Jimmy Crackednut’s Guilt Trip

BrainAs the title of this blog suggests I fall over a lot. I fall off my bikes too. And out of my wheelchair – backwards as a rule. Usually it hurts.

Although I say so myself I’m pretty good at assessing the risks. The reason I’m pretty good at it is because I’ve got a lot of data to work with. Over the years, and I’m getting on a bit now, I’ve developed a fairly good idea of how likely it is to happen, which injuries I’m likely to sustain, and how bad they’re likely to be. And yes, I can confirm that alcohol increases the risk considerably.

To date, statistically, the chance of something really quite nasty happening to me is highest when in the shower. I take precautions but I still do it. Obviously wearing a helmet isn’t one of them.

I have worn a helmet. Many moons ago I went to a British Cycling disability day at Manchester Velodrome where they won’t let you on the track without one. During the day I had to use the loo, something I tend to need more space for than the average biped, and I must have hit just about every surface in that cubicle with my head. Only it wasn’t my head I was hitting at all, it was the helmet. I simply wasn’t used to allowing for the extra room it required. What I concluded from that episode, the image of which you’re desperately trying to bleach from your mind’s eye, is that if I were ever to fall off a bike wearing a helmet the chances of not hitting something with it would probably be quite slim.

And therein lies the source of the plethora of ‘My Helmet Saved My Life’ stories, like the one @furno_ooo regaled me with on Twitter earlier today. Normally I wouldn’t dream of pointing out to Paul that the probability of it being true is very small indeed, because there’s always the chance that he might actually be right and he’s entitled to his own opinion on his own traumatic experience. Until he called me a dick because his revelational experience didn’t change my mind about being forced to wear one. Thanks Paul.

Is effectively increasing the size of your head to a point that greatly increases the chance of a “Shit! That hurt” level of force being transferred directly to the squidgy mass within a good idea? Judging by the reaction of said organ, which is to completely misdiagnose the most likely cause of the force and escalate the chance of it happening again by telling all its friends how lucky it’s been, yes, it is indeed a good idea. Does it make sense? To the people pumping out polystyrene pap it does. It’s pure bloody gold.

I’m on pretty solid ground with this. I know that because if the number of ‘My Helmet Saved My Life’ stories were matched by a similar number of ‘Fell Off Bike Without Helmet And Died From Brain Injury’ CODs, the evidence supporting the efficacy of helmets would be clear and I wouldn’t be writing this because I would very probably be dead.

If you’ve come to a different conclusion, if even the very smallest of possibilities that wearing one might help in certain circumstances is enough to convince you of its worth, be my guest, wear a helmet. If you work in a brain trauma unit and can’t get the distressing consequences of brain injuries out of your own head, if it just makes you feel more secure, whatever you feel about it that’s fine, as long as it’s not feeling superior. In return I won’t look down on you for dressing like an alien and trying to mitigate your fear in an irrational way. Show me a human being that doesn’t have an irrational fear.

I make a rule of not mentioning helmets, in fact I didn’t even mention the word on Twitter today. I treat them as an indicator of how safe people feel on their bikes and if somebody asks me to wear one to take part in their event I sidestep the issue by telling them I don’t do anything that’s so dangerous it requires the use of a helmet. The last time I mentioned it was the day when James Cracknell had preached his gospel in The Times immediately after being given a free run to tell me how selfish I am on The One Show. Fortunately that spat ended well because a mutual friend intervened to cool things down. It really isn’t worth falling out over. Live and let live and all that. But enough’s enough.

Today I read yet another representative from the world of british cyclesport has thrown their helmet into the ring to pronounce that we should all be made to wear one for our own good whether we want to or not. Yet another perfectly lovely person who has taken risks representing their country and entertaining us with their strength, skill and determination on a bike. Yet another person who doesn’t know me from Adam and hasn’t looked any further than their own nose deciding that I should be forced to dress like they do when they’re working.

With a BS in Human Geography you’d think that self professed helmet expert James Cracknell really ought to know better when it comes to attributing weight to numbers in general and to datasets of 1 in particular, but we need to cut him some slack. The guy has a frontal lobe brain injury that’s changed his life, his memory and his personality. Since his head was driven down a US highway like a ball on the end of Tiger Woods’ golf club by the wing mirror of a high speed truck he will never be the same person again. None of us are after near death experiences.

Like Paul he’s concluded that the helmet saved his life or at the very least prevented a worse injury than the one he sustained. He might be right, but in all probability he’s wrong. Neither he nor his doctors know what role that helmet played during and in the moments immediately after the impact. Their opinions are conjecture and guesswork. And again I wouldn’t be saying this if his own traumatic experience wasn’t leaking out beyond his own life and at risk of adversely affecting my own. One I’ve also managed to hang onto against all the odds and build back up again.

I can empathise with how he feels, and if part of that is feeling guilty about putting his life at risk with another challenge he didn’t need to do that left his family if not fatherless then thoroughly traumatised by its effects, that’s understandable. But that’s not my fault and the BBC allowing him to tell me in so many words that I don’t care about my family because he was an innocent victim in a road traffic accident on the other side of the world and I don’t wear a helmet going to the library is unjustifiable emotional blackmail. “I won’t let my accident define the rest of my life” is great James, so why do you want it to define the rest of mine?

