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Bradley Wiggins talks out his Accomplished Ass about the Dangerous ‘Sport’ of Cycling

by Ted Johnson

Because bike commuting isn’t a sport, this site has made no mention of the Tour de France this year — and nobody seemed to notice. I haven’t mentioned the 2012 Olympics either, and I had no intention of doing so.

But now comes a twofer. Britain’s Bradley Wiggins, winner of the Tour de France and also a 2012 Olympic Gold Medalist has blundered onto our turf like a… well… like a drunken celebratory Olympian.

The sad occasion is the death of Dan Harris, a cyclist struck and killed by a double-decker bus near the Olympic Park yesterday.

Cyclist Killed In Olympic Bus Incident Named

Screen Shot: Sky.com

Not just a double-decker bus, but a bus full of journalists. And journalists ran as fast as they could to talk to the most famous bike-related people they could find, and they garnered statements from Great Britain’s cycling stars of the moment, Wiggins and Mark Cavendish.

Wiggins said,

Cycling is a dangerous sport. I know there are a lot of people out there who ride bikes who abide by everything, the laws, the lights and things.

[...]

There have got to be laws that protect both parties. Things like legalising helmets, making them the law to wear. They shouldn’t be riding along with phones and iPods on, shouldn’t be riding without lights.

And the keyword there is sport. Yes, when cycling is a sport, it’s more dangerous than cycling as a way of getting around. And certainly there is more that cyclists and lawmakers can do to make getting-around cycling safer. But Wiggins sparked yet another reflexive blame-the-cyclist discussion in the press.

If every cyclist did the things done by Wiggins, Cavendish, and their racing peers, then mandating helmet use would make sense. If you spend as much of your time as they do at 35 mph in high-risk situations, you definitely need to consider the probability you might hit your head on the ground.

Bradly Wiggins Kissing an Olympic Gold Medal

If I can put a medal in my mouth, why not my foot?

But every cyclist doesn’t perform at the speed or take the acrobatic risks of cycling sports — only amateur and professional sport cyclists do.

Just as most wearers of pants don’t jump out of airplanes, there really are people who — for sport — do jump out of airplanes wearing special pants. (And when they do, I would think it very important to wear a helmet, as well as the best pants for the task.)

We can argue about the benefits of helmets. (Believe it or not, we can, but I don’t particularly want to.)

Someone will be bound to leave a comment here saying, “A helmet saved my life.”

Someone else will be bound to write, “When you are dragged for ten feet under a London bus, a bike helmet won’t save you.”

I just saved you both the trouble. You’re welcome.

But two things are abundantly clear, and borne out by research and data and stuff:

  1. Where helmets are mandated, cycling is suppressed.
  2. The health benefits of cycling outweigh the potential risks of cycling.

And in the video report on Sky.com, a non-exciting, non-famous, non-named person makes that case at about 2:20.

Non-Famous Guy with Facts

Non-Famous Guy with Relevant Facts. Boring!

The real benefits of cycling come from the physical activity side to it. They outweigh the risks 20-to-1. So there are twenty times as many lives are saved by cycling as are lost while cycling. In order to maximize those, we want to get more people cycling, not deter people.

Wiggins tried to walk back what he said about “making [helmets] the law to wear,” on Twitter:

Just to confirm I haven’t called for helmets to be made the law as reports suggest.

I suggested it may be the way to go to give cyclists more protection legally if involved in an accident.

I wasn’t on me soap box CALLING, was asked what I thought #myopiniondoesntcountformuch.

In other words: Hey! Could we get back to talking about all my racing wins and stuff that I know about.

Wiggins, with all his apparent greatness as an athlete, knows more about the sport of cycling than I ever will. And I respect him for his attempt to minimize the impact of his talking out his accomplished ass — but outside the realm of his own expertise.

Bradley Wiggins knows a lot about cycling. But he might be wrong about the safety benefits of wearing a helmetThe best response came from Michael Hanlon of London’s Daily Mail Online, who shows genuine respect for Wiggins (and writes longer headlines than even I dare to), in an article titled, “Bradley Wiggins knows a lot about cycling. But he might be wrong about the safety benefits of wearing a helmet.”

In fact, Hanlon’s article is the article I intended to write here, but with quaint Britishisms. It begins:

Bradley Wiggins is a top bloke. He lacks the unappealing narcissism of so many athletes, gives the impression that he has a life away from the saddle and is a Mod to boot. But that doesn’t stop him being (most probably) wrong about cycle helmets.

