Save the planet -- ban cycle helmets

24 August 2009

Save the planet - ban cycle helmets

Ethical Consumer has a feature called “Love this, ban that!” which asks an assortment of the green and the good which saintly products they love and which evil ones they’d ban. Sadly, no-one took the opportunity to challenge the premise that banning things is the best way to steer society down a more sustainable path and to allay the well-founded suspicion among many outside the green ghetto that environmentalists tend to be ban-happy authoritarians.

Inexplicably, Ethical Consumer didn’t contact me to take part in their survey but I’d like to nominate the bicycle as my favourite “ethical consumer product” and the cycle helmet for an immediate, total ban backed up with the full force and violence of the criminal justice system.

I hope that choosing the bicycle as my preferred product needs little explanation or justification but my putative ban on cycle helmets might be a little more problematic. For a long time I’ve harboured the suspicion in my more paranoid moments that there’s some kind of collusion between the road/oil lobby and elements of the cycling fraternity to ensure that cycling in Britain remains a marginalised, unpleasant and largely despised activity.

For those of us looking to travel between around a mile and eight miles without an extreme amount of cargo, the bike should be the default the choice. Done right, cycling is convenient, cheap, safe, accessible, fun and sustianable.

Done right.

It’s not possible to uninvent the bicycle but if Shadowy Forces wanted to minimise the number of people cycling so as to benefit their Evil Agenda they’d probably want to chip away at all the things that make cycling potentially great so as to diminish the whole experience. If you can’t ban it, knacker it.

Here’s how to do it:

Cycling is cheap? Can’t have that. Now, let’s see. Let’s start at the obvious place by making bikes more expensive. Load them with features that cost more to build (complex braking systems, gears, suspension) and require expensive expert maintenance rather than DIY. Turn the bike from an everyday utilitarian thing, a utensil, and make it a product. Desirable. Fashionable. Consumerable. There’s a lot of choice, so shop around. Read reviews. Get recommendations. Worry, because it matters. Who’d want to be seen riding a cheap bike? An unfashionable bike? A tatty bike? Now accessorise. That expensive bike needs an expensive lock – or two. Got to protect your investment. Buy insurance. (Shop around, shop around.) Compare the tensile strengths and style options and get a helmet. A bone dome. A skid lid. Don’t be cheap – your skull could depend on it. Get a hi-viz jacket that’s more breathable than a string vest and only fifty times the price. Padded shorts for that tiny, bony saddle. Special shoes to couple perfectly with your special pedals. A messenger bag from this week’s premium brand.

Here’s the safety strategy: Make it less safe and make it feel less safe. The best way to make cycling less safe is for cyclists to ride faster. Encourage this wherever possible. Forget ambling, casual, pedestrian images of cycling. Emphasise sport, fitness, competition. Measure speed. Sell speedometers and odometers. Get people to monitor their performance. Track their MPH, their heartrates, their calories, their carbon footprints. Compare with others. Compete. Idolise road racers, couriers, extreme mountain bikers, BMXers. Alleycatters. Lance Armstrong. Jump the red light. Race other cyclists. Race cars. Race the clock. Race, race. It’s not fun unless you’re taking risks. Life is one big risk, right? Cycling just got a whole lot more dangerous for the sake of a marginal shortening of the average journey. Ohh, wipeout. Nice one.

Now the perception of safety. Talk about safety, safety, safety so everyone thinks danger, danger, danger. Don’t show images of cyclists without helmets, especially not children. Never children. Sending your children out on bikes without helmets is tantamount to child abuse. Don’t you care? Don’t you care about the children? Would you send them out to their deaths? Photos of cyclists without helmets are like images of people with cigarettes. Historical documents. Anachronisms. Forbidden outside the intellectual safety of the academy. Be safe, be seen. Hi viz. Yellow jacket, yellow jersey. £100 lights that can dazzle shipping 20 miles off the coast. Lumens. Got to get more lumens. You need a bell? You need a foghorn. Radar. Missiles, if you could get them. And you need training, because it’s a war out there. Drivers hate you. Pedestrians hate you. Other cyclists hate you. The law is indifferent, the police don’t care. Every other road user will kill you if they get a chance. Unless you get trained. Unless you can stay one step ahead of them. Unless you can get them first. So you go to boot camp. You get trained. You are approved. You are a Cyclist. You feel a little bit safer in that dangerous place. Until you see the ghost bike. Don’t be a statistic like the pallid, mangled wreck chained to the lamppost at the roundabout. Don’t be a victim. Go faster. Be a winner. Beat them.

