Pedal Power 47
Christmas Party - Children please
As the Christmas months are coming closer, it will soon be the campaigns Christmas Party. Please may you bring children along.
There will be a collection of Brio train track for the younger ones to play with. So can children please come and join Sophie (9, me) and Isobel (4).
The Helmet Threat
by Ariadne Tampion
Campaign members may be aware of an organisation called the Bicycle Helmet Initiative Trust (BHIT). Its stated aim is to get all cyclists wearing helmets and it appears to be pursuing this simple end with vigour down all available avenues. For example, it has considerable influence in the Government's Road Safety Unit, which in turn provides a substantial chunk of its funding. This symbiosis led recently to the awful 'skulls' images for teenagers. In a previous newsletter I mentioned the CTC's counter-campaign of which many of you will be aware and in which some of you will have taken part.
The BHIT's latest project is a circular letter to headteachers trying to persuade them to make helmet wearing compulsory for all children cycling to school. This letter is clear evidence that this organisation is a self-serving cancer in the road safety world. It quotes the figure for total annual head injuries from all causes and appears to attribute them to cycling accidents! (The true proportion is approximately one per cent.) As a result, one school in Surrey has banned cycling to school. This news terrified me and I immediately composed a letter to my daughters' headteacher (at Holywell School) to try and counteract the BHIT circular which she seemed likely to have received. I append the text of my letter to this article. Please feel free to use or adapt any part of it if you have children in school and want to make a similar pre-emptive strike. (Mrs Linnitt has replied that she will not be making helmets compulsory.)
I can heartily recommend the website referred to in the letter, www.cyclehelmets.org. It is interesting to note that in their policy statement the group running the site makes a corporate confession that in the early days of cycle helmets many of them believed the optimistic claims then bandied about for the level of injury reduction possible through helmet wearing. But they are obviously true medical scientists, constantly sifting the evidence in pursuit of the truth and not afraid to stand up and defend it. I am absolutely delighted that they have come to the conclusion that cycling is a wonderful life and health giving activity and that helmet promotion is an anti-cycling philosophy. This is what the anti-helmet campaigners of the 1980's, of which I was one, felt instinctively to be the case.
Dear Mrs Linnitt,
I would like to raise this matter with you because I believe you may have received a circular letter from the Bicycle Helmet Initiative Trust urging you, as a Headteacher, to require all children cycling to your school to wear helmets. I would like to express the hope that you will not take it too seriously or act on it hastily. The letter has been criticised by the Cycle Campaign Network and the National Cycling Strategy Board for being alarmist and using distortions of the truth to make its point.
Since cycle helmets became readily available in the late 1980's there has been a lot of research done to assess their effectiveness. Some studies have been undertaken with the express hope and expectation of quantifying the benefits of helmet wearing so cannot be accused of anti-helmet bias. Yet not one has demonstrated a reduction in the risk of head injuries to cyclists by wearing helmets and many show an increased risk. A recent result which I find very alarming is in the Canadian State of Alberta, where a law requiring children to wear cycle helmets was followed by a doubling of head injuries over the following six months. At first the risk compensation hypothesis seemed adequate to explain these results, but now the extra risk associated with helmet wearing is being shown to be so great that researchers are looking at the physical characterics of helmets and how they might influence the nature of falls and injuries so obtained. At the very least there is a good case for schools to exercise caution in making any recommendation that helmets be worn, let alone stipulating any requirement.
Research studies which appear to support helmet wearing are 'hospital based' studies which all share the flaw that they look only at patients admitted with head injuries and do not relate this to the risk to individuals and populations of actually suffering these injuries. Some such studies have additionally been shown to have serious inaccuracies in the reporting and recording of data.
However, one result of helmet promotion campaigns (compulsion being the extreme case) has been clearly demonstrated. They reduce the amount of cycling undertaken in the affected population. It appears that the wearing of helmets gives cycling the image more of an extreme sport than of a normal every-day mode of transport. Yet it is widely accepted that an increase in cycling as transport could play a large role in tackling many of our society's current problems: environmental degradation, social exclusion, poor health due to both sedentary lifestyles and traffic fumes, traffic danger, unfriendly crime-ridden neighbourhoods.
