The Risks of Cycling

17 Aug

One of my regular Willamette Valley rides takes me down Skyline Road to its terminus at Riverside Road. I crest the rolling Skyline twice, once at Cole Road, then drop another hundred or so feet, before climbing back up another eighty-five feet to Concomly Road, with a final, curvy plunge that takes me from 940 feet in elevation to 159 feet above sea level in just under 1.3 miles.

Invariably on my way down Skyline as well as other nearby steep roads I’ll reach speeds better than 30 miles per hour. Slow by racing standards, but fast enough to get me killed, if I were to crash.

In 2008 716 cyclists were killed on their bikes in the USA, down from the the 784 who died in 2005 accidents. Doesn’t sound like many people when you consider the tens of thousands of people who die each year in car crashes. However, because of the huge disparity in vehicle miles ridden, cyclists are 3.4x or 11.5x more likely to be killed while riding than a passenger is in a car. In short, riding a bicycle is more dangerous than driving a car.

Once in a while I contemplate the risks of cycling. Not in a comparative sense. I know that the health benefits I get from regular and rigorous cycling outweigh the chance getting injured or killed while pedaling. (Unless, of course, I happen to get injured or killed.) However, as I speed downhill and glance at my front wheel and the less than an inch of tire I have gripping the asphalt, I will often delicately squeeze my brakes a bit more to slow my progress.

According to at least one report, the majority of fatalities among cyclists are their own damn fault. They race into intersections, enter streets from side roads or driveways, or veer into traffic and inevitably collide with car. And bikes never emerge the victor in a confrontation with a car. Never.

Although kids under 19 are the most likely to have a fatal bike accident, the next largest demographic is older riders. As we age our reflexes slow, our eyesight dims, and our hearing decreases, all of which we need to respond to risks while we’re on two wheels. That means we creaky oldsters need to take extra care on rides.

Ride slower. Ride smarter. Ride longer. Much, much longer.

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2 Responses to “The Risks of Cycling”

  1. Ken G. August 24, 2010 at 9:57 am #

    I thought it was fear that kept me riding the brakes going downhill as all my fellow cyclists go speeding by. Good to know someone with more research into this topic has the same habit.

    As a pedestrian, motorist, and bicyclist, I’m annoyed by anyone who doesn’t follow the rules of the road, regardless of their mode of transportation. They’re risking more than their own safety.

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