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Back in the saddle - John C. Kirk

Oct. 26th, 2008

11:02 pm - Back in the saddle

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Following up on Friday's post, today I took my Brompton into central London; Sunday is quite a good day for that, since the square mile is pretty much deserted. I did diverge from my planned route a few times, but that's ok. I've often said that the best way to get to know a new area is to get lost: by the time you get to where you want to be, you've already been everywhere else! It took me roughly the same amount of time to reach each destination that it would have done on the tube/bus (allowing for walking at each end), and I definitely prefer to be out in the fresh air. Mind you, I did get a bit soggy, so I might need to get some waterproof trousers and dig out my cagoule. On the plus side, my front luggage (cloth pannier) did a pretty good job of being waterproof.

One thing that did seem odd is that my eyes weren't covered. On a motorbike, I have a visor on the front of my helmet, and on a snowboard I wear a mask, so it's a bit strange to feel the wind. It's not a problem, it's just unusual. Speaking of clothing, I've been pondering how many layers to wear. If I'm walking around outside at this time of year, I normally wear a hoodie or a coat; however, on the bike I've found that I get too hot if I wear anything on top of my T-shirt. That implies that I'm working harder, i.e. doing more exercise, so that has to be a good thing. In fact, I've had to keep pulling up my jeans today; that's partly because my belt broke during the ETA course, but hopefully I'll be able to shift down a waist size soon.

One thing about the bike is that I need to travel light. The front pannier only has a certain amount of space, and I wound up with it crammed full today. There is a touring pannier that's a bit bigger, but then I'd be running into weight limits. The maximum load for the bike is 110kg (rider + luggage), and the max load for the front pannier is 10kg. In my case, I weigh about 99kg fully clothed, and the full pannier weighed 9kg today, so I'm getting quite close to both limits. It's not really a problem, it just means that I need to plan ahead, and only carry what I need. If I'm going to the supermarket, it would be better to take the bus so that I can bring back several carrier bags.

More generally, I've been wondering where I can take the bike. If I'm at work, I can stick it in my office, and Gosh! (comic shop) were happy for me to leave it behind the door. However, I don't think that it would fit into a locker at the gym, and there's nowhere convenient to store it at the local library. Similarly, I think it would be awkward to take it into a cinema, theatre, or restaurant, even if I put it in a bag. Ideally, I'd like to see some storage lockers dotted around for folding bikes (the equivalent of cycle stands), but that's probably not going to happen in the imminent future. I could chain it up outside, but I don't have a lock, and that goes against the point of a folding bike. Again, it comes back to planning; I'll probably need to either leave the bike at home some days, or come back home and then head back out again. Anyway, I can figure that out as I go along.

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From:susannahf
Date:October 27th, 2008 11:19 am (UTC)
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Get a pair of waterproof over-trousers (you could ask if any of your outdoorsy friends have a spare you could buy, or alternatively keep an eye out for the sales and get some then).
Rather than buying new panniers, use a rucksack - it gives you a lot more flexibility as to what you can carry. Also, you need to worry less about weight with a rucksack (although you still need to keep below the bike's limit).
"Ideally, I'd like to see some storage lockers dotted around for folding bikes"
Um. Not going to happen - even in cycle-friendly towns like Oxford, there are never enough normal cycle racks. I don't see why you can't chain your bike up - just because you can fold it up and take it inside doesn't mean you have to. I don't see how locking it up "goes against the point of a folding bike" - I thought the point of folding bikes was so you could take them on trains that won't carry normal bikes, and store them in flats where there aren't other cycle storage options. Locks aren't expensive (although I would advise you to get a good quality one - you get what you pay for). It seems silly to take your bike home and then head out again just to avoid buying a lock...
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From:johnckirk
Date:October 27th, 2008 11:49 am (UTC)
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I'm not planning to buy new panniers in the near future - even if I had more space, I can't carry much more without hitting the weight limit. In the past, I've worn a rucksack while cycling, but I find that it makes my back quite sweaty; also, it limits the benefit of high-vis if I'm covering it up.