As a family, we have a particular interest in cycle advocacy as active members of the local cycle campaign group, the Loughborough and District Cycle Users' Campaign. We feel it is important to do our own cycling without helmets in order to give a positive image through our personal example. By her own choice, Sophie has served as the Campaign's Children's Officer for the last two years and takes her advocacy role very seriously. It came as a shock to her to discover that the Cycling Proficiency providers now require helmets to be worn for their courses and she is now understandably distressed to learn that there is pressure for a requirement to wear helmets for simply riding to school.
If you would like further information about this issue there is a comprehensive website dealing with it: www.cyclehelmets.org
Thanking you for your kind attention,
by Peter Hopkins
Until sometime in the 1980s, cycling was one of the most common ways of getting to school, at least for secondary pupils. In jokes and stories, it was a cliché that Jack the Lad and his mates would have their furtive breaktime fag "behind the bike sheds" - because of course all schools had bike sheds. And into the late 1960s many teachers would also arrive on bikes without feeling that they had compromised their dignity (at Loughborough Grammar School this included even the Deputy Head, Harry Murray).
So when I took up my first teaching post at Loughborough in 1960, this type of utility/commuter cycling was simply taken for granted. It wasn't necessary to persuade youngsters' parents to let them try cycling to school. On the contrary, so numerous were the boys wanting to pedal in each day that the school's 250 numbered cycle stalls were inadequate. At the start of each academic year applicants' addresses were scrutinised and first priority in allocating the stalls was given to boys who had more than a mile to travel. Those who lived nearer, it was felt, ought to walk. The rest came by bus or train (the Great Central line was then still open, of course.) The "School Run", now so often referred to in discussions about traffic problems, was not a phrase people would have recognised anywhere in the country 40 years ago.
So, right from the start, my involvement with youngsters was concerned only with recreational and (later) competitive cycling. Having being a club cyclist for nearly 12 years before starting teaching, I was unusually lucky in being able to indulge my chosen pastime in this way. I say this because, although cycling was so widespread as a cheap and convenient mode of transport, that was all it was in the eyes of most school authorities. Very few head teachers - and even fewer Games teachers - thought of it as a valid physical activity in its own right, even though it has been an Olympic sport since the revival of the Games in 1896 and is longer-established than many recognised activities such as Basketball or Squash. It did not (and probably still does not) feature in the curricula of P.E. colleges.
I was therefore rather surprised when my offer to take boys cycling was accepted. Teachers are generally expected to contribute in some way to school life outside the classroom, and this usually takes the form of coaching a team in one of the major sports, assisting with the Scouts, producing or stage-managing in drama, running a debating society, becoming a Cadet Force officer - or whatever. But the Head who appointed me, though essentially a traditionalist, was evidently wise and experienced enough to recognise that a school will get far more mileage out of a teacher (literally so in my case!) if he or she is voluntarily doing something they enjoy - however unusual - rather than something they have been obliged to accept as 'part of the job'. In fact, he had really wanted me to be a CCF officer, but did not press this on sensing my reluctance. He must also have sensed the strength of my enthusiasm for cycling.
So, for almost three decades thereafter, I took boys cycling. During the week it was at first a Games option for senior pupils on Wednesday afternoons, with occasional YH weekends. Later it became an alternative option to CCF (i.e. again seniors). From 1963 I took junior boys YH touring during the holidays, with practice runs on Sundays for some months before each one. By the 1980s we were running two tours each year: Spring Bank Holiday week and a week in July. I never took boys over 14 on these, as I felt they were old enough to hostel by themselves - which of course I wanted to encourage. There was always much more demand for places than I could satisfy, and plenty of direct and indirect evidence confirmed that the tours were hugely enjoyed. Many boys came on them for successive years.
