A Eurosport presenter has defended her decision not to wear a cycle helmet after she was criticised on social media.
Writing in her column for cycling publication Rouleur, sports broadcaster Orla Chennaoui, 43, from Northern Ireland, says she opts not to wear the safety headwear because she feels it can increase the chance of an accident – even while riding e-bikes.
In many of her recent posts, Chennaoui is using a Tenways e-bike, which retail at around £1,900 and can reach speeds of 16mph.
The Amsterdam-based presenter, who has two children, says every time she posts photos of herself cycling around without a helmet, she receives ‘disbelieving, disappointed, disparaging’ comments from people saying: ‘You of all people should know better’.
The Northern Irish former triple jumper says she felt compelled to answer the criticism on the controversial topic in the column, saying she would wear a helmet in countries where cycling isn’t commonplace, but says it’s so much a part of Dutch life that she doesn’t feel she needs to in the city where she lives.
It’s estimated that around 63 per cent of people living in Amsterdam use bicycles to travel in the city on a daily basis.
Posting on Instagram about the column, she said: ‘I am often asked why I post pictures riding my upright back around Amsterdam without a helmet.
‘I have full respect for anyone who wears a helmet, I always wear one on my road bike, and I perfectly understand the arguments for.’
Chennaoui says in her article that the arguments for not wearing one are ‘nuanced’ and references research that suggests cyclists wearing helmets might take more risks than those who don’t wear one.
In 2016, the University of Bath carried out a study that saw a psychologist, Dr Ian Walker, use a bicycle fitted with a computer and an ultrasonic distance sensor to record data from over 2,500 overtaking motorists.
He found drivers twice as likely to get closer to the bike when he was wearing a helmet. Drivers passed an average of 8.5 centimetres closer when he was wearing a helmet than when he was not.
The broadcaster encouraged people not to respond to posts on her social media accounts with negative responses but asked people instead to lobby their local MPs for better cycling safety initiatives.
The UK Government’s stance remains that it encourages helmet wearing but hasn’t introduced legislation to make it illegal to not wear one – despite multiple attempts in recent years by politicians to change the law.
Earlier this year in the UK, Tory MP Mark Pawsey introduced a private member’s bill in the House of Commons to make it mandatory to wear a helmet when cycling after being inspired by the story of teenager in his Rugby constituency.
Oliver Dibsdale was just 15 when he came off his bike on the way to school. He wasn’t wearing a helmet and was left with a life-changing brain injury after hitting his head. Doctors say he might have been less severely if he had worn a helmet.
The teenager said: ‘I thought I was untouchable, but what I thought was so wrong. My foot simply slipped of the pedal, which could have happened to anyone. So it’s simple, make head protection law on all types of bikes, not just motorbikes.’