Opinion: Cycle Helmet Wearing and the CTC

The August/September edition of Cycle, the magazine of the Cycle Touring Club (CTC) arrived with me today.  It contains an article, “Hats off to Boris and co” which starts with the declaration that, “CTC has adopted a policy of openly supporting celebrities and politicians who choose to cycle without helmets….”

This is a new one on me.  I knew CTC championed freedom of choice regarding helmets.  This is a policy (leaving it as a matter for the individual) I can live with, although my personal preference is to wear a helmet at all times – along with a day glow jacket or gillet.  In truth, I’d have no great difficulty with making helmets compulsory, but that is another matter and, as I say, I am content with a CTC policy of leaving it to the rider’s personal preference.  This I see as a neutral stance by the CTC on what is truly an oddly emotive issue.

A bike helmet
A bike helmet (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In choosing to ‘openly support’ celebrities who ride without helmets, however, I feel that the CTC are abandoning the neutral ‘choose for yourself’ position and are in effect campaigning against helmet wear.  Indeed most of the article is given over to reviewing ‘the data’  that suggest that there is a net health gain in promoting more cycling in the general public that would be lost to reduced if helmet wearing is promoted or made compulsory.  In choosing to cycle helmet-less, celebrities are, we are told, presenting positive role models and helping to present cycling as a normal, safe, everyday activity.

CTC Bath en-route to Birthday Tea at Pendennis...
CTC Bath en-route to Birthday Tea at Pendennis Castle (Photo credit: velodenz)

I dislike this stance.  I object to the suggestion that by choosing to wear a helmet routinely I am somehow contributing  to the view that cycling is not normal, nor safe, nor an everyday activity.  For me it is all of these things: I just don’t happen to have the article author’s hangup that wearing a helmet is a big deal.  When we first started cycling my wife and I were wary of going into restaurants in our lycra shorts and day glows: now we just take the view – we are cyclists, this is what cyclists wear for comfort, so the rest of the world needs to deal with it.

The article ends with a statement that the CTC will be contacting councils and other organisations asking them to promote images of helmet-less cyclists as, ‘it is counter-productive to public health to persuade cyclists to wear helmets against their will.”  I think this last point gives the game away.  CTC’s worry is about compulsion: the public health argument wears pretty thin pretty quickly.

I am a CTC member and imagine I’ll stay one, but on this matter they don’t speak for me.  How about you?


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