Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Well summer has gone and I'm just getting around to writing another post. To those of you that haven't given up on me, thanks.

We have been doing a bit of traveling this year from Holland, Belgium and Spain to a number of places in Canada and the US.
In most of the places I have been able to get out on the bike and when not riding I have taken a keen interest in the local cyclists. One observation has been the striking difference in helmet use between Holland, for instance and Nova Scotia where helmet use is mandated by law.

The contrast is sharp between the two places. In Holland the drivers are courteous and I never feel at danger in traffic. The only Dutch cyclists wearing helmets are those dressed in Lycra. The average cyclist, of which there are hundreds of thousands, do not wear them. In most Dutch towns the roads are packed with people on bikes. Moms with kids on carriers back and front, office workers in business suits, fashionable women in stilletto heals, teenagers and younger children going back and forth to school and not a helmet to be seen on any of them. They ride calmly, confidently, and safely through the streets, pushing the pedals steadily on their big black Dutch bikes often in howling wind and pouring rain.

In Halifax, Nova Scotia every cyclist, except me, wore a helmet. Halifax is built on a steep hill and yet the downtown bike messengers ride the currently very fashionable 'fixies", track bikes with fixed wheel and no brakes. How they can control the bikes descending the steep hills I do not know. I guess it doesn't matter as they wear helmets. At night many cyclists are seen without lights but again they have their helmets on. Surely enforcing existing laws that mandate brakes and lights would do far more good than introducing another law requiring helmets that is not enforced as I found out. These helmet laws are introduced by 'do good' politicians who have very little, if any, experience of cycling and obviously haven't studied the results of similar laws passed in other jurisdictions. How much better we would all be if they spent their time and energy making cycling safer for us all by putting money and energy into educating cyclists how to ride safely and teaching drivers that a bike is a proper vehicle. A helmet will never prevent an accident. Use of brakes and lights certainly could.

I wonder what the North American helmet zealots think of all those Dutch cyclists riding without helmets. The way they talk one would think that a vast proportion of the Dutch population would have been killed off long ago . Well they haven't. Maybe it is because they ride sensibly on properly fitted bikes equipped with brakes and lights and that they observe all traffic laws. The have grown up riding bikes where cycling is an integrated part of the infrastructure and they keep much healthier because of it.

At a school close to where I live, each spring a large sign is hung over the front of the building. "Cycle safely - wear a helmet" it instructs. I am sure that that is the only cycling instruction the students receive as I see many of them riding poorly fitted bikes with complete disregard for laws and safety. How much better it would be if they were given safe cycling instruction and bikes were considered vehicles and not toys.

In Ontario The law requires those under eighteen years to wear a helmet. This discourages them from cycling. Few trendy teenagers want to be seen in a helmet. It has been proven that the health giving effects of cycling far outweigh the risks of injuries prevented by helmets. Our efforts should be directed into instructing and encouraging them to cycle safely.

The subject of helmets seems to get people all worked up. If there are still a few of you out there reading this blog maybe we will get some comments.