In 2013, we’ve heard a lot about the dangers of cycling. So, as the year comes to end, it’s time for a brief reminder of some things that aren’t dangerous.
Riding a bike without a helmet is not dangerous.
Riding a bike without hi-viz clothing is not dangerous.
(Even when it’s a bit gloomy.)
Riding a bike while keeping yourself dry with an umbrella is not dangerous.
Riding a bike while someone else keeps you dry with an umbrella is not dangerous.
Giving someone a backie is not dangerous.
At any age.
Giving a newly-purchased grill a backie is not dangerous.
Giving someone a backie while they tow a suitcase is not dangerous.
Listening to music while riding a bike is not dangerous.
Listening to music and drinking coffee while cycling is not dangerous.
Taking the dog for a walk by bike is not dangerous.
Even with plants from the garden centre.
Adjusting your iPod while cycling is not dangerous.
Riding a bike with a child on your handlebars is not dangerous.
What can make cycling dangerous is the physical environment. Tellingly, all these pictures show people cycling in places where they are insulated from danger – where they are separated from motor traffic.
As Chris Boardman so often states, cycling is not an intrinsically dangerous activity. If we truly want to make it safe and attractive, we need to focus on changing the physical environment, not on the way people dress or behave. Let’s remember that in 2014.
What a wonderfully uplifting post for 2014! Let’s educate and change the mindset that changes that physical environment – with posts like this!
Another thing you might observe about these scenes is how (almost) everyone is “ignoring the infra[structure]”, as various tweeps have apparently criticised a Dutch correspondent writing to the New York Times of doing.
Basically, if you are a Dutch citizen aged under 50, and haven’t lived abroad, you probably don’t think about your cycling infrastructure. You take it for granted. It is just there, you have never known any different.
You probably remember your cycle proficiency training, as almost all Dutch kids do this as part of their primary education – training is not a substitute for good infrastructure, but an adjunct and it is delivered all the same.
Of course we don’t know if the individual writing to the NYT did in fact mention infrastructure but if so his comments might have been redacted by the editor, for length, and in any case when seen from the New York City perspective – surely the main interest of the NYT – the comment about society’s acceptance is really quite apposite. You need good infrastructure, but infrastructure is the product of, and dependent on, political will.
What changed in NYC was that the political will appeared, to deliver separated bike lanes – not yet very many, but far ahead of London and far faster in implementation so far. This was possible because the outgoing Mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, was a fabulously wealthy business pioneer, and thus possessed of freedom from debts to corporate vested interests for his campaign funding, and of the vision to drive through small-minded NIMBY objections to achieve something he believed – rightly, it appears – to be a popular measure. He was able to pursue his own policies as laid out before his electorate and appoint the best people to his cabinet, rather than the mates of his backers, so could appoint a visionary transport secretary in Jeanette Sadik-Khan.
We, in the UK, are no different in the sense that it will require political will to achieve a sea-change in policy on cycle infrastructure, but we are different, so far, in that no such political will yet exists.
It seems to me the big question is: how do we change that? It is immensely helpful that such a respected figure as Chris Boardman is so clearly on-side but he doesn’t – yet – have a role or mandate, and he couldn’t change things single-handed anyway. Otherwise, we need greater consensus in the public and among politicians about the need to change. We also need commercial interests such as the major manufacturers and retailers to put their hands in their pockets to support lobbying. Brompton has supported the LCC in the past, but we need more, and we need more than the Bicycle Association whose efforts don’t strike me as particularly articulate in the cause of universal access to safe cycling, to say the least.
I really like this post. The pictures are great. The message is something I’ve been thinking about loads. I want to start cycling to work, but I’m apprehensive for obvious reasons. It would be awesome to have cycling routes separate from roads.
the girl giving a backie with the other girl towing a suitcase… flat tire… d’oh!
Remember that it is not just cyclists at risk from the problems of poor infrastructure, there are 3 times as many deaths and serious injuries for pedestrians – and nobody seems interested in speaking out for them as a body.
It is interesting to see that since 2000, killed and seriously injured on roads has nearly halved. That is unlikely to be infrastructure, my suspicion is that there has been a slow change in attitude to driving and the impact of speed campaigns is leading to more compliance with speed limits.
The reality is that it is nearly impossible to retrofit infrastructure into UK towns and cities, certainly not of the quality we see in Holland. The major change that needs to happen is the attitude of the drivers’ right to the road, unimpeded, where cyclists are seen as some inhuman obstacle and those drivers who consider pedestrians in the road as to blame for their fate rather than considering that drivers have a responsibility to consider the things that could go wrong and plan accordingly. I think the most damning indictment of UK driving is that the “Advanced Driving Test” from the likes of IAM and RoSPA essentially are “how to drive properly” courses – look ahead, drive within the limits of vision and conditions and so on, nothing advanced at all. The population and the courts are too tolerant of a standard of driving which is essentially incompetent.
I wasn’t going to comment because all seemed fair enough (and great photos!) but… Give me a break. Another “It’ll be fine as long as we do things that have never yet worked in the history of the world” opinion. Go read the Mayor’s Vision – that shows even some politicians and planners know it is perfectly possible to retrofit decent infra, maybe not to Assen standard, but certainly to Rotterdam’s. Go read Rachel Aldred and the last LCC AGM motions. Look at Richmond Cycling Campaign and Pedestrianize London’s websites. See e;g; http://goo.gl/maps/KwufM . See the straight bits of CS2x and Royal College Street [between bus stops :p]. Aside from the political will, which has already been ably dealt with by PaulM, the issue is who is allowed to be competent enough to contruct decent infra in the UK? Every one of the schemes that have been attempted last year have had something wrong with them, through a combination of “Facility of the Month” incompetence and an uninterested approach by the Department for Transport in introducing guidelines that would make such incompetence a thing of the past. And that incompetence and apathy is mainly manifested where the roads are most dangerous – at junctions. These should be the easiest to retrofit, but we’re still waiting for one single decent example. It really shouldn’t be that hard. Meh.
there are those ‘speaking out for [pedestrians] as a body’ see for example http://saferoxfordstreet.blogspot.co.uk http://rethinkingchildhood.com/2012/03/15/outdoor-child/ – i suspect there are many others
particularly informative: http://saferoxfordstreet.blogspot.co.uk/2013/11/why-did-nwec-really-kill-vip-day-on.html?m=1
Why do you think it is impossible to retrofit Dutch-style infra into UK towns and cities? There’s enough road space and enough money to do it – the only thing lacking is political support.