It’s that kind of crap that allows insurance companies to get away with increasing their profit margin and upping the dividend to their shareholders by crying contributory negligence and wriggling out of properly compensating a victim for something that would never have happened if their client had not had to make the claim in the first place. Further compounded by the decision being determined by a judge who is unable to do anymore than make a wild guess at the probability the role a helmet may have played in a fictitious, imaginary, equivalent event. Insurance companies and helmet manufacturers are the only people benefiting from helmet hysteria.

The BBC’s One Show isn’t content with guilt tripping people on bikes though. It’s now extended it to people in wheelchairs.

The paralympian basketball player and commentator Ade Adepitan presented an absolutely superb, positive report on the Bristol-Bath bike path a couple of weeks ago in which he interviewed a wheelchair user. It was slightly odd in that the guy in the chair explaining what he loved about the bike path was wearing a bike helmet. I can’t ever recall seeing someone in charge of their own chair wear a helmet before. There are wheelchair racers that don’t wear helmets. But no matter, he got his point across well and I really enjoyed watching it even if it didn’t quite ring right. And then someone sent me this.

I’ve written to the BBC asking why it feels the need to sanitise my viewing and interfere with the world it’s reporting on to present me with the gospel according to James. I’ve had a couple of automated replies and it’s gone beyond the target ten day response time. Not sure if that means they really give a shit about actively altering the world they’re only supposed to be reflecting or not. We’ll see. Maybe they’ve referred it to the new Dr Who.

Don’t think I’m being flippant about the suffering caused by a brain injury. I’ve got a fair idea of the pain a father feels, wishing so very dearly that the outcome had been different but powerless to go back in time and do anything about it. Bearing the unbearable. But channeling all that pain and suffering into if-only-everyone-were-forced-to-wear-a-helmet-this-never-would-have-happened is just so much wishful thinking. And pandering to it, while another very human reaction, is simply misguided.

So. To my new acquaintance Paul; to the unfortunate James; to Brad and Mark and Laura; to the woman at the cafe in Eynsham this afternoon who as I parked my bike recounted loudly to her companion a secondhand anecdote about someone not wearing a helmet and how it’s just not worth the risk; to the people who think I’m setting their kids a bad example; to anyone who might like to gloat over my misfortune should I be unlucky enough to sustain a brain injury; it’s great to know you care so much, really it is, but since you’ve made what I wear your business you leave me no other option than to point out that you don’t know what you’re talking about. Here’s some further reading on the topic should you need it. And there’s more here.

Now fuck off and leave me and anyone else who can think for themselves alone. Ta.

9 thoughts on “Jimmy Crackednut’s Guilt Trip

  1. Gary Dawes (@gazza_d)

    Well said sir.

    I really despise some of the helmet zealots that try to use their personal experiences, tragic as they may be, to exert some emotional blackmail on everyone else. Also the non-cycling people like nurses etc that launch crusades based on what they see coming though the doors. Do they ONLY ever treat people on bikes?

    If helmets are so bloody great at preventing head injuries, then why are people not campaigning for runners (or just pedestrians) to wear them. Cycling is not a high percentage cause of head injuries so why target it.

    In 30 years of riding a bike, I have never hit my head, even slightly. I may tomorrow, or may never happen.

    IF a helmet makes someone feel safer, then let them wear one, but don’t make it compulsory for all.

    1. Sara_H

      Hey! I’m a nurse, and intensive care nurse at that, so I see rather alot of seriously head injured patients, the very large majority of those head injuries are sustained INSIDE CARS – whilst NOT WEARING A HELMET!!!!!

      1. Kevin Hickman Post author

        That reminds me of my time in a rehabilitation centre. There were several people with car related head injuries relearning how to live. Over 30 years on and the memory of one of them still makes me well up.

        On a brighter note, I’m off to meet another survivor of a car induced brain injury at a disability conference in Sheffield tomorrow. Caroline always wears a helmet on her trike because she can’t bear the thought of not being there for her kids if something went wrong. Can’t argue with that 😮

  2. MrsCyklisten

    Well put – If you want to wear a helmet when cycling has got to be your own decision.

    As I see it, you would probably want to wear a helmet if you are going very fast or riding in dangerous terrain – as in any other extreme sport – like motor sport where cars are fitted with crash bars and the drivers are wearing both helmet and a fire suit.

    If anyone want to make it compulsory to wear a helmet while cycling (even when not racing) they should at the same time make it compulsory to have crash bars fitted in all cars and for drivers to wear fire suit and helmets too.

    1. Kevin Hickman Post author

      Talking about speed, perhaps some elementary physics would help safety gurus to apply their advice in a more rational way. Perhaps brain injuries have less to do with hitting the head on something hard – as in the “here’s your head” [drops egg on pavement] “do you want that to happen to you?” [grins maniacally] – and a lot more to do with the deceleration of the head – is the yolk still intact?

      Presumably someone, somewhere has figured all this out

  3. Dave H (@BCCletts)

    I’d add a bit to this here Kevin – it appears that on the fateful day of the wing mirror incident James C had elected to continue riding without the support vehicle as his rear protection on a road which the support team considered hazardous because of the high risk of such a rear ending incident happening. Not that they mention that much when James is promoting helmet wearing and his brand sponsor for helmets.

    Basically for any long haul riding which uses busy major routes the prudent plan is to manage the increased hazard (through extended exposure times and key focus of the rider(s) on moving forwards) of being rear ended.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s