Dutch Army Cycling Band at Military Tattoo Edinburgh

The Fanfare Band of The Royal Netherlands Army

6th August 2011
The Royal Netherlands Army have had a Bicycle Corps since 1894. In 1917, the first Bicycle Music Corps was founded.
The Fanfare Band continues the traditions of that music corps. In uniforms originally issued in 1914, and playing on the period-correct bent instruments and riding vintage bicycles.  For more info go to their website.

Uploaded to YouTube by: Redshott1
via @roadcc

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City of Sydney, Everything’s Connected Campaign

This series of short videos shows people’s joy in riding and using the new cyclepaths in Sydney
Tweeted by: @juliedelvecchio

In August 2011 the City of Sydney released four films celebrating the personal stories of people who ride bicycles in Sydney. The films will be shown in local cinemas starting in late August. The City used real people for the campaign, each person featured had contacted the City to express their thanks for the new cycleways. The resulting films have high production values and are a real reflection of Sydney’s diverse bike-riding population.

Everything’s Connected — Kitiya

Everything’s Connected – Caroline

Everything’s Connected – Anthony

Everything’s Connected – Les and Judy

Original Material: Cycle Resource Centre

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2011 Sydney Tweed Ride

Sydney Tweed Ride 2011 from MC Cyclery

I say, fancy a cycle? A slow and elegant ride through the city streets in dapper and ladylike apparel followed by the Tweed Games.

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Encouraging More Australian Women To Ride a Bike

Bikes as transport: getting Australian women along for the ride

Author: Jan Garrard
Senior Lecturer, School of Health & Social Development at Deakin University


European women love to get on their bikes. kamshots/Flickr

Cycling for transport in Australia is characterised by several “missing” population groups: women, children, adolescents and older adults.

Women comprise about one-fifth of commuter cyclists in Australia. In countries such as the Netherlands, Denmark and Japan, more women than men travel by bike.

There has been considerable speculation about why cycling for transport in Australia is less socially inclusive than in a number of other industrialised countries. For women, explanations have centred on time constraints, household responsibilities, and concerns about traffic hazards and personal safety.

While all these factors undoubtedly play a role, a recent analysis of international comparative data adds another perspective. It has found that women ride bikes for transport when the environment is friendly to cycling.

Make cycling safe, convenient and fast, and women will do it

Whether you look at national, city or local government area data, when bike riding makes up a bigger proportion of trips, the proportion of women cycling also increases.

City level data is shown in the graph below. It shows that the measures that make cycling generally appealing are those that are particularly important for women: safety, convenience and fast travel time for the short to medium-distance trips that characterise urban living.

Cycling graph

Bicycle mode share of trips and percentage of female cyclists, large cities.

Traffic safety, in particular, is a key factor for addressing gender equity in cycling. Concerns about safety are a major barrier to cycling in Australia, and a greater barrier for women than men.

While actual injury risk is important from a road safety perspective, subjective risk perceptions appear to be more important in shaping cycling behaviour, particularly for women.

Cycling injury data in Australia and the UK indicate that women are actually at lower risk of a traffic-related cycling injury than men, particularly for the more severe injuries. However, consistent with gender differences in risk aversion in general, women are both more concerned about safety and more affected by safety concerns.

Relative to men, women prefer to use cycling routes where they can get further away from motor vehicle traffic. They are also more likely to go out of their way to use a safer route, and to cycle more cautiously in traffic.

In Australia, road safety is about cars

While Australia is among the world leaders in road traffic safety in general, the focus has been on protecting motor vehicle occupants. Cycling safety has been relatively neglected.

Serious injury rates for cyclists in Australia are increasing. They are several times higher than fatality and injury rates in the high-cycling industrialised countries of Europe and Asia.

In Australia, efforts to increase cycling and improve the safety of cyclists have focussed on separating cyclists from motorists. Investment in cycling infrastructure has been ad hoc and inadequate.

cycling Japan

Older women have gone missing in the Australian cycling population. (marcusuke/Flickr)

Effective cycling safety measures that potentially affect motor vehicle flow are avoided. There has also been a misplaced reliance on the “safety in numbers” concept whereby cycling supposedly becomes safer as more people cycle, due to factors such as higher visibility.

