We have been busy & helmets

It has been some time since I posted anything, not because there has been nothing to write about, rather I have been too busy with other things working on the website back-end. The observant may have noted a few small changes which reflect this, and there is more to come, but more of that later.  There are also a couple of posts I am working on that should be up shortly.

Car driver wearing a HelmetMean while I thought I would link to this report via BikeBiz on the recent debate on “cycle safety” in the British parliament.  It is depressing!  It is particularly depressing that so much parliamentary time was wasted going round in circles, seemingly blind to the point, that it is high-speed heavy vehicles that are the danger, not cycling itself, and polystyrene helmets offer NO PROTECTION against such a danger.  That blindness, a blindness which kills in an altogether more subtile way, is what makes cyclists/blogosphere/twitersphere so mad.

The unscientific, irrational, and too often bullying, level of debate is seriously distracting from real solutions to improve on road safety.  Technology has become the god of our age.  While I am most certainly not anti-technology, I find it very troubling that there is such blind faith in technology, and that the general public are too willing receive the claims that liars marketers make concerning their wares, especially when the wares “might” save the life, say of a child.  This faith is dangerously miss-placed. Safety costs! and unfortunately helmets are viewed by too many as a simple and cheap solution.  The parody video below and the cartoon at the start highlight, that there are many areas where real safety improvements could be made and, if the arguments of cycle helmet proponents were followed, would require mandatory wearing of PPE.

In an age driven by imagery, icons and what can be seen externally, the idea of a helmet as a guaranteed provider of protection, if not invincibility, is ingrained in the general public.  Images of soldiers in bullet proof helmets, construction workers in hard hats, motorcyclists in crash helmets, all of which have saved lives, seem to prove that cycle helmets and compulsion to wear them MUST be a good thing.  The following might just change your mind:

A couple of key points from this video:

  • Average speed of collision 40 km/h ( mph)
  • Maximum speed at which a cycle helmet offers any protection 20 km/h ( mph).

While proponents point to motorcycle helmets and seatbelts, there is a failure to understand the dynamic differences between, the way such safety devices work, and how a cycle helmet is supposed to work.  Last night I did a simple experiment and broke a cycle helmet with my bare hands something I could not do to a human skull or a motorcycle helmet.  I have made reference before to a cycle accident I was involved in, in 1988, in which a cycle helmet (which I was not wearing) did not save my life! – When I get time and energy I plan on writing up a more detailed account including some technical analysis – In that event my skull exceeded the performance requirements of a cycle helmet!

The “protection” provided by a cycle helmet – vertical impact between 12 & 15 mph – is artificial and highly contrived, you may note from the video above what part of the dummy’s head usually strikes the car, and I am sure many others could confirm the same from their own experience.  As my experiment demonstrated a cycle helmet offers next to no protection in the case of side impact.  My accident mentioned above was an exception as I hit a vehicle with what was essentially a vertical impact (my face was looking down) at about 20 mph.  I have come off my bike a handful of times since, and on no occasion has my head recieved any injury.  It should also be noted that the theoretical efficacy of helmets is very much dependent on the proper fitting and attachment of the helmet to the head of the rider.  I think it would be safe to say that in most cases, outside of professional cycle sport, helmets are worn incorrectly.

The argument “if it saves a life” is disingenuous.  The assumption is that they will do no harm even if they do no good.  Evidence is mounting that statistically this is not the case.  Thankfully the parliamentary debate attempted to recognize this, as cycling’s health and life benefits far exceed any risks; but also analytically, this assumption is not true.  Helmets, like drugs and medicines, have side-effects:

  • They make your head bigger – thus increasing the chances of striking or being struck by another object
  • They alter the shape of your head – thus altering the natural way your body interacts with its environment – this can affect perception, balance and response in an accident
  • They, in most cases, cover your head in an array of convenient grab handles – thus increasing the chances of snagging, leading to the very kind of rotational head and brain injury which results in death or serious life impairment
  • They attach a hangman’s noose to your head – a fact tragically illustrated by the 14 documented case where little children died by strangulation while playing wearing a cycle helmet

If it saves 1 life but kills 20 it is not worth it! I recommend reviewing the scientific data available via cyclehelmets.org.

