Posted by: Mike Rubbo | October 4, 2009

No Helmet, Please!

Have you been waiting to find out what happened to Sue in Scone?

Well, here’s how the day went as she faced court for not wearing her helmet.

As i said in the movie, I myself do wear a bike helmet. I actually like my helmet…

helmet 200.jpg adjusted

……. the way I’ve modified it, but I want to be able to decide myself whether I wear it or not.

What’s your opinion.

By the way, when I said in the movie that virtually no country has followed Australia’s lead with helmets, that is not try with helmets for your riders.

They seem to be virtually universal, except in those countries, especially in Europe, where governments have worked very hard to make cycling safe for all ages, Holland and Denmark, for example, amongst others.



  1. Although I prefer the freedom of going helmet-less I have a vulnerable feeling of nakedness without it. When mountain biking and flying by trees at 20mph I have a pretty good idea of what my head might sound like, not to mention feel like hitting a tree…thus I wear the lid on the trails. On the road it’s not so much my falling and hitting my head that worries me but more the idea of where a car might send me flying and how I might land if being hit. I have a very vivid imagination. Also a very nervous wife…

    • Hi Charlie,

      I think you’re half-way to being helmet free. It’s just your feeling of nakedness and vunerability on the road that’s stopping you. It’s all about perception and confidence. For example, we all feel safe in our homes – but are we? Being confident in traffic so that it shows can help you to be safer and feel safer.

      Think of a the traffic cop at a busy junction, supremely confident with positive arm signals and eye contact with drivers. He’s in a very precarious position standing there, but because he is in control, he feels less vunerable, less naked.

      Now take his skills and use them when you next cycle in traffic and you too will be respected by drivers, just like the traffic cop and you should begin to feel happy having completed a journey without a helmet. If not – you can always post again.

      Good luck.

  2. Excellent blog, thank you Mike.

    I too was saddened by the response of the Magistrate.

    I live in Brisbane and have recently started cycling to work. As the cycling infrastructure is haphazard (and work is a long way – 35km), I have to use the train for half of my journey, but at least I can cycle.

    I’m awaiting the arrival of my new Royal Dutch Gazelle Innergy e-bike which should make the journey even more enjoyable and the upright seating position, more comfortable, ditching my ‘hybrid’ bike in the process. A *real* bicycle finally! I just need to rid myself of the silly helmet!

    I think we should be given the choice as responsible citizens. I will not be wearing my helmet on dedicated bicycle paths from now, wearing it only when I’m forced to cycle with traffic. I’ll need to get some legal advice on what happens when I receive multiple infringements (?can they confiscate my bicycle, etc).

    I think the evidence for compulsory helmets is very poor and when you look at the ‘true cost’ of compulsory helmet laws, they are very bad for society on the whole. Most people I know stopped cycling when they were introduced.

    Build better cycle infrastructure instead! We are slowly getting there in Brisbane… slowly.

    Kind regards,

    Dr Paul Martin

  3. Keep up the good work Michael!
    There are 10 million riders in the naked city that can hardly wait to bring out their bicycles from the garage, dust them down and ride them again.
    My friends and I will sign any petition you want in order to start moving this cause!

  4. And of the deaths? How many attributed to head injury alone? I don’t know. True that in Holland there are many kilometers of segregated cycle lanes.

    In the older Dutch provincial towns however, cyclists take to the streets where there are no cycle lanes, often cycling in large groups to and from school, filling the road. The motorist waits patiently behind them all until they disperse or find a cycle path. I can’t imagine the same scenario here.

    Yes, I know of the GB spacing experiment too. Thank for your reply.

  5. I wrote a futuristic blog post some time ago. I now realise that I needn’t have looked so far into the future.

  6. Once a law has been passed it is so difficult to remove or challenge and so the best way forward would be to not allow it to pass into law in the first place but stay helmet free.

    I admire Sue’s strength for holding on to what she believes in, before and after court. It would be my worst nightmare if it were to become law here in the UK.

    I’m not sure I agree with the suggestion that helmets should be compulsory until say age 16-18, by which time the rider will be conditioned to wearing one beyond that age.

    I already get mixed messages when I see families riding around insisting their offspring wear helmets while the parents don’t. It must be very confusing for the kids.

    There’s also the argument that helmet wearing may give a rider the sense of invincibility, and will possibly result in more injuries through being reckless, than say if unprotected and cautious.

