Cykelhjelm - Udenlandske Interviews - Carlton Reid

Carlton Reid is the editor of bicycle industry news site, cycle advocacy portal and video blog

1. What do you know about Danish bike culture, looking at it from abroad with your experience?
My knowledge is all anecdotal and wistful seeing it from afar. I've never visited but I've long been aware of Denmark's cycle friendliness. Jealous, also. You lucky things.

2. Denmark is currently experiencing a period of intense bike helmet promotion, with a lot of focus on the dangers involved in cycling. One poster reads "Strap on your helmet and avoid brain damage".
There is talk of legislation, as well. What can we expect from this helmet promotion, in your experience? How will our bike culture be affected?
Australia and the US went through this some time ago, with helmet laws being the consequence. In the UK there are sporadic campaigns to enforce helmet wearing for cycling but they are generally fought down by the CTC [Britisk Cyklistforbund] and a small but vociferous band of anti-compulsion campaigners.

You're right, helmet promotion is potentially counter productive, it sends out the message that cycling is dangerous which it isn't. Sure, some people get hurt when cycling, some even die, but the health benefits far outweigh the risks. Walking is also 'dangerous', especially for older people but nobody argues that all elderly pedestrians should be forced to wear hardhats. Why is it only cycling that's singled out?

3. Currently, 36% of Copenhageners ride their bike daily. The goal is 50% by 2015. Will these pro-helmet campaigns help or hinder reaching this goal?
My stance is pro-helmet, anti-compulsion. By all means wear a helmet if it makes you feel safer, but don't force this position on others. Compulsion leads to less cycling and is therefore to be avoided. Anything that makes it harder to cycle ( ie special equipment such as the 'right' cycling clothes or needing showers at work) is to be avoided.

3. Do you think that it is wise for the organisations responsible for the aggressive campaigns to focus on the negative aspects of cycling? And in a country like Denmark, with a well-established bike culture?
Organisations like to have something to do. Non-cyclists like to think they are doing society a favour by forcing cyclists into helmets. Most of these do-gooders are well-meaning, they're not evil, but they're misguided and they only ever listen to their own arguments which are said to be "common sense."

I loved your blog post about cycle helmet campaigners being almost religious in their zealotry. It's very much a faith thing. I prefer rationality.

I'd hope that having such a strong bike culture like you do will be enough to stop such campaigns before they get out of hand.

I took my young family to the Netherlands for a cycle holiday last year. We all wore our cycle helmets like good Brits but once we settled in Texel for a few days we discarded them, mainly because it just felt right. Nobody else was wearing helmets, we just looked odd.

I remember the same feeling 15 years ago in the UK. Only the bearded sandal wearers wore cycle helmets, now it's 'normal' and so more people wear them. I'm guilty of falling into the trap of wearing a helmet because it's what a "real cyclist" wears. It's part of the uniform, and I buy into that even though I know it's spurious. Fashion and wanting to 'belong' is a strong motivator.

4. Do helmets save lives? Do they prevent brain damage?

I don't ever fall into the trap of thinking a helmet will save me in the result of a crash involving a car doing anything over 20kph. Helmets are good at preventing cuts and stuff, they are not designed for high-speed impacts.

However, that said, of course they may save lives, they're just not as effective as pro-helmet types like to claim. A typical argument goes 'If helmet compulsion saved just one life it would be worth it'. No, it wouldn't because more lives have been lost through less people cycling and keeping fit and healthy.

Also, if the 'one life' argument were carried to its logical conclusion then motorists also ought to wear protective gear. Big crash hats and flameproof clothing would save lots of motorists' lives but nobody would wear Formula One gear for going to the shops in their cars.

5. Is it a bad idea to wear a bike helmet?
No, it's a good idea. If that's what you choose to do.

6. Do you wear a bike helmet? Why or why not?

Yes I generally always wear a bike helmet. This is my personal choice. I would defend to the ends of the earth the rights of others to have this choice and not be bullied into wearing helmets.

By choosing to wear one I make sure it's fitted correctly. Waaaaay too many people - especially kids - don't wear their helmets correctly, negating any safety benefits whatsoever.

7. Do you own shares in bike helmet companies? Should I buy some?

No, I don't own shares in any companies, bicycle or otherwise.

8. If these campaigns continue, are we looking at the end of Danish bike culture as we know it?
No, I'm sure resisters such as yourself will fight the good fight! Here in the UK compulsion is always "nearly" brought in but then good sense prevails. Sadly, the British Medical Association is now in favour of helmet compulsion but this is a position that cycling doctors try to reverse every year at the BMA's Annual General Meeting. The issue is very "muddy" in the UK and, to date, the fact there's a well co-ordinated opposition to compulsion means the UK Government stays well clear of the issue. It's the domain of single MPs only, bringing single issue debates, but has no Department for Transport backing.

The Department For Transport and the UK Government have said they won't even consider compulsion until helmet usage is much, much higher. The current crop of new cyclists don't tend to wear helmets, so diluting the overall number of recorded helmet wearing. So, de facto, cycle helmet compulsion should never happen in the UK.