26 Jul 2010


Posted by Mike Rubbo

Saturday, 24th July about 20 people turned up to ride Melbourne’s new Bike share scheme which we’ve dubbed, the Mixi, without helmets.

We wanted to make the point that the scheme, hardly used since opening, is crippled by our compulsory helmet laws.

The day before the Age has run a story by Clay Lucas on our ride and an astonishing 12,000 readers voted on our proposition, that this sort of sit-up bike be exempted from the helmet law.

(Age photo of me from Clay’s article. Pat Scale)

Helmets are a very emotive issue here. Many local riders claim their lives have been saved by helmets, and the idea that adults might be allowed a choice, appalls some.

So, we were chuffed to see that 72% of respondents to the Age poll agreed with our exemption idea.

Time will tell if bike share is the Trojan horse they pulled into helmet-land

Here’s Paul Martin and his wife, Veronica who came down from Brisbane to be part of the ride. Paul was also a spokesman, and as a doctor, extremely credible.

Here’s Unity Finesmithh, her husband in cap, myself on the left and Mikael Colville Andersen, before the ride.

Mikael took lots of photos of our encounter with the cops and will hopefully have them on his famous blog, Copenhagenize.com

Mikael was in Melbourne to give a talk at the State of Design Conference, and it was his coming which initially also brought us all to town, me from NSW., the others from even further.

Unity, you may know from her great blog , Auckland Cycle Chic.

Underneath the worry we all felt, being about to break the law and incur a hefty fine, was the pleasure of meeting each other for the first time.

I feel I know Mikael, Paul and Unity quite well from our blog work, but we had never met.

So 21st century, eh?

Bike cops had had been hovering all morning and as 10 am (our ETD) approached , the press was there in force as well.

Four TV cameras faced me as I mumbled a confusing rationale for our actions. How I hate it when one’s clearest thoughts and intentions turn to garble under the lens’ gaze.

I wasn’t helped by the hostility of the questions. “You must be very disappointed by the small turnout.”

Not at all! We had enough riders to empty the bike rack like it had never been emptied before. Here’s the Mixi rack as we rode off.

I’d staked out these same bikes for the two previous days and not seen one, a single one, borrowed.

We rode out through the University grounds, and as expected, the cops did nothing till we hit the streets of Carlton.

There, we were politely pulled over (the cops were always extremely courteous)

As our details were being taken, we thought we were being ticketed. Not so, apparently.

Should we push the bikes from this point, we wondered? That was an option. The press, craving pain, mocked us as we pondered what to do.

Escaping the fines, were we? Never!. We hopped back on the Mixis and 100 meters later some of us, the ring leaders. were ticketed for real. (Photo by Auckland cycle Chic)

From that point on, having paid our dues as it were, we did push the Mixis around the rest of our circuit , back to the Melbourne Univ. docking station.

I guess it all took a bit over half an hour which put most us outside the free first half hour the Mixis allow, and meant an extra $2 would be on our credit cards.

We felt very good about the whole thing, even when that evening, Ch. 9 TV made us into farcical figures and falsely reported we’d avoided tickets. The ABC, on the other had gave fair coverage.

I am sure we should wait for warmer weather, and if the usage figures have not improved, as we are pretty sure they wont, then we will do this helmet-less ride again, but on a larger scale.

We’ll pick up Mixis from all the approx. 40 docking stations around the CBD and ride them to some central rally point.

Let the press laugh again if they wish. We are making a valid point. Helmets are the catch 22 of bike share as I pointed out in Sept. last year in this movie

Does it matter if MBS fails? Indeed it does, and a great deal. These schemes are proving they dramatically boost urban cycling wherever they are installed

It will be a tragic loss, not only for Melbourne if MBS fails, but will impact the whole country, for, what other city will dare try bike share if Melbourne fails?

What too will a failure do for our international reputation as a country already struggling to be serious about utility cycling and our carbon emissions?

Hey Australia, couldn’t make Bike Share work when everyone else can? Not a good look.

To Minister Tim Pallas we’d say, please pause for some greater thought before dismissing our idea of an exemption for these bikes so brusquely, as you’ve just done.

Ask yourself, how it is that these schemes can run safely in 135 cities around the world, and with helmet choice?

You say safety must come first.

If there were unacceptable injuries in all these other places, helmets would surely be called for, and we’d hear about it, no?