@ Ian Spencer
“The reality is that it is nearly impossible to retrofit infrastructure into UK towns and cities, certainly not of the quality we see in Holland.”
As a member of that much maligned breed – traffic engineers – I can say that is nonsense; as Colin says in his reply “…the only thing lacking is political support.”
@ Jitensha Oni
“…the issue is who is allowed to be competent enough to construct decent infra in the UK?”
Engineers are experts, but they have to work to briefs given by the Client who has employed them. We do not simply dream up schemes first and put them to Clients on the off-chance (that’s Architects). It is usually these briefs (and more likely the Client’s budget) which define the sort of thing we are able to put in place. We aren’t being deliberately perverse, as some commenters seem to think.
Which is why we need proper standards for cycling infrastructure put in place at the national level, so that both clients and engineers are restrained in how low they can set their sights.
“It is interesting to see that since 2000, killed and seriously injured on roads has nearly halved. That is unlikely to be infrastructure, my suspicion is that there has been a slow change in attitude to driving and the impact of speed campaigns is leading to more compliance with speed limits.”
Before you can assert that, surely you need to provide more detail?
In particular, there’s a huge difference, for the purposes of your claim, between ‘killed and seriously injured on the roads’ as relating to those _inside_ a motorised vehicle and those outside it. So for starters, you need to give the figures for pedestrians and cyclists separately, not concealed amongst the effects of increased safety for car occupants.
Secondly, before saying ‘its not infrastructure therefore its better driving’ you surely need to rule out a third possibility – that pedestrians have learned their place and started restricting their own mobility in order to stay out of the way of cars. It could be ‘more cautious pedestrians’ rather than ‘better driving’.
I am not saying these two points _necessarily_ invalidate your claim. I am merely saying that you appear to be leaping ahead of what the data you give supports without further detail.
I agree that the inference from KSI data to “change of attitude” is suspicious. Your points about cautious pedestrians (banishment of children to indoors) and about the necessity to separate the figures for inside-the-car and outside-the-car injuries is pertinent – as might be, to some extent, advances in medicine, noted below. The KSI metric of ‘safety’ measures pedestrian retreats as advances includes the effectiveness of battlefield surgery in ‘road safety’.
It’s worth noting that people who drive also tend to ignore their own infrastructure, and don’t notice how extensive/expensive it is or how much it has been tailored to their needs (and not so much anybody else’s). Look at all the signs and lights and signals, look at all the attention devoted to paint striping, look at how carefully roads are constructed to ensure drainage (since an unexpected puddle an help a car to crash), look at all the safety barriers designed to corral an out-of-control car traveling at several dozens of mph.
Since it is the season of goodwill I am not going to get into a discussion about infrastructure. However, I would like to pick up on your use of the word “dangerous”.
This can mean “endangering other people” or “being endangered by other people”. These are two quite different meanings.
Cycling is (not always, but in general) not very dangerous, wherever it occurs, to other road users. It CAN be a nuisance and pose some sort of physical threat to pedestrians and cyclists (as can walking to pedestrians and cyclists), but it is a LOT less of a danger to other road users than motoring is.
I think we need to concentrate our minds on reducing danger at source (from motor vehicular traffic). This – I think the civilised approach to danger on the road – means we have to make those responsible for endangering others properly accountable – whether they are individual motorists, their vehicle manufacturers, highway engineers, politicians responsible for transport policy etc. This means focussing on behaviour which is defined by the second meaning of the word (transitive, supposed to intransitive, for the grammatically inclined).
Our culture does not easily allow for this. It means discussing the elephant in the room (or “bull in the china shop”). A lot of people may well feel endangered by those of us who do so. But I think we should carry on doing so.
With that thought, I wish you a fruitful 2014.
On reducing danger at source, the simplest and most effective way of achieving this is through design, not by attempting to modify behaviour. By analogy, keeping the bull out of the china shop in the first place, not attempting to get the bull to behave once it is inside the shop.
I live in a very cycle-friendly place in the U.S. and still wear helmets and bright clothes and so on. What I would say is, that I support this basic idea, I think in the short term, it’s vital to NOT discourage cyclists from doing all the things that make us safe in the real world. The physical environment can and should change. But as I mentioned, where I live, it’s about as good as it gets in this country, and yet we are still riding with motor traffic and we have many cyclists injured every year. Because the infrastructure is good, more people ride. Which makes the danger more real. It is still true that bike vs. car is always a lose for the cyclist. I have seen too many people killed and injured to be casual about these things. As cyclists we need to do what is necessary to protect ourselves, even where the infrastructure is pretty good, until we have truly safe environments for riders.
If you need a load of “safety” gear then I sincerely doubt your infrastructure is even “pretty good”. Where is this place, by the way? I’d like to check it out on Streetview!
Cycling is not at all dangerous for anyone. I believe if we had better cycling infrastructure more people would bike everywhere.
Reblogged this on Bitratchet and commented:
I agree…not dangerous! However, the more you are in a car, the more likely YOU are to become the dangerous element, even by accident.
It is also the case that cycling on the road without segregation is not “dangerous”. Here is a graphical argument… http://www.gicentre.net/blog/2013/11/24/risk-cycling-and-denominator-neglect
Excellent graphics, Jo, in a very good linked post. Only thing to add is that there are two things we are interested in when talking about risk: a present situation on the one hand, and trend on the other.