You're right about folding bikes being good for trains. However, I'm also thinking back to the incident in May, when someone took the wheels off a bike that was chained to a Sheffield stand outside my flat; that's made me wary about leaving my bike outdoors, particularly after dark. Similarly, I was reading this page last night, about a guy who's had his Brompton stolen four times (the first time, they hacked a hole in the frame with a chisel to get the lock off). The other issue is that I'd have to carry the lock/chain around with me, so I'm back to weight limits again.
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From:susannahf
Date:October 27th, 2008 12:11 pm (UTC)
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Get a good lock. Always lock through wheels and frame. Don't lock in dangerous places or overnight if you can help it. And locks aren't /that/ heavy (I'd be surprised if both of mine came in at more than 1kg). Locking it outside a cinema/shop/restaurant for an hour is pretty low risk.
You've bought a bike. It seems stupid that you are now talking about not using it a lot of the time because you don't want to buy a lock...
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From:susannahf
Date:October 27th, 2008 12:18 pm (UTC)
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BTW, I've had a bike in oxford for over 7 years now (and 2 years in croydon), and never had it stolen.
I think there are a number of reasons for this:
1) my bike doesn't look new or appealing. This can be achieved by painting the frame with rubbishy paint.
2) I use 2 decent locks all the time
3) I always lock through the frame and both wheels
4) I always lock to an unmovable object (stand, drainpipe, tall signpost, streetlamp)
5) I try never to leave it in a dodgy part of town overnight

Basically, I make it more effort than it's worth to steal it.
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From:totherme
Date:October 27th, 2008 01:22 pm (UTC)
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Get a good lock.

Ditto. Probably a D Lock.

BTW, I've had a bike in oxford for over 7 years now (and 2 years in croydon), and never had it stolen.

Dittoish. I've been riding everywhere in London for a year or so now, and rode everywhere in Oxford when I lived there. My last bike lived 100% outdoors (locked to street furniture) for years at a time. Both in Oxford and Croydon.

I've only ever locked with a single D-Lock. I always lock through both wheels and the frame. That looks really easy with a brompton - since you can half-fold the bike to bring both wheels close to the triangular bit of the frame.

Locking to immovable objects is important. Avoid plastic drainpipes. Give anything you're locking to a good shake before locking up. If it moves, or feels like you could break it, find something stronger. If you're locking to tall signposts, make sure the sign on the top of the post is both wider than the hole in your D-Lock, and also immovable.

In London there are lots of places to lock up. There are "safety" railings on practically every street corner.

Busy places are good.

Places with other bikes are good. Particularly if they're fancier bikes than yours.

Keep your eyes open. Develop and use your common sense.
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From:johnckirk
Date:October 27th, 2008 06:26 pm (UTC)
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I've had two bikes stolen in the past. The first was in Durham, where it was secured by a chain and padlock; it looks as if they tried to cut through the chain (left lying on the ground), then gave up and got through the padlock instead. The second was in London, after I'd lent it to a friend; I had a D-lock for that, although I don't know exactly how he'd secured it when it was taken. I'm not quite sure how well a D-lock would work on Brompton; I'll show you the bike the next time I get a chance, then you can see what I mean.
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From:totherme
Date:October 27th, 2008 07:28 pm (UTC)
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I'm not quite sure how well a D-lock would work on Brompton;

If you google for "brompton d lock" you'll notice that the first three hits are people recommending you lock your brompton with a D lock. None of the hits seem to be people complaining that it's hard to lock with a D lock. Lock through the frame triangle.

it was secured by a chain and padlock

So don't do that again - use a D lock.

Locks are actually rated in thi country according to how long it takes a pro to break them if appropriate tools are to hand. Get a sold secure gold lock or better. And remember, your job when you lock your bike is not to make it impossible to steal (that's impossible). It's just to make it too much work, compared to nearby easier targets.

The second was in London, after I'd lent it to a friend; I had a D-lock for that, although I don't know exactly how he'd secured it when it was taken.

