James Cracknell and the cycle helmet company

James Cracknell and the cycle helmet company

According to a recent blog post on the Merida Bikes website, “James Cracknell is being seen all over the place, promoting his programme [on the Discovery Channel] following his incredible journey back from his near fatal head injury”. During these interviews, he has been very keen to promote the wear of cycle helmets and he has also been telling people that “I don’t have a commercial relationship with the [helmet] manufacturer, by the way.”

This is a wee bit odd, as he is a “brand ambassador” for Alpina cycle helmets and one of the main sponsors of his trip across America was Merida Bikes [link now dead]. These bicycles are sold in Britain by Merida UK, which has exclusive distribution rights to sell Alpina cycle helmets in the UK. This may well lead some people to question the claims that a piece of polystyrene covered with plastic could have actually saved Mr. Cracknell life.

What is certain is that it was the quick actions of the ambulance crew, along with the attention of the medical team at the hospital within the “golden hour“, which actually saved Mr. Cracknell’s life. According to the medical team which saved his life, as a result of this rapid treatment there is no reason why Mr. Cracknell shouldn’t make a full recovery – in time. I wish him well for the future.

Another thing we can be certain of, is that the lightweight Alpina Pheos helmet failed to prevent his skull being broken in two places, when he was hit by the wing mirror of a passing truck. It is perhaps fortunate for Merida UK and Alpina, that Mr. Cracknell wasn’t hit by the truck while he was walking along the road and not wearing a helmet. As the likely outcome would, given the same rapid treatment, have been the same. The only difference being that they would have been unable to take the credit for saving Mr. Cracknell’s life (instead of the timely intervention of the medical team) or use Mr. Cracknell as a “brand ambassador” to promote their products.

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19 thoughts on “James Cracknell and the cycle helmet company

  1. There are statisitics to prove safety helmets can help in the prevention of brain injuries. Its important to protect yourself as much as possible. What would he be like without the helmet when the accident occured? Safety helmets do help save lives.

    1. Having read a lot of research papers on cycle helmets I can firmly say that statistics do not prove that cycle helmets prevent of brain injuries. There is a lot of very poor use of stats out there, some of which should not have gotten through peer review (they certainly wouldn’t have done in my field). At best cycle helmets can reduce the risk of minor injury and at worst they increase the risk to cyclist due to factors such as risk compensation and encouraging close passing by drivers, etc. see here for further details.

  2. What evidence is there for Cracknell’s belief the helmet saved his life? E.g. there is evidence motorists tend to make closer passes when cyclists wear helmets, so for all we know it could be that Cracknell nearly lost his life and suffered long-term brain injuries, *because* he wore a helmet.

    Anecdotes are not evidence.

  3. I’m assuming that everyone here has seen Mr Cracknell’s helmet promotion video. What I hadn’t seen were the videos on his website, one taken immediately post collision, and one taken in the hospital as he is recovering.

    Without wishing to cast aspertions on Mr Cracknell’s and his publicity team’s story, there appears to have been an element of exaggeration, and I wonder when it occured to them that this was a fantastic marketing opportunity?

    [I have removed parts of this comment. Admin]

    1. I think we have to be careful about casting aspersions here. We can be certain that Mr Cracknell was hit by a motor vehicle and did suffer a server head injury. I don’t know that exact circumstances of the accident, and while there probably has been some exaggeration, but I am not whiling to speculate. Although, I am happy to agree that many cyclists have an exaggerated view of the risks of cycling and the protective effect of cycle helmets, and the two do seem to be linked. http://www.transport.uwe.ac.uk/cycling_and_society/Richard%20Burton.PDF

  4. Last year I was involved in a crash. I was not wearing a helmet. I walked out of the hospital unaided after tests, I did not have a headache (though the broken rib was another story). I was told in no uncertain terms by the doctor that I must either give up cycling or wear a helmet – this after a CT scan showed no evidence of brain injury. I am completely confident that had I been wearing one, I would have been assured that it saved my life. The number of people whose helmets “saved their life” is at least an order of magnitude greater than the number killed, they seem to be very bad riders!

    Ask Alpina helmets what happens if one of their products breaks on test, as Cracknell’s did. Ask them also what the test is for impacts in the direction Cracknell was hit from. I think you’ll find they will go a bit quiet.

