Hats are safer than helmets on shared paths

Something I should have posted 12 months ago.

I’ve discovered that most hats have a crucial safety feature helmets lack: inbuilt speed control. If I’m ever approaching an uncivil speed on a shared path my hat will alert me by attempting to leave my head.

After cycling in 12 countries in the last 10 months I find it hard to readjust to the ‘reality’ here in Australia: cycling is dangerous and not wearing a helmet is tantamount to suicide.

As my local knowledge of cycling routes in my adopted Newcastle increases, I’m finding that I rarely have to resort to high traffic areas, preferring low traffic back-roads and shared paths like the one above.

Of course cycling only starts being a ‘risky’ activity around cars because cars are the thing that kills people. I refuse to perpetuate the victim blaming that is mandatory helmet laws for the same reason I refuse to accept that women invite sexual assault by not wearing headscarves. Therefore for the last few months the helmet has never left the cupboard. Especially because I keep to shared paths and low traffic areas where people on foot and cycle can interact amicably and nobody is ever killed or maimed.

Please don’t take the above paragraph as a condemnation of vehicular cycling! Cycling on any road is a pleasurable, viable and safe form of transport or recreation. Riding with cars marginally increases risk because your interacting with something which has a potential to kill. However, most road users understand that when they sit behind the steering wheel of a deadly device that they assume an extra level of onus on them to operate it in a way that doesn’t endanger others. I’ll happily ride on roads its just I have the luxury of being able to choose to ride here:

Here there are no cars and my risk of death or life altering injury is practically nil. Certainly much lower than anybody driving a car. How many people do you know that have been killed while driving? Most Australians know at least one. Curiously in Australia and New Zealand we call it the ‘road toll’ which is a bit misleading considering that an overwhelming majority of these deaths involve cars. Why don’t we call it the car toll?

So I ride without a helmet and when I do I have a smaller risk of death than when I drive a car.

An interesting thing about not wearing a helmet is that you become like a beacon to the ignorant who gleefully tell me of my impending demise.

I’d like to say that of course they need helmets- whether on foot, pedal or car- because they are perpetually head butting life.

But I don’t because I try to avoid the self righteous zealot stereotype of people advocating helmet freedom. I’ve failed though haven’t I?

9 Comments

  1. Alan Todd says:

    Couldn’t agree more. Wish we had cycle paths where I live – only roads with lots of bored cops, so I don’t have much choice. You might like to sign the petition at http://www.freestylecyclists.org/

  2. Steven says:

    Have you failed? You must accept that as a member of a persecuted minority, you can never win. You might as well just say what you reckon 🙂 Nice post Gus. More impressive is you riding one handed down an huge hill on a fixie without any brakes!

    • Lukas says:

      Steven,
      I think Gus was actually riding backwards up the huge hill, one handed, on a fixie, without any breaks! He is holding a tiny mirror in his hand, so he can see where he is going. It’s bloody amazing. You will have to try this when you get a chance.

    • Gusto says:

      I included a closeup to show I’m running a front brake and to make your comments seem foolish.

  3. Alan Todd says:

    Thanks Gusto. Every signiature helps.

  4. Matt says:

    Helmets don’t protect cyclists from cars.

    I mean they’re better than nothing in a crash. But not much better.

    Helmets can protect your head from injury in any fall. Crashes are not uncommon on two wheels – all it takes is a bit of gravel in the wrong spot to put you on the deck.

    And your risk of injury while riding is not “practically nil” without cars. It’s better described as proportional to your speed. Low speed, low risk; high speed, high risk that melon on your shoulders is going to lose any eventual fight with the tarmac.

    Perhaps helmet laws would ideally have a speed component – faster than running pace, (say 20km/h?), you need to wear a helmet, but slower than that, not mandatory – something like that.

    But then enforcement becomes complicated. Maybe it could be that anyone in lycra has to wear a helmet 🙂

    BTW the comparison with head scarves is deeply flawed. I can’t think of a worse argument.

    • Steven says:

      Laws smaws. I have some buddies in Rotterdam who refer to anyone riding with a helmet as “pretty serious”. I like that. The implication is that, if you’re wearing a helmet, you’re intensionally riding with more aggression than caution—as you would be in a race sprint, for instance. It should be noted that I am a highly regarded sprinter in B-Grade club level racing in Newcastle. On that I peg my authority. Matt, you seem like you’ve misplaced your medication of something? Is everything okay there with you?

    • Gusto says:

      Hi Matt,
      I totally agree with you that:
      1) Helmets don’t protect cyclists from cars.
      2) Speed is a critical component
      The original premise of my post was that if I start travelling fast (<20km/h) my hat falls off. 😉

      We both agree that enforcing a mandatory helmet law for certain sections of cyclists is problematic.

      Are you inferring that all cyclists should have to wear helmets because of the speed that sport cyclists ride at? I have come to the opposite conclusion- that there should not be a mandatory helmet law because it doesn’t benefit a large section of cyclists and those who are traveling fast are probably wearing helmets anyway.

      I also don’t want to be complicit in the victim blaming of cyclists- who have to wear helmets that don’t protect them from cars as a policy cop out instead of improving infrastructure or road culture that will protect our vulnerable minority from cars- the real killer on our roads.

      I am safe on shared paths. Note I said from ‘life altering injury or death’ not all injury. I perhaps will have a scuffed knee once every 10000km- thats part of living!

      Please elaborate on the flaws you find in the comparison with headscarves. I admit I made the analogy in a short-hand fashion because I thought that it was obvious that there were many similarities. I would like to make a more in depth post about it addressing your concerns.

      ps. Interestingly Perth is currently proposing helmet free zones that take the speed of cars, not bikes into account.

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