Monday, June 17, 2013

Velo-City 2013 - Mikael Colville-Andersen

UPDATE: June 19, 2013
Mikael audio


June 17, 2013
Over the week at the Rathaus, we heard some fabulous plenary speakers with lots to share and lots to cause inspiration.

...from Mikael, we heard that design can outgun price and performance and that 80% of Copenhageners cycle all year round in all weathers (think I got that right - that 80% figure sounds enormous!). Basically good design can improve behaviours and good design is a way forward.

I caught up with Mikael on a one to one just prior to his Vienna Cycle Chic Street Photography Workshop and asked him my one question that I had for all my inteviewees - the Helmet Question!!!!!

I had hoped to get the audio up earlier onto this blog but internet connections have been hit and miss to put it mildly and to compound things even further, I have no idea how to transfer the interview audio from my iphone onto my laptop. Somewhat reassuringly I'm not the first person to encounter such iphone glitches as evidenced by my google search "how the fuck do you transfer fucking italk files to fucking laptop" which was actually already a google search term!!!!!!

Anyhoo, all that aside I'm hoping once BN3 joins us all in Europe all that will be rectified, but in the meantime, here's the rough transcript of interview audio with Mikael in Vienna late one morning in one amazing take:


"The Helmet Question from Sue Abbott" (answered by Mikael)

"We’re getting to the point where it’s really tedious this whole debate - we’re getting to the point where it’s a stalemate; the science, anybody who actually cares about it knows that the science is 50:50; if you don’t have any conclusive scientific proof for something you don’t legislate for it - it’s that simple - the clarity is right there in front of you.

You hear a lot of people talking about this subject and fortunately you can see when there’s some article online or in online newspapers, you can see in the comments that the people are realising that there are two side to the coin. They’re pulling the wool off their eyes, and it’s really encouraging to see there is a debate and an informed debate from people.

But the fact that we’re even having to talk about this shit is incredibly dull.

Basically the people doing the talking - doctors for example, they know how to be a doctor, that’s what they’re trained for. Learning to be a doctor is a lot of memorisation so you just learn a lot of stuff and then you practice it. You know these people just repeat stuff that they’ve heard ad nauseum without really getting into the subject matter about actual industrial design of helmets and all the different studies.

They just repeat stuff because when you’re trained to be a doctor, you’re incredibly specialised and probably and hopefully incredibly good at what you do because you’ve just learned and memorised things but you don’t actually have a tradition in the medical profession of thinking freely of thinking for yourself. So doctors tell you to wear a helmet because of the stuff they’ve seen.

I don’t give a dam what they’ve seen - you look at the science...boom.

And these doctors who talk in the press all round the world I often invite them to go down the other wards of the hospital which they rarely do because they’re so specialised they just sit in the same office all the time. And they ought to go down to the lifestyle dieseases ward and see all the people suffering from obesity and diabetes and heart disease because of inactivity in our societies.

It’s not as sexy as "ooh it’s your head, you only have one head" and all that emotional propaganda they spit out, but still people are dying from inactivity.

There’s a lot of the people who do the talking, the safety nannies, the worried mothers, the doctors, these people are completely uninteresting to listen to now. They sound more and more wacky for every day that passes, and it’s just getting really boring.

For me the core of it is, if these people promote bicycle helmets but they do not at the same time promote motorist helmets then they shouldn’t be taken seriously; we should completely ignore them because if you promote bicycle helmets you have to promote all the rational helmets as well; motoring helmets.

Somebody who says wear a bike helmet and doesn’t say to wear a motoring helmet, get out of my face you’re not interesting, you should be removed from the debate forcibly, taken out the back and having your nipples twisted or I don’t know what we can find to deal with these people.

Seriously you can’t just promote bicycle helmets - if you’re into that thing, that’s your funky thing and you don’t promote the other forms of head protection equipment, then get out of the debate, nobody wants to listen to you.

In our Copenhagenize index of bicycle friendly cities around the world, one of the parameters was perception of safety. It was a very academic index we made, but one interesting point is perception of safety. What are the helmet wearing rates in these cities? A city with a high helmet-wearing rate, you score low, if you have a low helmet-wearing rate you score high.

This is not to be controversial but it’s because I believe that the only perception of safety that is applicable in our world is that personal perception of that person riding a bicycle. If you see a city where people are not wearing a helmet it’s simply because those individuals make a choice themselves, hopefully they were given the opportunity to make a balanced decision by presenting them with both sides of the coin. But that personal choice, that personal perception is the only thing that matters. All the safety nannies are completely irrelevant because it’s that individual that matters.

So it’s up to the individual...present them with both sides of the coin and they’ll make the decision that fits them and off they go. I always say, if wearing a helmet keeps you on a bike, great; if not wearing a helmet keeps you on bike, great, I don’t give a long as you’re on a bike.