    He’s lucky to be alive, ascribing his luck to a magic foam hat seems to me as ridiculous as ascribing it to a lucky rabbit’s foot.

    1. Cracknell’s faith in his helmet is akin to religious belief, and we all know what happens when religious nutters are given a platform.

      I don’t appreciate him attributing qualities to his cycle helmet despite his ignorance, but I have an even greater problem with his assertion that everyone should wear one. Why is he not advocating that all drivers take extra care around cyclists? It is drivers’ responsibility not to hit cyclists in the first place!

  5. Kim,

    thank you for posting this. I was googling for details of Cracknell’s collision when I found it, as reports are vague.

    Your post makes it clear that Cracknell is getting money for promoting helmets, but this is not mentioned on any of the publicity. Since he has a commercial interest, all the publicity he’s getting is advertising, and should have been paid for at commercial rates. I’ve just bunged in another complaint to the BBC for this propaganda page http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-surrey-14421721 but this was before I read your stuff. I’ll be back in touch with the BBC.

    1. I did not say he is being paid, I just pointed out that according Alpina he is a “brand ambassador” for their produces, and that he had received sponsorship and support for his trip across America.

    2. Thanks for that Richard, I have up dated the link in the post above. I note that Alpina claim “surgeons attributed” his survival to their helmet. I wonder if one of the medical team had attributed Mr Cracknell survival to Jesus and the team having prayed for a miracle before the operation (which in the US is quite possible), whether Alpina would have put that on their web site? Let face it the level of evidence these “surgeons” used is about the same.

      I am quite happy to attributed Mr Cracknell survival to the skill and expertise to the neuro/trauma team which treated him, but I was have great doubts as to their in-depth knowledge of the physic involved in such collisions.

  6. I get where your coming from with this but at the end of the day, If it were my head about to be clouted or heading toward the floor at 20 mph to meet the tarmac I would rather be wearing a helmet regardless of who made it or whoever wanted to take credit for it

    1. So do you wear one walking? People have been hit on the head by a lorry door mirror while walking on the pavement (sidewalk). Helmets are being sold as protection against motor traffic (even though they are not designed or tested for use use). It would be far better to find ways to stop people being hit in the first place.

      Having recently had a fall (http://www.kimharding.net/blog/?p=1685) I am quiet happy not to have had a helmet on, it meant that I didn’t hit my head as I could just tuck it out of the way.

    2. No I don’t wear one walking but if I was about to get hit on the head I would wish I did. and having fell off and hit my head in the past I was glad I had one on. I fully understand the argument for and against but in my opinion I would rather wear one but I wouldn’t shun people who don’t.

    3. I am not saying that you shouldn’t wear one if you want to.

      The problem come then people start telling everyone else that they should wear one on the grounds that it “might safe their lives” even though the evidence for this is thin in the extreme. This then leads to a far greater problem where drivers (most of whom don’t cycle at all), start to think that all cyclist should wear helmets. So that they don’t have to take as much care when they are driving, because they think the cyclist will be save if they hit them. This makes the roads more dangerous for all of us.

      I have actually had a driver tell me that I should wear a helmet, because then he would have to drive so safely. This is the same logic which leads the AA to hand out free helmets. It is about blaming the victims rather then dealing with the real issues (see http://www.kimharding.net/blog/?p=1407 and http://www.kimharding.net/blog/?p=1666).

    1. Oh, I am sure that Mr Cracknell believes the helmet gave him some protection, but I am more worried by the way he is being used to suggest that it was the helmet that saved him, rather than the rapid medical response.

      In reality the helmet was something of a red hearing in Mr Cracknell survival of this crash, and it would be far better if the energy and resources that are being put into helmet promotion were put into dealing with the source of the problem, bad driving. If Mr Cracknell hadn’t been hit by a bad driver in the first place, he would simply be telling about his adventure in crossing the continental US of A, which would be a better out come for all, well except possibly the helmet companies.

  7. So after their cyclist sustained a fractured skull, was hospitalised and sustained injuries that he’s still not recovered from, Alpina still have the gall to claim their helmet was effective?

    I guess the argument is “well look how much worse it could have been without the helmet”

    Sounds like desperation to me. Well done you for calling them out.

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