Go read the rest of it.

If the British press posts an interview with London’s most prominent celebrity bus driver on the dangers of buses, I’ll let you know.

 
Burley nomad 229

33 Responses to “Bradley Wiggins talks out his Accomplished Ass about the Dangerous ‘Sport’ of Cycling”

  1. Jeff says:

    You’re wrong about cycling helmets. Might not save you from London Transit, but will save people from injuries in bike accidents of all kinds. Also, don’t think for a second Wiggins sought the press out to comment. If you (yes, you’re collectively the press) don’t want his opinion, don’t ask.
    Anyone who really rides around a city on a bike will tell you, it’s just plain stupid to not wear a helmet.

    • Ted Johnson says:

      Jeff,

      All that I’ve asserted in this particular post vis-a-vis helmets are these two points:

      1. Helmets make a lot of sense for sports cyclists.

      2. Mandating helmet use for all cyclists reduces the number of people who will bike, and that’s a bad thing.

      Can you clarify whether you believe I am “wrong about cycling helmets” in either or both of these points?

      If you are referring to other points I’ve made about helmets in previous posts (such as why I wear one, or ending the tyranny of hair over your will to bike commute, please go to the relevant post and leave a comment there.

      Re-litigating the entire helmet debate here is (mostly) off topic, as well as tiresome and predictably fruitless.

  2. Alastair says:

    I agree with all your comments about helmets. For the record I wear one because it makes my wife marginally happier that I commute by bike.

    I saw the interview live. It was a crass question to ask a tired, emotional and slightly tipsy athlete. To emphasise the point he first said helmets should be legalised. Of course he has tried to walk away from the internet storm he created, he is a humble bloke who would never try and impose his views on anyone.

    I guess his view is that it is better to wear a helmet. I doubt he’s ever thought about whether that applies to an office commute – he doesn’t do such a thing!

  3. Jeff Gardner says:

    Yes Ted, let’s not have another tired helmet debate. Both sides of the contentious issue make their points, but by missing the forest amongst the trees these opinions overlook fundamentals. There is good reason why jurisdiction after jurisdiction after jurisdiction after jurisdiction enact helmet laws or ordinances, only to repeal them or render them toothless paper tigers after thinking it out.

    Wiggins’ ‘legalizing’ opinion may work for Great Britain. It cannot and does not work for America.

  4. Charlie Alison says:

    Not to belabor the helmet controversy, bicycling does not seem to be dangerous in this instance, risky yes but not dangerous. Double-decker buses filled with journalists appear to be dangerous; motor vehicles appear to be dangerous. Poor Dan Harris wasn’t a danger to anyone, helmet or not.

  5. Cdub says:

    If seatbelts are mandatory for car drivers in most areas, I don’t see why requiring helmets for cyclists is such a scandalous idea.

    • Ted Johnson says:

      Cdub: It’s a great question. I’ll take a stab at an answer.

      Generally speaking, the rationale for requiring seat belts (whether or not you agree with it) is that in aggregate there is a high societal cost paid because of deaths and injuries to people who don’t wear seat belts, as well as a high private cost paid by insurers. It’s a big-picture thing that justifies regulating individual behavior.

      With cycling, however, the big picture is quite different. As the non-famous guy said on Sky.com, the societal costs of cycling injuries and deaths are offset 20 times by the societal benefits in lives saved and lowered health expenditures.

  6. Matt Moritz says:

    Can you embed a link/share the link the sky.com video? (yes, I’m too lazy to do the search myself)

  7. J2the4son says:

    I stop by and read here on occasion and I must say you are way off base here.

    FACT: Riding a bike for transportation IS more dangerous than driving in your car. Your health benefit statistic while nice has nothing to do with the actual process of getting from point A to point B. Riding my bike may add (potential) years to my life, but it may also cause it to be cut short at a higher rate than those in cars.

    FACT: Wearing a helmet MAY save your life, not wearing one MAY cost you your life (or ability to live a life without major disabilities) Wiggin is right it could save lives and his other ideas about distracted bicycle riders (also applies to distracted drivers of cars) are also spot on.

    FACT: Most people who ride bikes are idiots. They ride the wrong way, they wear dark clothes with no lights at night, they run red lights, stop signs, yield signs and any other road sign you can imagine that requires you pay attention to those around you.