But the whole emotional propaganda from all these safety freaks and people who know nothing about it, the fascinating thing is that the people doing all the talking about helmets know nothing about helmets - they repeat ad nauseum statistics that they read in a brochure or from lobby groups that are funded by the bicycle helmet industry - I mean c’mon it’s not wikileaks but it’s pretty basic money tactics of the entire you know, shut up."

- pure 100% Mikael, and if Australian governments just listened to him, maybe we too could have a slice of his Copenhaginising paradise and perhaps one day for once feature positively on his liveable cities index...maybe...


  1. Hi Sue,
    Mikael indulges in some emotive language of his own. I'm curious that both sides of this debate use obfuscation, poor logic and misuse of statistics to press their case.
    There is a strong argument to redact the mandatory helmet laws in australia: this revision won't come from the emotive position as expressed by Mikael.

    seamus gardiner

    1. Seamus,
      Mikhael skewered you and the likes of you in your profession, which is really why you made this mainly ad hom comment. You're not even brave enough to look in the mirror and contemplate that the barrow you've been pushing all these years has been the wrong one. Oh, and I've read your insults on The Conversation that people like Mikhael are only concerned with hat-hair.

      Why don't you do as Mikhael suggests and go visit some of the other hospital wards where many more people that you see in your job are dying because of inactive lifestyles. You took the Hippocratic Oath didn't you, and not a hypocritical one?

    2. Thanks, Jim.
      i don't think you could call my comments ad-hom. All I did was describe mikael's commentary as emotive. Which it plainly is.
      Mikael also makes several logical errors in his argument.
      I would describe your reply as ad hom - you attack my presumed motivation without summoning the argumentation to attack my position.
      Like I wrote - you won't change MHLs in Australia without a reasoned argument and without evidence. I would remind you that MHLs exist in Australia. Do you wish to change them? The ball is in your court. Not mine.



    3. I don't think Seamus Gardiner is a medical professional, Jim. He's certainly not listed on the AHPRA site.

      The fact is that our mandatory bicycle helmet laws do more harm than good. Anything that discourages something with such positive health benefits should be removed.

      We have a fine example of helmet freedom in our own country which, curiously, all these local studies choose to ignore (Northern Territory). They also choose to ignore the very, very low helmet wearing rates in many key locations around the country, despite it being law.

      This notion that "If it only saves one life, it's worth it" is actually an absurd way to implement any public health policy - and they know it. If it was, why isn't vaccination mandatory? Mandatory skin checks? Mandatory lifejackets whenever near water or water-related areas?

      The facts are that:
      - helmets are useful in some circumstances for an individual
      - helmet laws are bad for society

      I am a medical professional (feel free to look me up on AHPRA) and many of my colleagues, including Emergency Consultants, agree with me on this issue... but they have far too many things on their plate to dedicate time to fight this issue. That's a pity, but I understand.

      Meanwhile the rest of the world looks at how we make cycling 'safe' and laughs...

      Want to make cycling safe:
      - lower urban speed limits
      - limit rat running
      - separated quality infrastructure in places with high traffic speeds/volumes
      - fewer rubbish painted symbols on roads
      - removal of ineffectual 'feel good' (for some) laws like mandatory helmet laws
      - change zoning laws so travel distances to the local shops isn't ridiculous.

      This notion that some suggest of 'removing the law when the infrastructure is good enough' is a political dummy. The goal posts will forever shift so that it is *never* good enough for these folks.

      The above suggestions need to happen *together* not piecemeal.


      Dr Paul Martin

    4. Seamus, Emotion is warranted on occasion. In Europe, where Mikaels children go to school, helmet promoters are trying to pedal their product using children. The emotion of fear is attached to cycling in an attempt to frighten parents into putting helmets on their children. Once they have achieved this, the parents are compelled to wear helmets to 'set a good example'. In the short term this may sell more helmets but long term it reduces cycling, increases motor car use and makes cycling more dangerous.
      This is what Mikael is up against. There is plenty of non-emotive evidence against helmet laws. That is not what interests those who have the power to remove them

    5. Paul,

      I took a chance that the pretentious fop's own words implied that he worked as a professional "Admittedly I am biased towards protection (after working in a Neuro-ICU)" from

      Maybe he was just the janitor that cleaned the floors. He's obviously neurotic so I'm not going to respond to him anymore.

      I agree with your strategy. Refer my comments to Kathy elsewhere on this post.