Countries such as the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany and Japan take a different approach. If you’re making a short to medium trip in an urban area, they encourage you to ride a bike.

These countries have consistently implemented a range of transport, traffic safety and urban planning measures that systematically prioritise cycling over car travel for these trips.

Measures include establishing an extensive network of high quality bicycle routes that provide:

  • good separation from motor vehicle traffic where appropriate
  • good management of interactions between bicycles and cars where complete separation is not feasible.

How do “high-cycling” countries do it?

There are many policies aimed at improving the ways cyclists and drivers interact.

Intersection treatments can provide safe flow for both bicycles and cars. Extensive traffic-calmed urban areas with speed limits of 30 km/h or less make cycling more appealing.

Road safety measures consistently make the safety of cyclists more important than keeping motor vehicles moving. For example, car drivers have the legal responsibility to avoid collisions with cyclists and pedestrians. The principle is that the responsibility for injury prevention lies with the operator of the vehicle that can cause most harm.

Cycling transport

Bikes need to take their place as another form of transport. (Mikael Colville-Andersen)

Because of these measures, cycling environments are both safe and pleasant. Cyclists rarely experience the hazardous and unpleasant interactions with motorists that characterise cycling in countries such as Australia and the USA.

It is important to recognise that these high-cycling countries are not “anti-car”; rather, they provide a more level playing field for a wider range of ways of travelling.

As in Australia, motorways and arterial roads provide for high-speed, high-volume motorised travel between major population centres. But transport and urban planning measures make cycling faster and more convenient than car travel within cities, towns and suburbs.

It’s not just regulation that makes cycling more appealing for women, children and older adults. In high-cycling countries, people are more likely to use bicycles appropriate for everyday travel – more upright bikes, in other words. Their bikes have a bigger carrying capacity (so you can take your children and do your shopping), and it’s normal to ride in everyday clothing rather than sports gear (including to work).

Because of these measures, cycling is seen as a convenient form of everyday travel for everyone, rather than a vigorous form of sport and exercise that is more appealing to young to middle-aged men.

Australia’s path forward

In countries like Australia, where few women cycle for transport, many of the factors described above are either lacking or only partly addressed.

More people, and more women, would cycle if we prioritised bicycle travel over car travel for many of the daily trips that are part of urban life. Think of the short trips you make everyday that could be on a bike if cycling was easier: taking the kids to school, picking up some things at the shop, going to work or to the gym.

Urban environments designed for safe, enjoyable bicycle travel are quite unlike those where cycling is simply tacked on to the “real transport business” of moving cars as quickly as possible at all times in all locations.

The evidence shows that as bicycle travel becomes a convenient, safe and enjoyable everyday transport option, increasing numbers of girls, adolescents and adult women will almost certainly go along for the ride.

This article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.

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To Wear or Not to Wear a Cycling Helmet

Is there a question?

There is a lot of discussion lately about helmet wearing.

Some say our mandatory helmet legislation discourages people riding a bike, and that if we want the health benefits of a large percentage of folk riding, it is better to abandon the helmet rules. Many doctors also believe in this argument.

Of course, the other side of the story is that head injuries are greatly reduced in a helmet wearing population.

With the rise of social, urban bicycling which occurs mainly on dedicated cycle-paths at sedate speeds, I think there may be an argument for not wearing a helmet.
However, for me that is where the story ends. I live in Wollondilly, a semi-rural shire south-west of Sydney that is magic for cycling. Our cash-strapped council has difficulty maintaining the roads in our vast shire, and although cycling infrastructure is on the agenda, it will be many many years before there are cycling shoulders, little alone cycle-ways throughout the shire!
I wear a helmet, and like wearing a seat belt in a car, it feels wrong if I’m not wearing one when cycling. It was even strange when I first attended a spin-class not to wear one!

Riding at speed on road or in the bush on a mountain bike, where I fall off far more frequently, would be personal madness NOT to wear a helmet. Sure it would be lovely to feel the wind in my hair, but I’d much prefer NOT end up in the brain surgery ward.