One way in which our discussion of road safety trends is off – we don’t usually take into account ongoing advance in medical science. Because trauma treatment evolves in response to cases admitted, it must be the case that risk of an equivalent incident varies at a rather different rate from risk of outcomes like death or serious injury. It follows that the “our roads are getting safer” mantra might be picking up on the improving safety of operating theatres and paramedic interventions. It is hard to determine how much of the statistics presented as reporting “road safety trends” are actually to do with the road. I think of this particularly given media and political concentration on *fatalities* per miles. Doctors are getting particularly good at keeping people alive, but their success is not by any sensible definition an amelioration in “road safety”.
Agreed, cycling is not “dangerous” objectively even on non-segregated roads, but the feeling of danger is the main factor putting people off cycling, and that feeling of danger is not irrational. Attempts to argue people round with figures that may conflate the safety of the road with the safety of the NHS are not only unlikely to succeed, but also less rational than the fear they are intended to combat.
Wider emphasis on injury trends might lead to a rather different conclusion about the safety of the roads than emphasis on fatalities, yet I imagine the same point holds for the boundary between injuries and serious injuries moving with the sophistication of paramedics, as holds for the boundary between death and serious injury moving with the sophistication of surgeons.
Emphasis on KSI figures is not the same thing as being concerned with danger “at source”, and objectivity about road danger is not simply to be obtained by reference to medical outcome numbers. The dutch emphasis on quantifying road danger by mass and speed and kinetic energy has merit against the UK approach of counting battlefield medicine as part of “road safety”.
I saw a December 2013 BBC London video report featuring Royal London surgeons making this same point about the in-theatre component of “road safety data”, but in rather more colourful and exasperated language pointedly directed against blue paint and CS2 – the link to the piece is not currently on iplayer and any knowledge of its whereabouts would be helpful.
I think that’s a good point about being careful not to assume improvements in medical intervention mean reduced probability of incident. As you say, this may well have some effect on transferring some of the ‘K’ to ‘SI’ in KSI statistics. The numbers are sufficiently low, in London at least, that any trends in ‘K’ statistics should be treated with caution.
The ‘seriously injured’ bit of KSI stats are perhaps less likely to change for this reason though. They tend to be based on figures recorded by police around the time of the incident, not on medical outcomes after surgery/intervention. Out of interest, do you know of any road safety data for UK or London that use the Dutch approach of kinetic energy as a measure of danger? It would be interesting to compare with the KSI stats to see where they differ.
One of the challenges for anyone dealing with road incident risk and behaviour is that there are at least three different phenomena to deal with. There’s perceived risk, there’s risk of any incident that affects confidence on the road (including ‘near misses’, verbal abuse, minor scrapes as well as KSIs) and there are the data we have on recorded incidents. Any approach that succeeds in minimising the differences between all three would be helpful.
That the police on scene are recording/judging is a good point about the serious/non serious distinction, although even there: in a world without antibiotics everything incident is serious. And the matter is less than clear – it must be the case that when we or other citizens in uniform look at an incident their judgement of it is coloured by what they know of the repairs department.
Some kind of kinetic energy assessment would not be particularly complicated to organise in London, but you find me ignorant as to whether it has been done. Yes, it might be useful to study the relation between KSIs and kinetic energy, but as to what you might conclude from that, I’m not clear that integrating different recording metrics would be a useful objective. I am aware that comparing methods is a technique for pursuing accuracy in statistical analysis, but in this case the statistics measure entirely different things – you might say they both measure ‘danger’, but they conceive of ‘danger’ in quite different ways. It is those different conceptions of ‘danger’ which are fundamentally at issue in the political discussion (and in pub talk) about whether cycling is ‘dangerous’ (a point well made by the uplifting pictures posted above). In this case, the statisticians instinct to triangulate different data looks to me suspiciously like the dotty BBC assumption that objectivity is a matter of ‘balance’.
In short, I don’t see why you would want to weigh up statistics which based on a mistaken conception of the whole problem against statistics based on physics and common sense. I grant, there *is* something you might think of as a shortcoming in the kinetic philosophy of danger – it doesn’t take account of secondary safety features like crumple zones. *But this shortcoming is a merit*. Why? Because these statistics will be used to design *roads*, not cars.
You cannot add crumple zones to pedestrians and cyclists.
One of the reasons for comparing stats on recorded injuries with those of vehicle kinetic energy would be to see whether potential for harm (KE) and actual harm (KSI) are related, and in what circumstances that relationship changes. It might also be useful to understand whether perceived danger is more strongly influenced by one or the other.
Well, given that the kinetic energy approach is already a codification of perceived danger (common sense), I don’t see that there’s a mystery requiring investigation.
The thing to notice is that while road deaths and KSI figures are dropping overall the figures for people not in light armored vehicles (cars) are rising in all categories with cyclists nearly doubling. This tells me that the light armored vehicles are getting better at protecting occupants, but drivers are not getting any better and probably are worse at avoiding running into those not inside light armored vehicles. And BTW the reason I use the term “light armored vehicle” is crash test requirements since 2008 have been that the test vehicle runs into a steel-faced concrete wall at 35 MPH and all occupants have to be able to open the nearest door and walk away from the wreck. Significantly the rate of death for pedestrians and cyclists hit at 35 MPH exceeds 50%.
My sense is that the increased ‘safety’ of car occupants is a factor in worsening outcomes for those outside, and in two ways. The phenomenon most talked about is that ‘safety’ features in cars lead some risk-seeking drivers to adjust driving styles in the direction of similar sensation of danger (to themselves) which inevitably means vastly more danger (to others). A connected phenomenon, in less risk-seeking drivers or in the same drivers in different conditions, is that awareness of ‘safety’ features (extending from air-bags and traffic lights to clear signage and brake efficiency) all tends to reduce the amount of attention drivers expect or wish to pay to the road ahead; increase the expectation of ‘comfort’ in the sense of ‘automatic driving’. One sees this kind of adjustment to ‘safety’ features in the range of driver entertainments/distractions that are now socially normalised (if illegal), and in the tone of bigoted rage. ‘Bloody cyclists’ require levels of driver concentration now thought of as an inconvenience, and experienced as onerous charity to others. No more are such levels of concentration thought of, as in the era of cars that were dangerous *to the occupant*, in terms of self-preservation.
