I’ve been mingling with a lot of students recently, and it’s been rather enlightening. I’ve experienced the suicidal nature of students before, as my wife was still a student at Manchester university when I first met her (she’s a doctor now!), and the hospital where my son was born is right next to Manchester university, so I’ve spent lots of time driving around the area in a car, having to be constantly on the lookout for people obliviously wandering into moving traffic. It’s as if the students think they have a force field that vehicles can’t penetrate, and apparently that force field is still with them when they cycle!
When I first started commuting in Manchester, I found red light jumpers annoying, but there wasn’t many of them. On the A6/A34, there was maybe a 1 in 10 chance of a fellow cyclist jumping a red light. Sometimes I’d shake my head or try to visibly tut, hoping a motorist might notice and ponder that not all cyclists are RLJing cretins. I don’t like people who get motorists riled up – a raging motorist is a bad thing for all cyclists.
If I tried that on Wilmslow Road/Oxford Road, I’d do my neck in from the continuous shaking, and my tongue would fall out from the tutting. On this road, the chances of a cyclist RLJing is more like 2 in 3, and unlike the cyclists on the bigger roads, these people are doing it without thinking. They RLJ through moving traffic, they RLJ through pedestrians.. they’d probably RLJ a train crossing if there were any on the route!
If it were just students doing it, I’d put it down to inexperience, but there are plenty of other cyclist sub-groups doing the same thing. I guess when you’re stopped at a light, and 3 people cycle straight through it, it must be hard to fight the urge to do the same. The more people do it, the more it becomes a “but everyone does it” grey area, like ignoring box junctions, or driving at 80mph on a motorway.
When they’re not jumping red lights, the inexperienced are stopping at them, but that doesn’t mean they’ve lost the urge to get ahead – they prefer to shoal. Shoaling is a term for cyclists who, when required to stop at a junction or a red light, will amass at the line with no order or respect for ability. If someone’s at the line before them, they’ll stop ahead of them and the line. If people are already ahead of the line, they’ll stop next to them. If that area’s full, they stop behind them This means that the poor soul who got there first is now surrounded by other cyclists, and it’s guaranteed that the people who pushed to the front are the slowest and wobbliest of the group. Being a well mannered softy, I tend to be the one who’s trapped, and I start to realise why some people risk death to ignore red lights. The risk is probably worth it if it means not getting stuck in a shoal of wobbly bikes!
Shoaling isn’t specific to cyclists, of course. I’m quite a fast walker, so this also happens to me while I wait at pedestrian crossings.
I hate other people!
So, in one post I suggested that everyone should have life insurance, and in the next one I confessed to being quite glad that I had an excuse to not wear a helmet. It took a couple of days for the logic to seep in and propogate an idea, but eventually I realised that I should probably be protecting my head!
I mentioned that I prefered ‘rock climber-ish’ helmets, which are apparently BMX helmets, so I searched for one of those first. The one that seemed to fit the bill was a Lazer Armor; the size (58-61cm) sounded like it would match my head, the manufacturer was well respected, and the helmet looked alright, without too many graphics (none, in fact), so I bought it.
It seemed to fit alright at first, and I wore it for a few days on my commute, but my opinion of it started going downhill, and not in a good way. The helmet has no proper adjustments in it – it’s just polystyrene and some padding. It fitted a bit tight on the front and back of my head, leaving a triangular indentation on my forehead whenever I wore it, but the sides of the helmet were almost an inch away from my actual head, meaning it tended to wobble from side to side, using my head as some kind of axle. It often felt like the chin strap was the only thing keeping it on.
On top of that, the white line that runs around the edge of the helmet started to crack and flake off after only a day! I didn’t like the line too much anyway, so removability is probably a plus rather than a minus, but it was a bit disconcerting.
Finally, the helmet was just too silly looking, due to the width. Not as bad as most helmets I’ve tried on in the past, but still pretty ridiculous.
So much for internet shopping, and so much for BMX helmets.
After that failure, I tried to find out if other people have the same problem as me. It turns out, they do! I’ve got what’s known in motorcyclist terms as a long-oval head; my head is long from front to back, but relatively narrow from side to side. Most helmets are designed with a more rounded head profile in mind, so when someone like me puts one on, I get the problem that I mentioned above. I found several posts across different forums, with people recommending brands that make more elongated helmets, but there was some contradictory advice going on. The only companies that were consistently mentioned as being suitable were Rudy Project, Lazer (errr..), and Specialized.
I’d gone off Lazer somewhat, and Rudy Project were way outside my price range, so Specialized were my only hope. I decided to find a bike store that stocked Specialized helmets and had a large showroom. It just so happened that such a place was on my commute, and so I paid a visit to the Edinburgh Bicycle Cooperative. I’d been there once before, to get my bike serviced in less enlightened times, and their service had been a bit sloppy. Thankfully, I didn’t need them to do anything to me or my bike – they just had to have a selection of half-decent helmets, and I can’t fault them in that regard.
The helmet I’d had my eye on was a Specialized Echelon II. Much like my bike, it’s was pretty much a bottom-of-the-range model, but much better than unbranded or low-aiming brands. The medium (54-60cm) helmet that was on display wouldn’t even get past the top of my head, so the assistant got out a large (57-63cm) model, in black. It was initially too big, which is a new experience for me! A few twists of the adjustment dial sorted that out, and I found myself wearing a helmet that actually fitted, and didn’t look particularly silly!
So, I’m now a helmet wearer. You’re not gonna catch me wearing lycra, tho. A man’s got to know his limitations!