Being the secretary of BARBUG, I meet many cyclists who ride with us either regularly or on a visiting ride. Over the last few years there has been 5 incidents that have reinforced my need to wear a helmet.

  1. A friend’s daughter was a very keen triathlete. She was training in the Blue Mountains and was hit from behind by a car traveling in the same direction. Her injuries were quite serious, and she was in hospital for many months. She did incur brain injury, but her doctors said that if she had not been wearing a helmet she would not have survived. As it was, she could go back to practicing law within a year.
  2. One of our group was riding with two others in the rain to my place. Her front wheel slipped on a ridge between the shoulder and road. She came down onto the road. Thankfully a truck was able to swerve around her, so, although frightening, it was not a serious accident. A kindly passing driver popped her bike in his ute and gave her a lift to my house. Apart from being shaken, she was none the worse for her incident. I gave her a  cup of strong, sweet tea and we talked about how lucky she was. We did not realise just how lucky! On examination of her helmet she found it was cracked right through! Caroline did not even think she had struck her head when she fell!
    This accident may not have killed her, but without the helmet she would have quite a serious head injury.
  3. 4. & 5. All are similar to Caroline’s story. Accidents which resulted in minor scrapes and abrasions and in one case a broken collarbone, but in EVERY  case the riders were not aware they had hit their heads’, and yet their helmets were damaged or cracked through.


I’m no spring chicken, and glamor was never my thing, but it seems to me that if your interest is looking good as well as riding, a little injenuity is required. There are some nice looking helmets and helmet covers available.

H1 Design Cycle Headdress

H1Design Cycle Headdress



Looking Good in a Helmet

Well Ventilated Pretty Helmet

Helmets must comply with the Australian Standard, which unfotunately limits our choice.
There are many brands available at your local bike shop, however although designed for brain safety and maximum air-flow, they are not considered cool in urban cycling terms.

Nutcase helmets comply to Aussie standard and are becoming accepted as urban head-ware. They come in lots of colours and fun patterns.


Nutcase Helmets


There is a European brand called Yakkay, which is a basic helmet, that comes with a choice of many different covers to suit every occasion. Unfortunately they do not as yet comply with Australian Standards, which is a great pity.

Yakkay Helmet and Cover

Yakkay Helmets and Covers

Until such time that cycle-ways are widespread and urban cycling does not require interaction with traffic, helmets are a necessary evil.
For the many other cycling disciplines, that require high-speed and risk, helmets should always be mandatory.


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Do Australia’s Manatory Helmets Laws Deter The Use Of Bike-Share?

Have helmet laws put the skids on Australia’s bike share scheme?

August 9th 2011
Author: Chris Rissel
Professor of Public Health at University of Sydney


Would-be cyclists are deterred by mandatory helmet laws.
Jase Wong

Public bicycle hire schemes have the potential to generate the well-known health benefits that come with increased exercise.

But while Australia has bravely adopted such schemes, mandatory helmet laws continue to deter would-be cyclists.

Worldwide, more than 135 cities have developed bicycle share schemes to help reduce vehicle congestion and car parking problems, including Paris, London, Hangzhou, Montreal, Mexico City.

Melbourne and Brisbane started similar but smaller schemes last year to encourage bicycle use for short trips.

But unlike other schemes, Australia is the only country to mandate the use of helmets.

Benefits and risks of cycling

In this week’s British Medical Journal, researchers looked at the health risks and benefits of users of the “Bicing” public bicycle sharing scheme in Barcelona, Spain.

The researchers considered the 181,982 resident users of the bike share program and looked at deaths related to physical activity, road traffic incidents and exposure to air pollution.

Overall, they concluded that the additional physical activity from cycling instead of driving played a role in preventing 12 deaths.

They estimated the health benefits of riding a bicycle outweighed the risks of injury by a huge ratio of 77:1 – even if the bike was only ridden for comparatively short journeys.

The main reason for such a large benefit-to-risk ratio is the relatively low injury risk of cycling, despite minimal bicycle helmet use.