It can’t be, surely that they care less about their citizens heads, can it?

It can’t be surely that their drivers are more careful of cyclists, not when you note that Rome and Paris both have such schemes, cities notorious for their traffic and their fast driving.

No, it must be that a new dynamic gets set up where, through a combination of factors,
A. the safer nature of these sit-up bikes,
B. traffic calming and even thinning out they induce,
C. the whole mix slows down.
Many things subtly change, meaning that greater safety is achieved.

Is that not ideal? Especially when you couple it with the huge tourist attraction these bikes, freed up, can be.

Is Melbourne not into tourism anymore?

As it is, I bring back stories of angry and frustrated tourists spotted near Federation Square.

Folks working in a mobile soup kiosk near the well stocked bike stand stand there, see tourists, having taken the Mixis, ticketed or warned, then pushing them dolefully back to docking stations

Melbourne is a city with flair, Minister. Flair leaves town when you try and run Mixis with compulsory helmets.

And when, you rightly point out that such a change would be hard to do, given that the first helmet-less accident would have the press up in arms and on you like a ton of bricks, ponder this.

The officials in cities which set up bike share, also run a risk. They are putting out hundreds of bikes as an inducement to people who’ve never ridden before, to plunge into city traffic. Could they too, not be held liable for creating risk?

Imagine, a young woman in London is knocked off a bike she’d never have ridden if it was not for the City of London dangling it in front of her nose, a station every 300 meters. Could not her parents go after Boris Jonbson, London’s Mayo, who’s bringing Barclay’s bikes to the streets?

Yet they go ahead, those politicians in London in Dublin, in Paris, in Montreal, in Barcelona, in Rome. in Denver , and now in Minneapolis and it works! . The benefits far outweigh the risks.

Here’s my friends Gen. and Henrik, ridding into the future.

And the bikes? Oh, they ride pretty well. Very solid and very smooth. Devinci, which builds them in rural Quebec, is doing a good job. And Michel Dallaire, the famous Montreal Designer, has created a winner with this bike, selling all over the world (photo. Living with Style)

I’d like the handle bars a bit higher. If you are going to be on a sit-up, it’s nice to be ramrod straight, with no strain on the back at all.

Secondly, a lock would be a good idea. What do you do if you want to stop at the shops during your rental?

Is that wire loop behind the seat meant to be used with the lock you carry with you, along with the helmet?

The basket could be bigger and more containing, as it is on many bike share bikes.

Lastly and most important, I regard a rear view mirror as essential safety equipment. These are especially important for casual first time riders who find it unbalancing to try and turn and look over their shoulder as they ride.

On my sit -up, I am constantly monitoring what’s coming up behind me via my mirror.

I realize that a normal mirror on these bikes would be prone to vandalism. But surely there is a way to make one of shiny metal, solidly encased, which would not allow passing hoons to twist it off?

Paul sent me this from the Age.

Mike Rubbo.

A late addition to this post. Here’s the Barclay bike in action with its father, mop haired Mayor Boris Johnson, defending the advertising splash it gives the bank. Ah, it seems the Reuters clip wont embed. maybe it will paste.


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  1. [...] This post was Twitted by tokyobybike [...]


    Twitted by tokyobybike

  2. Excellent work, Mike. Well done to everyone who attended and thank you again for organising the event, Mike.

    It was also nice to meet in person but a shame there was so much time pressure: no chance to really talk in depth.

    We definitely must repeat the exercise on a grander scale – perhaps in Brisbane too when our bikes are released? Brisbane City Council doesn’t have a helmet solution yet and the CityCycle scheme is sadly already generating negative coverage and it hasn’t even begun!

    Look at this nonsense: http://www.couriermail.com.au/news/queensland/citycycle-bike-hire-scheme-rolled-out-in-brisbane-amid-opposition/story-e6freoof-1225896509788

    When we all have our infringement notices in our hands we should appoint a single lawyer in Victoria and see if we can have a group day in court. I’m happy to help finance it. That might attract some media attention too.


    Dr Paul Martin
    Brisbane, Australia


    Dr Paul Martin

  3. Well done Michael in organising this worthwhile protest.

    The public support for it (71% of people for an exemption out of almost 14,000 people) shows that people have a lot more common sense that the idiots in charge. Who voted them in?

    I just can’t figure out what is so threatening or scary about people riding those sturdy, sit-up bike without a helmet. It would be hard to go over the handlebars on a bike like this at their gentle speed.