Do you smell? People shouldn’t smell. If you cycle, if you cycle fast, you’ll smell. You’ll need a shower. Does your workplace have showers? No? Don’t cycle. Does the pub have showers? No? Don’t cycle. Does the shopping centre have showers? No? Please, don’t cycle.

But if you don’t mind smelling, you can’t cycle to work because they don’t have lockers. You need a locker for your helmet. Your jacket. Your padded shorts. Your special shoes that couple so, so perfectly with your special pedals. Your quick-release (eezy-steal) saddle. Your lights and all their lumens. Your handlebar computer with its data, its intimate knowledge of your body, your performance, your lifestyle. Your hydration system. Your lock. You worry about your lock. It cost more than your first bike. And the bike itself? That needs a CCTV-monitored, thumbprint-secured, climate-controlled vault. A lamppost won’t do because your bike takes a month’s work to buy but only a minute or two to steal.

Are you fat? Don’t cycle. You don’t, do you? Fit people cycle. Fat people do not cycle. (Fat people do not swim. Fat people do not run. Soon, fat people will not walk.) Cycling is about fitness. Fat people, un-fit people, do not cycle. Fat people look ridiculous on bikes. Fat people look crap in lycra. Fat people look even more fat in lycra, if such a tragically hilarious thing could be possible. Fat people can only go slowly but cyclists must go fast. They must race. They must perform. They must compete. Fat people are not fast off the lights. Fat people do not look like Lance Fuckingarmfuckingstrong. Fat people must enshroud themselves in cars as a prophylactic against polite society’s sight of their ungainly self-propelled movement. Fat people must squeeze themselves onto buses and trains and tubes with all the other huffers and puffers, the children and the old people, the timid and the nearly dead. They say obese but you read fat. People like you are an epidemic. You are contagious and the things you must do to make the rest of us safe you are not allowed to do. If you are fat, don’t cycle. You don’t, do you?

Cycle helmets are the most visible and potent symbol of all that’s wrong with Britain’s (anti-)cycling culture. Cycle helmets say we cannot cycle without the right precautions, the right equipment, the right infrastructure, the right training. Cycle helmets say there must be more to cycling than a person, two wheels and the surface of the Earth. Let’s ban them now before it’s too late. Let’s lock up all the people who buy them, who sell them, who use them. Let’s drag them off to jail in handcuffs, in tears.

You’re free to republish/copy this article under the Creative Commons Attribution licence provided you credit me (Adrian Short) and give a link back to the original article. Thanks.

_This article is now available as audio in two parts on AudioBoo. _

Ethical Consumer has a feature called Love this, ban that! which asks an assortment of the green and the good which saintly products they love and which evil ones they’d ban. Sadly, only Mayor Boris took the opportunity to challenge the premise that banning things is the best way to steer society down a more sustainable path and to allay the well-founded suspicion among many outside the green ghetto that environmentalists tend to be ban-happy authoritarians.

Inexplicably, Ethical Consumer didn’t contact me to take part in their survey but I’d like to nominate the bicycle as my favourite “ethical consumer product” and the cycle helmet for an immediate, total ban backed up with the full force and violence of the criminal justice system.

I hope that choosing the bicycle as my preferred product needs little explanation or justification but my proposed ban on cycle helmets might be a little more problematic. For a long time I’ve harboured the suspicion in my more paranoid moments that there’s some kind of collusion between the road/oil lobby and elements of the cycling fraternity to ensure that cycling in Britain remains a marginalised, unpleasant and largely despised activity.

For those of us looking to travel between around a mile and eight miles without an extreme amount of cargo, the bike should be the default choice. Done right, cycling is convenient, cheap, safe, accessible, fun and sustianable.

Done right.

It’s not possible to uninvent the bicycle but if Shadowy Forces wanted to minimise the number of people cycling so as to benefit their Evil Agenda they’d probably want to chip away at all the things that make cycling potentially great so as to diminish the whole experience. If you can’t ban it, knacker it.

Here’s how to do it:

Cycling is cheap? Can’t have that. Now, let’s see. Let’s start at the obvious place by making bikes more expensive. Load them with features that cost more to build (complex braking systems, gears, suspension) and require expensive expert maintenance rather than DIY. Turn the bike from an everyday utilitarian thing, a utensil, and make it a product. Desirable. Fashionable. Consumerable. There’s a lot of choice, so shop around. Read reviews. Get recommendations. Worry, because it matters. Who’d want to be seen riding a cheap bike? An unfashionable bike? A tatty bike? Now accessorise. That expensive bike needs an expensive lock – or two. Got to protect your investment. Buy insurance. (Shop around, shop around.) Compare the tensile strengths and style options and get a helmet. A bone dome. A skid lid. Don’t be cheap – your skull could depend on it. Get a hi-viz jacket that’s more breathable than a string vest and only fifty times the price. Padded shorts for that tiny, bony saddle. Special shoes to couple perfectly with your special pedals. A messenger bag from this week’s premium brand.

