A Sore Subject!

This is taken from an old post of mine on my employer’s website but these arguments still continue. Should you or shouldn’t you wear a helmet when cycling?

I wrote this article following the death of lifelong cyclist Margaret Nicholl, 67, who was killed as a result of head injuries sustained when she was thrown from her bike after hitting a pothole.

Nicholl was out riding with her husband when her cycle struck a pothole on a descent. She was thrown to the ground, hitting her head. Her husband found her lying unconscious having suffered severe head injuries.

Neither Mr nor Mrs Nicholl wore a helmet as they had read that they were not effective when riding at over 12mph. The Coroner recorded a verdict of accidental death.

Margaret Nicholl’s plight highlighted a number of issues to cyclists, both the serious menace that potholes represent to cyclists and other road users – but also importantly, whether or not a helmet should be worn.

Road defects can form quickly in wet and icy weather, causing the road surface to deteriorate rapidly.

National cyclists’ organisation CTC created the “Fill That Hole” website in January 2007 to help the reporting of potholes and road defects to the relevant local council. The site also includes a map of known hazards.

But should you or shouldn’t you wear a helmet? Whether or not cycle helmets should be worn, whether or not they affect the outcome of accidents and whether or not their lack of use should be an issue, are worrying questions for cyclists.

Parliament has, as yet, refused to legislate on the issue. However, the Highway Code recommends their use. Rule 59, the first of the specific rules for cyclists, states:

Clothing – You should wear

  • a cycle helmet which conforms to current regulations
  • appropriate clothes for cycling. Avoid clothes which may get tangled in the chain, or in a wheel or may obscure your lights
  • light-coloured or fluorescent clothing which helps other road users to see you in daylight and poor light
  • reflective clothing and/or accessories (belt, arm or ankle bands) in the dark.

There has been some research into the issue of wearing a helmet and the primary conclusion appeared to be “For most of the accidents which result in more serious head injuries, it is concluded that wearing of a cycle helmet would have a beneficial effect. Furthermore, cycle helmets have the potential for preventing fatal head injury” It also notes that “A good Cycle Helmet would be expected to prevent fatal head injuries in accidents in which a Cyclist, travelling at speeds of up to 15 mph falls from his/her bicycle and impacts against a road surface or kerb”.

However, some of the research studies have been strongly criticised by the “non-helmet” lobby, most cogently on the extensive website http://www.cyclehelmets.org.

The current standard for cycle helmets, the European EN 1078, is meant to provide protection from a fatal head injury when the cyclist falls onto a flat surface at no more than 15 mph. Therefore, as soon as an accident involves a cyclist travelling at a greater speed than 15mph at the time of impact or colliding with something other than a flat surface (be it a moving vehicle or a lamp post) then it may be that even a correctly worn and correctly adjusted cycle helmet can provide limited protection.

Indeed, how may cyclists actually wear a cycling helmet correctly?

The views of the experts are polarised. Studies support and condemn cycle helmets.
So, should you or shouldn’t you? Wearing a cycle helmet must remain a matter of personal choice. Reported cases dealing with cycle helmets are few and far between.

In the recent High Court case of Reynolds v Strutt & Parker LLP (2011), a cyclist’s compensation for his brain injury was reduced for not wearing a helmet.

In 2008, Simon Reynolds took part in a “team building day” organised by his employers, Strutt and Parker. The events for the day were kept secret, but employees were given a choice of categories, and Reynolds chose to be “active and energetic“. When he arrived at the event’s location he was told that there was going to be a cycle race, so he took one of the bikes provided, ignoring a rack of cycle helmets. Some 25m from the finish line he collided with another competitor and fell off, sustaining brain damage.

Reynolds sued his employers for compensation. The Judge, Oliver-Jones QC, found Strutt and Parker liable for the accident, largely because they had failed to conduct an adequate risk assessment for the cycle race.

However their liability was reduced by two-thirds because of Reynolds’ “contributory negligence” in two respects: firstly he had cycled in a dangerous manner which brought about the collision, and secondly he wasn’t wearing a helmet.

Although it’s not currently an offence to ride without a helmet, the decision not to wear a helmet can have legal consequences for cyclists who sustain head injuries and claim for compensation. Although Reynolds was injured in a workplace event, the court’s decision could apply in the same way to normal road cycling.

This was the first occasion where the courts have reduced a cyclist’s compensation in this way, but it seems to be part of a wider trend in the law’s attitude towards helmets.

It has been suggested that deductions for not wearing a helmet are now common in out-of-court settlements of head injury claims brought by cyclists.

And when cases have reached the courts in recent years, the courts have held that cycling without a helmet is negligent (at least for the purposes of contributory negligence), largely because it involves ignoring the Highway Code’s recommendation that “you should wear a cycle helmet which conforms to current regulations, is the correct size and securely fastened“. This conclusion was first expressed in the 2009 case of Smith v Finch.

Previous court decisions involved collisions with motor vehicles, at speeds higher than those at which helmets are tested, so the courts didn’t have sufficient evidence that a helmet would have made a difference to the head injury. As a result they couldn’t make reductions in the compensation awarded to the injured cyclists. Reynolds’ case was different because the impact speed was likely to have been within the range at which helmets are tested.

