Kivilev and how Bradley Wiggins gets it so wrong (Part Five)

Let’s be clear: I really do not want to rubbish Britain’s greatest ever racing cyclist (and my ex-club mate) yet one more time. But there are some more remarks he made last year which need to be
looked at. Plus here is my appearance at the beginning of Wiggogate on Sky News after 2: 41 at 11.34.43


Here is Bradley Wiggins being interviewed in Rouleur, Issue 22 (2011), about racing cyclists wearing helmets:-

I couldn’t go back. Not any more. I did the Paris-Nice in 2003 and I was behind Kivilev when he died – no head protection. It’s like seatbelts, and once upon a time no one wore them and now everyone takes care. Helmets on bikes is a reality.”

Wiggins is referring to Andrei Kivilev, whose death after falling in the Paris-Nice race led to the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) – he governing body of the sport – making it compulsory to wear crash helmets wen racing. What led to this crash?

One account (in The Daily Telegraph) puts it like this: “The precise reasons for Kivilev’s crash emain unclear; although it appeared he lost control after brushing against nother cyclist’s wheel, possibly while adjusting the short-wave radio that professional cyclists carry to communicate with their team managers”. The veteran team manager and former racing cyclist, Cyrille Guimard said that he died” because he had both hands in his back pocket, probably trying to fix his radio reception” (My emphasis).

Wiggins comments about Barclays Bicycle Hire users referred to in the last post are about how they are (supposedly) incompetent bike riders (“…can’t even ride a bike for a start…”):
Yet Kivilev’s death was preceded by him doing something which most people would regard as hazardous when cycling close to other young men racing bicycles at a speed of over 40 kilometres per hour.

Now, reaching into a racing jersey back pocket has always been commonplace – it’s normally for food – among racing cyclists, with one if not both hands. The point is that the greater bike handling skill of racing cyclists encourages them to do something that others without those skills – if they have the same level of risk taking – would not. As usual, it is a question of adaptive behaviour. And as explained, I think they should be allowed to have those skills, wear helmets etc. They are, however, not in a good position to lecture others – particularly those with a rate of getting into crashes leading to serious injury which is several, dozens, or even hundreds of times lower – on safety.

But “road safety” ideology is often about getting things the wrong way round at least once – and sure enough we have another piece of wrong-end-of-the-stickery: “It’s like
seatbelts, and once upon a time no one wore them and now everyone takes care.”

Leave aside the relative relevance and potential protection for seat belts (which are both much greater) to cycle helmets. The main fact is that seat belt wearing is implicated in significant increases in danger to the people we are supposed to be concerned about: a short account is here with a fuller account in this book .

Seat belt wearing being seen as “taking care” is pivotal in creating a culture where the road users more dangerous to others have had their environment increasingly idiot-proofed , to the detriment of cyclists and others. “Taking care” should mean taking care with the wellbeing of others – Wiggins comments have impeded us getting there.