Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Bikes and boats and beaches...

This Marconi-centric journalist is still just flirting with the video skills, so bear with me as I practice, but here's a little something from today on the many places you may find a bike in Europe. In Belgium and the Netherlands, they're parked all over in giant clusters, and on the many boats that line the canals.

Here in France, in the area known as Pas-de-Calais, if you're headed to the beach, why not bike it? As a matter of fact, if you want a workout, ride along the beach. But mind the tides: time it right by heading out on a weekday in October, and you have a huge expanse of hard-packed sand pretty much to yourself. Get it wrong, and you'll be riding waves on your bike. And depending on how buoyant  you and your bike are, it will either be exhilarating, or a water rescue in the making.

Note in the video the riders are wearing helmets. Not a common sight in the smaller cities here in France/Belgium/Netherlands, but increasingly so in Paris and Brussels where congestion that rivals DC's fuels short tempers and bad behavior. On everyone's part.

In rural areas like this one, you'll find sport-cyclists using helmets. The logic being they'll hit high speeds, crashes (between cyclists who often ride in club packs) are possible and the riding takes place on narrow roads without shoulders and plenty of blind curves. But for utilitarian riding, you still see most folks going without the headgear. 

I note this because I spotted Gypsybug's column "You Wear a Helmet, Don't You?" and I understand her frustration. That question is kind of like when your Mom/roommate/boyfriend/husband/partner might have asked you:  "You're wearing that to go out?" A guaranteed conflict-starter. And the helmet question does seem to feed the notion that the cyclist who opts not to ride with a helmet has a death wish or thinks they are somehow invulnerable. 

As a reporter speaking from my own experience here, I'll give you my take on the inclusion of the helmet-or-no-helmet detail. A crash--any crash--happens. The questions start rolling: Was there alcohol/speed involved? What were the weather conditions? Was the driver/victim wearing a seat belt? Was the child in car seat? Was that car seat properly strapped in?

We, like the listener/reader are looking for the cause. It's human nature. "How awful, but I wear my seatbelt, so that probably won't happen to me..." I suspect that just as there is lots of head-shaking when it's found someone wasn't wearing a seatbelt, the same thing happens when we hear of crashes involving cyclists. We---and I don't just mean journalists here, I mean we as in people in general-- ask about that helmet. We like to think as long as we have one on, we'll be ok.

But here's the thing, and it's something that Gypsybug hit on (no pun intended) in her post. While we've all heard the stories about the father of nine who averted disaster when his helmet bore the brunt of his crash (I made that up, but you get the idea) some of us have wondered: are the fatal/critical injuries always head injuries for cyclists? A helmet won't prevent a ruptured spleen courtesy of a dooring, but you'll hear those "Tsk, tsks" when someone is injured that way. "See? He should have been wearing a helmet!"

It's fodder for another study and analysis. Put it on my to-do list. 


  1. Nice post, Kate, and thanks for reading my blog :). That is a good point about how we seek the cause for why accidents happen. I also think we are a society that likes to attribute blame, to some degree (I think it's a mentality linked to our legal system).

    I think it would be so helpful if someone would do research into bike and bike/car accidents and the types of injuries sustained by cyclists. Maybe it's already out there, but I have yet to see it.

  2. I agree...seems there must be an industry/doctoral study out there somewhere. Seriously, have that on my to-do list. In the meantime, I hope we can all cut each other some slack. No one--no matter what mode of transport they take-- should have to worry about whether they will ever make it home in one piece.