    • Kenny, you make a very good point about kids being conditioned to helmets if the are compulsory before 18. But it is also true that most of the damage and deaths are under 18.

      Moreover, to expect to eliminate helmets for all ages is certainly a bridge too far. If we were in the future to get off road cycle paths like Holland at some time in the ahead, then I can see that happening , Kids in Holland don’t wear helmets and are separated from cars.

      Not only does the helmet create complacency in the rider, but as you probably know, drivers in GB were shown to pass closer to riders with helmets, and so it cuts caution both ways.

      Thank for the comment . Mike

  7. It was really a sad ending, being dismissed by the judge like that with so much disrespect after so much effort.

    Unfortunately, this is our legal system work. The primary judge role is to apply the law (and maybe interpret it), not to overrule it.

    It was refreshing to see that Sue came out of the court still willing to fight despite the expense, the time and the stress she has experienced so far. What a spirit. She knows that something is fundamental wrong with this silly helmet law, and has the courage to fight for it. What an inspiration!

    I believe we really need to take this fight to the political level. Despite all their wisdom, judges cannot overrule the law, no matter how stupid it might be.

    Only politicians can change the law. This is where we should focus our efforts.

    From common sense, it shouldn’t be that hard. We have a law that has negligible benefits in terms of safety. The key in bicycle safety is infrastructure, not helmets. Countries in Europe understand that and are far better than us at promoting cycling.

    All this stupid law really does is discourage people from cycling. The result? More traffic jams, more pollution, higher global warming impact, people becoming obese, imposing huge medical bills to the taxpayers.

    You would think it would be common sense to get rid of that law, wouldn’t you? It IS POSSIBLE with a bit of political pressure. Unfortunately, there is none yet. Time to increase the political pressure for change!

  8. Mike

    Thanks for sharing this. I live in NZ (who always follow your lead!!!) and I, personally, have always worn a helmet whilst riding.

    Until now, I have always considered the law in this area to be quite reasonable. But on seeing your two part documentary on Sue I am not so convinced. Neither am I convinced by Sue’s assertion that not wearing a helmet is safer – she offers little evidence to back up her argument. What I am convinced about though is that the wearing of a helmet should be a matter of choice – not a legal requirement – particularly given the apparent reduction in cycling which seems to result from the law. A pom by origin (I moved here 16 years ago), I had forgotten that most countries don’t have this law but instead provide better cycling infrastructure and encourage sharing of the roads. That’s where we should be putting our effort.

    You note that Sue intends to appeal the court’s ruling – probably not a smart move, one which could, in fact, detract from the credibility she has already established. She would be better to leverage off that kudos and pursue a change to the law via the political route – there are now many of us who would support her cause.

    Thanks again.

    • David, I am like you. I don’t find Sue’s argument about necessity, due to the danger of wearing a helmet, very convincing, even though I do very much respect Bill Curnow her adviser, who has done years of work on this.

      Like you too, I wear a helmet, and will probably continue to do so, but I want to have the choice.

      If we had choice, it would increase the pressure on our Govts. to make cycling safe under the wheels. Now, Govts. shove the responsibility onto the head of the cyclist, and that’s neither right nor fair.

      I also don’t want compulsory helmets to stop us getting the fantastic bike share schemes like the Velibs in Paris.

      They grow cycling very effectively and introduce a more laid back style, since they are all sit-up bikes. No place in the world with compulsory helmets has been able to set up bike share.

      I will be posting a movie about this soon. In the meantime, have a look at the relevant post on this, the second last.

      As for Sue appealing, she will have precise and good grounds. She knows what she’s doing. Thanks for writing, and please do pass Sue onto other cyclists.

  9. Fight the good fight, Mike – you are absolutely on the nail with your assessment of Sue’s case – that is to say it is a noble thing to do something on conviction alone, but that it is not enough to do it unheard, behind closed doors, face to face with a man who thinks the moon is made of ‘green cheese’ (WTF?!) Your analogy of the smoke machine is spot on too – you can only bring attention to this matter one puff at a time – through wider attention on the blogosphere, and through things like letter writing campaigns to the press (trust me, journalists are so tightly funded and overworked these days they aren’t out beating the streets looking for scoops – you have to bring the story to them, in their office)

    So, I am certain we out here are all prepared to do what we can to help Sue (and do let Sue know that cyclists all over the world are thinking of her) – just direct us as appropriate, Mike

    PS May I suggest that if you manage to get photographers to the court house next time you get Sue to ride a bike (with a helmet on) and someone else ride alongside on the biggest horse that Scone can find (without a helmet) Newspapers love visual language!