I think this is spot on. It could be said that a gap has opened up between different categories of road user with regard to the relationship between errors and their consequences. Motorists are now far more insulated from the results of mistakes than they used to be, while cyclists (and pedestrians) position has not improved at all.
I wonder if there’s a way to formally measure the change of this relationship over time?
That linked article doesn’t consider the demographic of London’s cyclists.
Overwhelmingly, people who ride bikes in London are male, aged between 18 and 45, and are confident, assertive riders. This does not reflect the general UK population, whereas the Dutch cycling demographic does include everyone.
If at 5pm today all the people who happened at that moment to be on a bike in the Netherlands – all the toddlers, children, teenagers, mums, dads, grandmas, granddads, people with disabilities, etc. – were magically teleported to a similar setting in the UK, do you think they’d be as safe? Would they feel as safe? Would the experience of cycling in the conditions be as comfortable and inviting?
So while it may be statistically safe for confident, fit young men (and, in one-quarter of cases, women) to cycle in London, it’s not appealing to the general population.
Right, that too.
I should have illustrated the concept of random Dutch people on bikes being teleported into the UK with this link!
That made me laugh – the laugh of point going home. Nicely done, & now re posted.
I agree with you that the demographics of people on bicycles in the Netherlands is much more representative of the general population than it is here, and that any strategy for increasing cycling numbers must address the groups currently underrepresented in the cycling population.
However, there does seem to be an assumption in your observation that people who fall outside the male 18-45 group you mention would be at considerably more risk were they to cycle than those who currently do. I think that may be mixing perceived risk with actual risk. As a group women tend to be more risk averse than men when it comes to cycling (see, for example, http://bit.ly/genderedCycling). But their actual likelihood of injury is still tiny. This was partly why I wrote the article in the first place – during November the risk of death was so over-played in the media, that it was in danger of scaring off many of the more risk averse potential cyclists in the capital. Precisely those who are present in the Netherlands demographic, but underrepresented in the UK.
“However, there does seem to be an assumption in your observation that people who fall outside the male 18-45 group you mention would be at considerably more risk were they to cycle than those who currently do.”
That’s turning things on their head, isn’t it? Don’t you mean that it’s the use of KSI figures as a general measure of danger that contains an assumption, namely the assumption that the demographic of the cycling population isn’t relevant to measuring danger?
As a disabled Dutch cyclist with neurological issues which mean I don’t always have good control of my bicycle (nor awareness of my surroundings), I find it absurd to find British people arguing that my risk of injury would be ‘tiny’ on London’s roads, or that it’s all about ‘perceived risk’. What do you think would happen when people like me (or young children, who do it just as often, or elderly people, who often have similar issues) end up swerving into traffic, in the absence of segregated infrastructure (whether cycle paths or just taking motor traffic elsewhere) of some kind?
I’m not really interested in risks per _trip_. That is obviously going to be small. Cycling from A to B is safe. Is cycling from A to B every day and back again safe, though?
There are ~500,000 cycle trips daily within London. Per year, there are ~700 KSIs, or 1.91 KSIs per day.
Consider that probabilities multiply up if you want to get several in a row. If you want to throw three coins and get heads on all three, your chance is 1/2 x 1/2 x 1/2 = 1/8. Or, 1/2 to the power of 3. In our case we want the likelyhood that all trips are safe in a whole year. Assuming all trips have the same risk, the chance of KSI per trip is (1.91… / 500,000). Subtract this number from 1 to get the chance a KSI doesn’t occur in 1 trip: 0.9999962… . Take this number and raise it to the power of 730 (for 730 trips). This gives 0.9972039, the chance of no KSIs occuring in 730 trips. Subtract it from 1 again to get the inverse, the chance of (at least one) KSI in these 730 trips: 0.00279… . Finally, divide it into 1, giving 357. This means, the chance a person cycling twice daily being killed or seriously injured in 1 year is 1 in 360.
Using a spreadsheet, I can easily manipulate this. Say we want the chance for 10 years of cycling… just raise to the power of 7,300 (trips in 10 years) rather than 730. This gives… 1 in 36! Or, a 2.7% chance. A person might cycle from age 18 to 60. If we count up all those trips over 42 years; the chance of death or serious injury is 11.1%. Eleven. Percent. Not good enough.
Consider your average elderly person or child (currently negligable in the statistics as these people have been completely squeezed out of riding a bicycle on our roads) isn’t as capable as the typical cyclist: a fit young man. Their risk would be much higher.
A similar analysis of motoring with ONS statistics (average person making 954 trips per day, 64% of those by car, there are 63.23 million people in the UK and ~9300 driver/car occupant KSIs per year) gives a risk of being killed or seriously injured of 1 in 135 (0.7%) for our 42 years of car trips twice daily.
The Netherlands has people of all ages and genders cycling, and still manages a lower KSI rate. Several times lower! This is why we say, Go Dutch. But this is moot. The real concern is that cycling feels unsafe and unpleasant for most people regardless of statistics.
This is the BBC News contribution from Royal London Surgeons I was looking for: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NPPFDx2o5aw
Although I agree with your larger point, I must take exception with claiming that adjusting your iPod while biking is not dangerous. No matter what type of vehicle you’re operating, taking your eyes off the road to perform an attention-stealing task presents a danger to yourself and those around you.
What about walking along adjusting your iPod?
In general the danger of attention-stealing tasks is proportional to the danger of the activity the attention-stealing task steals attention *from*. I took it this was the general point of the article: Cycling is not inherently dangerous – look at the pictures, look at dutch statistics. But since a ton of metal travelling at 40 mph is inherently lethal, none of the above activities are safe *for other people* if you are a driver, nor if you are a cyclist forced into cohabitation with that heavy speeding machinery – which these dutch cyclists are not.
But by that standard, what is not dangerous? When I work with a circular saw, for instance, I do not allow any distractions; no conversations, no looking out for what my kids are doing (I picked up some stitches once from a hand pruning saw once when distracted by kids), nothing. Damn sure, no talking on any phone. So, “talking to other people”, that would be dangerous? Or is working with a circular saw that is dangerous?
The Saw, Socrates, the Saw.
