How utterly stupid they are

Posted on April 28th, 2009 in Opinion,pedal power by Julian Edgar

As with any recreational pursuit, cyclists come in sorts of shapes, sizes and special interests.

I’m interested in heavy recumbent touring pedal machines; my neighbour – a man in his sixties – likes traditionally shaped ultra-lightweight racing machines.

Each morning his car heads out, bike on the rear rack, to allow him to get in some cycling before work.

He rides with a like-minded group who sprint (well, in my terms it’s sprinting!) at 35 km/h or more on the flat roads of the Gold Coast.

Then, a few days ago, he abruptly stopped his morning rides. A broken shoulder blade, multiple abrasions and concussion will tend to do that.

He’d been out with his mates, riding fast to catch up with a breakaway group ahead. He reached the rearmost person and leaned over to pat him on the back. He doesn’t know what happened next – perhaps he startled the other rider who swerved, or perhaps at just the moment he took one hand off the handlebars the very narrow front racing tyre fell into a groove in the road.

But whatever the cause, when he regained consciousness he was lying on the road, in pain and with the greatest of desires to get the hell out of there and to safety.

The cycling group helped him, and it wasn’t long before he received medical help and then, subsequently, was home.

His injuries are certainly not trivial, but it could have been much worse: he could have been dead.

The short loss of consciousness and the concussion indicate that his head hit the road. So does the state of his helmet….

The helmet is destroyed.

A piece of the foam has broken right away…

…but what’s even more interesting is that the foam is cracked in multiple places. In fact, there’s barely an area of the helmet that doesn’t have large or small cracks in it.

To look at it makes me feel slightly ill: without a helmet, those cracks would probably be in my neighbour’s head.

The helmet did its job in just the way it was designed to.

I look at riders – often young – who don’t bother wearing a helmet and think of how utterly stupid they are…

24 Responses to 'How utterly stupid they are'

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  1. Ben said,

    on April 28th, 2009 at 7:57 am

    Join the club. What about the ones that wear the helmet, but don’t buckle it up? As if having the bucket undone is somehow cooler. Or the ones that put it on the handlebars? I made that mistake with a mate’s helmet when I was about 6 (I still had mine on as well). I don’t think I hit my head when it (the spare helmet) got caught in the wheel, but I definately bent a spoke and grazed my knees/elbows in the fall.

  2. Ryan said,

    on April 28th, 2009 at 1:24 pm

    The really utterly stupid thing is how cyclists actually think these filmsy pieces of foam will actually help save your head at anything more than pedestrian speeds. What about your face?
    Why is it that these uber cool people on their ‘racing’ bikes darting in and out of traffic think they are in any less danger than a motorcyclist in similar circumstances and think they don’t need a proper full face helmet?

  3. Dave said,

    on April 28th, 2009 at 3:35 pm

    “proper full face helmet” – ever tried pedalling a pushbike for an hour on the gold coast in a full face helmet?? You’d be dead from heat exhaustion before you ever had to worry about an accident.

    Anyway, the point was not that they are wearing inadequate helmets, as the pics and words clearly stated “without the helmet he could be dead”. This helmet potentially saved the rider from more serious injury/death – I’d say the flimsy piece of foam (or rather “well engineered cranial protector”) did its job perfectly.

    To your point Julian – it may be a good thing some of these people dont wear helmets – gets rid of some of the poorer genes out of the pool.

  4. Ben Garside said,

    on April 28th, 2009 at 10:49 pm

    Ask yourself why helmets are only a legal requirement in Australia and New Zealand, and not in Europe or the rest of the world? Around 6 times as many deaths from head injuries occur in vehicles as compared with those to cyclists, and yet no-one ever suggests compulsory helmets for drivers. How many of your readers would appreciate being forced to wear helmets in their cars, I wonder? I don’t wear one because they are hot, sweaty and extremely uncomfortable and offfer little protection against being hit by a speeding car or truck.

  5. Brent said,

    on April 29th, 2009 at 8:32 am

    Ben, if you think helmets are hot, sweaty and extremely uncomfortable, you’ve only ever tried a cheap one (stackhat?). Modern helmets are none of those things – couldnt see the pros riding for 6 hours a day for 3 weeks straight if they were! Getting on a pushie without a helmet is akin to getting in a car without a seatbelt on – just stupid.