    People and the media present Bicycling as dangerous because it IS dangerous. Not because they have a hidden agenda against people riding bicycles.

    Get your head out of the clouds and back to reality. Trying to spin the statistics and headlines to suite your pro bike agenda is a waste of time and wont help anyone. We need to acknowledge the dangers and EDUCATE both people on bikes and people in cars. Only when both parties accept and acknowledge the dangers will bicycle riding be considered an acceptable alternative to driving.

    By the way I ride my bike to work everyday. I respect the laws, I use plenty of lights and reflective gear, I wear a helmet, but, I do not deceive myself into thinking for one moment that what I do is safer than the alternatives. Trying to trick others into thinking so in the hopes of getting them on a bicycle to further your agenda is dangerous and only adds to the problem of having un-educated and inexperienced riders on our roads.

    • Ted Johnson says:

      J2the4son:

      I appreciate your thoughts and the time you evidently put into your comment. But I think you presume much about my views on helmets — which aren’t entirely in disagreement to your own. See my response to Jeff.

      This post is about Bradley Wiggins stepping on a rake, and the Journalists who led him to said rake.

  8. Adam says:

    When bicycles first came out NO ONE wore a helmet..they wore top hats instead…

    The only reason helmets would be needed is because of all the crazy fat dumb asses who drive cars these days…

    BUT driving a car is dangerous also, so why don’t we force everyone in cars to wear a helmet? Or everyone who rides a horse? Or anyone rollerskating? or anyone jogging? ALL dangerous activities where you can fall or be hit…

    Clearly your parents made a mistake by not putting helmet on you immediately when you were born..because clearly you were dropped on your head as a baby…Shame on them.

    RIDE FREE OR DIE HARD!

    ;)

  9. Tom Bowden says:

    J2the4son

    Riding a bike for transportation is not obviously more dangerous than driving, unless one insists on doing the stupid things you listed. In other words, it’s not cycling that’s inherently dangerous, it’s riding like an idiot that’s dangerous, especially around cars driven by people who drive like idiots. But even if one assumes all drivers are idiots, if one rides intelligently, one can reduce the risks to a vanishingly small number.

    By the way, I also ride almost every day (but since I no longer have to commute, not as much as I did until recently).

    As for statistics, you know the old saying. There are lies, damned lies, and statistics. But I do believe that the 20 to benefit ratio that is often quoted takes into account all the stupid behaviors that get people killed. In other words, from an overall perspective, even with all the deaths associated with stupid behaviors, the net net is a 20 to 1 benefit to risk ratio. Of course, if you’re the one, you’re 100% dead, not just 5%. More recently, I think I read that the British Medical Association updated the ration to 77 to 1, and that is irrespective of whether or not cyclists wear helmets. I’ll take those odds, especially if I know that by riding with my wits engaged, I can substantially improve on that ratio.

    So in summary, please respect the fact that most of us who comment and contribute here are not just head in the clouds ideologues, nor are we morons – we have researched and analyzed the available information and we come to our conclusions in a rational and deliberate way. That our conclusions may not agree with yours is to be expected – these are not simple issues, despite your assertions. They involve the behavior of humans in the face of unknown risks, an inherently difficult complex of problems to solve.

  10. JaimeRoberto says:

    Does the word “legalize” have a different meaning in the UK? It sounds like they take it to mean “mandate”. They must think that the debate about legalizing marijuana in the US is pretty strange.

  11. Jeff Gardner says:

    Seat belts are a legitimate by-product of privileged licensure. Appeal for the privilege and you gotta abide by the rules that come with club membership.

    “Privileged” cycling is commercial — bike messengers, pedicabs &c. There, helmet use can be proscribed. But most bicycling is done as a matter of right. There, helmet use cannot be proscribed.

  12. Tom Bowden says:

    Jeff – In think you mean “prescribed” “proscribed” means prohibited. But there is no legal distinction in any vehicle code that I am aware of that makes a distinction between commercial and personal utility or recreational cycling.

  13. Jeff Gardner says:

    Long day, Tom. Sorry.

    My state, New Mexico, does make such a distinction. The state licenses pari-mutual bicycle racing. The vehicle code here does not address bicycle licensure or traffic operation at all. A quick look at Virginia laws showed that VA and NM language is generally the same, except that your state does seem to apply traffic laws to bicycles. Hey, you are the VA attorney.