    It’s a shame we live in a country where helmet fanatics are allowed to impose their fear-driven helmet religion on others.

    The risk of riding with those bikes is so minimal that is ridiculous, especially after hundreds of cities in the world have demonstrated that theses could be run safely without helmets.

    I suggest we enact the law that forces all Victorian government staff to wear a helmet all day, just in case they have an accident. Then maybe they will realise how stupid this is. It’s so much easier to make rules for others when you don’t have to put up with them.

    Einsten said it best:
    “Two things are infinite: the universes and human stupidity,
    and I’m not sure about the former”

    The state of Victoria looks capable of proving Einsten’s point.



  4. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Sabinna Den, Byron Kidd. Byron Kidd said: Group protest compulsory helmet laws by riding Melbourne's bike share scheme bikes without helmets, many fined. http://bit.ly/8ZjWNT [...]

  5. I just got back from Bordeaux and was shocked and delighted to see how easy it all looked. Cyclists everywhere, on hire bikes (they have a very successful scheme running), on their own bikes, almost all in their normal work/play clothes and almost to a man and woman helmetless.

    A wonderful atmosphere of slow cars and commitment to the bicycle as a primary means of getting around the urban area prevailed.

    Good luck to you down under. From what I read the amount of anti-bicycle rhetoric/action you face is huge. Keep going, and keep pointing them in the direction of cities where the bicycle proves it’s worth.



  6. Every bit counts, well done.

    Just remember that Minister Tim Pallas, along with his colleagues in other states and New Zealand, knows that the Oz/NZ bicycle helmets laws are health, safety and financial disasters.

    Whatever the initial motivations, the laws today exist simply because it is politically “challenging” to admit the failure while the majority of the populace (mostly passively) accept the laws – health, safety and financial losses notwithstanding.

    Getting the message to the populace that a placebo on the head is a curse rather than a cure, and reminding the politicians they already know this, is part of the solution.


    Dr Nigel Perry

  7. Congratulations on organising the protest ride.

    It’s clear that the helmet law should be repealed for all bike riders, not just users of bikeshare cycles. However, your protest draws some attention to one of the biggest public health disasters this country has seen.

    Please keep up the fight because at least half the population opposes the helmet law. Without a media voice, you just can’t hear them. I’ve put your link on http://www.cycle-helmets.com/helmet_statistics.html.


    Chris Gillham

  8. :) Different photos up.



  9. Nice to see you were joined by astronauts (fifth photograph). Obviously they want to point out that you don’t need a space suit to ride a bike. Did you get their autograph?


    Erik Sandblom

  10. Eric, those are Melbourne cycle cops. They took details from us, not vice versa. Mike


    Mike Rubbo

  11. I just spent two years in Victoria, BC (Canada), where helmets are mandatory. It is ridiculous how safe it is to cycle in that city compared with other parts of this country and yet, daily, I was treated like a criminal and outlaw for not wearing a helmet. I was awarded several tickets and was often scolded by other cyclists who think the helmet is the solution to all of life’s troubles.

    I am now back in Ottawa, my home town, where many cyclists don’t wear helmets even though the traffic is much worse and the drivers much more rude. Why are Canadians in Victoria so afraid when their counterparts in the Nation’s Capital show so little fear?



  12. It really is a mess, Nick. can I suggest that Canadians, esp. in BC, make as much use as poss. of what’s playing out in Melb. I I’m sure the scheme will fail and it need not go quietly. Any Canadian cyclists visit Melb. should also think about doing something along the lines or what we did. The Govt needs to see how pissed of tourists can be. The bike sit there an as inducemement. If they can’t supply what’s needed, fault should not fall on the rider. Mike


    Mike Rubbo

  13. [...] Rubbo over at situp-cycle.com recently posted about the protest he organised in Melbourne demanding an exemption from the country’s mandatory [...]

  14. not an either or, I think. Mike


    Mike Rubbo

  15. Mike

    I find it interesting that you “regard a rear view mirror as essential safety equipment” for new riders, but not a helmet.

    Would you accept the government supplying helmets with the bikes as a solution rather than your proposed exemption?



  16. Sam, apparently it is not cost effectively possible to supply a helmet since helmets have to be inspected after each use for liability reasons. One can be sure that if it was possible to supply helmets, they would.