  6. Tony said,

    on April 29th, 2009 at 10:38 am

    While bicycle helmets may not be mandated in Europe, the major cycling organisations and event organisers in Europe are mandating the use of helmets in the big events (eg Tour de France)

  7. Richard Carter said,

    on April 29th, 2009 at 11:13 am

    In reply to Ben Garside, it is a requirement by law in Europe to wear a helmet whilst riding a bike and infact it was a law in the UK some 10yrs before Australia. You don’t wear one because you get “hot and sweaty” that’s one of the poorest excuses I’ve ever heard. It’s a law because head trauma is preventable and injuries soak up so much of our medical resources. No one cares about you being injured because you don’t care about yourself. Anyone who doesn’t wear a helmet is an idiot and that’s the world over.

  8. Ryan said,

    on April 29th, 2009 at 12:06 pm

    Heat can be a factor I’ll grant you that, but when you get hit by a car Dave tell me how your ‘well engineered cranial protector’ saved all your teeth and jaw. Hope you like eating through a straw!
    Ben could it be that it’s because there are more vehicles on the road than cyclists?

  9. Dave said,

    on April 29th, 2009 at 5:32 pm

    Hi Ryan,

    If I get hit by a car and am eating through a straw I’ll be cheering.

    Because im not DEAD.

  10. Ben Garside said,

    on April 29th, 2009 at 10:37 pm

    Richard Carter, there is NO law in Europe requiring cycle helmets to be worn. I live in the UK and have cycled here for around 27 years, and also in France and Spain on holidays. Getting in a car without a helmet is arguably more dangerous than getting on a bike, since in the UK there are around 6 times as many deaths from head injuries in cars as there are on bikes. Helmet wearing has increased in the UK from practically zero in 1985 to around 16% now, with NO concurrent reduction in cycle fatalities. In Australia fatalities reduced by 11% when helmets were introduced, but at the same time, the number of cyclists FELL by 30%. So, the risk of death for the remaining cyclists in Australia has increased following introduction of the law, and the health of the population generally has been detrimentally affected by the number of people deterred from cycling by the need to wear a helmet – the very reason why no helmet law has been introduced in the UK, which in most other respects is a ‘nanny state’ these days….

  11. BG said,

    on April 30th, 2009 at 10:22 am

    Oh no, not the statistics! If you have cycled for any length of time I reckon you’d personally prefer to wear a helmet, regardless of the law.
    I’ve seen the statistics you quote discussed previously, they’re very dependent of the assumptions and other complicating factors and can easily misrepressent reality. Rubbish stats like that are for people who are too weak to make up their own minds.

  12. Ben Garside said,

    on May 1st, 2009 at 2:32 am

    BG, I am perfectly capable of making up my own mind. I have cycled for around 27 years, and do not wish to wear a helmet The only problem is that other people are intent on telling me what to do, while ignoring their own advice! If the statistics supported wearing of cycle helmets our ‘nanny state’ government would already have made them compulsory.

  13. Geoff said,

    on May 5th, 2009 at 6:24 pm

    I was a professional cyclist for 10 years. The only reason I didn’t take up a US or Euro contract was to study mechanical engineering. I have seen many falls, had a few myself including t-boned by a car doing 50 from a side street and swiped by 2 buses and have never seen a death or crippling injury with a helmet worn. With the head injuries the one thing that stands out is just how well protected the heads were, and just how much damage the helmet suffered. Facial injuries were rare and not serious normally. The injuries to the head and amount of time in coma without a helmet were appalling. Wearing quality ballistic eye protection was also a significant benefit having seen the difference between a sharp rock damaging the lens and opening up the cheek and one with no eye protection in a mud surface where both the eye and the cheek were opened up and the eye being lost.

    I am still considering a jaw hoop structure as I think they would have saved a lot of the damage in both accidents related above, as well as one of my own when I was 12 as a result of mucking around, a push and a face plant in a pile of rocks. Broken nose, lower jaw, upper teeth and over 12 years of ongoing work to the teeth.

    When I was part owner of 3 bike stores in Melbourne we received many stories of how helmets saved heads and had several on display. My advice was and always will be to buy the best helmet you can afford, spend time ensuring the fit is excellent and never ride without it on and buckled.

    As a recently retired weapons systems engineer and skilled marksman I can attest to just how remarkably difficult the human mechanism is to kill when the head is protected from serious trauma and injuries are limited to non-penetrating trauma.

