Saturday, 24 August 2013

My take on the "helmet/no helmet" debate

A couple of days ago I read an article about a 16 year old lad who was knocked off his bike by a van. He wasn't wearing a helmet because he did not want to mess his hair up. The accident happened 5 weeks ago and he is still in a coma.

Now I could start ranting and raving and demanding everyone who owns a bike should have a helmet, that the government should make it a law, or even that today's teenagers are too fashion conscious for their own good. But that would do absolutely no good at all.

Cycling popularity

Let's look at this rationally. The number of cyclists killed or seriously injured on the roads today is on the increase, simply because cycling's popularity is on the increase worldwide by 7%. In the UK alone this number is 17% over the last decade. The Olympics and Tour de France victories from Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome and even stage wins by Mark Cavendish have endeared cycling to the British public and there has been a boom in cycle purchases. The high street store Halfords makes cycling affordable and easily achievable to beginners with budget lines. People who are wanting to start cycling are not likely to be scared off by buying a bike at Halfords - I think Halfords demystifies cycling and makes it seem less "specialist".

Killed or seriously injured (KSI)

The facts

  • The number of cyclists killed increased by 10 per cent from 107 in 2011 to 118 in 2012.
  • The number of cyclists reported to the police as seriously injured in a road accident increased by 4 per cent to 3,222.
  • Pedal cyclist traffic levels are estimated to have risen by 1.2 per cent over the same period.
  • Cyclists have the second highest KSI rate per billion passenger miles travelled of any road user group. 
The facts you see to the right are taken from the Government website, Think!, which aims to raise awareness for a whole range of road-related campaigns. I think it can be put simply that the more cyclists there are on the road, the more chances there are to be accidents.

Compulsory helmets?

There is a debate raging as to whether helmets are worth it or not. Some people call for helmets to be made mandatory and some people say the choice should be with the cyclist. This quick Google search shows this opinion-dividing topic perfectly. A study in Western Australia showed that a mandatory helmet law actually had a negative impact on cycling, from increased admissions of cyclists into hospitals to a decrease in cycling in general. When you look at cycling in Amsterdam or Copenhagen, you'd struggle to see a cycling helmet amongst the thousands of cyclists.

My conclusion

I always wear a helmet. I have done since I was little, my Mam made me! Now I'm older and can make my own choices, I still wear a helmet. Why? Today's helmet materials and designs make helmets light, comfortable and airy. They are affordable too.
I wear a Specialized Tactic for every type of riding I do. It's highly adjustable, the peak is removable and it doesn't stand out and there's plenty venting to keep me cool.

Specialized tactic - peak on
Specialized tactic - peak off
When I lived with my parents, our neighbour was always out on his bike, with no helmet. My Mam always told him he should be wearing a helmet. He kept saying no, until he came off and had a bad crash. He wished he was wearing a helmet then, and has ever since. That must have been 5/6 years ago. That's not a massive revelation, but it was enough reinforcement for me to keep wearing mine.

Now I'm a bicycle commuter, I need to take a bag and my helmet into the office. This could be a lot to put people off, carrying lots of extra stuff about. The answer is simple: a backpack with lacing or a net to hold the helmet.

I use a Deuter Bike 1, which isn't available anymore. I've linked to an equivalent. This solves the problem easily and doesn't take much space under my desk.

Rucksack and helmet combined
Easy to store


 So that's my take on the helmet debate. I choose to wear one. I think that if compulsory helmets were introduced, I think we'd see similar to Western Australia. Some people hate wearing them and if the law was properly enforced, they just wouldn't ride. The key is awareness; not just from drivers, but cyclists themselves.

How about yourself? Which side of the fence do you stand? Let's hear it in the comments below.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Hamsterley Forest: Top 10 forests in England

An article published on the Guardian website has listed County Durham's Hamsterley Forest in it's top 10 in the country - and rightly so!

The forestry commission are doing a great job of maintaining the trails at Hamsterley. And with the size of the forest, there are routes for every level of cyclist. Families can ride the forest fire roads, you can brush up on you mountain bike handling on the skills loop, tackle blue (moderate), red (hard) or black (severe) trails. The harder they get the less you see of fire roads and more technical single track in the forest itself. With a permit, you can even take on the forests downhill course, Descend.

Over the years the trails have had some serious development, especially on red/black graded routes. This is clear to see on sections called Section 13, Transmission, Nitrous and Accelerator. These are fun to ride fast on an appropriate bike, but there are "chicken runs" if they seem too gnarly. Always stop and check out an unfamiliar route, making sure nobody is haring down behind you.

It costs £3 to park there and with toilets and a visitor centre/cafe, bike shop/hire/jet wash, its a great place to spend a weekend morning or afternoon testing your ability.

You can find directions using the link below:

Hamsterley Forest Tea Rooms

For more info on the trails, visit this awesome webpage:

See the full Guardian article below:

Article content:

Whether you're looking for family-friendly trails or a mountain-bike challenge, England has woods for every cyclist

Cardinham Woods in Cornwall only opened its new mountain-biking trails – including the fearsomely named Bodmin Beast and Hell's Teeth – this year, but it's already becoming a favoured spot among informed and experienced mountain bikers.

Leigh Woods and Ashton Court in Bristol are perfect for a fast fix. Just moments from the city centre, they couldn't feel further from urbanity. Cycle three marked Leigh Woods trails against a stunning backdrop with views of Avon Gorge and Clifton suspension bridge.

