Recently, much talk has been surrounding wearing or not wearing a helmet while cycling. This follows an article posted on Instagram by Sports Orla (Eurosport presenter) on the 9th of November after she was derided by the Daily Mail for not wearing a helmet while riding.
Mostly, it comes down to habit and a feeling that's just what I do, similar to putting on my seat belt in the car. It's reached a point where it feels odd if I don't have one on.
In my early days as a cyclist in Wigan Wheelers or as a mountain biker, I never wore a helmet. They felt clumsy and seemed to be in my peripheral vision. I also never wore one for rock climbing. Two things changed that. Back in the 90s, all the mountain bike magazines agreed they would only take rider shots if the rider wore a helmet.
Responsible marketing here changed our sport forever. The second was a small fall I had while coming down some singletrack. I thought, "that could have been much worse" after noticing I had narrowly missed a boulder with my head as I lay face down in the dirt.
So now it mostly comes down to habit; I've just been conditioned into doing it. I don't believe it makes cycling any safer; it is a piece of protective equipment that would help if I fall off or may help if I get knocked off by a motorist.
And I don't have many excuses not to wear one. Helmets are affordable, comfortable year round and, in any fall, would most certainly protect your brain from slight to serious injury.
However, when it comes to safety, prevention is the best course.
Helmets don't offer that much protection if you get hit by a motorist doing anything more than 20mph. At 40mph, you are more than likely going to be dead helmet or no helmet.
Sadly, too many motorists in the UK do not show vulnerable road users the respect they deserve.
National standard cycle training (Bikeability) is a far better investment than a helmet as you are much less likely to be involved in an RTA after training than before. Better cycle infrastructure with separated lanes would save thousands of lives through reduced RTA's (which would pay for itself alone*) and give millions more people the confidence to cycle, reducing the burden on the NHS almost instantly and the pressure on our overstretched road work.
*The average cost to the economy of a road traffic fatality is £1.7million and the average cost of a serious road traffic casualty is £195,863.
It is also the case that Local authorities and highway departments spend little more than lip service when it comes to Sustainable travel.
I should know. I've spent the last fourteen years in this field dealing with local authorities, and in my opinion, they aren't that bothered about pedestrians or cyclists;
The main focus of their budgets and planning is nearly 100% on cars and their infrastructure.
In all the time I've cycled in Staffordshire, Stoke on Trent, Cheshire and Derbyshire, which is over twenty years as a regular commuter, I've yet to see or hear of them gritting a cycle lane, for example (unless it forms part of the road they are gritting)—or closing roads to motorised traffic to make cycling a safe and natural option.
It has reached the point where walking in our towns like Penkridge, Trentham, Burton and Derby becoming increasingly dangerous. Increased volumes of traffic push their way through with little or no restrictions, encroaching onto pavements and killing university students, school children and old age pensioners.
In the last two months, five pedestrians have been killed in or around Stafford, and they weren't all crossing the road; they were on the pavement !!
It's about time that we demanded that we can walk, cycle or run around our towns and villages safely without the genuine risk of being killed by a bus, lorry or car and then following our death, we are then blamed for not being lit up like a Christmas tree or wearing a helmet.
For the last ten years, our local Councils have handed out contracts for school travel to bus companies and refuge collection to huge profit-making businesses. They have never requested that the drivers undertake the Safe Urban Driver course designed to help drivers of large vehicles in urban areas avoid conflict with pedestrians and cyclists—a real lifesaver.
It is our local councillors and politicians who should be held accountable for the death and destruction on our roads; after all, they have the real power to change things.
Vulnerable road users are not offered protection under the law. The few regulations that we do have are very rarely enforced by police, who seem to treat most cyclists as inferior road users who are a bit weird for riding a bike or for possibly walking, scooting or running somewhere.
So I'm with Orla and Chris Boardman; prevention is far better than vainly hoping a helmet will save your life. But the power to change things rests with us to put pressure on local government to do things properly and start making our communities the sort of places they should be.