    If you won’t wear a helmet due to vanity or because it is too hot then a little extra chlorine in your area of the gene pool is strongly deserved. You don’t ride to look cool or not sweat. Harden the f*** up. I’ve raced in 39 degree heat in the NT and still wouldn’t ride without my helmet……in fact tests revealed it was cooler to ride with it on due to the design and definitely cooler than the old leather padded things.

    A good helmet is one with an external shell either bonded or not, an internal skeletal structure in the foam, good non-chafing straps that run right through the structure and quality self-wicking (drying) removable pads.

  14. Ben Garside said,

    on May 6th, 2009 at 12:15 am

    Geoff; Interesting facts to be sure, but I still cannot understand why I must be compelled to wear a helmet against my wishes, when others do not have to. I am thinking of drivers, climbers, skiers, boxers, etc, none of whom are required to wear helmets. It appears that many drivers intent on compelling cyclists to wear helmets then proceed to drive like idiots and endanger our lives. Do they think we are somehow ‘safe’ from their antics if we stick a 300g piece of expanded polystyrene on our heads?

  15. Robert Paterson said,

    on May 12th, 2009 at 6:53 pm

    On the 17th September 2006 ‘The Age’ newspaper had a news item headed “Hats off? Helmets increase cyclists’ risks” this article said that research had shown that cyclists who wear helmets are more likely to be hit by cars than those who dont because motorists perceive that non-helmet wearers are less experienced and drive more cautiously when approaching them, the article said that on average, motorist passed 8 cm closer to helmeted cyclists than non-helmeted cyclists and that the researcher had been hit on 2 occasions when wearing a helmet

    I am a 55yr old commuter cyclist who started riding to work in 1974 mostly from Melbournes eastern suburbs to the CBD and I have never had a collision with a motor vehicle (except 1 opening car door) and I totally agree with ‘The Age’ article, it was a dark day when Victoria became the first place in the world to slap fines on cyclists for not wearing helmets ( I have copped 2 and they shall remain forever unpaid)

    I leave for work at 6:15 am on my $15 bicycle with its $3 LED lights, wearing a flouro safety vest with reflective strips and NO HELMET and ride ultra-defensivily.

    Why dont I wear a helmet? because I dont want to die, simple

    Also can you imagine countries like Holland, Japan ,China etc ever bringing in compulory helmet laws, never in a million years, only in the ‘Nanny State” of Australia

  16. DM said,

    on May 17th, 2009 at 9:41 am

    Richard Carter wrote “.. requirement by law in Europe to wear a helmet whilst riding a bike and infact it was a law in the UK some 10yrs before Australia. ”

    When you can’t get basic facts right i.e. there is no compulsory helmet law in Europe or UK, why should we take any notice of the other statements you make ?

  17. Geoff said,

    on May 17th, 2009 at 1:15 pm

    Actually, after some thought, I think anyone over 16 should have the choice to not wear a helmet. Since the government are intent on saving every idiot of our species from themselves with more draconian road revenue gathering, I think it only fair to offer them every opportunity to remove themselves from our gene-pool on a bicycle.

  18. Jamie said,

    on May 17th, 2009 at 4:37 pm

    Helmets are a great thing, they save many lives but you may go your whole life with never having to use it. It’s an insurance policy that I’m happy to have and will always do so.

    Although helmets are flimsy things they’re designed to collapse. The impact isn’t what’ll cause the damage but the sudden decellaration of the skull internally. Having an extra couple of cm slows this deceleration, the same way an air bag does in your car.

    For example in a head on crash in a car with a wall at 100kmh, the relative speed of the driver increases so quickly you would have died before your head hits the steering wheel. An air bag actually holds you in your seat for a split second which controls your acceleration forwards. It’s not there to stop you smacking the dash with your face.

  19. on May 18th, 2009 at 6:41 pm

    No safety device is perfect for every situation. Helmets do a generally great job of protecting the brain from serious injury or destruction in a typical cycling crash or spill, in my experience.

    I’ve gone through several helmets in the three decades or so I’ve been cycling, from the time I was in grade school in rural Texas, on gravel roads. Each time the helmet was damaged or even destroyed, and I had scrapes and bruises, even once (last year) a mild concussion and neck pain, but I’m still around, still cycling, and not brain-dead. 🙂

    Here in Phoenix, Arizona I don’t see many helmeted riders, because it *is* very hot, but oddly enough it’s more the business-suited commuters still wearing shirt-and-tie with coats in their packs that I see wearing the helmets, than it is the rest of the riders.