Here’s the safety strategy: Make it less safe and make it feel less safe. The best way to make cycling less safe is for cyclists to ride faster. Encourage this wherever possible. Forget ambling, casual, pedestrian images of cycling. Emphasise sport, fitness, competition. Measure speed. Sell speedometers and odometers. Get people to monitor their performance. Track their MPH, their heartrates, their calories, their carbon footprints. Compare with others. Compete. Idolise road racers, couriers, extreme mountain bikers, BMXers. Alleycatters. Lance Armstrong. Jump the red light. Race other cyclists. Race cars. Race the clock. Race, race. It’s not fun unless you’re taking risks. Life is one big risk, right? Cycling just got a whole lot more dangerous for the sake of a marginal shortening of the average journey. Ohh, wipeout. Nice one.

Now the perception of safety. Talk about safety, safety, safety so everyone thinks danger, danger, danger. Don’t show images of cyclists without helmets, especially not children. Never children. Sending your children out on bikes without helmets is tantamount to child abuse. Don’t you care? Don’t you care about the children? Would you send them out to their deaths? Photos of cyclists without helmets are like images of people with cigarettes. Historical documents. Anachronisms. Forbidden outside the intellectual safety of the academy. Be safe, be seen. Hi viz. Yellow jacket, yellow jersey. £100 lights that can dazzle shipping 20 miles off the coast. Lumens. Got to get more lumens. You need a bell? You need a foghorn. Radar. Missiles, if you could get them. And you need training, because it’s a war out there. Drivers hate you. Pedestrians hate you. Other cyclists hate you. The law is indifferent, the police don’t care. Every other road user will kill you if they get a chance. Unless you get trained. Unless you can stay one step ahead of them. Unless you can get them first. So you go to boot camp. You get trained. You are approved. You are a Cyclist. You feel a little bit safer in that dangerous place. Until you see the ghost bike. Don’t be a statistic like the pallid, mangled wreck chained to the lamppost at the roundabout. Don’t be a victim. Go faster. Be a winner. Beat them.

Do you smell? People shouldn’t smell. If you cycle, if you cycle fast, you’ll smell. You’ll need a shower. Does your workplace have showers? No? Don’t cycle. Does the pub have showers? No? Don’t cycle. Does the shopping centre have showers? No? Please, don’t cycle.

If you don’t mind smelling, you can’t cycle to work because they don’t have lockers. You need a locker for your helmet. Your jacket. Your padded shorts. Your special shoes that couple so, so perfectly with your special pedals. Your quick-release (eezy-steal) saddle. Your lights and all their lumens. Your handlebar computer with its data, its intimate knowledge of your body, your performance, your lifestyle. Your hydration system. Your lock. You worry about your lock. It cost more than your first bike. And the bike itself? That needs a CCTV-monitored, thumbprint-secured, climate-controlled vault. A lamppost won’t do because your bike takes a month’s work to buy but only a minute or two to steal.

Are you fat? Don’t cycle. You don’t, do you? Fit people cycle. Fat people do not cycle. (Fat people do not swim. Fat people do not run. Soon, fat people will not walk.) Cycling is about fitness. Fat people, un-fit people, do not cycle. Fat people look ridiculous on bikes. Fat people look crap in lycra. Fat people look even more fat in lycra, if such a tragically hilarious thing could be possible. Fat people can only go slowly but cyclists must go fast. They must race. They must perform. They must compete. Fat people are not fast off the lights. Fat people do not look like Lance Fuckingarmfuckingstrong. Fat people must enshroud themselves in cars as a prophylactic against polite society’s sight of their ungainly self-propelled movement. Fat people must squeeze themselves onto buses and trains and tubes with all the other huffers and puffers, the children and the old people, the timid and the nearly dead. They say obese but you read fat. People like you are an epidemic. You are contagious and the things you must do to make the rest of us safe you are not allowed to do. Fat is getting thinner all the time. If you are fat, don’t cycle. You don’t, do you?

Cycle helmets are the most visible and potent symbol of all that’s wrong with Britain’s (anti-)cycling culture. Cycle helmets say we cannot cycle without the right precautions, the right equipment, the right infrastructure, the right training. Cycle helmets say there must be more to cycling than a person, two wheels and the surface of the Earth. Cycle helmets say that cycling is more dangerous than not cycling. Let’s ban them now before it’s too late. Let’s lock up all the people who buy them, who sell them, who use them. Let’s drag them off to jail in handcuffs, in tears.