    PPS Sorry, am kind of thinking out loud here, but what is the official position of the Aussie cycling campaigns and organisations? Surely they’re not toeing the line on this are they?

    • Thanks, Mark, the thing to do, to the extent you can, is to alert the bike media to Sue’s story and also drop a line to programs like 7.30 report, AM and PM, the world today, Lateline and Four corners at the ABC. the email addresses are on the ABC web site.

      To answer your questions. Sue does not like what she thinks are undignified stunts, feeling her position is already considered crackpot. So she would go for the horse. She intentionally did not ride her bike to court last time.

      As for Aust. bike orgs. none of them are fighting helmets as far as i can see, unlike the Brit orgs. Why, being dominated by racers, they don’t mind helmets
      Have a look at Aust. Cycling (cyclist) forum to see the culture here.


  10. The thing is, what Sue did most certainly made a difference. If it made other people stop and think about what helmet laws really mean and really do, then that is the beginning. People who watch the films walk away from them thinking about a woman who had the gumption to fight for what she believes

    That is way more powerful than big statements. Just give it time.

    • Thanks, Adrienne. I haven’t spoken to Sue for a couple of days but heard she’s going to appeal. I think she will only get more humiliation unless she/we can interest the media here, and the blogsphere everywhere.

      If that happens, the appeal might become a vehicle to start the debate, which. I think is the debate we’ve never had.

      There’s s a new factor which will may throw a new light on the question and bring in ew players. . Cities around the world watch enviously as the Paris Velib bike rental system, l brings great returns to the city in terms of pollution free transport, a high venue attraction for visitors and perhaps even a slightly slower calmer city.

      Montreal has opened the Bixi, Dublin and L ondon are about to. (What about SF?)

      But if you are stuck with helmets, like we are, it’ s ten time harder, maybe impossible to get with the freedom and scope of the original.

      So suddenly Govt. tourist departments now struggling for a scarcer dollar, might be thinking, Why do we have to miss out? Why shouldn’t adults make up their own minds on this question. As more and more cities come on like, the question will become more and more urgent

      A wave of self interested libertarianism might sweep into the most unexpected places.

      When I was directing feature films we’d have a fog machine on set which, by puffing harmless smoke into the set, made for a softer image. I was amazing how it transformed the look

      We are like that smoke puffer, blowing this idea into places where the movie called, “The way we do bikes” is being continuously made, and maybe we are softening rigid attitudes.

      I note that the famous Tree Hugger blog ran a rather pro mandatory helmet post about 6 months ago. I’m hoping that they might run Sue’s films on the basis that a new stage of the debate is starting, and in the place where the whole matter first arose, the home of the mandatory helmet. Mike Rubbo

  11. I didn’t really expect much when I first heard of this case but I am saddened none the less. If you don’t mind I’ll link this video on my blog and pass around a notice to our local list server so it gets as wide a viewing here as possible.

    We have had all ages mandatory helmet laws here in British Columbia for 13 years now. Recently I’ve noticed a growing number of cyclists ignoring them as I have. I did get my first ticket recently but they are only $29 and as far as I can tell, if you go to court and the officer doesn’t appear, then they throw it out. With the Olympics here in a few short months I’m sure they have their hands full. I’ll take my chances.

    And like Sue I will continue to go helmet-less and continue to fight this stupidity.

    Thanks for doing this and be sure to thank Sue. It was quite lovely to kind of meet her.

  12. Mike, great film, as always, and well done for persevering with the story. As an ex Sydney-sider it makes me so sad that cycling isn’t enjoying an explosion in popularity as it is at the moment in places like London and Paris. I’ve linked to your film on my blog in the hope many people see it, I hope you don’t mind:

    Sue looks pretty upset at the end of the film, and I can understand completely how nerve wracking the experience must have been. I hope this doesn’t stop her from cycling – that would be the biggest travesty of all. Do please keep us updates should the story develop further.

    Keep on ridin’!


