Saturday 11 December 2010

A Good Day For Cycling

Man-flu has, unfortunately, struck the Grumpy household, so cycle trips have been somewhat curtailed this week. However, I did manage to summon the energy to visit the shops today for some provisions to comfort me in my weakest hours.

I am normally a high-viz and helmet kind of cyclist. I don't think these things make you any safer, but I do think that if some idiot hits me then I am not going to let some judge who has abandoned the practice of rational thinking mitigate liability because I wasn't dressed in yellow with a plastic hat. 

To be fair, I think the cycle helmet may help in circumstances where a cyclist falls from a bicycle and hits their head, and I don't normally mind wearing one. But today I couldn't find it after a week of non-use (my toddler daughter has a habit of wearing it and then leaving it in unusual and hard to locate places), so I went without. I have to say I quite enjoyed the experience, but I doubt it was all down to not wearing a helmet.

It seemed a good day for cycling today. No close passes, no pulling out without seeing me. I had a chap in a 4x4 wait for me to turn across the road to reach the cycle parking, and I had a HGV wait patiently behind me down Hoe Street (not a lot of point overtaking at all down this road,  but it doesn't stop some trying). Along Selbourne Road I had a car wait behind instead of overtaking and then stopping at the lights. I find Saturdays generally OK days to cycle. Maybe it is because there seems to be more cyclists out in the daytime on a Saturday (or it could just be my imagination). 

Around Christmas the advantages of travelling by bicycle is shown. Today the traffic wasn't too bad, but in the run-up to Christmas the roads in this area - as is typical with most areas - become jammed. Today cycling down Selbourne Road, the way up to the tube station was absolutely queued. On my return only 30 minutes later, the traffic had cleared. And this is what is so frustrating about driving a car in this area - the traffic picks up incredibly quickly, means you spend 30 minutes doing a 5 minute journey yet the delays are completely unpredictable. Despite all the problems our roads and general car dominated travel mentality give to the cyclist, the time to cycle to somewhere is pretty constant, and the mobility a cycle affords is simply superior to a car in an area like Walthamstow on every level.


  1. It may be the absence of a helmet that prompted more cooperative behaviour from motorists. Ian Walker at Bath has done some research on this.

  2. I think Ian Walker riding his bike around Bath with a wig on fits more into the category of anecdote than research, even if he did choose to write an academic-looking article about it.

    Having said this, anecdotally I find that drivers tend to treat me better when I go without helmet and cycling jacket.

  3. Nope, angercanbepower - Ian Walker wrote a proper paper in a proper peer-reviewed journal.

    He's an experimental psychologist so it's got quantitative data (exp psychologists *measure* things). The bike was instrumented to give proper distances of passing vehicles not just guesswork. (The "wig condition" that everyone remebers was just an afterthought, after various, with or without helmet, runs. He's rather gifted at giving his research media legs).

    I have a copy of the paper somewhere, but can't be bothered to fish it out for the full reference - anyway it'd be easy enough to find on the web, I imagine.

  4. I didn't say the distances were guesswork. I suppose there's nothing actually wrong with the research as far as it goes, but the use of the data is severely limited and I hate the way it is touted by no-helmet advocates as proof that wearing a helmet is more dangerous than not. I think his wearing a wig illustrates the problem in drawing meaningful conclusions from the study (um, men in wigs tend to look like men in wigs, particularly given that cars can often overtake after already having been in front).

    There are also a huge number of other limiting factors. Such as:

    - The study was only undertaken in three relatively small towns (Salisbury, Bristol, Portsmouth).
    - No consideration was given to clothing other than helmets (e.g. perhaps the issue is appearing to be an experienced cyclist, in which case someone in a luminous jacket without a helmet might be passed closer than someone in shorts and t-shirt with).
    - In the same vein, no consideration was given to the type of bicycle used (and it doesn't appear that he even switched bicycle when doing his data-in-drag).
    - His time of day calculations are fairly lacking - he claims that drivers pass closer in morning than evening rush hour but the data set (.xls) shows that he does not record any data after 4pm.

    These are generally not Ian Walker's fault in that he doesn't claim the research is exhaustive, but I have a real chip on my shoulder about how so many other people seem to consider it reasonably convincing evidence that not wearing a helmet is safer.

  5. Well, my own completely unscientific and subjective survey was that helmet or no didn't seem to make a huge difference - but maybe drivers on Saturday are a bit better. Cycled the other day without a helmet and had the usual assortment of idiotic driving that one normally sees. I don't know what this proves - outside the fact that I probably cannot conduct a scientific experiment!