Legal compulsion sends a most unwanted message: generating a false sense of security, to both riders and drivers, leading directly to increased complacency and then injury and death when the “force-field” fails to protect in an accident vehicle incident.  It also criminalises, and therefore harms, those who recognize the physical dangers of helmet wearing as well as the limited protection they offer.  The comments of Graeme King after the BikeBiz article are very pertinent.

Velomobile Crash Safety

Contrary to a popular misconception put forward by some, cycling is a safe and pleasant activity, it is not ordinarily a dangerous or extreme sport.  It should not therefore require a rider to don specialist protective clothing or equipment.  This can be amply shown from Holland where thousands (or is it millions?) cycle in everyday clothing without the dubious added safety of a cycle helmet and without any significant ill effects.

The velomobile, which enables a rider to go further and/or faster, often for less effort, due to it’s aerodynamic body, serves to extend this ideal.  As a side-effect, as it were, It also provides a substantial layer of protection in the rare event a rider is found in the path of danger.

David Hembrow, who himself rides a Mango velomobile, on his blog A View From the Cycle Path explains the reason why the Dutch cyclist is able to experience such safe and pleasant conditions.  Regrettably the standard of high quality segregated infrastructure has not yet arrived in most other countries.  It is therefore perhaps not surprising that the two case studies I was able to locate for this post were in Germany and the United Kingdom, where cyclists are regularly obliged to share the road, where and when, the risks for a high energy collision are much higher.

Front view of crashed Alleweder showing side impact damage.Firstly from Germany.  Jan P. Puchelt has a site dedicated to the Aluminum Alleweder in which he illustrates the protection benefit provided by a velomobile when hit by a motor vehicle and I quote below:

It’s obvious that crash tests like in the car industries are infeasible with the small-scale production of the Alleweder. So it is even more important to document any accidents that have happened with Alleweders involved. Helmut Kuske happened to have such an accident. He was driving on a cycle path alongside a country road when a car, which has ignored a stop sign at an entry, crashed sideways into his Alleweder A2. The car pushed him sideways across both lanes of the road. He was lucky that he sat in an Alleweder. Exept for an concussion and a few slight injuries he was not harmed! On a normal bicycle he probably would have been run over by the car and would have been heavily injured.


The front bulkhead has been massively distorted when absorbing the energy from the impact. But the rivet connection of the thin aluminium plates survived the crash
… the bodywork has been significantly distorted by the massive side impact. However, it has hardly been crushed. The driver has not been crushed in the Alleweder.

The second example was rescued from the now defunct velomobiling.com website and does not have any photo illustrations.  Tony Eastwood supplied an extensive report of a collision he experienced in 2004 in his home built velomobile in Wales, UK.

Coming up to Cae Afalau I’ll do a right hand bend at about 30 mph, a slightly gentler left-hand and then on to a great big open section that is one of my favourites. As I do the right hand bend I’ll really open up and hit my pedaling limit at about 35 mph – and it will be half-a-mile before I’m below 30 again. I look forward to a higher average.


