Cyclists slam brakes on helmet laws

Cyclists across Australia and NZ will be riding without helmets to protest headwear laws.
Cyclists across Australia and NZ will be riding without helmets to protest headwear laws.

A free-wheeling protest group is using pedal power in a bid to make Australian cities more closely resemble the likes of bike-friendly Amsterdam.

Hundreds of helmet-less cyclists will gather across Australia and New Zealand on Saturday for a leisurely ride, calling on lawmakers to put the brakes on compulsory headwear laws and pricey fines for those who disobey.

Freestyle Cyclists, the national group behind the events in Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, Brisbane, Perth and Wellington, said helmets were to blame for commuter bike numbers lagging behind other developed cities.

"We would like to see the road rules around cycling re-thought," Freestyle Cyclists president Alan Todd told AAP.

"We feel that the helmet laws in Australia are holding back participation in everyday cycling."

A 2016 University of NSW report - which reviewed data from 43 international studies - found wearing a helmet reduced the risk of death in a crash by 65 per cent and reduced serious injuries by 69 per cent.

However, Mr Todd argued cyclist safety could not be improved further by other means until helmets were made non-compulsory.

"We're obviously interested in safe cycle paths, separated infrastructure, lower speed limits and preventing cars speeding through urban areas," he said.

"But we think until the helmet issue's got rid of, and people can make their own choices, we're really up against it."

Only one of the 100 or so helmet-less participants in the 2017 inaugural Melbourne protest was handed a $198 on-the-spot fine on the way to the event.

Despite Australian cities embracing share-bike schemes, commuter cyclist figures remained steady at around one per cent - well below rates in the push-bike utopias of Amsterdam, New York, Chicago, Paris and London.

"We'd argue, given the limited evidence for helmets, if it's not safe to ride without a helmet then it's not safe to ride at all," Mr Todd said.

The latest poll of Australia's largest bike-riding association, the Bicycle Network, found almost 60 per cent of riders felt the law should be changed to make helmets optional.

Australian Associated Press