2015 July

We ride bikes

We ride bikes because it’s easy.  Because it’s cheap.  Because it’s fast, reliable, fun and healthy. We stop and talk to people we know, we wave as we go past. If it rains, we put on a raincoat. If it’s hot, we put on sunscreen. If it’s heavy, we have a rack or a basket. If it’s a baby, we have a child seat.

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We have a car. We are too young to drive. We are too old to drive. We never got our licence. Some trips we use the car, taxi, bike, train, walk.

We are girls, we are women, we are men, we are boys. We have kids, we would like them to be safe.

We ride a bike to get to school, to get to work, to the shops, to see our granny, to catch a train, to buy a coffee, to get some exercise. Sometimes we ride because it’s fun.

We get scared when a car goes too close, too fast. Big trucks are terrifying. We wait at traffic lights because… cars. We ride on the footpath because the road is not safe. We ride on the footpath because the road is clogged up with cars. We ride through red lights when it’s safer than waiting. We wear a helmet. We don’t wear a helmet.

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We get that cars kill people, bikes rarely do. We get that bikes aren’t noisy. We get that bikes don’t give people lung cancer. We get that bikes don’t do climate change or make photochemical smog.

We get why you don’t ride. We get that you don’t ever want to. We get that you would ride if there was a safe bike path. We get asked about riding because people think it’s complicated. We get told off because somebody rode through a red light.

We get it.

Why cycling without a helmet is good for everyone

If you ride a bicycle and you choose to wear a helmet, there may be a benefit to you in you crash.
However if you choose not to wear a helmet, the overall health outcome for you is positive and you are saving the taxpayer money. That’s because the health benefits of riding a bicycle outweigh all the risks by a large factor. For example an article in the British Medical Journal compares the health benefit of riding public share bikes with the risks and finds a large net benefit.  The British Medical Association publication “Cycling: Towards Health and Safety”. Oxford University Press; 1992. found that “in spite of the hostile environment in which most cyclists currently ride, the benefits in terms of health promotion and longevity far outweigh the loss of life years in injury on the roads.” Bicycling: Health Risk or Benefit? reported “Benefit to risk ratios ranged between 9 to 1 and 96 to 1.” in a range of studies. Note that helmet wearing rates are far below Australia’s for these studies.

In “Physical Activity in Australia: A Snapshot, 2007-08“, the Australian Bureau of Statistics estimated that the direct health care costs due to physical inactivity in Australia were almost $1.5 billion in 2006-07.

Cycling in the Netherlands, where helmet wearing is rare, saves the health budget 3% of GDP, see Dutch Cycling: Quantifying the Health and Related Economic Benefits.

So when you see someone riding a bicycle without a helmet, you can be glad they are saving you money.  By the way, the health benefits of riding are approximately 50% of the total benefits (the other benefits include congestion, pollution etc).

Next time somebody tells you that you should pay your own health costs if you ride without a helmet, ask whether people who don’t ride a bicycle should pay a lot more than that towards the higher health costs due to inactivity.

Take action today and start enjoying the ride! Read more