Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Lowering the Stakes

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  • Bart Janssen, in reply to BenWilson,

    never, never, never buy a second hand helmet

    Ok I have to address this because it is a failure to understand how bicycle helmets are constructed and worse it leads to the belief that cycle helmets can protect from all kinds of impact.

    This statement is absolutely true for motorcycle helmets. It is also true that a motorcycle helmet if dropped even once loses much of the ability to save your life. The reason is because the material inside the helmet is designed to collapse and absorb impact energy even at very low impact forces.

    Bicycle helmets are different. Having just read more than I ever expected to about bicycle helmets it appears that most cycle helmets are constructed of a hard shell and a plastic foam inner. The shell is fine until it breaks, it is not designed to absorb energy by compression, rather it is designed to spread the energy of the impact from a point across the whole helmet. Unless it is cracked it will continue to do that.

    The foam inner is designed to absorb energy by compression. BUT and this is the key difference between motorcycle helmets and cycle helmets and a major reason why cycle helmets suck, the foam does not start absorbing energy until quite high impact forces. High enough to actually start to compress the foam. At low forces the foam absorbs no energy and remains as functional (or non-functional depending on your point of view) as the day it was sold.

    Providing the cycle helmet has no cracks in the hard outer shell and no compression of the inner foam then it is just as useless (er I mean useful) as the day it was made.

    All the above doesn't mean all old helmets will be perfect, it's possible there will be cracks and flaws you can't see. But the difference in safety between a new helmet and an old (second-hand) one is likely to be negligible.

    If you actually care about the safety of your brain it seems like you'll have to go to much more effort and expense than any standard brand new helmet will provide. Meanwhile a second hand helmet in good condition (even if it had been dropped) will protect your head pretty much the same as any new helmet.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4458 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to BenWilson,

    a WOF for bicycles is interesting, but I don’t think it would fly. It would make cycling considerably more costly, and they’d be giving tickets to children all the time. Way to kill cycling off.

    Far from it. In Davis, CA all cycles had to be registered. And cycle cops could and would remove unsafe cycles from use. Yet Davis is full of cyclists because the city is designed to allow cyclists safe and convenient routes. It's also flat.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 4458 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Poole, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    Yet Davis is full of cyclists because the city is designed to allow cyclists safe and convenient routes.

    That's a key thing. In most of NZ, especially in Auckland, cycling is enough of a hassle (and game of Russian roulette) that requiring and enforcing a WoF requirement for bicycles would be more of a headache than many were prepared to sustain. If cycling was mostly a pain-free (metaphorical and literal) pursuit it would be less challenging.

    Auckland • Since Mar 2007 • 4097 posts Report Reply

  • 81stcolumn, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    Manufacturers stated life-span for helmets is 3-4 years. While I suspect this is probably a little on the short side the reasoning behind this is real. The foam inside helmets does become brittle and is not immune to certain types of spray solvents/propellants, regardless of the state of the shell. Fit really does matter, not only for crash protection but slippage that at best distracts and at worst obstructs view. The whole point of the foam is that it aids deceleration something undermined by the size of the gap between head and functional body of the helmet.

    Nawthshaw • Since Nov 2006 • 790 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Bart Janssen,

    All the above doesn’t mean all old helmets will be perfect, it’s possible there will be cracks and flaws you can’t see. But the difference in safety between a new helmet and an old (second-hand) one is likely to be negligible.

    If you could provide any evidence for that, I’d buy it. Bike helmets are pretty weak devices. However, the point still stands that there is no compulsion of any kind with other vehicles to couple the sale of a vehicle with a safety device standard, and I don’t think it’s at all practical to do so for bicycles. What is a bicycle anyway? It’s only got about 20 separate parts, any combination of which can be offered for sale, and they can be used for any purpose too. You might just be buying a bike for the stylish frame, and intending to replace every other part. Or you could be making a modern art masterpiece out of it.

    It should not be impossible to sell a piece of shit old bicycle in a garage sale just because you haven’t got a helmet to give away with it. If you made such a law it could be circumvented in 1 minute by selling the bike as dismantled parts, and an assembly service. It is not on a seller of a vehicle to ensure the safety of a buyer in the goods they sell, except in so far as not to tell outright lies about the condition. This idea is hopelessly unrealistic about what the bicycle market is actually like.

    Yet Davis is full of cyclists because the city is designed to allow cyclists safe and convenient routes. It’s also flat.

