Since the introduction of compulsory bike helmets in Australia, bike riding has declined. There has been a growing view that the net public health effect has been negative as whilst there have been a few less head injuries (there were not many to start with) the reduction in exercise has had a more profound negative effect.
For the record, I am not a cyclist, preferring jogging as aerobic exercise so have no vested interest.
However there have been numerous attempts to encourage more people to use bikes, especially in inner city areas. This is both for health reasons but also to lessen congestion. Many European cities have successful bike hire schemes. You rent a bike from one “depot” and return it either to the same place or another depot. This is popular with tourists and can also suit those who don’t want to buy and store a bike at home.
This has had limited success in Australia partly due to there not being much of a cycling culture but also due to the hassle of helmets.
Larry Husten on Med Page Today summed up the situation very well; “Now let me be the first to admit that I am not against bike helmets. If you want to wear a helmet then you have every right to do so. I’m not going to argue with the proposition that if you fall on your head while cycling you are almost certainly better off if you are wearing a helmet. (But — and this is not my main point, just a point worth noting — it’s been suggested that wearing a helmet creates a comfort level that leads some people to take more risks”.
He adds “… you would have to be crazy not to wear a helmet in a bike race, or while mountain biking, or while taking part in any other sort of inherently dangerous type of cycling. My argument against helmets only concerns routine commuter or casual cycling.”
And “I am opposed to public health campaigns that focus on helmets, thereby implanting in people’s minds the dangers of cycling. Instead, in my view, the public health agenda regarding cycling should be to promote the far greater health benefits of cycling.”
Public health campaigns have certainly been effective in reducing cycling. But if you are only an occasional cyclist then there is the expense of buying one and housing it. Plus, there is the concern that it might get stolen if you do ride and then leave it somewhere.
The next generation of share bikes makes life even easier for the occasional cyclist. O bike allows you to rent a bike for 30 minutes for $2. You do this via an app with a QR code, which “unlocks” the bike. When finished you can leave it anywhere there is a bike rack. How they do this is beyond my tech comprehension.
You would think that councils, which want to discourage cars, would welcome such an initiative. You would of course, be wrong. The same nanny state councils, which berate people for using cars, want to ban these bikes. In their defence, there has been a problem with people just abandoning bikes anywhere rather than leaving them in a bike rack.
Lawyers are jumping in and threatening those cafes could be liable if someone trips over a bike left outside their premises! What? Surely the technology can track who rented a bike and when. Thus, the individual renter is responsible and nobody else. A few hefty fines will solve this.
It is faintly amusing to see the hypocrisy of government. They want people to ride bikes for health and congestion reasons but when it is made easier, rather than look for solutions they want to ban it.
Dr Joe Kosterich MBBS is an author, speaker, media presenter and health industry consultant, who wants you to be healthy and get the most out of life. Dr Joe also gives practical, motivational health talks for the general public and organisations where he is known as “An independent doctor who talks about health”. His latest book “60 minutes to Better Health” is available on Amazon.