Posted to Twitter this week by Marc of Amsterdamize, this image says everything you need to know about a safe cycling environment. The mum has chosen the bike over other forms of transport. The child is relaxed happy and enjoying the wind in his hair. The weather proves no barrier; a slightly chilly day with jackets zipped/buttoned up and Mum wearing a scarf. There is not a helmet in sight. My money is on the little one being dropped off at nursery or – if he’s really lucky – a trip to a cafe for a warm milk. Entirely absent from the photograph is any discernible presence of a motor vehicle. This is a people centric photo from a people centric place.
Wherever you stand on the helmet issue (please see footnote below for a clarification of my own view), a parent is pretty unlikely to put a very young child at risk. The fact that this Mum feels that Amsterdam provides an environment safe enough to plonk the little ‘un on the top tube without the need for additional personal protection, speaks volumes (there’s enough photographic and anecdotal evidence to know this lady is not a cavalier lunatic). I would love to swop listening to myths of cowering in Cardiff for tales of Ambling in Amsterdam any day of the week. Discussion amongst my non-cycling friends always centre around risk – especially those with kids. Cycling is ‘too dangerous’, ‘threatening’ or ‘impractical’ unless you’re cocooned on the benign tarmac of the Taff Trail. As you and I know, cycling is none of those things, but doubtless our infrastructure helps the issue not a jot. It’s no wonder that the Dutch and the Danes make such a loud noise about their own circumstances. With cities are people friendly as this – and that is the true benefit of the bike; peopled focussed urban spaces – who can blame them?
Footnote: Helmets are an emotive issue, particularly when they are forced on cyclists and especially in places like Copenhagen that already have a culture of cycling and excellent infrastructure to support it. For me, it’s a matter of choice; often I commute through the parks to work and don’t wear a helmet. If I was out on a ‘proper’ road ride (training alone or in a group), thrashing my cross bike around or playing silly bleeders on the mountain bike, then I wouldn’t dream of not wearing one. When the environment contains lots of variables that you can exert little control over I’d suggest its prudent to wear one. When the debate gets very heated, I wonder whether the more vociferous members of the anti-helmet lobby have endured a head injury (‘cos I have; collapsing at home and taken to hospital after suffering concussion from a crash on my cyclo-cross bike. I had been racing downhill at the time and have no recollection of at least one whole hour of riding). But don’t listen to me. You be the judge and gauge your own environment. It’s one of the privileges of being a rational human being (and a cyclist in the UK).