    Many countries have considered the comp. helmet idea and rejected it. Now, these schemes are going to lock that rejection in even more solidly because they cant work with helmets, and this means Aust will become more and more isolated in terms of world practice.

    On the other hand, I can’t see why they cant’ provide a vandal proof mirror with these bikes. I note an English commentator, writing about the London scheme which is just starting, in our paper yesterday, zeroed in on the same lack of mirrors.


    Mike Rubbo

  17. Hooray for civil disobedience.

    But was it not a possibility to keep riding after being awarded the ticket for not wearing a helmet? I’m pretty sure traffic offences such as not wearing a helmet are not arrestable offences, but a lawyer would know better and maybe was asked this question?

    Just rode from Vienna to Prague without a helmet. One less thing to carry around, for sure.




  18. Hi Maurice,

    The police can technically take the bicycle from you as it is the tool which allows you to continue to break the law. My solicitor pointed out that this would probably be viewed as an excessive use of police powers but it won’t help if you’ve had your bicycle confiscated.

    None of us fancied having the hire bikes taken from us (and the resultant loss of a hefty deposit – $300) so we chose to walk it instead. Pity. It was a great day.


    Dr Paul Martin

  19. There at least seems to be a lot more interest in opposing mandatory helmet laws (MHL) since many of my work colleagues and frineds saw our protest on TV. So often the noisy “helmets are essential in fixing world ills” individuals completely drown out how unreasonable MHL are.

    I have been heartened by the levels of support received by normal people who would cycle more if helmet wearing was voluntary. This would equate to many more hours riding and the obvious benefits in terms of health and environment savings. With more comments and support from these people we should be able to get pressure on our politicians to re-think their views on MHL.

    Along with the scientific evidence that is out there (Bill Curnow and Colin Clarke have been super in gathering this) this should be getting far more media coverage. Even support from columnists such as Andrew Bolt are raising awareness – I guess the next steps are organising ourselves to gain more media attention especially now the elections seasons are open in Victoria (State election due in Nov)

    Cheers and keep on fighting the nanny state


    J. K.

  20. Mike,

    Bravo! Well done with your protest. I wish I could have been there in Melbourne. Melbourne’s in danger of becoming an international laughing stock, an eigth wonder of the underworld.
    By contrast you might be interested in perusing Dublin’s bikeshare set-up. The scheme is modest, about 440 bikes spread over some 45 stations in central Dublin. But to the city’s complete astonishment dublin bikeshare was immediately
    swamped with users and the scheme is, in effect, over-subscribed.

    Ever thought that geography is destiny? Australia and Ireland are ‘opposite’ kinds of islands; Australia’s big, rich, sunny and faraway. Ireland’s small, poor and often wet, but mercy of mercies, it is not far from the heart of Europe where they really understand city-cycling.

    Please keep up your work with all our friends in cyber space. Change will come, but there is no more formidable obstacle than a politician’s sincerity. They sincerely almost buried cycling in 1990; they sincerely cannot see the harm they’ve done (I fear they are not especially interested in a cycling resurrrection either, since city-cycling’s become almost unthinkable – indeed un-Australia).




  21. Milo, i can see that I’ve got to get over to Ireland and get some footage. The situations are comparable in that the no. of bikes and docking stations is about the same. Some further questions.

    1.How long has your scheme been going?
    2. Can you get some stats to compare time periods? Ours began at the end of May.
    3. So how many riders at the end of the first two months.,

    4. Also, can you get any accident stats. involving these bikes specifically. lastly, I’d like to know…
    5. What % of dublinbike users are wearing helmets, and
    6. How does this compare with general helmet use for people who own their on bikes. All key questions. Cheers Mike


    Mike Rubbo

  22. [...] that brings.  It must be said, of course, that not all bike share schemes are successful.  A lot of press has been focussed on the failed schemed in Melbourne where the mandatory helmet law forbids people [...]

  23. Prof Chris Rissel in the School of Public Health has just published a paper showing 20 years of helmet laws have had no effect on cycling head injuries. Can I suggest anyone interested in ramping up this campaign against governmental idiocy might look at http://www.winjje.com.


    Rob Heard

  24. Fantastic ride, it is a sad fact of life that Governments only care about money and the end results. If it can be shown how after spending millions of dollars on setting up these bike hire schemes, no one is using them because of crippling helmet laws I think we would all be on a winner.

