Southerly by David Haywood

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Southerly: Bob's Top Five

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  • Roger Lacey,

    Moving house recently gave me the opportunity to dust off my trusty old Townsend Elite Rock turntable and set it up in my new "study". Three year old daughter was fascinated by it having seen one in a TV cartoon. Tried her out with some vintage vinyl. Favourite song so far is Rankin' Full Stop by the Beat. In fact it is very hard to get past it. As soon as I put on something else I get the request for "Racing Stop Song".

    Whatakataka Bay Surf Club… • Since Apr 2008 • 118 posts Report Reply

  • Jolisa,

    So the best of both worlds is to have everyone wearing a helmet, but have that helmet not affect their behaviour, or the behaviour of motorists? (just their hair).

    In the best of all possible worlds, scientists would also solve the helmet-hair problem. And win a Nobel for it.

    I fantasize about the day we all live in a flat, bike-friendly, combustion-engine-rejecting utopia, where it never rains till after sundown, and we all ride everywhere at a leisurely pace on beautifully designed paths, wearing our prettiest clothes at all times. I mean, phwooaaaar.

    In the meantime, I am a fierce adherent of the helmet, and was deeply horrified to spot a woman cycling past me the other day at speed, not only helmetless herself, but wearing a very new baby in a frontpack, also helmetless. Shudder.

    Interesting to think about how helmet use has become normalised, tho. My bike-mad bro was hassled at school for wearing one, till he took an indelible marker and emblazoned it with "I'd rather look like an egg than get scrambled." The beginning of his brilliant career as a Great Persuader...

    Auckland, NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 1410 posts Report Reply

  • James Green,

    It was the multiple concussions rather than the helmet that stopped me from cycling.

    There's also some neat analysis that suggests that cul-de-sacs* also have a net negative impact on human health, so does this mean that we can ban Albany and Rolleston? Or at least new poorly thought out subdivisions?

    *Cul-de-sacs increase the distance to walk or bike between any two points and general favour the use of cars as transport. The extreme counterpoint is Twizel, where is typically much less direct to drive anywhere than walk, as it follows a transport scheme cooked up in Scandinavia.

    Dunedin • Since Nov 2006 • 683 posts Report Reply

  • Grace Dalley,

    "I'd rather look like an egg than get scrambled." The beginning of his brilliant career as a Great Persuader...

    Oh that's brilliant!

    Regarding motorist behaviour, passing too close etc., I find if it make eye-contact with motorists they give me more room and generally are more considerate. This may involve turning your head and glaring if you hear someone roaring up behind.

    I had a boyfriend who did gardening jobs via bicycle, for which he would take his own fork. Cycling with a gardening fork over your shoulder gets you LOTS of space on the road :-D

    As does wearing brightly-coloured satin outfits, which many years ago was my usual attire.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2008 • 138 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    I had a boyfriend who did gardening jobs via bicycle, for which he would take his own fork. Cycling with a gardening fork over your shoulder gets you LOTS of space on the road :-D

    A local Dunedin cyclist, fanatical anti-helmet wearer, has a large stick poking out the right side of his bike, clamped under the spring thing over the back wheel. Says cars tend to give him a good extra couple of feet rather than risk their paint work.

    Since Nov 2006 • 6162 posts Report Reply

  • Jolisa,

    *Cul-de-sacs increase the distance to walk or bike between any two points and general favour the use of cars as transport.

    Bring back the alleyway!

    Auckland, NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 1410 posts Report Reply

  • James Green,

    Ooops. Somebody just messaged me and it occurs to me that I should link Twizel. Twizel has a very elliptical loopy design, but if you look at the satellite image, you'll see not little parks interconnecting everywhere (working like a much nicer alleyway). The upshot is, it's generally much more direct to walk anywhere.

    Dunedin • Since Nov 2006 • 683 posts Report Reply

  • Rich Lock,

    I fantasize about the day we all live in a flat, bike-friendly, combustion-engine-rejecting utopia, where it never rains till after sundown, and we all ride everywhere at a leisurely pace on beautifully designed paths, wearing our prettiest clothes at all times.

    It would cost quite a lot to relocate the entire readership of PAS to Amsterdam, though.

    back in the mother countr… • Since Feb 2007 • 2396 posts Report Reply

  • JackElder,

    Cul-de-sacs increase the distance to walk or bike between any two points and general favour the use of cars as transport.

    But, as I believe James has pointed out, they don't have to. You can have lots of pedestrian/cyclepath cut-throughs that make it faster to travel by foot/bike than by car. Upshot is that by car you have to take the looping way, on a bike you can take lots of shortcuts.