And similarly, the car, not the iPod.
And in this context it is motor traffic that is the saw.
You’ve convinced me. Next time go for a ride round the park on a circular saw, I’m leaving the ipod at home!
Sounds safe, to me, as long as you wear a helmet and high-viz. And probably a condom, too, just to be extra careful. And don’t forget the safety glasses.
“a” danger? Does danger come only in one size? Seems to me that there are larger and smaller amounts of danger, and if you can get cars out of the picture, the danger is reduced enough that it is no big deal. Consider also that someone riding a bicycle has a better ability to see and hear what is around them, and everyone (pedestrians and other cyclists) is more able to see them and take account of their actions. Cars manage to hit the worst of all worlds — bigger, faster, heavier, and their drivers are mostly deaf, less able to see, and less able to be observed.
Reblogged this on Cycling Nelly.
Yoga is not inherently a dangerous activity. However, if the only place in which one is legally able to do yoga is shared with fast-moving huge metal objects controlled by fallible humans, people doing yoga are in danger of being injured. (Now replace ‘yoga’ with ‘cycling’.)
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I have to quibble with your dog walking while cycling position. It’s very dependent on the breed of dog and the terrain. Breed is obvious. Not every dog is built to handle the level of constant exertion required to keep up with a cyclist. Additionally, hot and/or hard ground such as asphalt can wreak havoc on a dog’s footpads. So, walking your dog while cycling may not be harmful to the human, but can present health risks to the animal. Personally, I’d rather see this behaviour discouraged rather than normalized.
Yes, all of these pictures suggest the soothing side of cycling.
Yes none of these ways of cycling is per se dangerous.
But most of these CAN be highly dangerous – it just depends:
on road building and conditions, on traffic intensity, on capability of cycling and on personal fate.
Practically it is a personal decision on taking or limiting risk.
Just a personal observation, but the average speed of the cyclists in Holland and lets say cycle-friendly cities in Germany, is slower as a general rule than in London, UK – where there appears to be more of an impetus to get somewhere quickly and be rushed. (I include myself in this, as I preferred to sleep in as late as possible and then race to work pushing my average to around 12-14 mph through London morning traffic – without pretty much running any lights and there were always others who would pass me or kept up). From the cycling I have done all around Munich, the general feeling was, take it easy and enjoy the ride, you’ll get there when you get there – or, perhaps, as it is said, that Germans are good at keeping time, they left early (I do not include myself in this, as even though I am German, I am rubbish at keeping time).
If you cycle slower, lets say you’re toodling along at 8mph or 10mph, especially in dedicated cycle lanes and away from vehicles, you have much less chance of getting hurt should you fall off your bike for whatever reason then if you speedracing at 17mph. You might even be able to catch yourself rather than launch yourself. I think anyhow. Sorry, not very scientific, but either way, those mainlanders definitely have it right in some respects!
A relevant point is that UK roads made for maximising so-called “traffic flow” induce stop-start driving where the “start” portion is rapid acceleration to 30mph. In such aggressive conditions between the lights it is positively unsafe to dawdle at 8mph, and this has a lot to do with the skewed UK cycling demographic and what some commentators on this blog refer to as cycling “culture”. “Culture” is produced by road layout policy, and this point needs to go home: http://departmentfortransport.wordpress.com/2012/12/05/dutch-scenes-in-a-british-context/ Possibly worth adding that it isn’t only a safety issue – mainlanders, if we meant the Dutch, prioritise the light defaults and timings for cyclists on many routes, in which circumstances travel times can be less for dutch cyclists travelling at 10mph than for UK cyclists doing 20mph besides a truck. There are lots of reasons why Dutch behaviour is unimaginable on British roads, so its the roads that need to change.
Its tricky to negotiate a busy, fast-moving, roundabout, or cross three lanes of 40+mph traffic in order to turn right, if you are tootling along at < 10mph. At best you will get hooted, and possibly you will be run off the road.
I'd say cyclists go fast in the UK because they have to, in order to mix with traffic which often goes very fast indeed. Indeed you sometimes get more macho vehicular cyclist types declaring that those who can't manage high speed and acceleration shouldn't be cycling at all.
Its not an "impetus to get somewhere quickly", its the knowledge that there are potentially enraged drivers coming up behind at 30mph or faster who have limited tolerance for you 'getting in their way'.
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Reblogged this on The Lapmosphere.
That back tire on the bike towing the luggage really needs some air, or else a pair of patches for the inevitable snake bite puncture.
Many, many bikes – wow! Wonderful! Envy and greetings from Polish.
My wife (while riding her bike) was knocked off and suffered a fractured elbow which required surgery and months of painful physiotherapy. Who knocked her off? Another cyclist, who was “adjusting his iPod”. There are many things which are not dangerous, but cycling without looking where you are going IS.
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I’m with therevsteve on this one. I have a friend who was involved in a collision on a protected bike lane because the other person was listening to music, weaving, and otherwise not paying attention. He broke his hand, damaged his bike, and missed out on a triathlon that he had put a lot of work and training into. My sister, an experienced cyclist, crashed her bike once because she was distracted by pretty scenery. She was completely fine, except for a headache and a split helmet. Thank god she was wearing it, the doctor said she’d have been brain damaged otherwise. I agree that cycling is a perfectly safe activity, with low probability of serious injury, ESPECIALLY WHEN WE TAKE A FEW BASIC PRECAUTIONS. These precautions include paying attention and wearing a helmet, which has been shown in studies to greatly reduce the chance of injury. Honestly, it doesn’t seem like a whole lot to ask. I cycle thousands of miles a year, commute using both roads and trails, am car free, and love my lifestyle. And I wear a helmet for all of my riding and commuting. I don’t know why we have to be adolescents and stomp our feet and yell “but it will mess up my hair!” when we could just wear a helmet (you learn how to deal with the hair thing pretty quickly). And I don’t know why we have to lie about what makes bicycling safe in order to promote good infrastructure or tell people that bicycling is a good thing to do. Good infrastructure is extremely important, but if we believe Bicycling Magazine (http://blogs.bicycling.com/blogs/roadrights/2013/09/03/stay-safe-out-there/ ), only 11% of all bicycle crashes involved an automobile. So let’s be honest, smart, and stay safe while enjoying one of the healthiest, most fun ways to transport ourselves!