    They want to model these thnigs on europe, well look at why they are a sucess and we are not, I can tell you they wouldn’t be if everyone in town had to carry a stackhat around with them.



  25. Thanks for putting up the link, Rob, to Chris’s findings. I’ll soon be publishing a report on my trip to Darwin, the only place in the land where you can ride without a helmet. Mike


    Mike Rubbo

  26. Hi All
    I hope people don’t mind mind but i am on a mission here to get helmet laws changed or removed I have posted this a few times now – sorry for repeating here. The melbourne helmet protest ride was absolutely brilliant, it shows people in other countries who are having their rights threatened that this law is not just infringing on our civil liberty but it is impractical also.

    My advise is vote for the LDP – Libertarian policy is that victim-less crimes should not be punished and the LDP website specifically lists removing bicycle helmet laws on their website at ldp.org.au. check the Policy section under Victimless Crimes.

    I have met with them at their open monthly meeting here in SA , they are interested to help, and they need more members so if anyone is interested in the libertarian ideals it’s free and is online at ldp.org.au
    I don’t agree with every policy they have but this is an opportunity to get some political representation which no other party seems prepared to offer me – i have asked many.

    If Cyclists vote for and Support the LDP even if just for this one reason hopefully the majors will take notice and we will see a change to the helmet laws sooner rather then later.

    Regards Steve.



  27. Hi Stephen, While it might be worth trying the LDP it would probably take longer to elect one of them to parliament than to persuade someone who is already in a position of power to champion our cause. Has anyone made a serious attempt at engaging the Greens? Is a Senate enquiry a possibility ?


    Kathy Francis

  28. Hi Mike,
    I am a Melbourne cyclist, I’ve lived in Melbourne my whole life and have been commuting via bike for the past 15 years, ever since high school.

    I wear a helmet, because I value my brains more than I value my hipster hair style. Is that what we are actually debating here? Because I can’t think of any other reason NOT to wear a helmet – they are affordable, they have ventilation, they don’t slow you down or change your riding experience in any other way APART from ruining your hair. So why not wear them?

    I understand that the bike scheme in Melbourne is not working, and that has a lot to do with the helmet laws. Don’t get me wrong, this is a MASSIVE oversight by the government and is truly laughable, but perhaps there are other reasons that are preventing the use of the bikes? Has there been a thorough study? Who are the bikes intended for?

    I’m not sure how much riding you have done in Melbourne, but let me tell you, it is often terrifying. It is not uncommon to have a near-miss every second ride, and I have copped countless amounts of abuse, as well as having a van once purposefully try to run me off St.Kilda Rd. As well as this, this year I was riding down Canning st, which as you may know has as much traffic calming as one street could possibly bare, and I got mowed down by a car. She simply didn’t stop at an intersection and I went flying through the air thinking “I hope I don’t die or get brain damage.”
    I was saved by my $50 helmet. My hair was flat when i arrived at the emergency department but you know what, I didn’t mind.
    I beg you to think really carefully about what you are advocating for when suggesting that the helmet laws should be changed. Melbourne roads and Melbourne drivers are not like those of European cities and until they are made safer for riders, helmets are essential. I would ask you to take a wander through the emergency department of a few Melbourne hospitals and ask the doctors how they feel about your idea? Then i would ask you to talk to victims of road accidents who DIDN’T wear a helmet and now have brain damage, and ask what they think about your idea?

    You want to risk so many lives just to make a tourist bike scheme work better? REALLY?
    Why not just have helmets for hire at the same docking stations, that also run on your credit card?


    Emily Bissland

  29. Also – just reading about the difficulties around having helmets at the bike stations – perhaps ‘helmet hire’ could become a new entrepreneurial industry. If these hire bikes are intended for tourists, perhaps the backpacker joints could make a pretty penny out of helmet hire. If not them, one of the countless tourist internet shops could do it?? Who legally needs to check their structural stability? Does it have to be a helmet specialist? What happens at roller-blade hire shops or windsurf shops? Just some ideas.


    Emily Bissland

  30. This message is for Michael Rubbo. In 1968 you directed a ducmentary called Here’s for Harry’s Grandfather. I was in the the film when I was eight years old. I am trying to find some of the other children in the film and wondered if any of them have kept in contact with you. I am also trying to find a copy of the film.

    Appreciate any information you can provide.



    Maud LaForge

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