These findings are consistent with several other studies, including one published by the British Medical Association in 1992 that reported a cycling benefit-to-risk ratio of 20:1.

A more recent analysis from Holland found the health benefits of cycling added between three and 14 months to a person’s life.

This compares with the potential effect of increased inhaled air pollution (0.8 to 40 days lost) and the increase in traffic accidents (five to nine days lost).

Bicycle loan schemes are also interesting because they contribute a new source of data on cycling risk relative to exposure.

Cycling on the upright urban style of bicycle used in most of the schemes appears to be very safe indeed.

There have now been more than six million users of the “Boris bikes” in London. Distances cycled total more than 10 million kilometres, with few serious injuries. In the first three months the accident rate was estimated to be 0.002%.

There are similar observations from Dublin and other schemes.

Australia’s schemes

There are 50 bike stations and 600 bikes situated around the Melbourne CBD. Melbourne Bike Share is designed for short trips, which is why the first 30 minutes are free to subscribers (who pay $50 a year). Trips lasting longer than two hours can be expensive.

Brisbane now has 1,000 bikes at 101 CityCycle stations, with another 1000 bikes planned at a further 50 stations. For annual subscribers the first 30 minutes are free.

While figures on usage of the Brisbane and Melbourne schemes are hard to come by, the available information suggests the usage rate is very low, at about 10% of comparable programs in London or Dublin.

The poor uptake is likely due to a combination of poor cycling infrastructure and the requirement for users to wear helmets.

I’ve heard of potential users seeing the bikes lined up and going to have a look, only to turn away when they realise they needed a helmet and didn’t have one (and despite them being available in a nearby store in Melbourne for minimal cost).

Few people carry a helmet on the chance that they might want to borrow a bike for a quick trip to run an errand.

Only the Australian schemes require users to wear helmets. Mexico City (last year), and Israel (just last week) have repealed their adult helmet legislation, in part to make their bicycle share schemes viable.

Other factors, like population density and location of the bicycle stations play a role in usage of the scheme, but these things cannot be readily changed.

Given there is clear evidence from around the world of substantial health benefits and minimal risk from public bicycle share schemes, Australia should allow an exemption of the mandatory helmet legislation for such schemes.

Have you taken part in bike share schemes in Australia or abroad? Why/why not? Are mandatory helmet laws a deterrent? Leave your comments below.

This article was originally published at The Conversation.
Read the original article.

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Do Australia’s Mandatory Helmet Laws Reduce Head Injury

Putting a lid on the debate: mandatory helmet laws reduce head injuries

23rd June 2011
Author: Jake Olivier
Senior Research Fellow, Injury Risk Management Research Centre at University of New South Wales


A re-analysis of the data shows there’s a good case for keeping helmet laws.

Since mandatory bike helmet laws were introduced in 1991, researchers, cyclists and campaigners have debated the law’s role in cyclist safety and the desirability of bike riding.

A new analysis reveals rates of head injuries reduced by almost a third after the laws were introduced. We spoke with the lead author of the study Jake Olivier, Senior Lecturer at UNSW’s Prince of Wales Clinical School, about the evidence used in the bike helmet debate:

My involvement in this research began when the Voukelatos and Rissel paper came out last year in the Journal of the Australasian College of Road Safety. The paper said rates of cyclist head injury had decreased more in the period before the mandatory helmet laws were introduced than after.

When I read it initially, I thought the article had some interesting methods. But on closer inspection, the authors’ analysis looked weak.

It came out later that there were some data errors, which were pointed out by Tim Churches. The errors turned out to be real and Voukelatos and Rissel were given a chance to respond. They didn’t, so the journal retracted the paper.

At that stage, I decided to take Voukelatos and Rissel’s basic idea and do a more comprehensive and statistically rigorous analysis.

What was your methodology?

In order to find out whether there was a reduction in head injures, we looked at the ratio of head to arm injuries – and this is what Voukelatos and Rissel did.