“ESPECIALLY WHEN WE TAKE A FEW BASIC PRECAUTIONS” . OK. But I don’t understand why safe cycling provision on the road is not a ‘BASIC PRECAUTION’, whereas wearing a helmet is, despite the mountains of statistical evidence that tell exactly the opposite story about the effectiveness of these responses to the problem. And no, I’m not much persuaded by that Magazine link, because they don’t offer any kind of source to back up the factoid.
Oh certainly, I believe that both safe infrastructure for cyclists AND wearing a helmet are good basic precautions. I did not intend to give the impression that I am against good infrastructure, and in fact explicitly described it as “extremely important”. And as for the quality of the source, I would love to have a more reliable source of data. Unfortunately there is very little information available regarding the frequency of bicycle crashes that do not involve motorists. In the United States at least, our data collection is very car-centric, so we collect data on car collisions which provides good information on bicycle-motor vehicle collisions, but is not useful for looking at other bicycle collisions. It is the best percentage I could find, and I also believe it to be perfectly plausible. Think about your own experience. How many times in your life have you crashed a bike? I know myself, I crashed several times as a little kid learning how to ride, and then doing stupid things that were beyond my ability. I’ve flipped over the handle bars and skidded out several times while mountain biking. I’ve crashed four times due to ice while commuting in the winter time. I was knocked off my bicycle once by a dog, and a small child crashed into me at a very low speed once while riding on a multi use path. I have been hit exactly once by a car, and was thankfully uninjured. I will point out, though, that I was hit while crossing an intersection on a separated path with the green light. The separate facility did not help (though it could have been better designed). It was at night though, and I wonder if the car might have seen me had I been wearing the much maligned high-viz clothing.
Thanks for asking for anecdote. I’ve had precisely two incidents while riding a bike on the road. To bring back reason and statistic, 50% of these crashes involved being driven off the road by a SMIDNSY driver in surrey who didn’t stop at a give-way, and after pushing me into the gutter then did a left-hook. The other 50%, I mistakenly cycled off an alp. Only in the latter case was I able to mount the bike and ride off again. This proves that the decisive road safety intervention would be to replace give-way junctions with alps.
I hope this doesn’t come across as confrontational, because while I’m used to having really quite acrimonious arguments about this topic I do think you are arguing in ‘good faith’ so to speak.
But really what you describe isn’t my experience. I didn’t learn to ride a bike till quite late in life (due quite simply to a lifelong fear of riding in traffic – which I still think, now I’ve overcome it, was far from unjustified), and in the many years since I’ve come off (as I think I said already) precisely twice. Once due to trying to signal and brake at the same time (a big mistake I won’t make again!), and once due to my body (against what I’m sure where the express instructions of my brain) inexplicably deciding to swerve me into, rather than away from, a tree in the cycle path.
Neither resulted in any significant injury, though the first could have done if there had been a motorised vehicle immediately behind me to run straight over me. But then a helmet would likely have not helped in that situation anyway.
Perhaps young children learning to ride should wear helmets, I don’t really know to be honest. Maybe it should be up to their parents. Children might be at particular risk from simply falling off. And _in certain particular situations_ adults probably should wear them as well.
But the overwhelming danger of serious injury or death for cyclists as a group comes from motorised traffic, and the helmet issue seems to me to be a huge red-herring/diversion with regard to dealing with that.
A lot of people, especially, but not exculsively, non-cyclists, seem to imagine that bike helmets have magical powers that go far beyond what they can actually achieve (like a “+4 magic hat of protection” from some sort of sword-and-sorcery game – that somehow stops blows to the torso!) And that therefore if only they were made compulsory all those distressing and horrific cyclist deaths on our roads would immediately go away. The prevalence of this silly (and implicitly victim-blaming) idea amongst so many non-cyclists is what irritates me about helmet promotion. What kills is not the absence of helmets but the presence of motorised vehicles.
That’s probably what I should have said, PM.
There’s a common misunderstanding that pictures, as typical of fatal or serious ‘brain injuries’, the image of Jackie Kennedy leaning on to the trunk of the limo to cradle JFK’s skull. And if you suffer gunshot, it is certainly the case that a helmet (best with layers of kevlar and steel rather than polystyrene) might be a good idea. Also something a polystyrene helmet can contribute to, and this mainly at low speed/mass impacts (ie, not involving motor-vehicles), is protection to the exterior of the skull and to the thin layer of soft tissue on the outside of it. You need that tissue. And you can lose a lot of blood from an external head-injury, so this protection offered by a helmet is not nothing.
But I’m told that brain injuries, which people *think* a helmet will help with, are a complex process. They may involve inflammation starting from injuries to the brain caused by the brain moving rapidly *inside* the skull. Your skull could hold together, and your brain suffer catastrophic injury. Much damage to the brain comes from the skull stopping suddenly, while the brain continues within the skull, being now damaged by the skull itself.
The more effective motorcycling helmets give significant protection against both internal and external injury. They protect against one with a case and the other with an interior that extends periods of deceleration and so reduces peak forces. This does not well describe a cycling helmet. My understanding is that polystyrene lids do have some small effect on extending the period of deceleration – an effect that is measurable by sophisticated testing kit in terms of milliseconds – but not a big effect. Whether the tiny extending of the period of deceleration that these lids offer is enough to compensate for various ways in which helmet wearing might expose cyclists individually, or as a bunch, to greater risk (these safety effects are diverse, some psychological, some sociological) is ‘debated’ ad nauseam, but does not appear to be scientific consensus. That leaves the discussion open to anecdote, which is where we came in.
I wear one. But I’m far from clear that they are a “BASIC PRECAUTION”. The final reason I wear one is, that a judge or juror might infer from a failure to wear a polystyrene helmet that a cyclist is irresponsible. On the evidence, I don’t think they would be at all right to make this inference. But I am cowed by imagining my relatives struggling with a court-case.
