Friday, September 15, 2006

See Mom, I shouldn't wear a helmet

This article reminds me of reports that better protective clothing for sports (shoulder pads and the like for football and hockey) leads to harder hits, making the value of the protection questionable.

In England, drivers of cars gave cyclists with helmets less room to maneuver than bareheaded cyclists.

I agree with the report's conclusion that a cyclist with a helmet looks better prepared and probably has more experience, skill and awareness than a bareheaded cyclist. These assumptions may not be true; I personally am not (and was not) the hotshot on a bike I once thought I was. Still, I do my best to position myself on the road with a driver's-eye view of where I will be most visible and I try to be predictable.

Two weeks ago I was squeezed a little, possibly because I wear a helmet. I was approaching a parked Bongo or other flatbed truck on a multi-lane citystreet when I noticed another truck passing very close to me. The mirror didn't touch me but it was close. Strangely, the truck wasn't flying past me but seemed to be slowing down and getting closer. As my elbow rubbed on the back of the moving truck, I shrieked (in an embarrassingly shrieky falsetto) and banged my arm on the side of the truck. It stopped. The driver had been parking it in front of the first truck so it was at a sharp angle in front of me. At very low speed I struggled between the front bumper of one truck and the bed of the second and went on. The driver had a really annoying foolish grin on as I went by.

A few minutes later, a car behind me honked at me to get out of the way. As there was a slow-moving bus in front of me and nowhere for either of us to go, I just gave him a glare. We stopped at a red light a few meters later and, full of anger from the previous close call, I actually got off my bike and turned to face the now-very-apologetic-looking driver. I calmed down, satisfied that the big foreigner had possibly scared the unprepared driver. Then I went home.

Anyway, here are some quotes from the article.

Cyclists who wear protective helmets are more likely to be knocked down by
passing vehicles, new research from Bath University suggests.
The study found drivers tend to pass closer when overtaking cyclists wearing helmets than those who are bare-headed.

"By leaving the cyclist less room, drivers reduce the safety margin that
cyclists need to deal with obstacles in the road, such as drain covers and
potholes, as well as the margin for error in their own judgements.

"We know helmets are useful in low-speed falls, and so definitely good for
children, but whether they offer any real protection to somebody struck by a car
is very controversial.

Dr Walker thinks the reason drivers give less room to cyclists wearing
helmets is because they see them as "Lycra-clad street warriors" and believe
they are more predictable than those without.

The researcher had also worn a long wig and found drivers gave a female-looking rider an average of 14cm more space. The researcher was wise enough to say he could not yet say why but that possibly drivers felt a female would be less predictable.


Melissa said...

i like this post!

maybe you should continue wearing your helmet, but with a long wig underneath? :)

Anonymous said...

can i add that you should tie the wig up in a ponytail to reduce wind resistance? :-)

kwandongbrian said...

Really, I should tuck the wig's hair up under the helmet to reduce wind resistance.
...wait a minute...D'oh!