Any major drop in cycling rates would have resulted in a drop in head and arm injury rates. So the comparisons we made were “exposure free”, meaning the variations in cycling numbers wouldn’t affect the analysis.

What periods and regions did you examine?

We looked at data from New South Wales from eighteen months before the legislation and then eighteen months after its introduction. It’s the same data source that Voukelatos and Rissel used. (The Daily Telegraph ran a story today saying it was new data but this isn’t true).

When Tim Churches corrected the mistakes from Voukelatos and Rissel’s paper, he came to the same conclusions we did.

What are the key findings from your re-examination of the data?

We found a 29% reduction in bicycle-related head injury attributable to the introduction of the mandatory helmet law.

There has been some debate about whether the head-to-arm injury ratio was the best methodology. So we also looked at the ratio of head to leg injury, to see if we could observe the same effect among cyclists, and we did.

We then repeated those two analyses on pedestrians. The helmet law was directed at cyclists not pedestrians, so if we found a big drop in pedestrians, that would be an indication of general road safety improvements.

But we did not see a reduction in pedestrian head injury at all relative to limb injuries.

So the reduction in head injuries seems to have been isolated to cyclists and that drop appears to be real.

How does your analysis compare with the existing data on the introduction of mandatory bike helmet laws?

There are some conflicting reports out there. And a lot of these have been dogged by problems of confounding variables: Is the decline in head injury a result of general road safety improvements? Is it because of other things that are happening in the community?

We developed our analysis to account for all that – and this sets our methodology apart from what’s been done in the past.

Based on our analysis, I think the question of whether mandatory helmet laws reduced head injury should no longer be debatable in NSW. We should maintain mandatory helmet laws.

Did cyclist numbers reduce after the mandatory helmet laws were introduced?

The Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA) commissioned a few reports around the time the helmet law was introduced. One that came out in 1991 found the number of child cyclists reduced by around a third but there seemed to be an increase in adult riders. The overall numbers appear stable around that time.

So the numbers of cyclists overall may not have changed much, with more adults cycling but fewer children cycling – our model accounted for that.

Our conclusions remain the same regardless of the numbers of cyclists. But there is certainly active debate about whether it stopped people from cycling or not, and whether those that stopped cycling took up other activities and returned to cycling after our study period.

Are helmets currently a barrier to cycling?

Helmets aren’t a major barrier. There’s a widely cited survey by the Cycling Promotion Fund and the National Heart Foundation that suggests it is one of many coming in as the tenth most selected barrier. However, there were some problems with their methodology in terms of finding the primary barriers to cycling.

The researchers asked, “What do you find are the barriers to cycling?“ and gave the respondents a list of choices, allowing them to tick as many as they wanted. The problem with that is you don’t get an idea of what the main barrier of cycling is for these people.

The results showed around 16% said the helmet law was a barrier to cycling and it was ranked the tenth most common barrier. So when you consider that this might not be the main barrier, the actual figure is likely to be much lower than 16%.

How can we improve cycling rates?

We need to separate cyclists from pedestrians and motorcars, increase education programs and work to make the roads safer in general.

If we can increase cycling numbers in Australia we will get a “safety in numbers” benefit, but we are far from reaching cycling participation rates to achieve that.

Improving road infrastructure for cyclists would certainly increase safety. But on top of that, we need to make sure every rider has a helmet on top of her head to get the maximum safety benefit.


The Conversation has previously published articles on both sides of the mandatory bike helmet debate: Chris Rissel argued ditching bike helmet laws would encourage more people to cycle and the public health benefits would outweigh the increased risk of head injury and Max Cameron outlined the benefits of mandatory helmet laws in protecting cyclists against head trauma.

This article was originally published at The Conversation.
Read the original article.

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Bike Helmets Protect Brains

Don’t be fooled, keeping bike helmets is best for health

12th May 2011
Author: Max Cameron
Principal Research Fellow at Monash University


If helmets protect against brain injury, why not wear them?

Convincing more Australians to get on a bike would undoubtedly deliver health improvements that come with reduced waistlines. But ditching bike helmets isn’t the answer.

The health benefits of more cycling would need to be multiplied countless times before they could offset the loss of life and health harms caused by serious head injury.

