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November 28, 2010 / clayliesstill

Helmets on Boris Bikes

London's Boris Bikes include a cleverly designed device to store your helmet

On Friday the rider of a Boris Bike was hit by a bus at the Euston Road/Tottenham Court Road junction. It isn’t clear yet just how serious his injuries are, but no doubt this will be another cue for the liddites to push for helmets to be mandatory, or even, perhaps more ridiculously, handed out for free.

The guy in this photo has got the right idea: he’s got a scooter helmet but it is safely stored in the special Boris Bike helmet stand luggage rack. The idea that casual, short trips round a city like London must be made while wearing a helmet is crazy. By all means, wear a helmet when mountain biking or racing, but not for pootling between Soho and the British Library.

So far the cycle hire scheme appears to have had a safer record than ordinary cycling. Despite the fearmongering of the Evening Standard in reality the risks of Boris Biking appears to be substantially lower than ordinary cycling. This paper for Transport for London’s Surface Transport Panel notes that there were 12 injuries to Boris Bikers by the end of October, after 1.4 million trips. That’s around 9 injuries per million trips, half that of the figure for all cycling in 2009.

Raw figures like this don’t cover the true realities of danger and risk. Cycling may be a pretty safe activity, but the main point is that most of the dangers are out of your control. That makes it far more scary.

Flying is the same: we all hear about how safe flying is, but when you sit in an aeroplane you have no control over that safety. You are in the hands of pilots, technology and maintenance staff.

Taking control over one’s safety is critical to making cycling feel safer – this is one of the principles of cycle training: that you assert yourself and control others’ behaviour by your road positioning and communication. Alternatively, if you cushion yourself from the potential actions of others (by taking cyclists away from the shared road way) you may achieve the same result.

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