    Of course, you need a good set of tyres, because the shortcuts are usually traps for broken glass. I personally recommend Specalized's "Armadillo" range of kevlar-reinforced tyres: I have, quite literally, never punctured on them in four years of use.

    <flat>

    I believe someone's already pointed out that cycle use is quite high in Wellington - despite the hurking great hills. To be honest, I think the rain is more of a disincentive than the hills.

    Wellington • Since Mar 2008 • 708 posts Report Reply

  • David Haywood,

    Jolisa (one 's') wrote:

    I am a fierce adherent of the helmet, and was deeply horrified to spot a woman cycling past me the other day at speed...

    I'm not sure I'm making myself clear here -- the studies that I discussed on the radio say nothing about whether it's safe or not for an individual to wear a helmet -- they're talking about what has already happened in countries with compulsory cycle helmet laws.

    I always wear a helmet myself. And, like you, certainly used to think that everyone should be made to do the same.

    But what the studies show, is that -- if we made that woman wear a helmet -- then (on average) there's a 20 to 40 per cent chance that she would simply stop cycling.

    This means two things (according to the studies):

    1. If she didn't replace her cycling with another form of exercise then her increased chances of heart disease, diabetes, etc. would be much greater than the injury risk of her cycling without a helmet. Net effect: you've just shortened her life.

    2. As each person stops cycling it becomes more dangerous for the remaining cyclists on the road, since they are less at the forefront of motorists minds as a potential hazard. Net effect: you've just shortened your own life.

    Or to put it another way: it's not the helmets, it's how we're making them compulsory.

    So it's a much more complicated issue than it seems -- and very anti-intuitive!

    By the way, someone has just sent me a paper that suggests that the compulsory cycle helmet law in New Zealand costs the country $26 in health terms for each dollar it saves. I haven't checked out the paper properly yet, but -- at face value -- that doesn't sound like a sensible law to me.

    Dunsandel • Since Nov 2006 • 982 posts Report Reply

  • Grace Dalley,

    they're talking about what has already happened in countries with compulsory cycle helmet laws.

    I get what you're saying, but aren't there NZ figures on numbers of people cycling since helmets were compulsory? Are they included in the stats you're talking about?

    And:

    Net effect: you've just shortened her life.
    Net effect: you've just shortened your own life.

    isn't quite true. Since were talking about population statistics, we can only talk about average chances of having a fatal accident, and average chances of poor health as a result of average reduction in exercise. As you so rightly pointed out earlier, this says nothing about the individual.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2008 • 138 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso,

    Yes, it seems that cycling without a helmet increases your chances of becoming a very healthy corpse. So wear one. Seeing as you're circulating on the road, it's not just your business. If I'm driving (which I don't) and you split your skull on my windscreen, that's not going to improve my life either. And if the reason really is fear of bad hair (as opposed to inflating the perception of the dangers of cycling), then it's because you've made your choice.

    (I'm not going to make jokes about that choice either, I take hair very seriously. I keep mine in a special box.)

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7355 posts Report Reply

  • Ross Mason,

    There is a simple answer.

    All we need to do is raise the petrol price. That will mean less cars. No, lets make cars illegal between the hours of 7am to 9am and 4pm and 6pm.

    Take away the third party and we will "ride in safety".

    We got no respect. THATs our problem. I drove around Netherlands a few years ago and there is a pecking order on the road. Children and or Mothers with pushchairs are number 1. Everyone gives way. Mothers with kids on the back of the bike No2. Everyone gives way. Anyone else walking No 3. Everyone gives way. Anyone on bikes No 4. Everyone gives way. Other cars... No11 . Tolerated.

    Arts and Letters has this link about the value of human life and risk assessment that we are terrible at estimating.

    Thus Maurice Williamson a few years ago rejecting Massey University research that helmets don't work "on a population"as too risky to accept politically. It was very oon after the "Helmet Lady" had influenced the vote.

    Upper Hutt • Since Jun 2007 • 1494 posts Report Reply

  • Roger Lacey,

    Yes, it seems that cycling without a helmet increases your chances of becoming a very healthy corpse.

    Has the benefits of having a better supply of more healthy transplant donors been factored into the calculations too?

    Whatakataka Bay Surf Club… • Since Apr 2008 • 118 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso,

    Somebody told me recently about a surgeon who tastefully referred to cyclists as "donors". Was it here?