    Yes, those would be the reasons, I’d expect. Bicycle registration is also probably a good idea in a place where bike theft is a massive problem, although an opt-in makes more sense to me. Also, they seem to have a big bicycle abandonment issue (I suggest that students finishing their studies would often leave a valueless bike behind*), which probably leads to people stealing and using unmaintained bicycles. Even seeing an unmaintained one gives police an excuse to check if it’s stolen. Davis is rather a special case, quite hard to compare it to a city 25 times it’s size like Auckland is.

    *ETA About half of the population of Davis is students.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10650 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Poole, in reply to BenWilson,

    Bicycle registration is also probably a good idea in a place where bike theft is a massive problem

    It's a problem quite out of control in Stockholm, from what I've read, and they don't have bicycle registration. I suspect that it rapidly becomes unwieldy and unmanageable when applied to even a moderately-sized population. Davis' population is lower than that of Palmy, and not too much above Nelson's.

    Auckland • Since Mar 2007 • 4097 posts Report Reply

  • Chris Waugh, in reply to Matthew Poole,

    I suspect that it rapidly becomes unwieldy and unmanageable when applied to even a moderately-sized population.

    And yet we manage it with cars.

    Wellington • Since Jan 2007 • 2401 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Chris Waugh,

    I suspect that it rapidly becomes unwieldy and unmanageable when applied to even a moderately-sized population.

    I'm sure it could be done. It just seems like overkill until there is actually a serious problem with poorly maintained bikes on the road. Police can and do enforce the basic safety laws of wearing helmets and running at night with lights already. Going to the lengths of designing a testing system, with stipulations of all the bike metrics that must be satisfied, is a solution looking for a problem, IMHO. Let's get people on the bikes first before we start thinking up more ways to take bikes off people.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10650 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Poole, in reply to Chris Waugh,

    I suspect that it rapidly becomes unwieldy and unmanageable when applied to even a moderately-sized population.

    And yet we manage it with cars.

    We've been doing it for many decades, back to when the number of automobiles was minuscule. The infrastructure in support has grown as the vehicle population has grown, but it's effectively been an "always" proposition from a point in time when the local authorities knew personally everyone who owned an automobile.
    Trying to retro-fit it to cars would be no more successful than trying to do so to tens-of-thousands of bicycles.

    Auckland • Since Mar 2007 • 4097 posts Report Reply

  • Kumara Republic,

    Hamburg knows a thing or two about vision. First it buys back its electricity grid, now it's looking at a car-free CBD.

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 5429 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz,

    Surely one person's unsafe cycle is another's unicycle/fixie/mountain bike?

    Aren't bikes officially supposed to have bells and mudguards, etc?

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report Reply

  • Moz, in reply to Rich of Observationz,

    Aren’t bikes officially supposed to have bells and mudguards, etc?

    A bell, reflectors, at least one brake, a chain drive are in the law directly, and by implication handlebars since it’s an offense not to hold onto them. The rest is optional including the frame and seat.

    The whole “Bike WoF” falls to the same objections as registration for bicycles with the note that it would be even more expensive as testing is required. So the floor price for a bicycle would rise even further. A brand now $99 bike would have “on road costs” (as they say in Australia) of $150+ for the WoF, presumably on top of the $100+ for registration. That is if it’s to be ridden on a road or “road related area” (per the road code, covers stuff like footpaths, off road bike paths and parks where bicycles are permitted).

    Imagine the outcry when a negligent parent allowed their child to ride out of the driveway and onto the footpath for a second! $200 fine for “operating an unregistered bicycle”, probably combined with “bicycle not having bell” or “no reflectors” and likely “standards-approved helmet not present or not worn correctly”. You could wipe out a poor family’s entire income for the week with that one slip. Paula Bennett would be ecstatic! The Green’s spokescreature for Health would probably die of apoplexy.

    (note that the cost estimates are based purely on the administrative cost and assume no direct net benefit to the government from operating the schemes).

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 1229 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Moz,

    I doubt a WOF would be anywhere near $150, it's only $30 for my car. Maybe you're thinking of the fine for not having one. Registration could be anything at all, though, since it's an arbitrary tax. I hate the whole thought of it, the idea of some parko dick sneaking around looking for bikes to bust for not paying their taxes, and cops wasting their time on it, giving them one more reason to stop people who are just going about their business, and fuck them around if they don't like the look of them.

    a chain drive are in the law directly,

    No shaft drives allowed?? Harsh! Or antiquated, more likely.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10650 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha,

    This whole pushing responsibility back on cyclists to be safer is bullshit. Most cycling injuries and deaths are caused by drivers.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19707 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen Judd,

    Is there any evidence that mechanically unsound bikes/accessories contribute to cyclist injury stats significantly?

