Hand in Glove
Betty always wears a helmet and always looks chic with it.

This is a public service announcement, with guitars. Well with bikes in fact, but you still have to know your rights I say. Number 1: You have the right not to be killed.


Words by Richard Cunynghame. Photo by Richard Cunynghame

Years ago when I was riding dirt jumps with a group of friends, one of them, Rich Barlow, had a crash. After he disappeared head first towards the ground, obscured by the jumps in front of him, that moment where you wait to see if the rider gets up, seemed to hang as it always does, but he was up swift enough. Except as he burst to his feet, I noticed there was something else bursting and that was the blood from his head, in little spurts with his pulse. The silly fool had not been wearing a helmet and my main concern was that we needed to get him to hospital, and I was the only one with a car there. It was my mum’s Rover and the last thing I wanted was to take it back with the need to explain the presence of blood stains.

On arrival at hospital, the level of concern rocketed. He was rushed into a wheelchair, then a bed and then whisked straight off to see a doctor. Having visited British hospital’s A&E departments arrivals many a time, we knew having skipped the eight hour wait, endless forms and six nurses that are not as hot as nurses look on the internet, this was bad.

Luckily after a couple of days in hospital he was OK, but I’ll never forget it. I was wearing a helmet that day and ever since I have been even more diligent, but I sometimes see people not wearing them and I just don’t get it, especially when riding on rough terrain or big jumps in nothing more than a cap.

It seems some people have this image of helmets as the crowning glory of a dorky outfit. Seeing novices with them on back to front doesn’t help. However when I think of a helmet images of Steve McQueen and knights of old go through my head. In essence anything that’s dangerous enough to require a helmet is bound to be exhilarating, so I don’t see the dorky side some people do. Safety equipment is never going to be the most desirable but a lot now actually looks really good.

I truly am one for fashion over function, but I've never understood road riders who wear them little caps, not only are they so unstylish that you look like Wee Jimmy Krankie, but they also offer about as much protection in a confrontation with the ground as Wee Jimmy would be in a fight with just about anything. Imagine sliding your skull along tarmac with a sock on it, horrible. That’s enough to have me wearing a lid.

It has been suggested in some quarters that this incentive is not enough and that the law should step in to insist we all wear helmets all the time. Balls to that. It’s ridiculous, it’ll just make people want to wear one less and bring in a whole heap of complication and persecution of cyclists. But I’m sure it will generate a nice revenue of fines for the authorities. Statistics from overseas actually show that cycle helmet compulsion leads to an overall decrease in the amounts of people who cycle. I think it should be encouraged on every level as I can’t imagine setting off on a proper ride, be it on or off–road, without my wonderful head protected, but sometimes it just ain’t gonna happen. When I make the two minute ride down the local shop, I never wear a helmet. It would be ridiculous if I was fined every time I did that. What if I got knocked off in those two minutes? Well, it’s my judgement call and I’ll make it thanks. Sometimes I don’t wear a helmet, but when I think a situation is dangerous I do and I’d say anyone who doesn't wear one most of the time is a bit of a tit.

Anyway, one of the biggest things I love about cycling is the freedom and I don’t want some judge in a wig telling me what I should be putting on my head and fining me if I don’t agree. I’m a bit worried if any law goes through I’ll be skinted from fines or have many police bicycle chases as they try to catch me…could be fun actually.

In essence I agree with what MP Ben Bradshaw said, “By all means encourage, by all means exhort and by all means have campaigns, but please do not, based on the best intentions, pursue a policy that is deeply counter–productive and that will cause more premature death, more obesity and more ill health among young people."