New Forest You won't find trails for the extreme cyclist here, but you will enjoy 100 miles of traffic-free routes on flat, gravel track that is perfect for families.  Summer is an extra-special time as the adorable New Forest foals are around, but do not disturb or attempt to feed the forest ponies.

Grizedale Forest in Cumbria has ancient oak woodlands and glorious views over the Lake District and across to the Old Man of Coniston. Of the six way-marked cycling trails, only one is technical and challenging while the others follow forest roads. All include hills, though.

Kielder Forest in Northumberland (pictured below) is awesome both for its size and variety of routes. This is England's largest forest, so if you are planning to cover more than a fraction of it, you've really got to tackle it by bike.

Forest of Dean offers family routes, such as the Peregrine Path, and mountain biking in the Sallowvallets area. It doesn't promise the biggest terrain or gnarliest descents but fast, fun trails – and incredible bacon butties – have made it the English forest of choice for mountain- biking experts at Wideopen magazine.

Dalby Forest in Yorkshire is one of the best mountain-biking sites in the world. The four-mile, black-graded World Cup cycle trail is challenging, but there are less frenetic blue and green trails (graded easy and moderate), too.

Sherwood Pines mountain- bike trails range from green (easy) to orange (extreme) in the East Midlands' largest forest open to the public. Route 6 of the wonderful National Cycle Network runs right through it too, so cycle tourers get a taste of the woodland as part of a longer ride.

Bedgebury Forest in Kent has an eight-mile single track for mountain biking or a six-mile family trail, which is easy to cut short if needed. It's not possible to cycle in the National Pinetum, but take time to explore it on foot.

Hamsterley Forest in County Durham is a well-known mountain-biking spot, renowned for its downhill trails and offering technical, challenging riding. The Walney to Wear long-distance cycle route passes through this forest, too. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


Originally from: Environment: Bike blog |

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Auckland Way - Community Conservation - EVENT

My previous blog post detailed information on what Durham County Council had planned for this morning (4th August 2013) along Auckland Way. A two hour session (10am-12pm) was held to try and remove a lot of the rosebay willowherb weed that has taken over large areas of the verges.

I walked Melba along this section of the path yesterday and thought two hours would be nowhere near enough time - the plant really has taken over.

I rode up to the meeting area about 11ish so I could do at least an hour's work. I wore jeans and a long sleeved bicycle jersey in order to avoid being nettled. That worked, but it was a pretty hot morning.

Upon arriving I was asked to fill in a short questionnaire about how I found out about the event, preferred communication from the council (Twitter, website, leaflets, newspaper etc) and my reasons for volunteering. As I said in my last post, I commute along here a majority of the week so it felt right to give something back.

Full trailer of pulled rosebay
I was reassured my bike would be looked after so I locked it to a fence behind the big council van and information displays and set off down the path to find the group. I was given some heavy duty gloves so I could grab the weed with no fear of being nettled or cutting my hands on thorns. The group (around 12 in total) had filled the trailer by the time I'd arrived so the plan was to pull the weed out and lie it at the bottom of the embankment.

Where the group had been working before the wasps got angry

I set about working about half way down the bank, which was quite steep. After around 10 minutes I felt something sharp on my neck. I thought I'd been nettled.
Another two minutes more of pulling weeds and it was apparent I'd disturbed a wasps' nest as they were swarming about and started stinging me and another gentleman. One flew into his glove and he received a few stings on his wrist. I was stung on the wrist, neck, ear and one lodged itself in my hair and started to sting my head. This was hurting quite a lot and it was difficult to scramble up the embankment swatting wasps away.

We moved a lot further down the path to an area where there isn't as many large bushes, trees or wasps and set to work again. There is a bench overlooking a nice view here so it was a good area to clean up. I was hesitant after the wasp incident but I soon got back into it. We worked for about another 30 minutes before packing up and heading back to the meeting point.

Pulling the rosebay out

You can see the bench in the distance with the rosebay on both sides of the path

The rosebay patch we were going to tackle

After we'd finished - looks much better!
When we had all gathered back at the meeting point I grabbed my water bottle and had a much needed drink. There had been talk about a cake being cut but I thought it was in jest. But I was wrong and I was offered a slice of cake, which I thought was a very nice touch. Everyone loves cake!

I was given a brochure which contained more information on the council countryside service and what they do, as well as a leaflet telling me about volunteering. I'd do it again in the future as the staff were helpful, friendly and very knowledgeable.

If you would like to find out some more you can:

  • Phone: 0191 372 9103

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Auckland Way - Community Conservation

This Sunday (4th August), Durham County Council have organised a two hour session (10am-12pm) to help clean up Auckland Way (scroll to table at the bottom of page).

It isn't litter that the council are targeting, but rosebay willowherb, which they describe as an invasive plant. They hope to improve the nearby wild-flower meadow.

Rosebay Willowherb - Image from

As I travel along Auckland Way on my bicycle commute, I think I should go along and help out. The path is maintained by the council and I don't do much in return - so this is the least I can do.

Here is the poster found from the council website, which has been stapled to numerous fences along the path:

If you would like to attend, here is the address:
Auckland Way Railway Path.
Park at: Coundon Station picnic area, New Coundon, off A688.
 DL14 8QD
Grid ref: NZ 227 301
Find us on Google+