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7355 posts Report Reply

  • Keir Leslie,

    2. Do compulsory helmet laws have a net beneficial effect on the overall health of society?

    But that isn't really how we work out these decisions, so it's a bit of a red herring.

    Since Jul 2008 • 1327 posts Report Reply

  • George Darroch,

    Preparing a long response, will take a few minutes. In the meantime, start here.

    The People's Republic of … • Since Nov 2006 • 2132 posts Report Reply

  • George Darroch,

    Edit: actually, this is a little TLDR - best read the link above instead.

    Oh, the helmet argument.

    I think that comment here has missed a lot of the most important parts of the debate (or rather non-debate, as most issues aren't discussed in any form). Apologies to David if any of these issues were covered in detail, I couldn't get the file to open.

    I'll just make one long comment and hope to address as much as possible. I'll round up links later, but the site I quoted above is a good place to start. I also warn that this is rather macabre - I had this conversation with a friend once, and it brought up traumatic issues that related to the head injury of a friend.

    As you so rightly pointed out earlier, this says nothing about the individual.

    The individual is where all of this gets interesting.

    Firstly... what is a bicycle helmet? This isn't such a silly question. Essentially, a bicycle helmet is a small piece of specially manufactured polystyrene, covered by a plastic shell. It is designed to cushion an impact, up to the point of failure. When it cracks it has reached that point. It is nothing more, and nothing less.

    Secondly, what is it tested to do? Helmets* are failure tested with a blunt object of 15kg dropped horizontally from a height of 1 metre onto the top of the helmet, producing a force of .15kn. No side testing or angular testing is required.

    The forces generated in a collision with a car are significantly greater than this, and most impacts happen to the side, back, and front of the head. The force of 15kg from 1 metre is in the range of what you'll get falling off your bike. It is more than what a child will get (and for this reason, I have no opposition to young children without a great sense of balance wearing helmets). Still, worth reducing an impact, right?

    Well, no, possibly not if you're going to cause yourself rotational injuries. A collision will cause bruising to the brain in the part that hits the skull. If the head is twisted with force, however, there is the possibility of causing yourself very significant brain injuries, as the entire brain is literally turned within the skull. There is research that indicates, but does not prove, that helmets significantly increase the risk of rotational injuries. A direct collision with the ground gets turned by a helmet, and significant head injury results. Rather than "saving your life" in that awful collision, as an ED doctor might surmise, it could be doing you harm.

    A helmet is not a magic talisman that will protect you from danger. It is something that is designed to reduce the impact of a direct collision at low speed.

    Since most serious collisions with the ground result from accidents involving motorvehicles, the best way to reduce your risk is to avoid those collisions. There is evidence that both cyclists and drivers see a helmeted cyclist as "safer" and are less likely to give the room required - a study found that drivers gave much more room to unhelmeted cyclists, and that risk perceptions of unhelmeted cyclists were more accurate.

    Given that head injuries in cyclists in NZ stayed static while cycling decreased by 1/3 in the years immediately after the helmet law, and this has been seen elsewhere (Australia, in all states and territories, various Canadian territories), there's also some circumstantial evidence on this point.

    For all of the above reasons, I believe that I am actually safer riding on the road in general traffic without a helmet, than with one. Of course I take other efforts to improve my safety, such as good lights, reflectors, and riding in a manner that is likely to reduce the risk of collision.

    Yes, it seems that cycling without a helmet increases your chances of becoming a very healthy corpse.

    Now, to address the comments quoted above. Helmets were introduced in NZ after a series of tragic accidents, and a campaign from a distraught mother who had lost her child. The campaign was emotive, but it took what seemed like a reasonable solution. It wasn't however a decision based on evidence, and since then no evidence based review of the law and head injuries has taken place (to my knowledge). Helmets are promoted heavily by helmet companies, who have an obvious interest (although they refrain from making claims about the efficacy of their helmets that could be tested in a court of law). They are also promoted by governments, who see them as an easy fix to cycle safety. And since the 1990s they've been promoted by many cycling advocates, who figure the safety of their constituents is a good thing. If only it were so simple.

    *(for a standard US helmet - and I assume here most helmets sold in NZ are made to US specifications)

    The People's Republic of … • Since Nov 2006 • 2132 posts Report Reply

  • Paul Campbell,

    Umm Kyle, that wouldn't happen to be a relative (of mine) with the stick would it?

    Dunedin • Since Nov 2006 • 2120 posts Report Reply

  • George Darroch,

    I fantasize about the day we all live in a flat, bike-friendly, combustion-engine-rejecting utopia, where it never rains till after sundown, and we all ride everywhere at a leisurely pace on beautifully designed paths, wearing our prettiest clothes at all times. I mean, phwooaaaar.

