Caring advice

May 15, 2012 at 00:49 | Posted in bicycles | 3 Comments
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I happened to be riding north over the Sydney Harbour Bridge tonight. I was on my way to an orchestra rehearsal, so was on the Radish, all loaded up with viola and other musical accoutrements. It was dark, so I of course had my lights on, and I was also wearing a reflective sash – in part because it was cold, and the only warm top I had with me was black. Wearing black when riding at night never strikes me as ideal (I try to wear light colours if I can), but if I have to sticking on some reflective stuff hopefully makes up for it.

As I was cruising along, it so happened that Mrs Chillikebab called me. So I pulled out my phone and chatted to her as I cruised along, nice and slow. Now, cycling whilst using the phone. Irresponsible? Foolhardy? Not really advisable? Perfectly fine? Whilst it’s probably not ideal, when riding slowly on a dedicated cycle way where there are no side turnings and no traffic doesn’t strike me as especially foolhardy, although I suppose others may disagree. Feel free to let rip in the comments below.

As I cruised along, another cyclist few past me, and as he so he called out something. I missed what he said as he hurtled past, but I did note that, like me, he was wearing black. He also had a black bike, no reflectors and no rear lights. A ninja cyclist!

I caught up with him at the steps at the northern end, and asked him what he had called out to me.

“Mate!’, he said, ‘Get a helmet! It’s dangerous! Talking on the phone, no helmet – it’s dangerous! You’ll be killed!’.

I was about to ask hm whether he always used a helmet when he used his phone, but instead pointed out that he had no lights, and was wearing all black. ‘That seems a lot more dangerous to me,’ I commented.

‘I have got a light!’ he insisted shrilly, before realising that it wasn’t actually turned on. ‘Oh.’

He turned it on, and then rode off, shouting back over his shoulder to me as he went through a red light, ‘It’s for your own safety! It’s dangerous! Get a helmet!’.

It really is terrifically sad. So may Australians do seem to believe that riding a bicycle without a helmet is suicidal. Do they really think that a centimetre of polystyrene is going to help them that much? Goodness, if it’s that dangerous, best not ride a bike at all. And why the need to tell people all the time? I’ve no doubt his concern for my well being was genuine, but does he also go up to smokers and lecture them on the dangers of tobacco?

Bizarrely, it’s always on the Harbour Bridge that I seem to get those comments; invariably from cyclists doing something I consider a bit ill-advised, if not actually outright dangerous. On several occasions I’ve had it shouted to me by cyclists whizzing too fast out of the arch on the southern side in the middle of the path as they nearly collide with me, for example.

Anyway, you can rest easy if you’re reading this, ninja cyclist. I’ve spent a lot of time looking into this, and have come to the conclusion that wearing a helmet is more risky than not wearing one. It’s based on science (go and look up rotational brain injuries, driver behaviour and risk compensation, if you fancy some light reading) and my own experiences of riding helmeted and without one.

But that’s OK. I won’t lecture you on your choices either, even if you decide to continue wearing one.


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  1. Hey there…I’ve been riding around Canberra for a couple of years now, and I have noticed in the last year what seems to me an ever-increasing number of bare-headed riders (not a scientific count by any means, just a subjective observation) and lots of “comfortable” bikes, though the two don’t necessarily go together. Yay!!! I am waiting for the powers-that-be to decide enough is enough and have a “safety” campaign with lots of bike riders ticketed for such reckless behaviour, but until then I am enjoying the renaissance. Just last week I had a fellow cyclist yell at me to “get a helmet” as he rode by the other way, but it’s the first negative experience in several months, so I was able to get him out of my mind pretty quickly. By the way, I didn’t realise you played the viola…do you think there might be a connection between the demonization of such a karma-rich and industry-light activity like riding a bike and the constant lack of funding of Arts programs (like the ANU School of Music)? Seems like if the bean-counters can’t measure it’s value in dollars, the Man doesn’t think it’s important. It makes me sad.

  2. I reckon it’s another manifestation of what I heard Amanda Vanstone comment about on ABC radio today. “Australia has become a nation of whingers.” First true thing I have ever heard her say. Why do politicians immediately become more likeable as soon as they leave politics? But I digress…

  3. I have had the same yelled at me when riding along a separated path, I had taken off my helmet as I was so hot and it was a bit uphill and wearing the helmet just added to the heat, I wasn’t going fast, I never spontaneously fall off my bike and there was noone around to run into me or for me to run into them, yet someone wnted to tell me that the helmet should be protecting my head not my handlebars. Really? I was in more danger of heatstroke than of a fall, I thought….

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