Benefits of helmets

Bicycle helmets have long been recognised as the best protection against head injury. As far back as 1977, Standards Australia approved a helmet design for cyclists to reduce their risk of head injury.

Throughout the 1980s the Victorian Government promoted cycling and encouraged the use of helmets with a bulk-purchase subsidy scheme, compulsory helmets for the schools Bike Ed program, a television and radio campaign, and a $10 per helmet rebate on purchases each December from 1984 to 1988.

Observational surveys show that the campaigns worked and helmet use grew each year in the 1980s, mostly among primary school children and also in teen and adult commuting cyclist groups.

As helmet use grew, the risk of head injuries reduced. The number of cyclists killed or hospitalised with head injuries reduced by about a third in the 1980s.

The number of other injuries actually increased, though it’s not surprising given there were greater numbers of cyclists on the road.

When the Victorian compulsory helmet laws passed on 1 July 1990, helmet wearing rates more than doubled — from around a third to three quarters — by March 1991. The increase was smaller for primary school children, who were already avid helmet-wearers.

Rates of cyclist head injury fell by 48% and 70% during the first and second years of the law.

It’s been suggested that helmet laws contributed little to the reduced injury rate, and that Victorian cyclists benefited most from road safety improvements, such as random breath testing, speed camera enforcement and supporting mass-media campaigns.

These initiatives may explain some of the reduction in the total number of cyclists killed and hospitalised during the early 1990s.

But the additional reduction in head injuries in the first two years of the law was consistent with the rise of helmet-wearing in those years.

Cyclist rates

So, there’s no doubt that mandatory helmet laws reduced head injury and improved cyclist safety. The problem is that it also reduced rates of cycling in some groups.

Teenage cycling decreased by 43% and 46% in the first and second years of the law. Rates of primary school student cyclists also dropped slightly.

But it wasn’t all bad news.

More adults began cycling after the introduction of mandatory helmet laws. Adult bicycle use increased by 88% from 1987/1988 to 1991, and doubled by 1992.

Overall bicycle use had increased by 9% in 1991 and by a further 3% in 1992.

So focusing on reduced bicycle use by teenagers, and to a lesser extent by younger children, gives a misleading impression of the overall impact of the helmet law on bicycle use.

New generations of cyclists

It’s interesting to speculate on what would happen if helmet laws were repealed.

Because the bicycle-use surveys weren’t repeated throughout the 1990s, we won’t ever know if helmet laws continued to discourage cycling.

If they did, we would have to ask whether repealing the law would increase cycling and bring about sufficient health improvements to offset the increased risk of head injury.

Valuing the benefits of exercise through cycling is outside my area of expertise. And I am yet to see a full analysis of these benefits comparable to an objective analysis of the costs of increased cyclist trauma, especially head injuries.

But failing to prevent serious trauma on our roads isn’t just a transport problem or even a public health issue — it’s both an ethical and economic dilemma.

Investment in preventing a road death is now valued at about $6 million in the National Road Safety Strategy. A serious head injury resulting in permanent brain damage, which a bicycle helmet can often prevent, could cost our health system a lot more.

More than two decades after they came into effect, it is likely that cyclists — and parents of child cyclists — have accepted that helmet wearing is a normal part of cycling.

Only those who are ideologically opposed to their legal obligation to protect themselves would choose not to wear a helmet.

What’s clear is that our community values preventing road deaths and serious injuries much higher than it did in the past.

Ultimately, the health benefits of increased bicycle exercise have a long way to go before they can offset the increased costs of cyclist death and serious head injury.

Chris Rissel from the University of Sydney kicked off The Conversation’s debate about mandatory bike helmet laws in March, when he said ditching helmets would encourage more people to get on a bike and get to fit. Read his article here

Continue the conversation in the comments field below:
Should mandatory helmet laws be maintained to protect cyclists against serious head injury?


Cameron, MH, Vulcan, AP, Finch, CF, and Newstead, SV. Mandatory bicycle helmet use following a decade of helmet promotion in Victoria, Australia – An evaluation. Accident Analysis and Prevention, 1994, 26(3), 325-337.

