/ Travel & Leisure

Should Boris’s cycle scheme require helmets?

Helmet hanging on bike's handlebars

With Boris’s bikes tearing up London’s streets, the scheme is sure to go from strength to strength. But aren’t they missing something – a little hard hat to protect cyclist’s fragile heads?

London’s new bike hire scheme started rolling a couple of weeks ago, with thousands of us saddling up alongside bumbling Mayor Boris Johnson.

Boris praises the scheme – which will soon include casual as well as registered cyclists – declaring that it’ll make London the world’s best cycling city. The Which? Car team is out testing the system and will soon reveal whether it’s everything we’ve hoped for.

But there have been questions over whether the scheme should require helmets. The streets of London are dangerous places and I already shudder when I see cycling commuters with their uncovered heads free to hit the tarmac.

Of course, it’d be impractical to add helmet hire to Boris’s bikes. Theft and different head sizes would put such an addition out of the question. And requiring helmets would leave many casual users and tourists unable to use the bikes.

But surely more should be done promote wearing helmets? That is, more than just the words ‘consider wearing a cycle helmet’ on the scheme’s website and promotional material?

I was more worried that a newspaper ad for the scheme featured six cyclists riding the chunky bikes, and only one was wearing a helmet. That’s hardly encouraging safety.

How long will it be until a cyclist gets knocked down and their head’s cracked open? How will the world see London’s beloved cycle scheme then?

Should Boris's cycle scheme require helmets?

Neither - the scheme should further promote helmet use, but not require them (51%, 43 Votes)

Yes - untrained cyclists shouldn't be unprotected on London streets (30%, 25 Votes)

No - it would destroy the cycle scheme's usefulness (19%, 16 Votes)

Total Voters: 84

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Enough of the ever-extending nanny state! If you want to wear a helmet, feel free – but don’t inflict personal preferences on others.

ziggy says:
10 August 2010

So I presume you think they should be able to be on their mobile phones while they ride as well then?

Lucy S says:
11 August 2010

I’m guessing your dislike of the nanny state doesn’t extend to the NHS which picks up the tab to deal with head injuries sustained from “helmetless” falls?


I’ve seen a lot of Boris’ bikes being used, which is a good sign. I think providing or hiring helmets is too difficult to police. Somebody would need to make sure the right size was available and that all helmets were in good condition.

Maybe the problem is less with the helmet provision and more with London’s poor cycle route provision. Having buses, motorbikes and cyclists sharing the same lane feels pretty scary at times.


I agree – London’s cycle routes are so patchy, and now they’ve introduced a new blue cycle highway to add to the confusion. If we had a better network of routes and lanes didn’t get cut-off mid way along busy roads it’d be a whole lot safer.

Peter Vaughan says:
11 August 2010

With all the extra cyclists on the London streets, my friends in the city tell me that it is a lot more dangerous now for those on two wheels. Anyone who does not wear a helmet is therefore in greater danger than before Boris’ scheme took effect. I am also told that the bikes are very heavy, even more so with the basket full, and not very manoeuverable in the heaviest traffic. You really need to be able to make decisive pedalling decisions and act quickly in the most congested areas of London. These new bikes are rather a liability. How long will it be before one of the newspapers gives Boris a good kicking because of the number of cycling accidents?

laura says:
12 August 2010

Ziggy – helmets don’t stop you getting into accidents. Don’t confuse measures that avoid accidents (cycling safely) with measures that have a (statistically small) chance of helping if you are in an accident.


@ Peter Vaughn
What do your ‘friends in the city’ know about cycling in London? Do they cycle in London? Have they done and conducted research? Why is their opinion so important to you?

And from what they’d told you, how do you then make the leap that the lack of a helmet puts cyclists in any greater danger?

The London bike share scheme has been going for more than six weeks now. Perhaps you can point to evidence of the carnage caused by a lack of provided helmets. I must say, I’ve not seen any, even from the day of the tube strike on which the hire bikes were used for some 24,000 journeys.

Similar bike hire schemes in Montreal and Dublin, though smaller, have been running for much longer and have yet to produce the cyclist armageddon you predict for London. Meanwhile, in Melbourne, Australia, which also operates a bike hire scheme, the state’s helmet laws have rendered the scheme virtually unused and very likely unviable.

In contrast to what your friends say, it’s been well documented that the more cyclists there are around, the safer they all are as drivers become more aware of them and get used to sharing road space with them. Look it up.