Did the friend replace the bike (s)he lost for you? Either way, I guess the lesson there is to be careful who you lend expensive bikes to.
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From:johnckirk
Date:October 27th, 2008 09:46 pm (UTC)
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The bike I lent out was a bit of a special case. I bought it from Halfords on a "6 months interest free credit" deal, i.e. I gave them my bank details and agreed that they would pull the money out of my bank account 6 months later. The day after I got the bike, the shop phoned me to say that there was an extra form they needed me to sign, which they'd forgotten about. I could have said "Ha ha, sucks to be you", and it was a bit of a hassle to go back out to the shop, but I did it anyway. 6 months later, I kept an eye on my bank statement, but they didn't claim the money. I phoned up the shop to remind them, but they said "Sorry, we can't help you, you'll need to phone the finance company". At that point I decided that I'd done enough to satisfy my personal ethics, so I effectively got a free bike. Since it didn't cost me anything, and I'd lent it out because I wasn't using it, it would have felt a bit greedy to demand a replacement.
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From:johnckirk
Date:October 27th, 2008 06:31 pm (UTC)
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Actually, there's a third option which looks quite encouraging: I may be able to leave the bike in a cloakroom if I go to a theatre/museum/etc. Looking at a Guardian article: "I have left it in the cloakroom of the Barbican, the Houses of Parliament and the Royal Festival Hall". I'd be quite happy to pay £1 for that, to get peace of mind while I'm inside. I've emailed Croydon Clocktower, to see whether they'd let me do that; I think the key point here is to plan ahead.

Edit: I've just had a reply from the Clocktower - they don't have a cloakroom, so they advised me to lock it to the bikestand outside.

Edited at 2008-10-27 06:34 pm (UTC)
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From:totherme
Date:October 27th, 2008 07:33 pm (UTC)
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Taking it in with you is good if you can do it. That's a great advantage of a brompton. But you'll be able to go more places if you're prepared to lock up outside too.

FWIW, I always carry my D lock, keys, lights and helmet - regardless of how long or short a trip I'm making, what time of day or year it is or where I'm going. Even if it's just nipping the 50 yards down the road to the shop on a lazy summer sunday afternoon. Lock, lights and helmet. Always.
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From:totherme
Date:October 27th, 2008 01:24 pm (UTC)
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Stupid question - you are riding with a helmet aren't you?
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From:johnckirk
Date:October 27th, 2008 06:22 pm (UTC)
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Um. I used to have a bike helmet, but I'm not sure where it is (possibly in one of my unpacked boxes), so I bought a skate helmet a couple of months ago, ready for the inline skating course that never happened.

I don't think there's much difference between the helmets, so I was going to use it on Friday (when I collected the Brompton), but I couldn't open the bag just by pulling at it, and I didn't have a knife in the room wih me, so I figured that I'd do without. Similarly, yesterday and today I grabbed my high vis waistcoat thing (formerly used on my motorbike) on my way out, but I didn't want to start messing around with the sealed bag. I realise that this is a pretty feeble excuse, so I'll open it up when I get home tonight.
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From:totherme
Date:October 27th, 2008 07:38 pm (UTC)
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The skating helmet is probably safe enough - if there's a picture of one online - or better yet, some proper specs, I'd be interested in seeing them though.

The only issue you might have is comfort. You might find a bike helmet lighter and less sweaty. Oh - if the skating helmet restricts your field of view that would also be a Bad Thing.

Really though - keep the helmet with the bike. Never move one without the other. Put it on without thinking whenever you touch the bike. (like a car seatbelt) If you make the mistake of not wearing the helmet, and if you fall (or get hit, or whatever), then you won't have the option to learn from your mistake. My housemate would be dead twice over if it weren't for his helmet each time.
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From:susannahf
Date:October 27th, 2008 11:41 pm (UTC)
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"keep the helmet with the bike"
Do you chain them together? That seems to be quite a common option in Oxford (and saves on dragging the helmet round with you). Personally, I hate putting on a damp helmet if it rains, so I put up with always carrying it (and occasionally walking back to my room if I've been a dimwit and left without it). But then, I don't need reminding to wear one - I've seen one girl die and one get a serious head injury. Neither wearing helmets. At least one would have been completely prevented by a helmet.
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From:totherme
Date:October 28th, 2008 12:16 am (UTC)
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I don't chain them together.

