Two of our members had a short break in Byron Bay this year (2014).

They had heard about the helmetless bike riding there so thought they would check it out for themselves with a 5 day utility cycling holiday.  Here is their report:

The front cover of the tourist ‘Byron guide’, available everywhere, features two images on its front cover. One is a male and the other a female bike rider without helmets riding through empty streets. This tells us two things. That the image of helmetless cycling is good for tourism as is a car-free streetscape.

Byron Bay delivered on the first of these with helmet free cycling being completely normalised. The traffic however, was very Australian, with most holiday makers and locals choosing the car as their preferred mode of transport. I wouldn’t be prepared to guess at modal share but it was not as high as I’d hoped.

To summarise consider the following observations:

Over 80% of bike riders went without helmets
More than 50% of bike riders were women
Infrastructure was no better than the Australian average – poor
Drivers seemed to be far more courteous and careful than normal. I saw no road rage or conflict. Only once did someone yell ‘where’s your helmet’
Female cyclists rode in the traffic, without helmets and apparently without anxiety.

It is often said that women will not cycle without good infrastructure.While my observations require further empirical research, it seems that the presence of so many unhelmeted and female cyclists had begun a cultural shift in driver behaviour that made it safe enough for many women to ride.

The photos above don’t really do justice to the variety and style of the everyday cycling I witnessed . It was a delight – like being in another country.

2 Comments

  • john says:

    Because we ride helmetless in Byron Bay doesn’t mean that its legal!
    The cops still target locals with fines, “….the tourists don’t have to pay the fine…”, so its still not normalised sufficiently.

  • Harvey says:

    ​Interesting observations. The absence of helmets changes the behavior of motorists. There is evidence that wearing a helmet leads to motorists being less cautious around cyclists. Cyclists wearing helmets tend to take more risks. This is called risk compensation, a well-known phenomenon.

    We shouldn’t be surprised that the rate of accidents increased after the helmet law was introduced in Australia.
    Yet that dangerous side-effect of the helmet law has been ignored by helmet fanatics. They live in a fantasy world where wearing a helmet doesn’t affect cyclists behavior, doesn’t affect motorists behavior, and doesn’t discourage cycling.
    Helmet fanatics keep publishing “studies” claiming that bicycle helmet prevent 60% of serious injuries. If that were true, it would be a miracle for a piece of polystyrene, and Australia wouldn’t have one of the highest rate of cycling injuries in the world.
    The helmet law is not just wrong. It’s plain stupid. The increased accident rate outweighs the “protection” provided by polystyrene hats. No wonder the rest of the world has shunned Australia’s “lead”.

    The stupidity is plain to see in Byron Bay. There are very few cycling accidents. Cycling is safe. Yet one of the few cyclists consistently wearing bicycle helmets are the cycling taxicab drivers. They are not stupid. They are only doing it to avoid being harassed by the cops. Yet what message does this send?
    “I’m engaged in such a dangerous activity that it requires wearing a polystyrene hat. However, my passengers don’t have to wear one.”. That makes perfect sense, imposing fake safety of the taxicab driver but not on the passengers.
    This is cycling safety according to the bureaucrats. Surprised it doesn’t work?

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