Time to get back on the bike

Cyclists ride on the Ravensbourne cycleway during the 2009 Mayor's Cycle Challenge,  part of...
Cyclists ride on the Ravensbourne cycleway during the 2009 Mayor's Cycle Challenge, part of BikeWise. Photo by Jane Dawber.
Next month, cyclists can pedal confident in the knowledge their efforts will contribute to both their own fitness and a new neurosurgery fundraising campaign, writes Shane Gilchrist.

"There is a cause; there's an easy way to do it; and you can set your own goals."

So says Sport Otago operations manager Duane Donovan, whose organisation is one of several with a part to play in BikeWise Month.

Inherent to the national BikeWise promotion is the BikeWise Challenge, in which individuals or groups track how much riding they do during February.

The idea is they compete against others to earn bragging rights.

This time keen cyclists can also tie their efforts into the public campaign to raise $3 million to set up a neurosurgery research unit at the University of Otago, including the appointment of a professor who will also work as the third neurosurgeon at Dunedin Hospital.

Fundraising campaign project manager Irene Mosley came up with the idea of linking the BikeWise Challenge to fundraising via an online project.

"I spoke to BikeWise last year to make sure they didn't have a problem with us doing this. This is really between Sport Otago and the Neurological Foundation.

"We are working with Sport Otago and also the DCC, through its Get Active campaign," Mrs Mosley explains.

"We will have a page online before February 1 - the start of BikeWise Month - where people can go on and set up their own fundraising page under the banner `Bike for Brains'. They can set their own challenges, whether it's getting on a bike that month or riding X kilometres that month and getting people to fund them."

Mr Donovan embraces the idea: "In the past the BikeWise Challenge has been about how many kilometres you've cycled.

"But the problem with that is there might be people who, because of time or health or whatever, don't want to go very far.

"So someone's goal might be to raise money instead - `if I ride 50km this month, will you give me $10 to donate towards the neurosurgery chair?'."

Last year, more than 400 organisations and 5500 people took part in the BikeWise Challenge.

More than 50,000 bike rides were logged, covering a combined 813,000km.

Given neurosurgery involves the operative and non-operative treatment of diseases and conditions of the nervous system (the brain, cranial nerves, pituitary gland, spinal cord, peripheral nerves and the coverings of all these structures), there is an obvious tie-in between the fundraising campaign, BikeWise initiatives and the promotion of cycle helmets, Mrs Mosley says.

Clinical director of South Island neurosurgery Martin MacFarlane was heavily involved in a 1980s campaign to make cycle helmet use compulsory in New Zealand (the law was introduced on January 1, 1994).

"It came about originally because of a woman, Rebecca Oaten, who went on a campaign around schools in the North Island after a terrible accident involving her son," Mr MacFarlane explains.

"I'd been in Christchurch for several years and worked with a neuro-psychologist called Peter Waddell, who was a keen cyclist.

"We did a lot of presentations, including a set of 12 large photographs that showed what the brain was like, examples of cracked helmets, ones that weren't of a correct standard and how useless they were, as well as good helmets.

"The sets were paid for by ACC and given to the Ministry of Transport, who circulated them around New Zealand schools to raise the profile of the protective value of helmets.

"Out of that came legislation, though it was only introduced once voluntary use of helmets hit 50%."

According to a Ministry of Transport survey in 2009, the national cycle helmet-wearing rate across all age groups that year was 92%. Primary and intermediate school children had a wearing rate (92%) equal to that of adults and higher than that of secondary school pupils (90%).

As a neurosurgeon, Mr MacFarlane has witnessed first-hand the results of head injuries.

"If you fall and your head hits the ground, it is vulnerable. You could lacerate your skin, fracture your skull, get a blood clot or a concussion-type injury - or all of them.

"If you look at any activity that involves movement faster than walking, including cycling, scooters, skating, skiing, snowboarding, motorcycling and horse-riding, there is nothing to be lost by wearing a helmet."

It is pointed out that making cycle helmets compulsory has not been without criticism: opponents claim the legislation has led to a lower uptake of cycling; that the protection afforded by helmets has been overstated; and that there are other risk factors of more concern.

In its 2011 policy statement, the New Zealand Cycling Advocates' Network prefers non-enforcement of bicycle helmets, although it supports their use: "There is evidence that mandatory cycle helmet-wearing legislation is not working as intended and should be reviewed ...

"Despite evidence of a reduction in cycling in many parts of New Zealand, reported crashes involving cyclists are increasing.

New Zealand is a high-risk country for cyclists, with the risk of death to adult cyclists (on a distance basis) about seven times worse than international best practice."

However, Mr MacFarlane remains adamant: "Some people will try to look for any excuse not to do something. Some cyclists say [wearing a helmet] might injure their neck. There is no evidence helmet-wearing increases neck injuries. All ages benefit from wearing helmets. There is no safety disadvantage in wearing one. Why wouldn't you?"

He emphasises a helmet must be standards-approved to ensure it has the correct lining (the key component of a helmet is the polystyrene foam, the layer that absorbs the kinetic energy of deceleration) and correct fixation points (straps).

"The outer shell is not essential but it protects the lining from being squashed. However, the shell does give it a smooth surface, which means if you come off your bike it is less likely to catch on something so you might not come to such an abrupt halt and suffer a twisting injury.

"You can also colour the shell to enhance visibility. When I was cycling, I had a helmet that was bright green."

More information
To register for the "Bike For Brains" project, visit www.everydayhero.co.nz (The site will be active from Monday).

For further information on how to get involved in the BikeWise Challenge, visit: www.bikewise.co.nz.


Helmet tips
- Make sure your helmet fits. Loosen all the straps, place the helmet squarely on your head, do up the chin-strap and adjust it so it is tightened firmly under your chin.

Then adjust the back straps on the helmet.

The back and chin straps should meet just below your ear lobe. Make sure the chin-strap stays in as straight a line as possible.

- To ensure your helmet is correctly fitted, carry out this simple test. Make sure you can't tilt the helmet backwards far enough to uncover your forehead; nor should it tilt forward so your eyes are covered, or sideways so the sides of your head are uncovered.

- Make sure your helmet is standards-approved. Also, check it is the right size - the helmet should fit snugly on your head with a minimum use of pads.

It's not a good idea to buy a helmet that a child will "grow into".

- To ensure you can be easily seen by other road users, buy a brightly coloured helmet or one that has the manufacturer's high-visibility stickers on it.

BikeWise events in Dunedin include:

Electric bike demonstration: Saturday, February 18, 11.30am-12.30pm, Cargill Street

Bike Wise Challenge: All of February; Dunedin focus; linked with local neurosurgery appeal. Participants can be sponsored for their kms with proceeds going to neurosurgery appeal.

Family Fun Day: Saturday, February 26, Marlow Park, 11am-1 pm. Mass ride along John Wilson Ocean Drive led by the Mayor.


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