AGM 2012 Motion: Decline to promote events dominated by helmets & hi-viz

Proposer: Simon Nuttall
Heather Coleman


At the AGM on 6 November 2012 the following motion was passed by a vote of 44 to 10 (with 6 abstentions) :

“Cambridge Cycling Campaign supports all cyclists as they go about their lawful business on the public road. We note that the law does not require helmets or high visibility clothing. The image of cyclists presented to the public has become so strongly skewed towards riders wearing those items that the legitimacy and status of those who do not wear them is being undermined. In order to help restore the balance the campaign reserves the right to decline to promote events or activities where helmets or high visibility clothing are required or implied.”


(This does not form part of the motion itself.)

2012 has been a terrific year for cycling in Britain. Our first Tour de France winner in 100 years, and a string of successes in the Olympic and Paralympic Games that will have inspired a new generation to get involved in cycling.

The dominant image presented to the public during these events is of the helmeted, lycra-clad rider speeding through hundreds of miles of deserted streets to cheering crowds. The reality of the day to day utility rider going about their business sharing the road space with heavy traffic has just not been represented.

Cycling is a safe activity. We can put it like that so simply because you are more likely to extend your life by cycling than to shorten it. The benefit ratio is 20 to one.

The debate about cycle helmets has rumbled on for 20 years or more since some early research papers made bold claims about their effectiveness. Those early claims did not stand up to scrutiny, and as time has passed the debate has widened to encompass the broader aspect of the health benefits of an active society. Government commissioned reports about the issue have failed to come down on one side or the other. We have the “Safety in numbers” argument in which the more people cycle, the safer it becomes. We benefit from that phenomenon in Cambridge.

When Bradley Wiggins appeared to concede that cyclists who don’t wear helmets expose themselves to being held responsible for their own demise, the press jumped on this and claimed he was calling for helmet compulsion. He tweeted a retraction that he was specifically not saying that.

It is getting harder to find pictures of ordinary looking cyclists wearing ordinary clothes in central government publications, local government publications and even holiday brochures. There have been some exceptions such as Transport for London’s ‘Catch up with the bicycle’ campaign, and after a long battle with Cambridgeshire County Council at last we have a photo on the front of the cycle map which is representative of the majority of Cambridge’s cyclists.

The time has come to put down a marker that sends out the message that we want ordinary everyday cyclists to be better represented in the media. The Lothian Cycling Campaign, Spokes, have taken a lead here and decided to stop promoting events in which helmets dominate.

The most effective way to improve safety, particularly for general inexperienced riders, is cycle training. This is readily available both locally and nationally, see here.