    This seems to be the other counter-argument, frequently used in NZ, Australia and the US. 'It's all very well for those Europeans, but things are different here'. The reality is that these arguments are independent of the level of cycling.

    And when you have something that suppresses cycling as much as helmets do, and makes it an activity associated with "danger", then you'll never get there. It's a vicious cycle.

    The People's Republic of … • Since Nov 2006 • 2132 posts Report Reply

  • Roger Lacey,

    It's a vicious cycle.

    Oh no! Are vicious cycles another danger we've got protect ourselves from? I always thought of them as pretty benign.

    Whatakataka Bay Surf Club… • Since Apr 2008 • 118 posts Report Reply

  • tussock,

    So it's a much more complicated issue than it seems -- and very anti-intuitive!

    I think the helmet thing's pretty simple. They only protect you from concussions, scrapes, and bruising, and the latter only on the top of your head, which have no great health costs anyway, not over and above all the other scrapes, bruises, or broken collar bone or wrist you'll suffer in a bike crash.


    Helmets? Meh. Hydrate well, don't lock your elbows, try not to go over the bike, and slower is better. I rather like my helmet on amongst the trees though.

    Since Nov 2006 • 385 posts Report Reply

  • Grace Dalley,

    Given that head injuries in cyclists in NZ stayed static while cycling decreased by 1/3 in the years immediately after the helmet law,

    Does anyone have more recent figures? Could the numbers of cyclists have rebounded since?

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2008 • 138 posts Report Reply

  • David Haywood,

    Grace Dalley wrote:

    I get what you're saying, but aren't there NZ figures on numbers of people cycling since helmets were compulsory? Are they included in the stats you're talking about?

    Sure they are. In fact, studies of the situation in NZ have often been cited in other countries to argue against following NZ's lead on making cycle helmet laws compulsory.

    Here's a summary of the latest data from the LTSA over the period 1989-2006 (unfortunately the sampling doesn't straddle the compulsory cycle helmet laws any more conveniently than that):

    -- the number of cycling trips decreased by 51% from 181 to 89 million trips
    -- the total distance cycled decreased by 29%, from 3.5 to 2.5 hundred-million km

    And don't forget that the NZ population has increased significantly over this period.

    Since were talking about population statistics, we can only talk about average chances of having a fatal accident, and average chances of poor health as a result of average reduction in exercise.

    Of course -- sorry if I wasn't clear. I was using Jolisa's annoying helmetless cycle lady (that is, the helmetless cycle lady was annoying, not Jolisa) as a Jane Everywoman to make some generalized statements. Sorry if that was confusing.

    As you so rightly pointed out earlier, this says nothing about the individual.

    No actually, I was talking about a whole completely different thing (whether helmets are safe for individuals during a crash vs. the effect of the compulsory cycle helmet law on the whole population in terms of health).

    I begin to realize that I am completely and utterly crap at explaining any of this. Sorry folks!

    Dunsandel • Since Nov 2006 • 982 posts Report Reply

  • David Haywood,

    giovanni tiso wrote:

    Yes, it seems that cycling without a helmet increases your chances of becoming a very healthy corpse.

    No, that's not what I was saying at all -- quite the opposite. I assume that you're just messing with my brain now?

    Somebody told me recently about a surgeon who tastefully referred to cyclists as "donors"

    But cycling (with or without helmet) just isn't that dangerous. The UK figures (Office of Population Censuses and Surveys) rate tennis as four times more dangerous than cycling, horse-riding as 29 times more dangerous, and fishing as 41 times more dangerous (per capita per hour). I can't find such figures for NZ, alas.

    Seeing as you're circulating on the road, it's not just your business. If I'm driving (which I don't) and you split your skull on my windscreen, that's not going to improve my life either.

    Apart from the fact that -- as I said upthread-- cycle helmets aren't designed to protect you from accidents with motor vehicles, you're now getting into some quite complicated philosophy.

    So if a car runs into you, and the passengers suffer head injuries, and they weren't wearing crash helmets (and, by the way, the evidence that crash helmets reduce injuries in motor accidents is overwhelming -- that's why racing-drivers wear them), would you feel the same way? That the irresponsibility of the passengers in not wearing helmets has done you harm?

    And yes, I do know of a physicist who wears a helmet in his car for safety reasons during everyday driving. And yes, he thinks everyone should.

    Dunsandel • Since Nov 2006 • 982 posts Report Reply

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