When I'm at home, I have my bike in the living room, and my helmet sits on the floor underneath it. My helmet never hangs from the handlebars, and never sits on a table - since I never want the helmet to fall on the floor. If you beat your helmet up, you can end up damaging it without noticing - rendering it useless in a crash.

(and my lights live on the bike, my lock is strapped to my rucksack, and my winter gloves (in season) live inside the helmet)

When I'm away from home, I lock up my bike with the D lock. I take the front wheel off, and lock it to the back wheel, the frame, and the immovable object, all with the one lock. I take my lights, bottle and cycle computer off the bike, and put them in my helmet (along with my gloves in winter) which I put in my rucksack (which I must have had with me, because my lock was strapped to it). The interior of my bag is pretty well padded with clothes and such, and certainly safer than leaving the helmet in a public street.

John is talking about leaving his bike in secure areas (like my living room). It makes sense to keep the helmet with the bike in those places.

When he finds he has to leave his bike locked up outside, his helmet should be kept with his bike lock key. In fact, the helmet has a chin-strap which would fit nicely through a keyring.
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From:johnckirk
Date:October 27th, 2008 11:59 pm (UTC)
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The one I've got is from California Pro. Looking inside, it says:

"WARNING
THIS HELMET IS NOT FOR MOTOR VEHICLE OR SIMILAR ACTIVITY THAT WOULD SUBJECT THE RIDER TO MOTOR VEHICLE SPEEDS.
This helmet is designed for bicycle, skate board, and rollerskate use. Some head injuries cannot be prevented by any helmet. Even low speed accidents can result in serious injury or death."

I'm aware that some people have strong feelings about helmets (for and against), but I haven't looked at the relevant research myself. Speaking from my own anecdotal experience, I've been in three bike crashes on the road: I was hit by a car on a bicycle (my own fault), and slipped over on two motorbikes, doing enough damage to basically write them off. In all three cases, I was wearing a helmet, but it didn't do me any good because my head didn't hit the road. On the other hand, I tripped over in the playground when I was at primary school and cracked my head open; I still have the scar on my forehead. So, arguably I'd be better off wearing a helmet as a pedestrian, but I'm not going to do that. I don't mind erring on the side of caution when I'm cycling/skating, but it's not something I'd advocate either.
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From:totherme
Date:October 28th, 2008 12:29 am (UTC)
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The one I've got...

...looks absolutely fine. Make sure you wear it.

arguably I'd be better off wearing a helmet as a pedestrian

No you wouldn't.

1) it didn't do me any good because my head didn't hit the road

Are you sure? Are you absolutely 100% certain that the helmet didn't just keep you from needing to notice your head hitting the road, while there was all that other important falling over, skin leaving your elbows and knees, oncoming traffic about to crush your legs etc going on?

2) Speaking from my own anecdotal experience...

...is absolutely useless.

Statistically you're a sample size of one. Which sucks.

Pragmatically, if your examples had gone the other way, you'd be dead, and wouldn't be speaking from that experience at all. You don't have the luxury of being able to try life without a helmet until something bad happens because that bad thing will kill you. You really do have to learn from the experience of others. Talk to any of your friends that have cycled in London for any length of time and they will tell you that helmets have saved their lives.

Increase your sample size. Compare the percentage of walking-people that die from walking-related head injuries in the UK to the percentage of cycling-people that die from cycling-related head injuries in the UK each year.
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From:johnckirk
Date:October 28th, 2008 11:41 am (UTC)
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I agree with you about the limitations of anecdotal evidence, and you make a good point about not being able to change my mind if I die. However, even if I talk to all the London cyclists I know, that's still a tiny proportion of the people who actually cycle in London, i.e. I'm still relying on anecdotes.

According to this page:
"6 times more pedestrians and 18 times more motor vehicle occupants suffer lethal head injuries than cyclists".