I check the mirror for traffic behind me, there’s nothing. I get ready to take slightly higher line on the bend. A car, a black Fiat Punto, appears coming the other way. His back end swings out. I change my mind about the higher line on the bend and go for the kerb. The Punto oversteers, leaves the road, misses a telegraph pole and carries on spinning. He crosses the road towards me, broadside on it seems. I think I missed him – I’m wrong – he hits about a foot behind the front wheel. There’s a very short bang. I’m sliding along the road, I can’t see anything, something to do with the G force I think, but I’m still conscious. I come to a stop. I get easily out of the vehicle which is lying on its side – there is no roof any more, no wonder it’s easy. I’m alive, one of my elbows is wet and red but I’m alive, I can see, hear and still have all my limbs. For me life will still continue; I’ll still embrace my children, play the guitar, preach sermons. I’m euphoric – I look at my totally wrecked vehicle and and I’m still euphoric. I’m standing here alive, and well, and praising God’s providence in preserving me whole – I’ve just hit something at over sixty miles an hour and survived. My own vehicle saved my life – 8 years work gone in 1/20 of a second but I’d make the same bargain any time. The police man and ambulance man think so too – they are amazed, full of praise for the vehicle. It’s a wonderful accident – can you have such a thing? – I can simply walk away with just one small hole in my left arm, a reminder of what could have been.


No one else is hurt – the driver, a nice young man having his first accident, is terribly shocked but he’s OK. His car’s wrecked, my bike seems to have taken a lot off it and the wall’s done the rest. And that, I guess, is my last ride on a velocycle for some time. If I’m lucky the nice young man’s nice, kind insurance company will buy me a Leitra, Quest , or even pay for a replica – but as they say, the jury is still out.

He did replace his smashed velomobile with a Quest and supplied an impressive write-up which was published in Velovision Magazine Issue 25, March 2007.

Finally if any readers know of any other examples please share using the comments below.

Summer of Cycling

Well I have been occupied doing other things for the past few weeks. Some related to velomobiles and some not related, and consequently, I have some catching up to do. An update to the blog is long overdue! Mid-summer is a quiet period news-wise but, none the less, there are some items that have been reported elsewhere, which I expect to comment on shortly.

More generally the current Olympic fever and the achievements of team GB in the cycling events is serving to heighten the British public interest in cycling generally, both for practical transport as well as for sport. Anything which helps improve the status of transport cycling can only be a good thing. Looking beyond the olympics the question of what to spend the Olympic Legacy on has been raised. Bike Biz reported that the BBC radio 4 program You and Yours was asking this question of it’s listeners. Bike Biz were strongly advocating it be spent on quality cycle infrastructure a-la the Dutch model. This has been essentially seconded by SUSTRANS who are calling for investment to encourage cycling to school.  A view with which we heartily concur.

There would also seem to be some increase not only in the profile but also in political support for the installation of better cycle infrastructure. The Times’ #cyclesafe campaign together with a high profile fatality connected with the London Olympic venue has served to raise public awareness, and political support, for serious improvement. Regrettably in the reporting of the fatality there were distracting comments about “wearing helmets,” raised by UK champion Bradley Wiggins and seconded by several shrill voices. The debate on helmet wearing and compulsion is largely removed from the world of rational scientific enquiry; and completely misses the point of how a 70 kg human and their 20 kg bike is able to stand up to a vehicle with a mass from 800 kg to upward of 3000 Kg. It should be obvious that these fatal “accidents” usually involve forces, and levels of energy, far exceeding that which a cycle helmet is capable of absorbing. Indeed, it was the writer’s own experience that, a healthy human skull is perfectly capable of exceeding the rather limited performance required of cycle helmets*. (If it helps, consider how easy it is to break a cycle helmet with your arms versus breaking a human skull!) I might write a post describing my own experience in detail, together with my observations, on the limited value and potential risks, of helmet wearing in everyday cycling, at some other time. I also intend to write a post about the protective benefit provided by a velomobile body when involved in a collision.

Continuing the theme of infrastructure, I had the opportunity to attend my local government Cycle-Forum, which I found very interesting. The Forum meets quarterly and serves to try and coordinate efforts to promote cycling and invest in better cycle provision locally. A promising activity which needs support, and can only get better, with consequent beneficial results for all pedal powered transport.

However I will return to velomobiles with my next post.

* Vertical impact at 11-15 mph assumed to be equivalent to falling over from a stationary bike and landing on your head. See the section on Standards on cyclehelmets.org