For the moment, the Reynolds case might encourage motor insurance companies to routinely seek deductions when settling head injury claims with cyclists who didn’t wear helmets.

It may also be more likely that courts will award less compensation in the future to other cyclists who suffer head injuries at “low impact speeds” while riding without a helmet.

But if cycling at a reasonable speed, or impacting on a moving object, the combined impact speed could be in excess of 15mph, therefore would a cycling helmet offer protection in any event?

The CTC has long campaigned against helmet laws with the central argument that the health benefits of cycling outweigh the risks by around 20:1.

Whether or not you choose to wear a helmet must depend on both the rider and the type of cycling you choose to do. Personally, if I am out for a gentle ride on the local trails or with my son at the park, I won’t insist that helmets are worn. But if I am out on the roads, I will always wear my lid, even if the protection it gives might be limited. That limited amount of protection, for me, might be enough to spare me from a significant injury.

So, the choice of wearing a cycling helmet remains yours!


Why volunteer for Macmillan Cancer Support in Hertfordshire?

Tonight I am off to the North Herts Macmillan fundraising group meeting, the first one of the new year.

The members of this group have their own personal reasons for wanting to give something back to Macmillan. All of us have been touched by cancer in one way or another, whether it is through family or work, we have all seen the effect that cancer has but also the support that can be given by the likes of Macmillan and other charities.

Over 98% of Macmillan’s income in 2013 came from voluntary donations and fundraising which raised a record-breaking £186.9 million in that year of which £89.2 million came from fundraising events and support from corporate partners.

As the number of people diagnosed with cancer continues to grow, the demand placed on the NHS and these charities will increase. There will be a record 2.5 million people living with a cancer diagnosis in the UK in 2015, an analysis by Macmillan Cancer Support predicts.

Macmillan say the surge will create a crisis of “unmanageable proportions” but as one comment I have seen remarks “there will be 2.5 million reasons to help”.

We have been extremely fortunate in North Hertfordshire with the recent completion of the new Cancer Unit at the Lister Hospital in Stevenage, to replace the outdated and poor facilities that were available for the local community. This facility was funded jointly between the NHS and Macmillan so would not have been possible without the contributions made from fundraising events and support from corporate partners.

Fundraising groups are only a small part of the bigger picture for charities like Macmillan but the work of these groups is vital to Macmillan. All of the volunteers in the North Herts group are from the local community so we help to raise funds for Macmillan to serve the people living with cancer, whilst raising awareness of who Macmillan are and what they do.

As well as attending group meetings, we all help to organise fundraising events such as coffee mornings, quiz nights, walks and bike rides and much, much more.

You can also volunteer to help at a Macmillan information and support centre to help reach more people affected by cancer, and ensure they get the support and information they need.

So, the aim at tonight’s meeting is to start our plans for the year ahead and to set our fundraising events and targets.

If you want to give a little bit back to your local community, why not come along and join us at Chesfield Downs Golf & Country Club at Jack’s Hill, Graveley, Nr. Stevenage to see what we do. We will be in the bar for 7.30pm, 2nd Wednesday of the month!

Hope to see you there.

Join a Spinning Class they said!

I’ve now taken the plunge and signed up to a Studio Cycling class, once a week to start with on a Tuesday evening, to fit in and supplement my training for my 5 to ride this year.

But what am I letting myself in for?

Yes I am going to be one of those January newbies at the gym, frowned upon by the long standing members, who will be waiting for me to quit after a couple of sessions so they can go back to their usual routine.

I might be a Spinning class newbie but I’m not a cycling newbie, just a little out of practice and I badly need to get back in the habit of turning those pedals over and over again.

So what is Spinning?

The blurb on the leisure centre website tells me that it’s a high energy, calorie burning cardiovascular Indoor cycling workout that is set to vibrant music ….

The Most Fun You’ll Have on a Bike!” claims one article that I have seen but I know that is not the case.

There’s nothing better than being out on the roads, first thing in the morning when nobody else is around apart from the local wildlife or making your way up that climb, pushing over the crest and then down the other side.

What can I expect next Tuesday? What do I wear, full on lycra and cycling shoes (without the cleats)?

I am sure that I will feel knackered after 30 seconds, can’t keep up and start hating the instructor whilst the rest of the group ratchet up the tempo without me. But after a while I hope to fall in line with the others in the class as my legs are used to some cycling, right?

I have 3 months until my first event and by then I have to be able to cycle 110km again. I know that I can do it as I have done it before, but I have to get that fitness back!

Wish me luck .. I will report back next week!

The Cycling Year Ahead – Training Starts Now!

Well apart from a dose of Man-flu it’s a Happy New Year from me. I desperately wanted to be out on my bike on New Year’s day to start the year on 2 wheels but the weather and illness made me think better of it, not that I would have been able to cycle anyway. Instead I am trying to plan my year ahead and how to prepare properly for my 5 to ride in 2015.

