11 November 2009

Specialist subject: Spain's daft helmet laws

I finally caught up with last week's Watchdog on BBC's iPlayer last night (still available for viewing today and early tomorrow). One item, fronted by John Humphrys, investigated those self-assembly bicycle-flavour novelties sold by chainstores for under £100.

Dogwatch's unsurprising conclusion was that such cheap 'bikes' are not worth the cardboard boxes they come in. And even more potentially lethal than pop tarts.

I was pleased though to learn that Mr Humphrys, frontman of Mastermind and Radio 4's Today programme, is a Real Cyclist. When interviewed by the irritating Anne Robinson after the item (right), he revealed that uses a woman's pink shopping bike, and doesn't wear a helmet.

He said his own experience backed up recent research that not wearing a helmet was safer, because motorists give you a wider berth.

As you know, I put helmets on a pedestal. It's the best place for them. I certainly would never put one on my head.

Unless of course the law requires it, which it does in some dangerous countries with primitive road conditions: Australia, New Zealand, certain US states... and Spain.

But Spain's helmet laws are bizarre, as we found in our highly enjoyable cycle tour there last month. Lids are compulsory (right).

But not in built-up areas (right) such as nice quiet backstreets like this, or busy city centres, where presumably all that traffic makes you less likely to bang your head.

Or up hills (below right). Or if it's hot. I'm told that all this may be in honour of the similar motorbike helmet laws, whose similarly odd exceptions were put in to appease the bare-headed lobby when that legislation came in years ago.

Well, coming from Yorkshire, I think south London's hot, so imagine how Mallorca felt.

Does that mean I don't have to ever wear a helmet there, or would I get interrogated by the police?

Perhaps John Humphrys should try it out. He'd be better at the interrogation than me. Indeed, I wish in cycle-policy meetings I had his talent for asking fearless, succinct and incisive questions, instead of Evan Davis's.


  1. John Humphrys ... on a pink shopper. I'm having a hard time getting that image out of my head. I shall listen to the today programme with fresh ears

  2. I would love to believe the research re: helmets. I'm familiar with the idea that if drivers see a cyclist without a helmet, they give us more space (intriguingly, there's research to show that they do the same if they think you're a lady-cyclist).

    That's all well and good IF the driver can actually see you - but, to be honest, if the driver can see you they're fairly unlikely to knock you over anyway. I'm much more concerned about the drivers who don't see me, whether it's because they're talking on their mobile phone, blithering idiots, or I'm just unlucky.

    So despite the fact that I really, really, cannot stand helmets, particularly mine, I continue to wear them when on the roads, and would urge other cyclists to do the same.

  3. I've cycled in Spain for 10 years. the drivers are aggressive and bad. I always wear my helmet and wouldn't dream of riding without one. My safety is my priority. All those who complain about the laws are in my opinion simply stupid. I also ride a powerful motorbike, again, riding without my leathers is for me, unthinkable. Have a crash and you will understand.