I also have to wonder about other protective clothing. For instance, I bought the skate helmet because I'm expecting to fall over a lot while I'm learning; similarly, I also have knee pads, elbow pads, and wrist guards. In all three of my bike accidents, I've landed on my right knee, so knee pads would have been quite useful there; should I start wearing them in my daily commute? Back in my BMX days, I wore a helmet that covered my whole head, and other protective gear which included knee/elbow padding, so there's a precedent. On the other hand, I've never seen anyone wearing a helmet when ice skating, even though there's equal risk of falling over onto a hard surface. As Bruce Schneier has often said, humans are pretty bad at doing risk assessments, so it's hard to know what level of protection is appropriate.
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From:totherme
Date:October 29th, 2008 03:59 pm (UTC)
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6 times more pedestrians and 18 times more motor vehicle occupants suffer lethal head injuries than cyclists

According to wikipedia, as of 2008 Over one million Londoners own bicycles</a>, and as of 2006, there are over 13 million londoners. There may be 6 times more pedestrian lethan head injuries, but there are well over 6 times more pedestrians. This is why suggested you compare the percentage of walking accidents with the percentage of cycling accidents.

Elsewhere in this thread you respond to sussannahf citing of several peer reviewed papers by posting a link to a lobbying website. The same site you got that fairly lame statistic from. Do you honestly hold the soundbyte claims of a lobbying site in as high regard as the conclusions of several peer reviewed papers?

knee pads would have been quite useful

Knee and elbow pads are designed to protect you from scraping the skin off your knees and elbows as you slide along the tarmac. They will not protect you from broken bones, or any other non-superficial injury. A helmet is designed to protect your skull from cracking and ending your life.

I personally am prepared to endure the pain of an occasional grazed knee for the convenience and comfort of doing without the kneepad. If I were cycling off-road (with the increased probability of a fall that that entails), I would revisit that risk assessment.

I am not prepared to run the significantly increased risk of being killed when my head next hits the kerb as I take a tumble.
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From:johnckirk
Date:October 29th, 2008 04:55 pm (UTC)
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Firstly, I should just say that I appreciate your comments (and other people's); I realise that you're motivated by concern for my welfare, and I don't want to seem ungrateful. Also, I have been wearing my helmet yesterday and today, and I intend to continue wearing it, on the basis that it might come in useful. What I'm really trying to do here is proclaim my ignorance: I honestly don't know enough to make any kind of informed decision about this, nor do I know enough to evaluate other sources.

You make a good point about numbers vs percentages, and statistics can certainly be misleading, although I'm not sure whether that's the case here. That particular quote ("6 times as many pedestrians...") cites an article in the British Journal of Sports Medicine as its source. According to the BJSM website, it is: "A peer review journal for health professionals and researchers in sport and exercise medicine". I can't read the whole article without paying for access, but I did find the abstract. So, it's not simply a question of "random website vs peer reviewed paper", but rather "which peer reviewed journal is most reputable/relevant?" As I say, I'm not in a position to judge.

Regarding kneepads, I don't know whether they would have helped in my accidents. I didn't break any bones, but I was limping for a while afterwards; particularly in the motorbike crashes, it took about a week until I could walk upstairs normally, rather than putting both feet on each step.

On the other hand, my bike helmet refers to "motor vehicle speeds", which is a bit vague. At my last job, the office was at the top of a huge hill, so I could often hit 30mph on my way down, i.e. I was travelling at the legal speed limit. Does that count as motor vehicle speed? Also, if I'm hit by a car, I may suddenly be travelling a lot faster than I was before. Maybe that's only intended for low speed falls, e.g. someone falling over while learning to skate in a park? Hopefully they just mean "Don't use this as a motorbike helmet if you do 70mph down the motorway", but I don't know, so it's the same problem: I'm just relying on vague feelings.
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From:totherme
Date:October 29th, 2008 05:20 pm (UTC)
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which peer reviewed journal is most reputable/relevant?

You'll notice that (as randominformation below pointed out) the study you're quoting draws conclusions (which you have read in the study's abstract) about the benefits to society of making helmets compulsory. It draws no conclusions whatsoever about the benefits to an individual of wearing a helmet.

On the other hand, the studies susannahf quoted were all about benefits to the individual, and all concluded that benefits were significant.

In general though, beware of lobbyist websites quoting science out of context. Their job is not to inform you, but to persuade you. If you can't read the original science, take it with a huge pinch of salt. If you can read the original science, do - and ignore the lobbyist site. Also, always look to see who is funding the study. An NHS funded tobacco study is more reliable than a B&H funded tobacco study.

