The Bicycle Commuting ‘Fine Print’

Background Reading


The uptick in serious bike injuries occurred for both men and women cyclists although more men get in accidents each year. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The uptick in serious bike injuries occurred for both men and women cyclists although more men get in accidents each year.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images


So you think it must be really glamorous to ride your bike to work every day. But there are some things about this endeavor that are anything but glamorous. It can be done, but it takes more effort and perseverance than you might imagine. And the one thing everyone is ambivalent about telling you because too much of an emphasis may deter you and too little does not adequately prepare you for what lies ahead, Urban Bicycle Commuting is downright dangerous!

The friends that got you into commuting told you that they felt empowered because the Urban Cycling Movement was reshaping the transportation landscape. It is, but not always for the better. But more about that later.

What is important to understand is that ‘their shtick is safety‘ (or at least that is what they claim). But the flip side of that is that people get hurt while riding bicycles. Heck, people get dead doing it. Folks, this is not something to write off your cool things to do list. This is something to take seriously!

The article reads in part:

More adults across the country are strapping on helmets and hopping on bikes to get to work. That’s good news for people’s hearts and waistlines, but it also means more visits to the emergency room.

Hospital admissions because of bike injuries more than doubled between 1998 and 2013, doctors reported Tuesday in JAMA, the journal of the American Medical Association. And the rise was the biggest with bikers age 45 and over.

“There are just more people riding and getting injured in that age group. It’s definitely striking.” says Dr. Benjamin Breyer, who led the study at the University of San Francisco.

Another study, published last month in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, found a similar trend with bicycle deaths: While the death rate among child cyclists have plummeted in the past four decades, the mortality rate among cyclists ages 35 to 54 have tripled.

Breyer isn’t sure what’s driving the surge in accidents among Generation Xers and baby boomers, but one reason could be what’s known as the “Lance Armstrong effect.”

“After Lance Armstrong had all his success at the Tour de France, a lot more people were riding, and there were a lot more older riders that took up the bicycle for sport,” he says.

“If you consider a 65-year-old who falls off their bike exact same way a 25-year-old does, the 65-year-old is going to sustain more injuries even if they’re in great shape,” he says.

So what can be done to keep riders in this age group safe?

Basic safety precautions are absolutely essential, Breyer says: Wear a helmet and reflective gear, have lights for night riding, and drive defensively.

But even that might not be enough, says Jason Vargo, who studies urban planning at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and led the recent study on bicycle deaths. He says society also needs to change the definition of what a road is to implicitly include bikers.

Some cities — like Madison, Wis., San Francisco, and Portland, Ore., — are starting to do a better job at this. “They’re slowing down speeds on biking routes, adding protective places for cyclists and using different-colored paint.”

But at the end of day, reducing cycling accidents may boil down to something simpler: Making sure that bikers know the rules of the road — and that drivers know how to deal with bikers.