Wood, T, and Milne, P. Head injuries to pedal cyclists and the promotion of helmet use in Victoria, Australia. Accident Analysis and Prevention, 1988, 20(3), 177-185.

This article was originally published at The Conversation.
Read the original article.

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Are Helmet Laws Necessary?

Ditching bike helmets laws better for health

23rd March 2011
Author: Chris Rissel
Professor of Public Health at University of Sydney


The life expectancy gained from cycling to work outweighs the risks of ill health from pollution and injury.

With epidemics of diabetes and obesity threatening to bankrupt state health budgets, governments need to broaden their strategies to encourage physical activity.

Allowing cyclists to ride without a helmet would remove one common barrier to cycling and encourage more Australians to get on a bike. Even if there is a small risk involved.

The story of mandatory bicycle helmet legislation in Australia really starts in the 1970s. After WWII the urban transport landscape was overrun by private motor vehicles and by the 1970s road trauma was at an all-time high.

Through the 1980s a range of road safety measures were introduced in Australia and other developing countries. Lower speed limits, traffic calming, random breath testing and substantial road safety media campaigns led to significant reductions in injury rates for all road users, including cyclists.

In those glory days of road safety, attention was then turned to cyclists. Motorcyclists had already faced legislation requiring them to wear helmets, with some success in reducing head injuries, so there is an understandable logic that cyclists might benefit from helmets too.

In 1991 Australia introduced mandatory bicycle helmet laws requiring all adults and children to wear a helmet at all times when riding a bike, despite opposition from cycling groups.

The legislation increased helmet use – from about 30 to 80% – but was coupled with a 30 to 40% decline in the number of people cycling.

Rates of head injuries among cyclists, which had been dropping through the 1980s, continued to fall before levelling out in 1993. We didn’t see the kind of marked reduction in head injury rates that would be expected with the rapid increase in helmet use. In fact, any reductions in injuries may simply have been the result of having fewer cyclists on the road and therefore fewer people exposed to the risk of head injuries.

One researcher noted that after mandatory helmet laws were introduced there was a bigger decrease in head injuries among pedestrians than there was among cyclists. The improvements in the general road safety environment introduced in the 1980s are likely to have contributed far more to cyclist safety than helmet legislation.

This poses a puzzle – if bicycle helmets protect the head from injury, surely if all cyclists wore one there would be fewer head injuries?

Helmet design standards ensure that helmets sold in Australia are able to absorb the impact of a blow equivalent to a direct impact at about 19.5km/hour. Commuter cyclists typically average 20-25km/hour, with sports cyclists often averaging over 30km/hour.

To be effective helmets can’t be too old (they become brittle and cracked), and need to fit correctly and be worn properly. This can be a problem for infrequent riders. There is also a serious likelihood that modern (soft shell) helmets have actually increased the risk of some types of brain injury (for example diffuse axonal injury), with standards only changing in 2010 to try to take this problem into account.

One early helmet study in the late 1980s reported that helmets reduced the risk of head injury by a whopping 85%. Despite criticism of the methodology at the time, this figure has been frequently repeated by road safety authorities.

But a recent re-analysis of all the major studies examining the efficacy of helmets found a substantial publication bias in previous assessments. Most helmets reduced the risk of head injury by up to 15%, if worn properly.

So helmets offer a little protection, but the road environment is far more important.

The biggest pitfall of helmet legislation is that it discourages people from cycling.

In safety terms there is a phenomenon called safety in numbers. As more people cycle, our roads become safer for these cyclists. Drivers become used to seeing cyclists and adjust their behaviour, and infrastructure tends to be improved to better cater for cycling. Even if cyclist wear helmets they are less safe with fewer cyclists on the road than they would be with more cyclists about.

Helmets are a barrier to new riders, particularly for occasional and non-regular riders. The need to wear a helmet reinforces the message that cycling is dangerous – with perceptions of danger a major reason people give for not cycling.

All levels of Australian governments now have policies or plans to increase the population levels of cycling. The benefits are clear: increased levels of physical activity, less air pollution and reduced congestion.