    I’ve not read the law in most other states, but commercial distinctions do seem to be common locally. New York (City), St. Paul, Austin, New Orleans and Seattle are amongst cities that require pedicab licenses. Chicago and Boston (by state law) mandate bicycle messenger licensure.

    But Tom, the specifics miss the point I fear. The general tenor of an answer to Cdib’s question remains intact: when licensure is required again and again it is tied to commerce. Do you disagree?

  14. Tim Sherman says:

    Box Hill is a 1.5 mile 400ft climb. I climb home 1.7 mile 500ft each day. Do it every day after work and it becomes even more awsome. I commute by bike(year round). I am 51 years of age. Wiggins did not win the road race. I always have my helmet on. I would feel wrong without it.

  15. Joel says:

    Fact: “Most people who ride bikes are idiots.”

    I need to research this assumption. Where is this factual? Where is the research to support such a “factual assumption?”

    Everyday, I exceed the State Laws of New Jersey in my riding style. I am a rolling reflective barrel with decorative strobe lights as I try and avoid any and all contact with moving vehicles.

    How arrogant to assume that everyone “else” is doing it the wrong way and “I” am perfect.

    You Sir, do not have the heart of a true cyclist.

    I enjoy everyday that I can ride my bike instead of my car for so many reasons that you cannot fathom.

    I save exporting money to other countries for a raw material call crude oil. It takes over one hundred of my bicycles to be disposed of in a land fill for the equivalent of one medium sized car. My bike does not have to have its transmission, engine, radiator, air conditioning system, and differentials drained of toxic chemicals before it is buried or recycled.

    My bicycle DOES reduce my medical costs to society. My bicycle does NOT wear and tear the road like a 60,000 pound 16 wheel semi-truck.

    I have been in the military and we have abandoned the mission in Somalia because it did not have any significant resources which this country deemed important enough to risk one more “Black Hawk Down”.

    If Somalia had crude oil, we would not have abandoned the mission there. If you research the facts and declassified missions, you will find that my conclusions are not outrageous or without serious argument.

    I am not making a statement which has absolutely no basis such as “Most people who ride bikes are idiots.”

    Did I tell you that I really enjoy riding my bike?

  16. Tom Bowden says:

    Jeff Gardner,
    Pedicab and messenger licenses are good examples of commercial cycling requiring licensure. I hope it never goes beyond that!

  17. mwmike says:

    Well said, Ted. I agree with you 100%. Unfortunately, some people are so closed minded that all the evidence and reason in the world will never get them to reconsider their unfounded opinions.

  18. J2the4son says:

    My basis on that statement is simple. Next time you ride around (or drive for that matter) look at all the cyclists. In my neck of the woods they are made up mostly of – wrong way riders, people without helmets, kids (young) with no parental supervision (and thus not learning how to ride correctly) and people at night are the worst with no lights.

    I do see riders who are responsible but they are the minority and that is why I said MOST bike riders are idiots.

    Now, do I think it is their fault? No. While they lack a serious amount of common sense and critical thinking skills they are just doing it as they were taught.

    I really enjoy riding my bike too. Even on days I hate it :P

  19. Jeff Gardner says:

    Some day Tom, you’ll have to explain to me how it ever could.

  20. BluesCat says:

    I wear a helmet for a number of reasons: it’s cooler than a hat, it provides a perfect mount for a rear view mirror, it keeps more of my gray hair from blowing away, it makes me look like a responsible role model for the kids, it’s a great addition to my Big Alien Insect Head Halloween costume …

    Oh yeah, and it probably would be a lot safer for me in the event of a crash when I’m riding one of my conventional upright bikes. Since I ride my recumbent most of time, and I seem to always land on my butt whenever I go over on it, I think the safety idea is overrated.

    J2the4son – A while back, somebody here on CbB wrote an article about Salmoning the Sidewalk. Seems that wrong-way riding is actally a requirement in some areas of his neck of the woods. I’m writing this on my smartphone, otherwise I’d look it up and provide a link to it, but you could find it by using the search feature above. Very interesting and entertaining reading!

  21. listenermark says:

    You mention Cavendish at the top of the article but fail to quote him. I thought what he said, on record, was spot on.

    http://road.cc/content/news/60231-mark-cavendish-says-motorists-should-be-presumed-liable-incidents-where-cyclists

    For what it’s worth: I am a middle age dork who chooses to not own a car. I follow the Tour religiously, just like I follow this blog. Good post.