    6. Thanks for the replies,
      I did not state that I supported MHLs for adults, merely that the arguments used by Mikael were poor arguments.
      I do believe that MHLs should exist for children.
      I believe that helmets should be promoted for those circumstances where the risk for individuals is increased.
      I believe that the argument around MHLs is in large part a red herring. Cycling safety is more a factor of education, infrastructural and legislative change than that of the wearing or non-wearing of helmets. At least that is what the evidence suggests.
      This is neither an argument for and against MHLs, it just goes to show how non-important the issue is except for zealots on both sides.
      I have no problem with removing MHLs for adults in Australia. None at all. I have no interest in advocating for this change because it is so low down on the heirarchy of factors that influence cycling safety. But nor do i wish to hinder those who would change the law.
      All I ask is that you use arguments based on logic and evidence; not obfuscatory and emotive arguments.


      P.s. kathy, what is the evidence against helmet laws? This is what you will need to use to convince our legislators. The only evidence that i could find in all my readings is the argument that it reduces cycling participation rates. This is a factor, albeit a small one, the biggest determinent preventing cycling is fear of being struck by a car and the 'near miss' factor - this is infrastructural not MHL.
      It's curious that the two countries with cultures similar to ours (UK and US) do not have MHLs for adults (20 states of the US) or MHLs at all (UK) yet their cycling participation rates are barely better (UK) or worse than ours (US).

    7. The evidence against helmet laws is that they have failed to reduce safety for cyclists on a population basis. The protective effect of helmets in the event of an accident has now been shown to be over-rated. Helmet laws have had a number of unintended consequences which need to be weighed against the benefits of helmet laws. This has not been done by Government.
      I cannot produce this evidence with references here. Other commentators will confirm that it exists. I am putting it together to send to the Victorian Government. When it is done I will send you a copy.

    8. Hi Kathy,
      I have read most of the commonly cited literature on this subject. I am not a statistician. Before I started looking at this subject I was in favour of MHLs for adults and children. I have changed my mnind on this.
      Helmets are not as protective as some earlier studies have described. There is evidence that cycling in Australia decreased after 1991; some of which can be attributed to helmets (some to tother factors - and populrity is increasing again, anyway a separate argument).
      My main basis for changing my mind is the libertarian issue. Helmets ar enot protective enough to warrant their mandatory status (unlike seatbelts in cars). Also, the biggest factors that determine cycling safety are infrastructural, cultural and legislative.
      This makes helmets a post hoc protection. They should be promoted for areas where risk is greater; but not necessarily mandatory.


  2. "But the fact that we’re even having to talk about this shit is incredibly dull." - well put.

    And Mikael leads with what is probably the most important aspect to this whole discussion: the fact that there is no consensus from science on this issue. The MHL legislation in Australia was brought in without conclusive proof from science and so we don't need conclusive proof from science to have it removed.

    fair go: helmet freedom for cyclists or helmets for motorists - which is it to be?

    1. Dapper,
      Your statement is the same error in logic as stating:
      'Their is no consensus or conclusive proof with scientists around climate change; therefore, we should do nothing about climate change'

      You are correct that there was insufficient proof to enforce MHLs in the early 90s. That was 22 years ago. Since then there have been a number of studies that have shown the efficacy of bike helmets in mitigating against head injury. The problem is that this protection is post hoc. We should be concentrating on preventing collisions occurring in the first place.
      Because you don't like helmets is not evidence for their ineffectiveness. A better argument is required.



    2. Except that there is an extremely strong consensus among scientists that climate change is both a problem and anthropogenic. Which is why many countries are taking the problem very seriously.

      Very few countries think cycle helmets do enough good to legislate for compulsory wearing of them: in fact those countries with the highest levels of cycling seem to be the least likely to feel any need to legislate. Which is odd, if helmets are are good as their advocates say they are.

      There is also a very string scientific consensus that cycle "helmets" (polystyrene hats with lots of holes) do no more than they are physically designed and tested to do. They are most certainly not designed or tested to provide protection in a high-speed collision with a motor vehicle, even though most people wear them because of fear of such motor vehicle collisions.

      Helmet wearing levels in countries do not influence cycling levels: they are an output, an indicator of how safe cycling feels. Helmet compulsion laws however do influence cycling levels, as experience clearly shows.

      Thank you, Australia, for performing this country-wide experiment, so other countries don't have to!