Pretty much the spirit in which I wear a helmet. Plus a hefty dose of superstition/OCD!
But its strange how many irrational helmet-pushers there are out there (and I’m absolutely not including Ms Wilburn here, incidentally – her posts here are polite and rational).
My jaded attitude to helmet promotion is largely because the usual thing is to pop in, aggressively declare its ‘common sense’ and ‘anyone who doesn’t wear one is a moron’ or express some rather thinly-concealed wish that anyone who doesn’t wear one should have a horrific accident (perhaps with a weirdly inconsistent claim about costs to the NHS thrown in). Then run away out of sheer panic at the possibility of being confronted with facts and logic.
Its weird. Its as if the message is in fact “for mysterious psychological reasons its very important to me that you should wear a helmet, so just do what I say and don’t expect a rationally argued case because this is about my psychological needs not reason and facts”
I once suffered concussion (quite severe) when I tripped over a wall while running around a school playground. A friend once broke their leg when attempting the tricky feat of ‘walking down the stairs’.
Anecdotes about accidents when performing certain activities aren’t really enough to justify always wearing protective clothing for those activities.
Most studies come up with no clear conclusion about helmet use for cycling. It seems highly questionable to me that such an item would help in the event of a collision with a high-speed motorised vehicle. It might help if you fall off entirely on your own, that appears to be what they are designed for. If I were racing down hill on off-road paths, I personally would certainly wear one. But its mostly being crushed by a lorry or smashed into at speed by a car that I worry about.
How many bike crashes involving death or serious injury involve a car?
Yes, I absolutely agree. The majority of bicycle crashes do not involve motor vehicles, but the crashes that do involve motor vehicles are more fatal several fold. I’ve seen statistics ranging form 80% to 95% of fatal crashes involve motor vehicles. Statistically, however, it is not particularly justified to worry about a fatal collision with a car even if you are riding with traffic. It does not happen with very meaningful frequency. Injuries are, of course, far more likely to happen and are the main safety concern of bicycle riding. I know that for me, I do not wish to be sidelined with an injury because if I can not ride my bicycle, I can not get to work. Injuries are not necessarily a mere nuisance – they can really impact a person’s quality of life.
I agree that helmets are primarily useful in preventing injury from crashes that do not involve motor vehicles. But since those crashes comprise the majority of crashes, I do not see how that refutes the usefulness of helmets. It’s true that studies are somewhat inconclusive, but most of the evidence against helmets suggests a problem with “false sense of security.” People do dumb stuff because they think they are immune just because they are wearing a helmet. I would argue it is in your power to choose not to do stupid things just because you are wearing a helmet! Of course the helmet is physically protective.
And finally, yes of course you can hurt yourself doing lots of things. Just about anything, really. But consider that as a small child you were undoubtedly not able to run much faster than 8 mph. That as a pedestrian you are only moving 3 mph. If two pedestrians suffer a head on collision, they will feel the force of a 6 mph collision. If two cyclists each going 12 mph suffer a head on collision, they will feel the force of a 24 mph collision. The difference between the two is substantial, and makes the difference between a collision that is not likely to result in some form of injury and one that often does.
Since energy in a wreck is 1/2MV^2 with similar masses the energy would change as the square of speed, so that collision between pedestrians would have a value of 9 while the cyclists would have a value of 144 or 16 times as much. When you consider the higher speed and the order of magnitude or higher, greater mass of motor vehicles, the imbalance in energy in a bike/MV, or a ped/MV wreck is horrifying to contemplate.
Not only is that statistic completely unsourced (and hence pretty much worthless) it also only refers to ‘accidents’. I’ve come off the bike on my own twice – on neither occasion did I suffer anything worse than an almost imperceptibly grazed hand and a bruised knee.
That really doesn’t compare with what I actually worry about, which is being crushed by a HGV or smashed to bits by a car doing 50mph.
As far as I am aware, every single one of the cycle deaths in London in the last few years involved motorised vehicles (disproportionately HGVs).
So that ‘stat’ seriously misses the point.
Well I certainly will not argue with you about London. I have no idea what the stats look like in the United Kingdom. For the United States, I have seen statistics ranging from 80% to 95% of bicycle fatalities are due to collisions with motor vehicles. Unfortunately, we do not keep very good statistics for bicycling in this country. Portland, Oregon does the best but their website only has graphs of bicycle crashes and fatalities, nothing about the causes. There are some interesting looking journal articles, but I can only access the abstracts. If anyone has access to these sorts of databases and would like to share better data, I’d be very interested to see it! I can say that I know for sure that not all of the fatalities in the last few years in Wilmington, DE (where I live) involved motor vehicles, because I remember a news article about a man whose front tire blew out on a down hill and hit his head at an unfortunate angle, and it killed him. Of course that’s only one story, but I have also never seen a statistic that quotes 100%.
Fatalities are, of course, the most concerning outcome. I certainly believe that protecting cyclists from motor vehicle collisions is very important. Fatalities are, however, very rare overall. Injuries are much more common, and can have serious impacts on a person’s quality of life.
I’m not sure why you criticize the statistic for referring to accidents. I thought that’s what we were discussing here? I don’t think anyone is trying to make claims regarding intentional crashes, whatever that would mean. Attempted homicide by bicycle? That sounds implausible. I agree with your criticism of the source, but unfortunately I could not come by a better number. Do you have a better number? Do you think 11% sounds implausible? I think it is plausible enough that I take it with a grain of salt, and am happy to allow for a fairly wide margin of error. Even if the sampling practices were highly erroneous, though, it still seems likely that the majority of crashes do not involve motor vehicles. They would have had to seriously miss the mark on methodologies to have been that wrong.
I am pleased to hear you have never been seriously hurt from riding a bicycle! As I state in my original opinion, I believe bicycling is a safe activity (particularly when cyclists make smart, informed decisions) which is why I bicycle 6,000 miles a year, and am on my bicycle virtually every day of the year. Not everyone has had your good fortune, or perhaps good skill and decision making, though. I have friends and family members who have suffered concussions, broken hands, a broken collar bone, bursitis, and compressed discs in their vertebrae, all from crashes that did not involve motor vehicles.
