Is Cycling Dangerous?

Our friend Don Blount got some bad news last week: In addition to a broken wrist from a fall during his first century ride, it turned out that his arm was broken, too.

Don had surgery on the arm Friday, and says it went well, but he’ll be off the bike for six to eight weeks while he heals.

That gives him time to do some thinking. He’s been thinking about his second major crash in the last nine months, and breaking the same wrist in those crashes. On top of that, many of us rode in the Ride of Silence last week, which commemorates riders who died in bicycle crashes.

So Don poses the question: Is cycling dangerous?

Don says some of his non-biking friends are telling him to give up cycling, because it’s “too dangerous.”

A couple of studies done in the 1990s found about 500,000 visits to the emergency room each year in the U.S. as the result of bicycle crashes. Just a small fraction required a hospital stay.  Over half the accidents involved motor vehicles, and road surface and mechanical problems with the bicycle are also common causes of accidents.

That reminded me of a club ride I was on a couple of months ago. We were nearing the end, but had to ride for a short distance on a two-lane highway with no shoulders. The road is hilly and curvy, and we mostly avoid it. When we turned off it to cut across a parking lot to another road, one of the riders remarked how glad she was to have survived another ride.

“Well,” I said, “it seems to me that every time we get on our bikes we’re taking a risk. It could be the car that doesn’t see you, or the car that does, and wants to ‘teach you a lesson.’ Or you could hit some bad road surface and lose your balance, or any number of things. But usually we don’t. We’re smart enough to know the risks and we watch out for problems.”

I guess that’s how I’d answer Don’s question, too. Cycling can be risky, but it’s not inherently dangerous.

Don concurs. “I never thought of riding a bike as dangerous,” he emailed me, “probably because it’s something I learned to do as a child. And if I felt it was dangerous, I doubt I would have taught my children to ride.”

He says his injury occurred because he became overly concerned with one risk factor – cars – and lost sight of another – a railroad track at an intersection bad for riding.

But he also notes that other adults get hurt in sports like skiing, soccer, or basketball, and don’t think twice about getting back to them.

And after his convalescence, he says, “I intend to get back on my bike as soon as I can. After all, I received my new helmet just a few days ago.”

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6 thoughts on “Is Cycling Dangerous?

  1. I think it is inherently dangerous. But we do it because we are passionate about it. Foriegn aid work is dangerous too but people still do that and those people risk kidnapping and murder. I rock climb and bike even though I know people who have been hurt badly doing both because they are things I love. If we stop doing what we love out of fear what have we become?

  2. Define “dangerous.” Depending on which way you manipulate the statistics cars are far more dangerous. Probably because of the speed involved. Sedentary couch potato activity is certainly a dangerous way to live.

    Cycling is no more “dangerous” than most sports and I strongly believe the benefits overwhelm the risks.

    On a lighter note, each time I get off my bike at home I say the mantra that we used to say to each other getting out of the cockpit of a Harrier: “cheated death again.” 8)

  3. I don’t think it’s any more dangerous than any other sport as an exercise in and of itself, but I have a lingering thought here that people don’t try to hit me with a 2-ton vehicle when I swim or play volleyball.

  4. Nah. There was a risk analysis done a while back that found that, per hour of exposure, you were more likely to die in a car than on a bike. Given the health benefits of cycling, sitting on the couch is way more likely to shorten your life than cycling.

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