I 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
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
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.