Cycling is not dangerous – kill your emotive language

Cycling is not dangerousI can’t die cycling if I stop riding, right? What? You mean cycling is not as dangerous as the media would have us believe? I don’t believe you. So much so that I’m going to sit on my couch and let my arteries fur, my stomach bulge and my brain empty.

Cycling is safe

I’ve commuted in London pretty much every working day for the last ten plus years without incident. Sure there have been a few near misses and plenty of mistakes, both mine and those of drivers. Yet, all being well, I’m still here to tell the tale. Lucky you!

Of course, this is anecdotal evidence and proves nothing, somewhat akin to the “a cycling helmet saved my life” anecdotes. So what about the facts? Some numbers and researchers suggest cycling is not as dangerous as many people perceive it to be.

Yes people die cycling. As too do they walking, or driving, or falling down the stairs. And sure, statistics can prove anything. For example, did you know more people die from diarrhoea related diseases than from road traffic accidents?

Yet cycling deaths seem to generate a certain hysteria. Reading the press you’d be forgiven for thinking your chances of death are higher cycling than if you were to climb into a lion’s den with a dozen raw burgers stapled to your chest.

The media are not alone in such hyperbole and exaggeration. Some cycle bloggers also like to shout about the perceived dangers of cycling. I say shout, but it’s really just very long sentences written with the CAPS LOCK key jammed. Whilst I support the noble aims of such bloggers, I do wonder if their use of emotive messaging is counter-productive if it deters people from climbing on a bike.

Vive la révolution

A ghost bike. Any different to a roadside memorial?

A ghost bike. Any different to a roadside memorial?

Some cycling campaigns also overemphasise the danger of cycling. Ghost bikes are memorials for cyclists who die on the road. A bike is painted white and left near the spot of the incident, accompanied by a small plaque. These memorials “serve as quiet statements in support of cyclists’ right to safe travel”.

Ghost bikes are certainly poignant reminders of lives lost but who is more likely to see these memorials? Drivers speeding along in their metal boxes? Or pedestrians and other cyclists? Do they make drivers think twice about the fragility of cyclists or do they reinforce the dangers of cycling and deter people from getting on their bikes?

How about campaigns such as the Stop Killing Cyclists movement, which uses an emotive moniker and subvertisements (i.e. propaganda disguised as something cool and hip) in an attempt to effect change. In one poster, cycle lanes are renamed killing lanes. The group believe such uncompromising messages are required to get attention and to make a positive change.

Change they will get but will it all be positive? I’d like to see research into campaigns that deliberately give so much prominence to cycling deaths and their impact on the number of potential new cyclists taking to the roads. It cannot be good. It goes like this. I once considered taking up protesting until I saw a group of protesters with a placard that read, “Stop killing protesters”. I went home and tried lobbying instead.

I jest, but fewer cyclists on the road is not a good thing. The aforementioned cycling campaign is not so much a revolution as a coup de grâce for increasing cycling numbers. Whilst I fully support and applaud the direct action listed on the group’s website, I find it unfortunate that for the vast majority of people, such detail will be lost in the emotive headlines, placards and propaganda.

A little perspective

Hello, we're dead cyclists, want to join us?

Hello, we’re dead cyclists, want to join us? A blunt and emotive caption used to illustrate a more delicate and complicated discussion. Uncomfortable isn’t it?

Where am I going with this reproach? Well, whilst I agree with the ultimate objectives of all those mentioned above, I wonder what their use of emotive language is doing for cycling numbers. There’s enough scaremongering in the press each time a cyclist dies. The death of cyclists is highlighted adequately enough by tragic incidents such as the spate of cycling deaths in London which hit the national headlines near the end of 2013. We certainly don’t need pro-cycling groups and campaigns adding to the accompanying hysteria.

I only went out for a light spin

This post began life as a light-hearted look at some of my more obscure excuses not to cycle. Given my lack of cycling motivation I was hoping to console myself with the fact fiction that I am increasing my life expectancy by not risking my life on the bike every day. Yes I know, it was never going to be a light-hearted frolicking romp of a post now was it?

More uninspiring cycling memes to be found on Twitter via #CyclingTruths. Go on, you probably need cheering up after that missive.

Say chapeau, think hat
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5 thoughts on “Cycling is not dangerous – kill your emotive language

  1. I would have to agree with you. Cycling just needs to be normalised as much as walking, driving and public transport are. Essentially we all have to share roadways and scaring people (albeit peds who may well cycle) is not an evidence based approach. The research I’ve read suggests that the more people cycling reduces accidents overall. A good place to start is the Australian based cyclingresource.org.au, which has a heap of resources on safety from all parts of the world.

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  2. Its a very tricky subject; there was a case recently where two cyclists out for a training ride were killed by a stolen car nr Reading. My 11yr old daughter saw the article and asked me to stop riding my bike, and I did think for a bit; I do this for fun, why take the risk?

    I agree reporting bias makes riding seem more dangerous; I know for a fact that 2 truck drivers have been killed this month alone just on the A34, yet I don’t recall anything about either incident in the news.

    My strategy is this; Ride defensively. Don’t pass cars and trucks on the inside, even if it means a delay. Wait in the queue at lights rather than overtaking all the cars which then have to overtake you again, making them angry, reinforcing their prejudices, and less likely to treat cyclists with respect in future. Wave to thank drivers who are wait behind you and pass considerately. Avoid confrontation even if you know you’ve been wronged. It does not help, and just adds to the ‘them vs us’ mentality. I know this sounds subservient and yes, we have a right to be on the road, but a bit of consideration and accepting the fact that we are fragile vs a car/truck surely tips the odds in our favour. Change attitudes one person at a time…

    Avoid cycling at night, and avoid cycling in busy urban environments. Be extra careful on roundabouts and junctions. Make eye contact. Constantly assess the road surface. Never take anything for granted.

    There will still be random, tragic incidents and probably avoidable incidents, but there is that risk with anything.

    But when all’s said and done, I feel my under 50bpm heart rate, know my low bodyfat %, and the tangible health benefit that cycling has brought for me.

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    • Some excellent tips there PRSboy. Definitely agree with you on the being courteous and considerate point. Some cyclists quickly forget that assertive riding can and should also be considerate to other road users.

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  3. I’ve met some complete natters when I’ve been riding this year, and by and large I feel sorry for their complete ignorance of common courtesy. Even so there are certain routes which I will not ride during rush hour, the speed differentials are just too high, and the roads too narrow. One such road is at the end our little cul-de-sac.

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