    3. There is a strong consensus that helmets reduce the effects of head injury. I know this from reading the literature. To deny helmet efficacy is as biased as denying anthropogenic climate change.
      Helmet efficacy and MHLs are two different arguments. When anti-MHL activists stop conflating the two then the anti-MHL position will gain more traction in Australia. It i spossible to acknowledge helmet efficacy and to not support MHLs. Until this occurs anti-MHL activists will be a fringe group. The argument have to start from evidence not emotion.

      regards, Seamus

  3. Why has the ECF chosen to host VeloCity in Adelaide? A city with the highest modal share for private cars of all Australian capital cities (and likely all Australian cities). A city which paints lines on the side of the road in the door zone and calls it a job well done - even going so far as to put up Bicycle Lane signs and fining people who decide riding between the lines is suicide. A city with a cycling culture comprised very much solely of sporting cyclists. Why host a liveable cities, bicycle centric conference in a car centric city where the average cyclist rides for sport on the weekend and transports their bicycle to the ride on the back of their car? And where the whole Australian helmet centric viewpoint is de rigueur? It just seems to lend legitimacy to this woeful state of affairs.

  4. Anonymous - I was initially very angry with the ECF choosing Adelaide for 2014 VeloCity. It would seem to flatter the very people who set the Police onto us and tell them that Australia is doing a great job for cycling. These people include not only State Governments and so-called bicycle advocacy groups like Bicycle SA but also all the people who say they will support the removal of helmet laws when we get the infrastructure. These people with power , staff and the financial resources to promote their image of a happy Oz cycling culture, with helmets, will not want the helmet issue raised; will not want discussion or publicity for the estimated 2 million Australians who gave up cycling when the law came in, the estimated 500,000 helmet fines over 20 years, the continued fining, harassment , court cases and occasional Police assaults on people who have been marginalised by the law,

    I'm now resigned to this event and hoping to make the best of it . Can we , in co-operation with our ECF supporters, attempt to shame our leaders into doing something about this by attracting publicity to the ongoing problem with helmet laws while Velocity is on ?

  5. Kathy,

    I agree with your sentiments. However as good as shaming (and my favourite, mockery) are they probably won't do much, witness Vancouver that still has its MHL.

    I'm not suggesting giving up on shaming and mockery, but I think we advocates need to counter the MHL-taliban's slogan of "won't someone think of the children" with a campaign that is simultaneously for proper (i.e. Dutch) cycling infra and against MHL, via an alternative "well, if you really do think of the children" campaign.

    As to how to go about this, unless there is a miracle and News Ltd in Australia has a road to Damascus moment on cycling just like the London Times, then it's going to have to be carried out mainly in social media and on the streets. There's a lot of people who are a lot more savvy at this sort of thing than I am and Velo City 2014 is too good an opportunity to miss.

  6. Jim, Is there anyone in SA who could possibly start planing for Velo-fringe ? It could be on the streets or in the pubs and be a gathering of those Australians who cannot afford to attend the main forums but want to be heard , and their European supporters.

    1. Punk Commute in Adelaide, anyone????

      I'm definitely up for it!

      This is our moment when quite a few global bicycle eyes will be upon us and we'll have a chance to heard and seen.

      Lots of scope for some funtimes!!!

    2. Kathy,
      A couple of names:
      Edward from is very passionate.

      Paul, the organiser of the European Bicycle Circle (contact details at may plan a ride around the time of VC2014, which could be an opportunity for like-minded people to get together.

      To get an idea of how "cyclists" feel about MHL in Adelaide see the BikeSA newsletter article with Richard Branson in it, or worse still, go onto the Adelaide Cyclists website. Actually there is a Danish guy on AC who is quite anti-MHL, so there's another possible contact for you.

      To any visitors coming to Adelaide and wanting some helmet-free riding time with the least chance of the man bothering you (just see how Richard Branson and Robert Pattinson were treated for daring to be normal), the best place to stay is the Adelaide Shores complex at West Beach (where kids and adults ride around h-free as if it's normal). This care-free oasis is only 10km from the CBD and is situated near the junction of our almost continuous coast cycling trail and the River Torrens Linear Park trail which takes you to the city and beyond, on both of which you can ride helmet-free and be unlikely to be hassled. They are shared paths but that's all we've got in the city (except for the painted bike lanes of course!). There are many lovely recreational cycling trails on the city fringe including to the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale wine regions, which can both be done in combo with the urban train network. I'm starting to sound like a tourist operator!

      Love the idea of a Punk Commute for VC2014. We could definitely do with an old-fashioned freakout! You've just shone a glimmer of hope down into this dark corner of the cycling world, so much so I actually might stick around for the event rather than go away to escape the embarrassment.

  7. Thanks for the contacts Jim. It sounds almost as bad as Victoria with it's $176 fines and the dominance of Bicycle Victoria. It is good to know where we can go for a recreational ride when we come over. I can think of no-where in Victoria where you are safe. We have the bicycle police who were appointed to 'protect' cyclists. In reality, they cruise the off-road bike trails looking for helmetless riders - sometimes in packs (like peletons)
    We are considering coming over for at least part of the event and if we do I'll be in contact with those people you suggested and Sue of course.

  8. Jim, you must stick around...I'm dying to meet you!!!!