I needed a co-leader on each tour, and at various times was helped by parents, colleagues and Upper Sixth boys who had started with me as juniors years before. After I married in 1969, my wife Margaret was always my co-leader (an entirely willing and enthusiastic one, I should add, as we had met in a cycling club!) Our last junior tour was in July 1989. My senior midweek afternoon cycling ended in 1990.
In 1967 six teacher-cyclists met at Chesterfield to found the English Schools Cycling Association. I was the first General Secretary, and continued to serve on the National Executive until about 1983, editing the annual handbook from 1970 to 1980. All this gave me a much wider view of school cycling, though unsurprisingly I found others' experiences similar to mine. Teacher-cyclists were certainly the best way "into" schools, but keen parents were very valuable, too, and we did our best to help local clubs with advice. Nowadays the Association offers appropriate courses and qualifications to give greater credibility to both teachers and non-teachers who want to become involved in school cycling. It must be admitted, however, that the ESCA (now BSCA) has always been concerned more with racing than with touring - and this is also what usually interests most external clubs who want to become involved with schools.
Outside school, my only contact with youngsters was in the Loughborough Section of the CTC. During my 10 years or so as Secretary, I kept detailed records of attendance on runs and took hundreds of photographs. The statistics and pictures in our scrapbooks of 1978-83 confirm my experience in school cycling: that is, youngsters of 11-16 were VERY keen to "have a go". Indeed, the numbers could be almost an embarrassment at times - and of course we could not reduce them as I could at school. So on most Sunday runs of that period, two-thirds of the turnout were under 18. In our year-long 'Best All-Rounder' competition, there were enough girls for us to have not only a Ladies' trophy, but also an under 18 Junior Ladies' shield and a cup for the top-scoring Novice Girl (i.e. an Under 16 in her first year of cycling with the Section). Nowadays, the youngsters on all the Section runs are rarely under 45!
One thing we should never expect of Youth - in cycling or anything else - is permanent commitment. A high drop-out rate is inevitable and must not disappoint us, because children and teenagers like to try many things. I doubt whether many of the baggy-trousered lads I see skimming around market places on Sundays will still be skate-boarding at 30! Even those who seem to enjoy the challenge of their DofE Silver and Gold Expeditions may in fact never sleep under canvas again in their lives. If 5% of 30-year-olds are still pursuing an activity they first tried in their teens, then I'd say that's quite a good "result".
Regrettably, therefore, the vast majority of the (approximately 230) pupils who came cycling with me over 30 years of racing and touring are almost certainly no longer active cyclists. Nor are most of the Loughborough CTC boys and girls of 20 years ago. But that doesn't mean that I - or Loughborough CTC - failed in some way. The important thing is that those former kids have ridden bikes on the road and seen traffic from the cyclist's point of view. The same cannot be said of many present-day teenagers who see their bikes mainly as off-road stunt machines. If they do venture on to the road, all too often - either through ignorance or bravado - they ride in a selfishly undisciplined way which causes us all to be tarred with the same brush, prompting those remarks which I dread, beginning "These cyclists . . ."
One valuable spin-off which I had not anticipated as a young teacher has become apparent to me only with the passage of time, as my junior enthusiasts have matured. Some are doing well in influential careers. Three who toured with me in 1985-6, Ben Bowden, Gareth Branston and David Lintott, became QCs a few years ago. Bob Small, who as a 1st Former was on my 1971/72 tours and won the ESCA Under 13 National Circuit and Cyclo-Cross championships, is now a Detective Superintendent in the Leics. Police. His equally successful contemporary Chris Wreghitt became National Open Cyclo-Cross Champion when School Captain - holding the title for the next four years after leaving school and now running his own import agency. Earlier still, Richard Simons from the 1965-66 tours, is a Professor of Trauma Surgery in California (and resumed serious cycling more than 10 years ago, his parents tell me). My point is that, even if such people are not direct ambassadors for cycling, they raced and toured with enthusiasm as youngsters - and for us to have these prominent, articulate members of society "on our side" can only be advantageous. Furthermore, these are the ones I know about. There are probably more.