The health benefits of physical activity are particularly important. A large study in Denmark found that commuter cycling for just three hours a week led to 39% fewer deaths (from any cause, including heart disease) compared with non cyclists, taking into account other leisure time physical activities and other explanatory factors.

A recent analysis compared the risks and benefits of leaving the car at home and commuting by bike. It found the life expectancy gained from physical activity was much higher than the risks of pollution and injury from cycling.

Increased physical activity added 3 to 14 months to a person’s life expectancy, while the life expectancy lost from air pollution was 0.8 to 40 days. Increased traffic accidents wiped 5-9 days off the life expectancy.

It is clear that the benefits of cycling outweigh the risks, with helmet legislation actually costing society more from lost health gains than saved from injury prevention. With Australia and New Zealand the only countries with mandatory helmet laws for cyclists, we have a lot to learn from our international cousins.


The legislation increased helmet use – from about 30 to 80% – but was coupled with a 30 to 40% decline in the number of people cycling:

Gillham C. Bike numbers in Western Australia: government surveys.

Smith NC and Milthorpe FW. An Observational Survey of Law Compliance and Helmet Wearing by Bicyclists in New South Wales – 1993, Sydney: NSW Roads and Traffic Authority; 1993. (not available on-line, but many on-line references to it)

Finch CF, Heiman L, Neiger D. Bicycle use and helmet wearing rates in Melbourne, 1987 to 1992: the influence of the helmet wearing law. Melbourne: Monash University Accident Research Centre; 1993.

Finch CF, Newstead SV, Cameron MH, Vulcan AP. Head injury reductions in Victoria two years after introduction of mandatory bicycle helmet use. Melbourne: Monash University Accident Research Centre; 1993.

The same thing happened in New Zealand when helmet legislation was introduced there:

Land Transport New Zealand. Sustainable and safe land transport – trends and indicators.

Rates of head injuries among cyclists, which had been dropping through the 1980s, continued to fall before levelling out in 1993:

Hendrie D, Legge M, Rosman D, Kirov C. An economic evaluation of the mandatory bicycle helmet legislation in Western Australia. Road Accident Prevention Research Unit, 1999.

Finch CF, Newstead SV, Cameron MH, Vulcan AP. Head injury reductions in Victoria two years after introduction of mandatory bicycle helmet use. Monash University Accident Research Centre. Report No. 53, 1993 p10

Mortality rates parallel that of head injuries:

Australian Transport Safety Bureau. Monograph 17 Cycle Safety. 2004.

It is very important to note that the statement in this document “An ATSB study which reviewed numerous epidemiological studies published during the period 1987 to 1998, found ‘overwhelming evidence in support of helmets for preventing head injury and fatal injury.’ refers to a study now discredited for publication bias in a recent re-analysis.

Elvik R. Publication bias and time-trend bias in meta-analysis of bicycle helmet efficacy: A re-analysis of Attewell, Glase and McFadden, 2001. Accident Analysis and Prevention 2011;43(3):1245-51.

There is no question that cycling has many health benefits:

The classic Danish study that found commuter cycling for just three hours a week led to 39% fewer deaths: Andersen LB, Schnohr P, Schroll M, Hein HO. All-cause mortality associated with physical activity during leisure time, work, sports and cycling to work. Archives of Internal Medicine 2000,160:1621-1628.

It is clear that the benefits of cycling outweigh the risks:

de Hartog, J. J., Boogaard, H., Nijland, H., and Hoek, G. Do the Health Benefits of Cycling Outweigh the Risks? Environmental Health Perspectives 2010: 118: 1109-1116.

Helmet legislation actually costs society more from lost health gains than saved from injury prevention:

De Jong P. The health impact of mandatory bicycle helmet laws. (February 24, 2010).

This article was originally published at The Conversation.
Read the original article.

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History of Cycle Paths in the Netherlands

This is a fascinating  piece showing that the Netherlands have always considered cycling an important means of transport.

Posted in Cycle Advocacy, Vintage Bikes | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment