Bike Share & Helmet Laws: Will It Blend?

By August 8, 2011 July 16th, 2015 9 Comments

Vélib is a portmanteau of Vélo & Liberté - Bicycle & Freedom, including Helmet Freedom... (Image credit: Let's Go Ride A Bike).

An article in today’s Courier Mail references the Barcelona study which we covered recently and compares it to Brisbane’s CityCycle scheme. Disappointingly they failed to cover the enormous overall health benefit of a public bicycle hire scheme – the main point of the study – in a country without helmet laws for its users!

The Courier Mail’s figures on subscription numbers are also misleading (annual subscription numbers can’t ‘plummet’ after only 3 months of operation). That aside, it is interesting to see that the helmet legislation is finally now being acknowledged as an impediment to potential users of the scheme, as Bicycle Queensland’s Andrew Demack states:

“Another barrier is helmets. In Australia, we have helmet laws and there is no getting around that. But we think not supplying helmets free is a barrier to casual use”

It is a pity that he claims that there is ‘no getting around’ the helmet legislation. This is simply not true and is quite a defeatist position for a bicycle advocacy group, particularly in light of the overwhelming evidence that helmet laws for cyclists do not actually improve cyclist safety. They need not be concerned about opposition as we are one of the few countries in the world that hold this position on bicycle helmet laws – we are the minority view. It is important that they get out of the mindset that opposing helmet laws is the same as opposing helmet use – it is not. Don’t forget our tagline.

Of course other factors are being blamed for the poor take-up (no on-the-spot signup, no credit card facilities) all of which have not been an issue for Melbourne, yet they’re seeing similar poor usage figures. We certainly welcome these changes to make it more accessible to casual users. The question is: how are they going to make it work with the helmet law?

What makes large, public bike hire schemes incompatible with compulsory helmet laws for bicyclists?

In Australia, in order to comply with the legislation and the standard (AS/NZS2063:2008) to which it refers, there are a number of technical challenges which make compliance with the law near impossible:

  • the helmet must be the correct size (there is no one-size-fits-all helmet unfortunately)
  • the helmet must be undamaged (even a minor impact leaving no evidence of such renders it illegal)
  • the helmet must not be exposed to UV light for extended periods (it must be stored in shade)
  • the helmets must not have any modifications to their design (ie. they can’t be legally ‘tethered’ to a bicycle)

While receiving much criticism, the solution offered by the team at Melbourne Bike Share at least complied with the legislation and the standard. They soon realised that they could not legally ‘recycle’ the helmets into subsequent use as they could not guarantee they were not damaged. Returned helmets are now discarded and not reused.


  • As the Supreme Overlord of Earth-based Cycling Organizations, I hereby order that Mr. Demack be immediately reassigned to washing dishes somewhere.

    It is clear that Alta Bicycle Share knew that the helmet-thing would be a chronic problem — and many months before starting they were already considering the 7-11 etc. thing — but while I suspect they knew that bike share would disrupt the helmet religion in Oz, I am sure they were mostly in this for the money. They could have created some solidarity construct with all other possible operators which would have them refuse to enter the competition unless the helmet law was scrapped. Alas and alack…. and, well, no, Alta Bicycle Share is now totally complicit in corporate helmet compulsion and needs to be the target of some lovely pies. Seriously, how can anyone trust them any more? (Really, I am talking about their parent, Alta Planning). It is all very sad and distracting.

    • paulmartin says:

      Yes, this was covered in Mike Rubbo’s film ‘Bike Share and Helmets Don’t Mix?’ – they saw it coming but chose to ignore it so they are as guilty. Now they’re doing everything they can to ensure that their original position was right (when it will never be)… including creating evidence to support their positions!.