@ Patrick Steen
I’m certain that some years ago Which? carried test reports on, and recommended, bicycle helmets. My own helmet (which now permanently hangs, unused, inside the cupboard where I store my bikes) was bought on one such recommendation in Which?. Since I hung it up I’ve managed many years’ head-injury-free bicycle commuting in London.

My question is – if bike helmets are so important and efficacious, and if you’re to be believed, essential for bike riding, why does Which? no longer continue to test and recommend them? Could it be that you can’t make recommendations with a clear conscience on something you know is relatively ineffective in preventing injury? The published statistics don’t exactly back up the case for helmets, after all.


@ ziggy
Why not try reading what John Pope actually said, rather than presuming he said something else entirely?

@ Lucy
Do you think the NHS should withhold its services from everyone who finds themselves needing medical attention, whether it’s their fault or not? Sports people, children, pregnant mums? Where are you happy to draw the line?


Thanks for your comment about reviewing cycle helmets. This is a question for the Which? Cars team and I’ve passed it on to them.



At Which? we do think bicycle helmets are important and we do recommend that people wear them. We’ve tested them in the past, and are planning to look at cycling again in 2011, so hope to cover them then.


The charity Brake has called for helmets to be included with Boris’s cycle scheme after it found that six people have been injured since it began. Though this is six people after 750,000 journeys.


The Wald says:
8 March 2011


C.S., lived a long life, but died from heart failure at the brink of the millennium. No one really knows how old he was, his birth records were long ago entangled in miles and miles of bureaucratic red tape.

Known affectionately to close friends by many names, he selflessly devoted himself to a life of service in homes, schools, hospitals and offices, helping folks get jobs done without a lot of fanfare, whooping and hollering. Rules and regulations and petty, frivolous lawsuits were never able to touch C.S.

A most reliable sage, he was credited with cultivating the ability to know when to come in out of the rain, the discovery that the early bird gets the worm and how to take the bitter with the sweet. C.S. also developed sound financial policies (don’t spend more than you earn), reliable parenting strategies (the adult is in charge, not the kid) and prudent dietary plans (offset eggs and bacon with a little fiber and orange juice).

A veteran of the Industrial Revolution, the Great Depression, the Technological Revolution and the Smoking Crusades, C.S. survived sundry cultural and educational trends including disco, the men’s movement, body piercing, whole language and new math.

C.S.’s health began declining in the late 1960s when he became infected with the If-It-Feels-Good, Do-It virus. In the following decades his waning strength proved no match for the ravages of overbearing federal and state rules and regulations and an oppressive tax code. C.S. was sapped of strength and the will to live as the Ten Commandments became contraband, criminals received better treatment than victims and judges stuck their noses in everything from Boy Scouts to professional baseball and golf. His deterioration accelerated as schools implemented zero-tolerance policies. Reports of 6-year-old boys charged with sexual harassment for kissing classmates, a teen suspended for taking a swig of mouthwash after lunch, girls suspended for possessing Midol and an honor student expelled for having a table knife in her school lunch were more than his heart could endure.

As the end neared, doctors say C.S. drifted in and out of logic but was kept informed of developments regarding regulations on low-flow toilets and mandatory air bags. Finally, upon hearing about a government plan to ban inhalers from 14 million asthmatics due to a trace of a pollutant that may be harmful to the environment, C.S. breathed his last.

Farewell, Common Sense. May you rest in peace. Some will sorely miss you.

The service will be at Whispering Pines Cemetery. C.S. was preceded in death by his wife, Discretion; one daughter, Responsibility; and one son, Reason. He is survived by two step-brothers, Half-Wit and Dim-Wit.

Memorial Contributions may be sent to the Institute for Rational Thought.

Sirmascot says:
5 October 2011

The introduction of compulsory helmet wearing in countries like Australia and Canada* not only reduced the number of cyclists but actually INCREASED the number of injuries. Yes thats right the number of people cycling went down, but accidents went up. There are a number of theories about why this is, but the figures speak for themselves. Introducing helmets does not make cycling safer, it actually increases the number of accidents.
If you want to wear a helmet, do so, but make sure you wear eye protection as well which accounts for more cycle injuries than a lack of helmets do, and gloves to protect your hands when you fall off. Where will it end? Probably when people stop cycling cos its too much hassle, and then we will lose all the green and health benefits.
After saying this I would however recommend helmets for racing and mountain biking, which does sound hypocrital but is based on the number of crashes etc.

*SOURCE: http://www.cycle-helmets.com


Very interesting stats Sirmascot, thanks for sharing. Why do you think compulsory helmets increased injuries? A feeling of invincibility?