I didn't break any bones, but I was limping for a while afterwards

That sounds like a muscle injury to me - pulled and twisted soft tissue. That being the case, no amount of padding will help you. To use technology to avoid injuries like that you need an exo-skeleton which prevents any of your joints from hyper-extending. Even that might not do it, if you're tensing your muscles against an overpowering force in the opposite direction.

Limb-padding can help you avoid bruises and scrapes, and is useful if you're planning on getting a lot of them. For most people though, infrequent bruises and scrapes aren't the end of the world.

Maybe that's only intended for low speed falls

Rest assured, modern bike helmets are designed in the knowledge that people like me regularly sprint at 30mph on flat roads, and that many accidents are caused by lunatics ploughing into you at well over the speed limit. It will serve you fine, so long as you remember to wear it.

I have been wearing my helmet yesterday and today, and I intend to continue wearing it

Good stuff :)
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From:johnckirk
Date:October 28th, 2008 11:28 am (UTC)
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Thanks, that's useful. As I say, I haven't looked into this in detail, and I'm certainly not anti-helmet. However, this site seems to be more sceptical:
http://www.cyclehelmets.org/
In particular, this page:
Why it is wrong to claim that cycle helmets prevent 85% of head injuries and 88% of brain injuries
One interesting point they raise is that people who voluntarily wear helmets may also be safer riders in general, so that makes it difficult to have an accurate control group.

I don't think anyone has said that helmets are actively bad, i.e. I won't be any worse off by wearing one. The main argument seems to be that if they're compulsory, this will make people less likely to cycle. So, since I've got my helmet, I may as well use it.
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From:ext_5743
Date:October 28th, 2008 02:15 pm (UTC)
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There's an important distinction to be made here. Cyclehelmets.org is chiefly aimed at lobbying policymakers trying to decide whether to introduce legistlation requiring all cyclists to wear helmets. In this circumstance, it's valuable to look at how many potential cyclists would be deterred from cycling by a law requiring them to wear a helmet, which is their chief argument.

However, given that you own a bike, intend to ride it, and also own a suitable helmet, it would therefore be sensible to wear it. It doesn't cost you anything, is minimal inconvenience, and might one day save your life.

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From:ext_5743
Date:October 28th, 2008 04:09 pm (UTC)
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Oh, and one further pertinent anecdote - I've just seen my boss at tea. Last week he was knocked off his bike by a motorist in a head-on collision. He now has a dislocated collarbone, a fine selection of cuts and bruises, and a black eye.

He wasn't wearing a helmet, as he was "just going to the shops" even though he normally would. A reasonable number of his injuries were caused by his head hitting the drivers' windscreen, which shattered under the impact...

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From:dynix
Date:October 28th, 2008 04:34 pm (UTC)
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Yay, bike!

Waterproof trousers - a tenner anywhere, and pack up to fist-sized.

Hi-vis is good, though if you're conserving space and it aint wet you can get a reflective sash.

Helmet - yes, defnitely. If you land on your head it's curtains, and you already own one so well done on that.

Lights - always carry them. I had to tape my mobile phone to my front handlebars once and use the camera torch as a front light just to be visible. Why I was carrying sellotape but no lights is, er, a subject that I will not dwelll upon here.

Locks - two small d-locks(not chain, never chain), go through the wheels and the frame and affix to something that doesnt move. 20quid each from evans.

The gym may well let you put a folding bike behind the desk or otherwise have a place for it - I've seen some people do that, doesn't hurt to ask.

You can carry folding bikes into an awful lot of places, esp if you have the/a bag for them. But if you lock it up well then you will have no worries. Also, upto about £350 of bike is covered by many home insurers so you might already have bike cover.

Eyes - if it's bugging you then you can get cycling glasses (clear lenses £3.50 from tchibo with uv/clear/orange replaceable lenses).

Going to the supermarket: (from the Brompton website) "We stipulate that the bike is designed to carry a maximum load of 110kgs plus 20kgs of luggage" So you'll be ok with a rucksack, with hi-vis sash on the rucksack rather than on you. But if you dislike carrying rucksacks then frankly thats fair enough:)

have you seen belleville rendezvous?

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