  • Helmets optional says:

    I would make a couple of comments:
    1. The onus is on the cyclist to be wearing a properly fitted helmet – I’ve seen the yellow helmets that BCC hires and they are adjustable M-L. Presumably fits the 85th percentile of adult heads so a good option for many City Cyclists.
    2. If there is ‘no evidence’ of damage, I think it unlikely to be proven that a helmet was damaged when a rider put it on their head (even if it could be found to have contributed therefor towards an injury following wearing it). In any case, I imagine the onus will be on the wearer to check ..  maybe a disclaimer on the helmet? Leave it to the lawyers… Personally, I would report or perhaps not replace a helmet that I knew to be damaged- provided there is no charge for the user then a self-reporting system might work.
    3. I think the helmet must be durable when exposed to the elements (including UV) – I mean, some elite athletes wear their helmets for 8 hours/day, every day…. anyway – refer point 2.
    4. I don’t think the helmets will be modified.. just attached to the bike via the headstrap? Same way I do with my own helmet…

    Overall – I know I will probably make more trips on CityCycle than I do now (currently about 1/wk) – using the free helmets.

    PS – I would also lobby government to make helmets optional for adults… but I don’t blame BQ, Andrew Demack, CItyCycle or Melb Bikes for toeing the line.. until it affects the vote, no-one will pass it..

    PPS – I find it TERRIBLE that the Melb Bike scheme has “one-use” only helmets.. No way that is sustainable..

    • Luke Turner says:

      It will be very interesting to see how the free helmets idea works out. Personally I don’t think it will solve the problem. Will people want to wear a helmet that has been worn by hundreds of other people, that has been sitting out in the rain for months? I wouldn’t want to. They are not providing a helmet for each bike – what happens if you ride somewhere with a helmet and it’s gone when you get back to the station? You’re now stranded. People are going to be reluctant to use a system with this sort of uncertainty.

      Anyway we will have to wait and see – maybe these things won’t be a problem.

  • Anonymous says:

    Melbourne Bike Share have said on Twitter that they _will_ be cleaning and reusing the helmets:

    That’s at odds with what I was told the last time I asked (not on Twitter). Perhaps they’ve figured out a way to inspect them or are going down the path of just paying lip service to the law like CityCycle.

  • Anonymous says:

    And now Melbourne Bike Share have responded with: “Our people have undergone training from people who specialise in head safety gear and how to check for damage.”

    So good news everyone, the last few decade of experts telling us it’s not possible to inspect them were wrong! Hopefully Melbourne Bike Share will let us all in on the secret process that ensures they’re still good.

  • James says:

    As a Melbournian visiting Barcelona last month, I thought it was remarkable how many people were on share bikes considering:
      1  The road infrastructure is not particular bike friendly (much more like an Australian city than say Copenhagen)
      2  Crazy “anything goes” drivers (though perhaps not as aggressive as our Hilux driving bogans)
      3  Tourists are excluded from using the bike share, presumably to avoid putting the numerous bike hire companies out of business.

    Just goes to show what is possible when helmet laws don’t get in the way.

    • Luke Turner says:

      I was in Barcelona last year and thought the same thing. Bicing has really been embraced by a lot of people there, not just “keen cyclists”.  Amazing stuff. If only people could understand that repealing the helmet law is not equivalent to banning people from wearing helmets. It’s just recognising that for certain people in certain situations (ie bike share) it’s perfectly safe to ride without one, and we shouldn’t be throwing away a great way of getting around because of this blind adherence to a law that virtually nowhere else has adopted.

  • Kerry from Melbourne says:

    From visits to London a year apart, just before the hire scheme started and just a few weeks ago, I think it has had a remarkable effect. London can never be accused of being an overly cycling friendly city, yet I think the loads of people riding around on the hire bikes have changed driver’s behaviour for the better. In the month I was there, I only had one kind of near incident with a mini-cab (about 800% less incidents than I would normally expect over that time period.)

    I would estimate that 50-75% of cyclists in London do wear helmets, which seems to be an indication of the general unsafeness that most cyclists feel there. Yet, of all the people riding hire bikes, I would guess I saw maybe 1-2% wearing helmets. That would seem to indicate that cycling does seem safe enough without a helmet to all of them. But if they were all forced to wear helmets, would the London scheme then fare as badly as the Australian ones?

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