helmet not so long ago. Thoroughly enjoyed it.

      I find it downright disgraceful that ordinary folks are made to feel so scared of riding a bicycle on the public thoroughfare by other ordinary folks in motor vehicles. Yes dangerised by helmet laws, but even without the laws I fear most would be too intimidated to ride.

      It seems to me that had people been taught what is correct and acceptible driving behaviour around people on bicycles, they’d be less intimidated by the thought of riding a bicycle on the road.

      I must organise a meeting with my doctor for a certificate of helmet freedom.

    • Steven says:

      what will you be telling your doctor?

    • James says:

      Having to wear an insulating esky on my head instead of a straw hat to ride the few kilometers to the shops, will more likely result in me suffering heat stroke and skin cancer in Brisbane. I may pass out as a result of heat stress and dehydration, and fall into the path of a heavy vehicle. Very dangerous things, bicycle helmets.

  5. rdrf says:

    Helmet advocacy (preceding compulsion) is a part of “road safety” ideology and practice, explained in my book here – both re-helmets and other parts of the ideology and institutions of “road safety”.

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