    PS I find it incredulous that it is the law to wear a helmet on a bike but not on a horse in Australia – how “through the looking glass” is that?!

    • Mark, I’ll make sure Sue reads this. I’m sure it will buck her up. She says nothing will stop her cycling ,and moreover the way she feels safe, without a helmet

  13. This was a very sad end to this story. It was sad to see Sue in that state after court. It was clearly not a pleasant experience.

    Sue appears to be an intelligent woman and I think that deep down she knew her chances were limited. I have no doubt that her lawyer advised her of that. In the end the police were required to prove two things: (1) that she rode a bike and (2) that at the time she was not wearing a helmet.

    What must have been disappointing was the gruff reception she seems to have got from the Magistrate. I have heard of people here in Adelaide fighting speeding fines by calling “experts”. They all failed in the end but were allowed to present their case as they chose. I add that none of those experts had published in peer-reviewed journals as Sue’s expert had.

    Your description of how the Magistrate dealt with it was not a particularly good advert for the justice system. It should be remembered that the majority of people never go to court and if they do, for them the criminal justice system consists of a Magistrate sitting alone. When a person is given a response like the one Sue received, disappointment is inevitable. The story would have had a happier ending had Sue not received such a swift and dismissive response before she had even put her case.

    To be fair to the Magistrate, it may be that this was not the day of the actual trial but was instead a pre-trial conference where a court gives its initial assessment. That is a different thing.

    Putting all that aside though, the helmet debate is a funny thing and it is only really in this country that it is an issue. It is only here that I have ever seen a police “safety expert” appear on television telling us about the need to wear helmets for our safety.

    The real debate I think should not be about whether helmets are effective or not. It is something that is almost impossible to prove either way. Depending on your speed and angle you fall, they may well be effective. My problem is that on most, if not all days, I do not fall off my bike and if I do, I graze my hands and knees. The fact is, I have fallen off my bike about once since childhood and that was my own stupidity. I rode straight into the kerb thinking it was level with the road.

    We should be asking ourselves whether we really are serious about safety. Helmets may make a marginal difference but surely the more effective way is to make cycling actually and perceivably safer by installing the required infrastructure. It saddens me to see images from Amsterdam like those in your film of children riding around with their parents without helmets. It saddens me because we could achieve that too if we wanted.

    Occasionally there are pockets of hope like the article about Brisbane on Copenhagenize recently but in the main it is still a struggle.

    Keep your blog going Datillo. It is an excellent message.

  14. Absolutely tragic! But predictable.

    Personally, I just look at a helmet ticket like a parking fine – it’s revenue collecting. Car drivers pay their parking fines and speed camera tickets, and continue to park illegally and speed. Cycling is still a lot cheaper and safer than driving a car, even with the odd legal infringement. Luckily, policemen in NZ usually have better things to do than enforce this law but it certainly damages the image of cycling in this country – especially as ‘the powers that be’ are currently promoting NZ as a cycle tourist destination. I wonder what European tourists will make of our poor cycling infrastructure, our bad driver attitude and our ‘compulsory’ helmet law?

    • Thanks, Unity. Can you help me get this film see far and wide in your country by passing on the bike blogs, clubs, ever journalists, if you know any.

      Ah, now I belatedly notice that you are part of the blog that I contacted. Auckland Cycle Chic. I’ll link to you if I can remember how

      Anyway, So great you saw the film. Glad you didn’t take offense to my dig at Kiwis.

      We’ll see f the police here react the same way, or will the target her? Mike Rubbo

    • I wonder too if NZ also cant introduce Velib style bike rental systems because of helmets being un dispensible . Do you know anything about that? It surely is a big tourist loss, not having Velib style rental bikes

      Even if helmets could be automatically dispensed, how would tourists , who are used to deciding for themselves in Europe about helmets, react to being treated like babies?

      Lastly, I’ve always seen NZ as less of a nanny state than Aust.

      Walking the Abel Tasman track a few years ago, I was struck by how tricky it was in parts and wondered how you got away with that. (dDdn’t bother me, by the way)

      Here, the fear of lawsuits, would keep such a track from ever happening.We’ve become as litigious as the US.

      It was explained to me that there’s a limit to the moneys that are paid out in claims in NZ, and that makes things like that track and Bungie jumping possible.

      So the helmet business is not typical, it seems. Are you working to repeal helmets for adults?

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