Diatribe: Sighclists

Cyclists. Bane of every driver’s existence and most certainly that of pedestrians. And yet no matter how much you toot and swear or throw filthy looks in their direction for cutting you off on a green light, they’re still out there making you feel bad about your carbon footprint and saggy arse. And no matter how great their egos and how many pennies you could ping off their buttocks, they’re still out their hitting the roads in the worst way possible.

This was highlighted in a recent case where a cyclist was killed by an official London2012 bus for ferrying athletes to and from the Olympic park. In the course of everyday events in London, a jumper in front of a train (aka “severe delays on the Northern Line”) doesn’t warrant a mention in even the daily free papers, let alone a cyclist killed in a city where millions commute every day on packed, illogical, virtually medieval streets. But Lo! With Olympian cyclist hero to the masses Bradley Wiggins nearby, an interview was to be had. He suggests that there are those planning safer roads, but that the main solution is just for cyclists and motorists to be nice to each other.

Oh, and, (unquote) “Wiggins said he would like to see the introduction of a law making it compulsory to wear cycling helmets.”

Wait, what? We all know that NZ is ahead of the times in certain legal issues (women’s vote, de facto laws, legalised prostitution, civil union, and the impending same-sex marriage bill), and as such I don’t expect the UK to be right on our rear wheels. And yet, I knew, just knew, that I had never in my life ridden a bike without a helmet. I exclaimed to my friends that it must have been 20 YEARS since this law came into effect to make this true. And I wasn’t too far off. In 1994, Part 11 of the Land Transport (Road User) Rule 2004 (SR 2004/427), stated that “A person must not ride, or be carried on, a bicycle on a road unless the person is wearing a safety helmet of an approved standard that is securely fastened.”

I was too young to remember how this all went down, but considering kiwis had already endured the horror of seatbelts in vehicles since 1972, I can’t imagine it was all too much of a calamity. And by this paranoid, germ-fearing, obsessive-compulsively-fearful time it’s actually looking pretty good: “A 2011 survey by the New Zealand Ministry of Transport found the national cycle helmet wearing rate, covering all age groups, to be 93%, the same as found in 2010 and up from the 92% rate seen in 2007–2009” (thanks Wikipedia!).

The Wiggins thing got me thinking. That was obvious – it happened there, he was there, he was big news already. If they’d pushed it more maybe it could have been the start of a major campaign. But soon-to-be-Sir Wiggins probably had too much going on just then, and the journos had a whole lot of world records to cover. So what could make a difference here?

If celebs won’t do it, then maybe big time sponsorship? “Nike Helmets: now you don’t have to sacrifice style for safety” or “Nike Helmets: Just Do It (safely).” Ahem. Ridiculous thing is that Nike tick or a Fluro pink option could certainly help matters (pretty sure all my bike helmets have been lime green – it was the 90s). But then again, cyclists aren’t always the most style-conscious. There seem to be three camps (cycle-delivery people excluded): Those who wear their all-day clothes on a bike and transport a Mr Bean-esque aura; those who wear the full athlete get-up and then presumably change (and maybe even shower) at work; and then, sigh, those who saunter somewhere between. Say, full suit with pants tucked into sneakers. Or perhaps business dress tucked into cycle pants. I’ve seen these type-3s change on the very side of the road because gawd forbid their office mates see their get-ups! Never mind the rest of us though.

Perhaps then a shock and awe campaign? The NZ drink driving campaigns are jaw droppingly legendary among kiwis for their gore and consequences-of-your-behaviour direct approach. Despite the fear that they would be too appalling to actually have an impact, the stats and trends and surveys showed that this was not the case. And the ability to move with the times and use different cultural approaches and humour (“you know I can’t take your ghost chips bro”) has proved ultimately positive and successful and – most importantly in the social-networking era – viral.

So what will it take for the UK? It’s hard to know in a country this size how many deaths will make the difference. Perhaps in this amazing moment in history we could ask how many celebrities could make the difference on their behalf? We have just seen the apex of physical achievement by both able-bodied and disabled people from around the world. This is the splinter of time that those ‘heroes’ can make a difference, for we know that their stars will have faded by Christmas.

Imagine the campaigns – team up the greatest cycling champions, able and disabled, with those injured cycling. Have them speak on what cycling means to them, and, for some, how wearing a helmet could have changed the course of their lives.


P.S. bet you thought this’d be a diatribe on bloody cyclists not obeying the bloody road rules at bloody pedestrian crossings (*shakes fist*). Well, I have to say, sometimes I would bloody love to clothesline them… if only they were wearing a bloody helmet.

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