    • Ted Johnson says:

      Mark:

      Between the two of them, Cavendish seems to be the more articulate.

      I chose not to quote Cavendish because he spoke about Australia’s mandatory helmet laws. It was unclear whether he views them favorably. My purpose was to direct readers to the two articles I did quote, and take with them a little bit of my perspective. The whole Australia thing is a can of worms that would have doubled the length of my post — although it does prove the case that where helmets are mandated, cycling is suppressed.

      Here’s a quote from Cavendish in the article you provided, where he advocates for Dutch- and Belgian-style laws in the UK:

      In Holland and Belgium the actual law is if the driver of a motorised vehicle has an accident with a cyclist, unless the driver can actively prove it was the cyclist’s fault it is the driver’s fault. There is an assumption of guilt on the driver.

      I think there would be Constitutional problems with applying that principle in the US because defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty — in court. However in the US, police officers do operate on certain presumptions when they issue traffic tickets. For example, when there is a rear-end car accident, the driver in the following vehicle is usually issued a ticket. Being issued a ticket is not the same as being presumed guilty — but in effect, it means that the police and court are pretty confident they can prove the driver’s guilt.

      So we could theoretically provide police officers with a presumption to always ticket the driver heavier vehicle without making the driver presumed guilty. Maybe one of our lawyer-readers could comment.

      Thanks for the link.

  22. Jeff Gardner says:

    Ted – There is no U.S. Constitutional ‘presumption of innocence’ protection. It was, is, a strong common law tradition. It is inferred in 4A and 5A, but no more than that.

    Traffic matters in America are most often criminal and, in all states of which I am aware, administrative in nature.

    Criminal accusations must be witnessed by and in the presence of the peace officer making the accusation. I am unaware of any jurisdiction that permits peace officers to initiate criminal process on hearsay. That doesn’t mean they won’t try. But it seems to me that codifying a motorist-cyclist policy based in police action already outside the law would be problematic. Moreover, the automatic assignment of guilt manufactures a crime where none may have existed. An accident may be just that – an accident – that invokes no criminal elements.

    Meanwhile, administrative law very often presumes guilt. Assessment of penalties and enforcement of those penalties are frequently complete before innocence is even considered.

  23. jack says:

    I’ve been watching some of his races during the Olympics and the guy is a rock star in England.

  24. Neil says:

    Did the same journos also ask Olympic diver Tom Daly about the perils of ‘tombstoning’ (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2180588/Dead-Mans-Cove-Tombstoning-Youngster-risks-life-leaping-65ft-sea-harbour-wall.html) just wish Brad had said nothing :(

  25. Louise says:

    Are there really that many people who would not ride if they were required to wear a helmet? Is your hair that big of a deal? Sure riding out on a greenway with only other bikes and pedestrians might not require a helmet, but out on the road is another story. I think the evidence is in, that you are more likely to survive a crash while wearing a helmet. My brain is my most important resource, so I choose to protect it no matter how goof-troop I look. I know it is not a guarantee, but I like my odds better with a helmet. I also ride defensively and assume every driver is trying to kill me (it makes for some real relaxed commuting).

    I do feel that drivers education should include topics about sharing the road with cyclists. Lets improve safety from both sides of the equation. It wouldn’t hurt to have free cycling education classes for anyone who is interested in learning the rules of the road. I learned all my arm signals and etiquette from riding with more experienced friends. In the states we have some bike safety programs in grade schools for children and I think that helps.

  26. Alan says:

    I wish a journalist would ask me what I think about draft-legal triathlons after I finish a hard commute to work. It would have about as much relevance.

  27. Spinderooki says:

    FACT: I really enjoy this blog.
    FACT: Bradley Wiggins is not very comfortable with the press. Possibly, he has figured out what all the PC answers are so he can survive the inane press conferences after riding in a bike race for 5 hours. He was not prepared for this question.
    FACT: Sometimes my blood boils a little when reading the conclusions of others about something (helmets) that I feel should be left up to the individual to choose. The Op-Ed page does it to me, too. I still read – boiling blood is good.
    FACT: There is nothing like a stiff headwind or steep hill on my bike to cure my boiling blood.
    Enjoy your rides everyone!

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