    I wore one first because I was told it was a really good idea, and shown some of the things that had happened to people who weren’t wearing one when their head hit something as they came off the bike, for whatever reason, at even very low speeds.

    After having my first crash (due to loose gravel) while wearing one, and narrowly missing the barbed wire fence only to smack headfirst into the steel fencepost’s thin edge, and then waking up in the ditch to soon see the 1″ deep score mark in the helmet where the post had cut into it, I realized I would have probably been dead without it. Or at least seriously injured, laying in the near-untravelled boonies unconcious in a ditch bleeding (possibly to death). That was the last time I questioned wearing a helmet, after a couple of years of wondering “why do I keep wearing this stupid thing?”.

    To each of you, it’s your choice, law or no law. Personally, I choose to protect my brain, so I can continue to make choices. 🙂

  20. Robert Paterson said,

    on May 27th, 2009 at 11:19 pm

    I know that this issue is a bit dated however I would would like to make these final comments
    For those who denigrate or insult non-helmet wearers they should remember that that over 95% of the worlds cyclists do NOT wear helmets, the also do not ride, Cannondales, Gitanes, Giants, Bianchis , etc etc etc they also do not give a damn about carbon fibre, double butted reynolds tubing, chrome-moly, titanium alloy, campagnologo, cadence, body mass index, heart rate, etc etc etc ad nauseum, they also dont wear lycra, bicycle shorts or special shoes, they use their (cheap) bicycles as a day to day means of getting from A to B.
    On the issue of ‘fashion’ , back in the early 1980s, prior to the Australian helmet laws,one of the only helmets available was the Rosebank “Stackhat”, which I wore for many years despite copping heaps of insults, guess what the ” Eddy Merckx wannabees” were wearing, thats right , nothing, zip, zilch, they would not be seen dead in any sort of helmet , in fact I still have the last helmet I ever wore , a “safe-n-sound” porridge bowl style “Guardian” very trendy, never again !!!!

  21. Darin said,

    on June 5th, 2009 at 5:09 pm

    Some very interesting comments here. I guess, despite any laws, many will continue to do what they like. Many of the comments being put forward against helmets remind me of those that were made about the introduction of selt belts in cars. I guess there’s still a few that don’t wear those now either!

    Now…let me see, if it came down to being a little uncomfortable and looking a bit silly with a helmet, or having parts of my head scattered to the four winds by a distracted car driver, which would I prefer…….Well, excuse the pun, but it’s a bit of a ‘no-brainer’ really…….

  22. DM said,

    on June 14th, 2009 at 4:13 pm

    Well Darin, if you want to believe that a few grams of polystyrene will save you from a distracted driver, then good luck. Helmets are designed to prevent injury at a speed up to 14mph (20km/hr) – check the relevant standards rather than assuming otherwise. Anything else, including impact with a motor vehicle, is outside their remit.

  23. Henry Van Campa said,

    on October 6th, 2009 at 5:46 pm

    There are also good and useless helmets.
    Good ones are those which fit well and are in good condition.
    I have seen many useless or perhaps dangerous helmets in Australia and New Zealand. They are those cheap bare polystyrene shells which lack the hard outer lining. This hard plastic lining protects the polystyrene shell and on impact protects the head.
    Now think what happens if you have an accident and fall of your bike wearing those white or black bare shells. The polystyrene hits the asphalt and does not slide like a good helmet does!
    The result could be breaking your neck.
    I saw one of those helmets in Cairns last year and as it was already cracked I broke it to enough pieces so the owner could not glue it together. Hopefully he got a better replacement.

  24. Hugh said,

    on December 29th, 2009 at 9:11 pm

    Firstly I do not ride a bike but I do understand all the reasons why people do. But surely not one rider can guarantee not to fall off, making wearing a helmet unnecessary. I for one would definitely wear a helmet if I was to take up the sport, the mere thought of my head grinding the pavement (even at very low speeds) gives me shivers. Another thing, I am of the belief that some riders shave their legs on the off chance that if one was to graze a leg it would be easier to clean/heal minus the hair. With this in mind I think it is a fair assumption that if one’s head where to grind the pavement with a full head of hair the same fate of blood, hair and all round mess would occur thus negating the need to shave one’s legs. In this instance a helmet would have saved the scalp, even at a reasonable speed, from a messy graze. My point is helmets are not only to cushion the brain from short sharp impacts they also protect against skin trauma due to sliding. In my humble opinion if a person thinks a brain and scalp is worth protecting then those heads are protected by a helmet. Am I wrong?