From ‘Cycle helmets and young people: a brief review of the evidence base’ (for Devon C.C.);
“The underlying evidence base on cycle helmet effectiveness contains rather limited quality evidence,
The underlying British Standard that guides the construction of cycle helmets reflects the design compromises that are inevitable in developing a secondary safety device that can be tolerated during aerobic activity. To be specific, BS EN 1078:1997 requires a test against an impact velocity, energy or drop height flat anvil of 5.42-5.52 m/s and an impact energy criterion: < 250g. This is not a standard for a helmet that is intended to withstand major trauma in collision with a high speed large mass object such as another car or more substantial road vehicle. Cycle helmets appear to be designed to anticipate falls from a bicycle…
It is also intriguing that numerically more children are head injured as car occupants and yet the question of helmets for car occupants never arises – even though it has been shown that correct child restraint use still leaves numbers with head injuries."
Puts it nice and succinctly, I think.
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this “environment” doesnt and won’t exist in Los angeles for many…many years! decades even.
so forgive me if i strap a helmet so that in the event i get taken out by one of the many cars i have to share the roads with, at least my head won’t explode like a melon when it hits the ground 😉
You give too much credit to helmets. They are pretty much used up in a 12.5 MPH impact and approaching “Utterly Useless” at 20 and above. The only thing that kept me alive in my 60 MPH wreck is I am a freak of nature and have incredibly strong bones and tough internal organs. I literally crushed the roof of a pickup truck with my back and head on impact, the third time I have totalled out a pickup truck from the outside. Helmets are good for one thing in such a wreck, other than preventing abrasions as you slide down the road. Having one on will protect your heirs when they sue the guy that hit you, especially if you die from head trauma. “Hit so hard the helmet couldn’t save him” does not look good to juries.
I give helmets the amount of credit they deserve. A seat belt and airbag in a car are not going to save your life if you hit a Mac truck head in at 50mph… Doesn’t meaning going to rip the bag out and cut the belt out of my car because it won’t work past a certain limit.
I’ve hit the ground many times. With and without helmets. Thankfully the times I didnt hbe a helmet on my head happened not to impact the ground first and it was fine. But I have hit the ground head first, with a helmet, and there’s is nothing anyone can say to convince me id be better off today had I not been wearing it, period end.
I learned most of my latin vocabulary on the bike riding to school: textbook in one hand, other hand on the handlebar or for picking my nose. So, if kids cycled more on good paths, they would be much better at languages too.
If only cycling in Britain could be the simple pleasure depicted in this post. My wife loves going to Center Parcs because she can ride a bike in an environment as depicted here, and go to the shop for fresh baguettes to carry in her basket – no coincidence that Center Parcs is imported from Holland.
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I think once you turn 13 should start wearing a headband. I love wearing headbands on my bike not helmets. Same with my 12 year old daughter. The rule is 13 but when she turned 12 I said the day after her birthday when she riding her bike you don’t have to wear helmets in my house. My 12 year old daughter and I share a biking hairstyle and it is wearing a white headband over both of our blond heads. One thing i don’t like is that a police officer pulled us over and gave us a $67 ticket because my daughter is not 18. I still don’t make her wear one. I want your thought should 12 year olds wear helmets my gut tells me no but maybe they do need one. Tell me your opinion.
I strongly disagree with this article. I have a 13 year old daughter that has never wore a helmet in her life. We live in San Francisco and my daughter looked over at me and saw me and said ‘ We went to London and Amsterdam and we biked over there and my daughter said she liked those places much more because there aren’t as much helmets and people have always said that is dumb. I think its very important to just be yourself. My daughter bikes to school every day wit her friends and neither ever have wore helmets so maybe its like the old days when nobody ever even considered wearing a helmet and that what I am true to and that is what I am going to stick with no matter who disagrees
Hi Laura – I’m sorry, it’s not clear to me what you are actually disagreeing with. Could you explain?
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Did you notice anything regular about these pictures? Cars (nor other big motor vehicles) were nearby.
And this is also why the drug tourists in Amsterdam and the drunk cyclists in Groningen are still safe. And even if they aren’t, they’re only hurting themselves, at least anyone seriously. A car, now that’s much faster and much bigger, they cannot make dangerous mistakes if we were to have crashes like this. Also, in a car, you are quite well shielded from the perception of danger. Even on a bicycle while drunk or stoned, you still know that you are on a bicycle and must balance. You also know very well how much effort it takes to get to a certain speed. When a road reinforces safe behavior by design, it means that more people, even if they are not trying to obey the law, tend to do it anyway.
Also, I tried to give a girl a ride on the back of my omafiets to the mall which was a few hundred metres away. It didn’t work.
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I should probably add that the Dutch also take away fixed objects that can also cause problems while cycling. Keeping the motor traffic conflicts to a minimum and only at a low speed and with few or no cars involved, so that would be mixing only in the 30 km/h urban or 40 km/h rural access roads, crossing distributors up to 30 km/h without traffic lights, 50 km/h with lights, and tunnels at any speed above that or with very high volume or multi lane crossings (excluding turn and bus lanes) regardless of speed; that solves part of the problem.
The Dutch also remove the high kerbs next to cycleways, they make them about 5-7.5 cm and angle them at a 30 degree angle, they remove upstands, they remove bollards from cycleways and access roads, they put grass and bushes next to cycleways when they can, add clear zones between cycleways and trees, and the cycleways are pretty wide, even bricks are flat and smooth and well designed and there is good drainage and non slip surfaces that are still smooth. This prevents most of the rest of the single sided collisions, the cause of most of the rest of the injuries and a few of the deaths. Removing cars also makes it so that even if you do have a single sided crash, the injuries will be nothing more than a scrape and nothing that can’t be treated with some OTC pain meds and a first aid kit, if it even comes to that.
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Well guess what, I feel safer on a bike without a helmet, it’s my choice to wear one or not, so I will not wear one, cycling is safe, I don’t need a helmet, and I have every right to decide that as an adult,