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 3122 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen Judd,

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 3122 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __, in reply to Stephen Judd,

    Is there any evidence that mechanically unsound bikes/accessories contribute to cyclist injury stats significantly?

    Quite. What would be the point?

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3891 posts Report Reply

  • FletcherB, in reply to BenWilson,

    __a chain drive are in the law directly,__

    No shaft drives allowed?? Harsh! Or antiquated, more likely.

    Or how about a rubber belt instead of chain?
    I recall ~40 years ago I was riding a tricycle with pedals directly attached to the from wheel-hub… and the same is still available (my kids had them 5 years ago).

    What about the semi-recent re-invention of kick bikes for little kids… no pedals at all?

    Seems stupid, if its really a law at all?

    West Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 889 posts Report Reply

  • Moz,

    Seems stupid, if its really a law at all?

    My mistake, the current rule is purely based on wheel size and human power. Under 355mm it’s a toy, over that it’s a bicycle. See traffic control definitions for example. Australia and other countries generally use something like “A bicycle is a legal vehicle with two or more wheels that is built to be propelled by human power through a belt, chain or gears.” which could exclude shaft drives but is specifically designed to exclude the direct drive you find on kids tricycles.

    Note that there are things that look very much like bicycles but are “toy vehicles” in NZ, and things that look like toys but are actually bicycles. For instance, a kids tricycle with a front wheel bigger than 355mm (I had one of those). But some folding bikes are “toys”.

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 1229 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Moz,

    through a belt, chain or gears.

    I guess a shaft drive fits that definition. It's geared.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10650 posts Report Reply

  • Moz, in reply to BenWilson,

    I guess a shaft drive fits that definition. It’s geared.

    That would be something you'd need to discuss with the officer on the spot. Given the ignorance of many officers about bicycle-related laws I personally would accept the ticket and decide whether to pay it or fight it depending on the size of the fine (I would need to take at least one day off work which costs money). Flip side is that they're unlikely to pull anyone up unless the bike is very odd indeed. I've had cops drive past when I had a couch on the back and not bat an eyelid (it was definitely illegal, BTW, but safe so I think they made the right call).

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 1229 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Moz,

    I would need to take at least one day off work which costs money

    I've had pretty good success over the years for getting off unjust fines just by writing a letter. If there's anything doubtful at all in there, it seems like they would rather not have a court case about it.

    Flip side is that they’re unlikely to pull anyone up unless the bike is very odd indeed.

    Yup, I never got looked at twice on my electrics. They were not especially fast, 30km/h on the flat was the top speed of the fast one. That one even looked more like a scooter than a bike (it was one of those Chinese delivery vehicles).

    I had a guy rip past me last week, though, who I think the cops would probably stop. He seemed to be doing 40-50km/h. IIRC there is an upper speed limit for powered bikes as well as power limitations - I doubt a roadside test could work out the wattage, but they could certainly speed trap it.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10650 posts Report Reply

  • Moz, in reply to BenWilson,

    . IIRC there is an upper speed limit for powered bikes as well as power limitations

    Nope, 300W electric and that's it: http://www.nzta.govt.nz/vehicle/your/low-powered.html If you've got more than 300W or an infernal combustion engine, but are limited to 50kph you mjight have a moped rather than a motorbike, but either way you need rego and a license.

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 1229 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Moz,

    Yes, makes sense, now I think about it. I can easily go the speed limit or more just on pedal power - downhill.

    If I was doing that on the flat, with only light pedaling, I'd expect the cops to stop me and check out the bike. But how they could prove the wattage would be an interesting question. Electric engines are highly tweakable devices, particularly if you rewind the armatures.

    ETA: Obviously the "delivered wattage" is a measurable amount, and a lot of ways it could be done with great accuracy. But I'd be amazed if a cop could or would do them. Furthermore, you could have a sneaky cheat "weak switch" which dials back the wattage.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10650 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    Attachment

    A fairly damning graphic showing how much Auckland is not spending on cycle infrastructure.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22830 posts Report Reply

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