Thursday, November 4, 2010

Melbourne Bike Share: Helmet dispensers, but no one to help adjust fit

Are 7-Eleven employees in Melbourne trained to fit bike helmets?

The State of Victoria, Australia, requires all cyclists to wear helmets. This reduces the chance to use Melbourne Bike Share spontaneously, a problem its operators are trying to solve by making helmets available near this 3rd Generation system's docking stations.

As I saw on the Bike-sharing Blog, 7-Elevens in Melbourne now have bicycle helmet dispensers. It is well-known that helmets have to fit properly with straps adjusted in order to fulfil levels of protection promoted by helmet advocates. The Melbourne Bike Share website - copying regulations for the State of Victoria - says:

"Bike Helmets - The rider of a bicycle must wear an approved bicycle helmet securely fitted and fastened on their head."

"Securely fitted" seems to very clearly mean expertise is needed, either from personal experience, or from an experienced friend, or of course (as the default) from the staff in the establishment selling the helmet*.

I found nothing on the Melbourne Bike Share website to indicate that any help is available from 7-Eleven staff. The vending machine (see photo) has clearly indicated large and medium sizes (perhaps the small size is hiding) and some text with the title "How to Ensure a Proper Fit", but without graphics. 7-Eleven issued a press release on 13 October which seems to indicate a lack of understanding of the importance of helmet fit:

“7-Eleven makes every effort to stock what you want, where and when you want it. Just as you might pick up your bottle of water, sunscreen and snacks for your picnic, now you can pick up a helmet for a bike ride along some of Melbourne’s scenic parks.” - from Julie Laycock, 7-Eleven Head of Marketing.

Click to enlarge the photo, which is from Capital Bikeshare in Washington, D.C. I am not certain if everyone involved understands how helmets are supposed to fit. (Where do all these cyclists in the photos on the website keep their helmets or is this wishful thinking?).

A poor-fitting helmet can increase injury even more than other inherent design faults of a bicycle helmet (such as rotational issues, often discussed in helmut forums). So if a poorly-fitting helmet increases the injuries to a Melbourne Bike Share user, who is liable? Who is responsible?

Also, it is my understanding that when not being worn a helmet is vulnerable (e.g. just hanging on a backpack) as it is designed to have strength in aggregate with a skull. Perhaps this can be explained in an analogy of a large ship in water, and what happens if it a large part of it leaves the water. I may be wrong about this.

If anyone can provide some answers or thoughts it would be appreciated.

- T

*Certainly, mail order helmets can create the same issues, and of course mail order can also create problems in bike fit which can terminate an interest in cycling... but as we all know the bicycle manufacturers in general prioritize selling stuff over creating more cycling.

** If you're on Facebook, please considering joining a related initiative.


Unknown said...

Eh, it's not that complex to adjust a bike helmet and these day, if you are unsure of something, you can simply find your answer on the world wide web.

There is no law that obligate the people that sales a product have to teach you how to use it. I work in a outdoor shop and yes we would take the time to adjust you bike helmet because it's not complex and once it's done, there is little chance that you mess it up and that you blame the store where you bough it... but I would NEVER tell a costumer how to use a climbing rope when he buys the rope. There is to much responsibility in doing so. The shop provide the goody you want/need, the costumer is responsible to find the information or the training require to use the gear.

Eh, I think the 7-eleven had a great initiate to help a bike sharing program in need of a hands to get people using the bike securely and in law.

So here's a start to get you to learn how to adjust you helmet yourself... good luck

Slow Factory said...

@Alez: Thanks for your comment. To make a not perfect analogy: Your shop has an annex at the trailhead at the bottom of the mountain, but it is automated. Everyone who uses the trail is required to have a climbing rope. Some of those who don't bring their own have no idea how to use one, but try it anyway, taking big risks.

Does anyone look at a video about helmet-adjustment on the web before using a bike share bike? Is there a video on the dispensers? (Alta Bike Share also operates Capital Bikeshare in Washington D.C. and if you look on their website you will see at least one poorly adjusted helmet: Totally lame and it has been like that for months.)

They lose money on every helmet dispensed and the scheme is very unpopular compared to other bike share operations in the rest of the world.

Anonymous said...

I think the helmet dispenser is a great initiative and I can't understand why there are such negative comments. Cyclists in Australia are required to wear a helmet by law. This requirement is often cited at the reason why bike share schemes are difficult to implement. Providing access to helmets helps to overcome this constraint and encourages people to cycle. I agree that provision of some simple information on correctly fitting the helmet would be helpful, but it is ludicrous to think that 7-11 (or anyone else for that matter) should be held liable for incorrect use of the helmet.

Slow Factory said...

Anonymous: Helmets are not working for bike share. Mandatory helmet laws do not make cycling safer. I think a majority of people who need to get a helmet out of the dispenser who be novices and thus unfamiliar with proper helmet fitting -- look around at the people who don't have them on right, these are people who bought their own helmets.

Unknown said...

I think Australia is the only place in the world to put helmets on peoples heads by law. This shows the level of interventionism of this country - well some people can be responsible without that. I also think you would manage to fit a helmet without any goverment policy on doing so. I think, that every able-minded person with a can-do approach will be able to put a helmet and adjust the strap. If not he is not safe in this world anyway. The real problem is that if you want to rent a bike there is no information on most of the bike docks about where to get a helmet and that you have to do so - some people in melbourne are actually tourists and they might not know.