Friday, July 24, 2009

How do you promote cycling?

... or the only safe citizen is one that's scared shitless!

On the way to work this morning I saw an advertisement posted just as I entered the Skytrain Station at VCC that read: "I don’t think I’ll need a helmet today – just cycling for a short distance," with the web address '' below. You don't have to be Steven King to catch the implied; be afraid -- be very afraid message. Since I normally commute by bike (my poor bike needs a new rear hub) I don't usually get to see these promotions. I had to know who these people were.

Their web site says this: "A registered non-profit organization, The Community is governed by a board of directors representing organizations including the BCAA Traffic Safety Foundation, Insurance Bureau of Canada, London Drugs Ltd., BC Ministry of Labour and Citizens’ Services, Pacific Blue Cross, TELUS and WorkSafeBC. In addition, The Community’s work is made possible through the financial and in-kind support of over 30 other companies and organizations."

The list of supporters seems to be a general collections of safety minded organizations, medical associations and groups who generally have some involvement in our health and well being (BC Coronor et al). Sounds Ok doesn't it.

A search for articles relating to helmets brings up a varied collection of stuff that cheers on (with a nice dash of scaring the bejesus out of you) the wearing of helmets when cycling, skateboarding, and ice skating but interestingly states, "helmets are NOT to be worn when on playgrounds, as loose straps may lead to strangulations." You mean they are not the be-all-and-end-all word on safety? The rest of the site is one fear-mongering tactic after another. Promoting physical health through emotional terrorism. How anyone could overcome their fear and want to particpate in any activity after sifting through this site is beyond me.

These articles are not designed to inspire a rational appreciation of risk or an honest discussion of the facts as their response to a post in the Vancouver Province by someone daring to challange the status quo on cycle helemts shows when they retort: "Research has shown that bicycle helmets, if worn appropriately, reduces the risk of injury by 88%." Oh gawd, not that one again.

Although you can very easily find the facts on this oft regurgitated little stat, I'll let Mikael at do he honours: "Virtually every bike helmet advocacy group out there quote the same statistic like it was carved in stone. They repeat it endlessly, like a broken record. No advocates question it - it is merely The Truth.

The statistic in question is that "cycle helmets prevent 85% of head injuries and 88% of brain injuries". This 'fact' is the foundation on which all bike helmet advocacy and helmet law advocacy is based upon. The populations of entire cities and states have legislation in place based on this 'fact'. This statistic dictates the lives of millions of people. Some websites try to tone it down a bit by writing things like "up to 85%" or "around 85%", but the message is the same."

"It originates from a small study in Seattle back in 1987, romantically entitled: A case-control study of the effectiveness of bicycle safety helmets - Thompson, Rivara & Thompson. New England Journal of Medicine 1989, Vol 320 No 21 p1361-7."

Those who have taken the trouble to analyse the paper in detail, however, have found it to be seriously flawed and its conclusions untenable."

"What? Sorry? Untenable? But it is The Truth! All studies since this infamous one have shown less or NO benefit from helmet usage. The guys who wrote that study should be in marketing, branding toxic waste as tasty and healthy."

"They've done their job well. Never mind that it was a flawed study with little merit on a scientific level! It's an impressive statistic. Just start quoting it and hope that nobody checks up on it. And nobody has, by the looks of it."

And clearly the oh-so-caring people at couldn't be bothered. Nor were they bothered to mention that in a British study (that has not been condemned as scientific lunacy by the rest of the scientific community) states that only 1 in 350 emergency admissions to hospital are due to any kind of cycling injury. Around 1 in 1,000 are due to head injury. How's that for just tossing out numbers. It should also be noted that the majority of those are children under the age of 15 and they more often then not involve a motor vehicle. And remember bicycle helmets are not designed or tested to deal with the impact of a motor vehicle -- in fact they are not rated to withstand anything more than a standstill drop at less than 20 kph for which they can not guarantee anything more than protection from minor cuts and bruises. If they are tested at all. Or how about the fact that scientists have estimated that it would take 3000 years of average cycling to suffer a serious head injury (helmeted or not). I'm sure they shy away from mentioning in their fund raising material things like, the British Medical Association has estimated the health-benefit to risk ratio of cycling to be 20 to 1. 20 to 1! That's better than almost any other human activity we undertake and it kicks the crap out of driving or being a passenger in a car and even walking. Yes, you are more likely to sustain an injury -- head or otherwise -- as a pedestrian than as a cyclist.

Well in London England they have decided that real science has merit. Not only have they come to the conclusion -- againts heavy pressure from pro helmet advocacy groups (not to mention the multi-billion dollar helmet industry) -- that cycling is healthy and safe for individuals as well as beneficial environmentally and financially for society as a whole, but they have also realized that you can't promote cycling with fear. You can promote cycling or helmets; you can't do both.

So here is how they have decided to get you on your bike:

Now that makes me want to ride!


  1. I've been thinking of a move to BC for quite sometime now, however lately I'm leaning to wards staying in Ontario or going to Quebec.
    Main reason...
    I ride a bike every single day, year round and can't fathom the idea of be forced into wearing a helmet.

    I was reading a 1997 study from Quebec, when they thought of implementing a helmet law, something like 88% of people polled said safer bike lanes were the key to safe cycling. And that is 100% true. Look no further than Europe.

  2. There are lots of ways of making cycling safer (not that it's not just as safe or safer than most of the things we do in our day already) but certainly the science so far does not suggest that mandatory helmet laws do us any good at all. In fact there is plenty of evidence to suggest they cause more harm than good.

    I ride a bike everyday, year round and refuse to wear a helmet. That makes me a criminal here in BC (albeit a minor one). And it angers me that I have to be made to feel that way. I have been issued one $29 dollar ticket so far. I plan on challenging it in court but it is just such a massive waste of time and energy when there is so much good we could be doing.

    BC is a great place to live and cycle and as a resident here I would be saddened that we would lose an active cyclist due to our stupid helmet law. But that is the case with these laws; they deter cycling.

    I was out on the weekend and did a non-scientific count and I would say that nearly half of the cyclists I saw were not wearing a lid. I think that's a good thing and the more the powers that be see that we won't be pushed around and the more time and energy they waste trying to force them on us then the better chance we have of getting this law (at least for adults) repealed.

  3. I defiantly have not eliminated BC from moving to just yet.
    I'm just weighing my options now. I even looked at the Maritimes, however they too have helmet laws and I'm not sure if I could put up with their winters.

    For me, it's probably going to boil down to BC and Québec (and perhaps Ottawa). Although Québec's winter's are harsh, they have amazing cycling routes there.

    Overall, there is so much that I like about BC. Even with the helmet law aside, I find a lot of negativity to wards cyclists in BC. Reading comments on cycling stories on, they tend to be all negative...
    Of course watching or listening to Toronto call in shows, 95% of the comments are negative to wards cyclists as well. Even yesterday when that cyclist was dragged by the former AG and killed, comments started to pour in on how cyclists need to be licenced or taken off the road completely.


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