Back in 2014 I took on my first ever cycling challenge, the London to Paris event. Yes I had cycled before but never to that extent, so I went from being an overweight 43 year old novice to being able to cycle 500km over 4 days without it killing me, and that was without an awful lot of training in advance.

So I rode my bike, and throughout the year I clocked up well over 3,000 kms in doing so, but there was often not a lot of thought or structure put into my training.

So this year I hope to be a little more organised than in 2014 and to be able to ride a little stronger over the events that I have planned throughout the year. I also need to train better as I have been challenged to be in the top 50% of those riding this year’s Ride London 100 (thanks little nephew).

A little bit of time spent scouring the internet and I have found several different training plans that I can use, which take me from a beginner to a sportive rider in 12 weeks. Sounds simple doesn’t it, but we all have busy lives so may not be able to follow all of these plans to the letter. It is important to have some structure to training. Pick up one of the many training plans that can be obtained such as the one from British Cycling which are easy to follow. I will try to follow a training plan but what I learnt in 2014 is to not worry if a training session is missed, or moved to a different day, what’s important is being on the bike and putting in the miles as it does get easier.

One of the best things that I did in 2014 was to have a professional bike fit. Most commonly, a poor bike fit is at the root of many comfort and injury problems associated with cycling, whether it’s saddle soreness, numb hands or sore feet, there’s always a solution. Saddle soreness is a problem that some of us will face and it may just be a case of riding through it, as the body gets used to being on a bike for so long, but don’t ignore it or it might get worse. And there are lots of good creams to help!

Well I have my 5 to ride in 2015 already planned out, so now I’d best get out on my bike and start following my own advice, it isn’t long until my first event at the end of April.

Safe cycling everyone.

So most cancer types are ‘just bad luck’

It may come as a surprise to read that most types of cancer can be put down to bad luck rather than risk factors such as smoking.

Well a study in the US has showed that two thirds of the cancer types analysed were caused just by chance mutations rather than lifestyle but some of the most common and deadly cancers are still heavily influenced by lifestyle.

Cancer Research UK maintain that a healthy lifestyle would still heavily stack the odds in a person’s favour in avoiding cancer as, whilst two thirds of cancer types are simply chance, the remaining third are heavily influenced by the choices we make.

Cancer can strike anyone at any time, there will always be non-smokers who end up with lung cancer, whilst there will be lifetime smokers who escape the clutches of cancer completely.

To the man who works with asbestos for years and yet has no symptoms, to his wife who cleaned his dirty overalls, then goes on to suffer from mesothelioma. Often there is no way of knowing if and when cancer may strike.

So what is the root of cancer? The team at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Bloomberg School of Public Health believe the way tissues regenerate is the answer.
Old tired cells in the body are constantly being replaced with new ones made by dividing stem cells. But with each division may come a dangerous mutation that moves the stem cell one step closer to being cancerous.

Cristian Tomasetti, an assistant professor of oncology and one of the researchers, said a focus on prevention would not prevent such cancers.

If two thirds of cancer incidence across tissues is explained by random DNA mutations that occur when stem cells divide, then changing our lifestyle and habits will be a huge help in preventing certain cancers, but this may not be as effective for a variety of others. We should focus more resources on finding ways to detect such cancers at early, curable stages.”

So early detection and prompt treatment would appear to be the best answer?
Separate research by Cancer Research UK shows more than four in 10 of the total number of cancers were down to lifestyle.

Dr Emma Smith, senior science information officer at the charity, told the BBC:

We estimate that more than four in 10 cancers could be prevented by lifestyle changes, like not smoking, keeping a healthy weight, eating a healthy diet and cutting back on alcohol. Making these changes is not a guarantee against cancer, but it stacks the odds in our favour. It’s vital that we continue making progress to detect cancer earlier and improve treatments, but helping people understand how they can reduce their risk of developing cancer in the first place remains crucial in tackling cancer.”

There are no guarantees of course but we can all try to help ourselves by reducing our own level of risk.

But then there are further comments from a leading doctor who says in a blog published in The BMJ that cancer is “the best way” to die and insists we should stop wasting billions of pounds on a cure.

Richard Smith believes the opportunity to reflect on life before it ends is important and urges charities and the medical world to “stop wasting billions trying to cure cancer“.

So death from cancer is the best ??

Yes you can say your goodbyes, reflect on your life, leave last messages, perhaps visit special places for a last time, listen to favourite pieces of music, read loved poems, and prepare for death but this is often a long and painful process, not only to the person suffering from cancer but their family and friends.

Only this morning I have heard a story of someone dying from cancer, who apparently held on through Christmas before passing away. Was this a case of someone holding on for a special family occasion?

I dare say that there is no right or wrong answer to this issue, for some they would rather get it over with rather than have a long, painful and drawn out wait for the inevitable. Others might not want to go so quietly.

There are various cancer charities in the UK, all of whom carry out important work, in identifying the causes and risk factors, to helping to prevent and cure cancers, to helping those suffering from cancer and their families through such difficult times.

But everyone can to some extent help themselves and others in this regard.