Thursday, 8 May 2014

biking without a helmet

I am a gal who has always loved cycling.  As a child, and then as a teenager, myself and several friends would cycle 'around the block', a 5 mile loop around all of our houses. We'd sometimes do it two or three times a day when the sun was shining, and discuss all sorts of things. There was a lot of summertime adventuring in the crannóg near our houses (it is so cool that my local crannóg has a Wiki page!), and as we got older we'd venture further afield, even cycling to our friend's house in Trim, many miles away.

Cycling naturally became a way of life for me. Living a mile from the bus stop, I could cycle to and from and give myself some independence. When I lived in Dublin I would cycle in and out to college, go on nighttime cycles to Clontarf, and arrive at parties requesting to stash my bike in the hallway because I didn't want a drunk person to wreck it. I still have that reliable mountain bike I got at the age of 12, and use it whenever I'm home in Ireland. I also lived in London, and cycled a lot, even though it was a more 'life in your hands' decision than I'm comfortable with, in hindsight.

I've since lived in Umeå, the uber-leftwing town in northern Sweden, and now I live in Copenhagen, basically the cycling capital of the world. I frequently cycle 20-30km a day on hundreds of kilometres of purpose built cycle lanes, without a care in the world. No competing with cars for lane-space here, just thousands and thousands of other very busy and very determined cyclists. Use hand signals lest you perish.

I loved this article by Howie Chong which raises some really valid points about cycling with or without a helmet. For example, you're more at risk of being in an accident which causes a serious head injury while in a car, or as a pedestrian, but the suggestion that drivers and their passengers wear helmets would be endlessly ridiculed. Cyclists wearing a helmet have been shown to be given less space to manouver than those without by motorists, possibly increasing the likelihood of them being in an accident,  as this Bath University study demonstrated.

If you'll allow me to get on my soapbox for a moment, I believe this helmet rhetoric is about relegating the blame for accidents back to cyclists. Many motorists believe that through their hefty fees-road tax, insurance, petrol and cost of a vehicle, they should be given precedence over a road user who has only paid for a small amount of metal and rubber. 'They weren't even wearing a helmet' is a popular retort made by motorists, perhaps as a scapegoat because, really, they feel the cyclists doesn't actually deserve to be there. I've said my two cents, I'll pipe down now.

Aside from Howie's excellent points about road safety, dangerous accidents and all that nasty stuff, his article concludes on a very positive note, and really I think that's what's worth focusing on when it comes to cycling. The reasons I love to cycle? It reduces stress, is great exercise, and gets me out in the fresh air. If you're a tourist or new to a city, it's by far the best way to get to know your surroundings quickly. You can see far reaching parts of your neighbourhood on a bike you'd never be incentivised to seek out on foot.

As with all good things in life, with it comes a huge responsibility. To ourselves, motorists, pedestrians, and other cyclists. Learn the rules of the road. Learn the bike etiquette of the place you're cycling in. Use hand signals, look around you as much as you would while driving a car. Focus on the road, the traffic lights, that pedestrian up ahead that hasn't seen you. As a cyclist, you are quite vulnerable; moving at a relatively high speed, only the clothes on your back as a protective layer, at the mercy of the whims of a thousand others you interact with on the roads daily.  Know your streets, know your bike, pay attention. And then go enjoy yourself.

I love pop punk, so here's a cheesy song about cycling. 

You don't need maps when you know where the sidewalk cracks.

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