Probably the one who gives me greatest satisfaction is Ken Platts, who has kept up his cycling from the very beginning on those same 1965/66 junior tours and weekends as Richard Simons. Currently Ken is Reader in Manufacturing Engineering at Cambridge, so presumably a Professorship is likely to follow. I have a photograph of him on a practice run with his flat-barred roadster (Sturmey 3-speed, cushion saddle and steel Endricks), sporting woollen balaclava and school mac. Just after leaving school in 1970, Ken co-led a junior tour with me and helped as Machine Examiner when we promoted circuit racing at Wymeswold Airfield. He joined the CTC but did not take up racing until Cambridge, where he gained his first Blue by winning the 1972 Varsity 25 in record time - and presumably set up a novel sporting record by winning another Blue 16 years later when, after a long spell in industry, he returned to Jesus College as a Ph.D. student in 1988! In the meantime he had been in the 1976 Montreal Olympics road race squad and ridden major international events like the Scottish Milk Race and Warsaw-Berlin-Prague.
Since then he has also featured in the prestigious Top Twelve of the BBAR (British Best All-Rounders in time trials over 50 miles, 100 miles and 12 hours). A couple of years ago I met him at the CTC National Dinner in Leicester, where he had come to receive the CTC's own National time trials trophy. He was by then eligible for the Veterans' competition, but was overall winner because he had beaten all the younger men. In 2001 his 100 mile time was 3h 45m ??s. Now I can remember all the excitement back in 1955 when we were eagerly awaiting the ever-nearer cracking of the magic 4 hours for 100 miles by Ray Booty as week by week he lowered the figures. At last, in the famous Bath Road 100 on August Bank Holiday, Booty clocked 3h 58m ??s - which, like Bannister's 4-minute mile the year before, was reported as far afield as Australia and Hong Kong. Booty was of course in his prime, and no one else got under four hours until 1962. When Ken did his 3h 45m in 2001, some 13 minutes faster, he was nudging 50!
I suppose that Chris Wreghitt and Ken Platts are for me outstanding examples of where Youth Cycling can lead. Both began as young as 12. Both eagerly joined several school tours and weekends, and both went on to tour on their own initiative (Chris gained an ESCA Gold Touring award at about 16, but all ESCA activity was after Ken's time at school). Both distinguished themselves in racing at national and international level (Chris even turning professional for Bianchi after graduating) - but neither became arrogant or patronising. On the contrary, even when they were strong and established riders, both were happy to assist leading junior tours or to take part in the British Cycle Touring Competition. I have long observed that a scornfully superior attitude towards tourists is the mark of the fourth-rate racing man, and that a dismissive attitude towards racing cyclists as "just athletes on bikes" is the mark of the bigoted tourist. Neither Chris nor Ken were guilty of this kind of negative outlook, and both have carried on cycling into middle age.
But they are, of course, the exception rather than the rule, and today we are not getting the numerous youngsters who used to experience just the odd season of cycling. Clubs and CTC Sections are very concerned about the dearth of young recruits. A generation is growing up which will be, at best, indifferent to cycling because it has no personal experience of it. And the problem is exacerbated by fear of litigation. In recent years there have been some major scare stories about school trips - even involving prison sentences. I'm not at all sure that I would want to lead tours nowadays as I did for nearly 30 years. Filling in the now obligatory Risk Assessments, I would be only too conscious of lawyers waiting to pounce on the smallest careless slip. The CTC, too, is currently going to a lot of trouble to ensure that runs leaders are "registered" and that all sorts of steps are taken to anticipate potential legal action.
Given the chance to cycle, most youngsters love it - as I know from long experience - whether it's day trips, or touring, or racing, or just to school. I was lucky to be teaching at a time when it was easy to exploit this natural enthusiasm. Kids don't change much, so the potential is still there, even if subdued by parental fears. But we haven't yet worked out how to take advantage of it in the present climate.