Of course biking is safe.
But it depends on how you do it. For example, some people bike in their basements, on cycling trainers, facing the TV. My brother Dave, for instance. He calls it “Cinema cycling.”
That is super, super safe. Also boring.
Riding outside is also safe. Depending on how you do it. For example, here i is a little video of my daughter Darcy riding her bike in a park. She is just learning to ride a bike here. In a few months she will be a pro. Looking back on this video, I am shocked at her development. She will win the gold medal at the Olympic games in fifteen years. Good Lord.
But biking is not always safe. About fifteen years ago I was riding my bike to a party in Columbus, Ohio. which, from my house, was straight down High Street. COTA buses had several routes down High Street, and they were fat targets for a young cyclist like myself. I would count them as I passed.
A five-bus ride meant that I had blown past five buses on my way downtown. You could really make up time at the stoplights – buses are really slow to start, and I could pull into the left lane and slingshot past them, drafting off the car in front of me. You had to be hyper-aware of the traffic around you, because, well, you know.
Buses will smoosh you flat.
Riding with a bunch of cars around you is like riding in a stampede of wild horses. Untamed, stinky, horses. They go FAST! FAST! FAST!, and then STOP! at a stoplight, and then FAST! FAST! FAST! again. They switch lanes unexpectedly, and growl menacingly as they pass.
Sometimes, during a ride, I would have a herd of untamed cars muscling around me, and sometimes I would be in the clear for a couple of seconds, before another wild herd raced past on their way to a stoplight. It was all very exciting.
Anyway, on this ride (a six-bus ride!) I had just made it into the clear with a seventh bus in my sights, trying to catch a green light in front of me. And this white VW Jetta makes a left turn across traffic and T-bones me. Just accelerated right through me to get to the Cub Foods parking lot. I crumpled in his front fender, and caved in the windshield. Then he smashed on his brakes and I rag-dolled off the front of the car and bounced a couple of times on the pavement.
I lay still for a moment or two, and then I sat up. My bike was in two pieces, my helmet was caved in, and I had a cut on my chin. And that was it. Easy-peasy. I was actually doing all right.
The VW looked like it had been hit by a bomb.
Somebody came over to me. “You should call 911” they said. I pulled my phone out of my back pocket. It was one of those Motorola candy-bar phones with the gummy numbers you had to press. All the numbers were scraped off. I figured out where the “9” and the “1” were using deductive reasoning.
“911, what is your emergency?” The lady said.
“I was just hit by a car.” I said.
“Honey, are you by that Cub Foods?” she asked.
“Yeah.” I said.
I like it when people call me “honey.” I feel like it de-escalates the situation. They should teach that to hostage negotiators. Better, they should just make all hostage negotiators fifty-year-old women who are originally from Georgia. Save some lives that way.
“Honey, don’t you worry, we already got you called in. The ambulance is on its way.”
So I got up and walked over to the VW. The driver was still inside.
“I am ok.” I said through the window. The guy looked panicked. I would have been too, had I been in his situation. I mean, he didn’t even see me.
So, yeah, cycling can be dangerous. Cyclists get hit all the time.
But is that really the honest thing to say here? Is the passive voice really appropriate? Saying “Cyclists get hit” sounds kind of benign, like saying “sometimes it rains.” A better way to say it would be “Cars bash into cyclists all the time.”
Once I was driving with someone and, as we are passing a cyclist, I heard the driver say “That is just not safe!” As if the only appropriate way to remain safe on roads these days is to encase yourself in a shiny cocoon of glass and steel. Dear me.
Shockingly, though most car accidents involve other cars, or buildings, or bridge abutments, not bicycles. And a car vs. car smash is much, much more dangerous. Cars are smashing each other to smithereens.According to statistics I found on the internets and did not research any further, there are 1.3 million deaths per year due to cars smashing into each other, or crashing into bridges, or driving wildly into raging rivers for no reason at all. To put that into perspective, 1.3 million people is like Minneapolis and most of the surrounding suburbs. Smooshed flat. Every year.
Car accidents involving bikes are a little more unfair, but they are not that numerous. Also, mostly avoidable. According to some other statistics I found after googling it one time only, 90% of people who die in bike-car crashes are young men – presumably because they are taking risks. And 20% of accidents are at night – presumably because the cars can’t see as well in the dark.
So, if you want to avoid, you know, death, you can just ride a bike like an old woman, and have a big flashing light on at all times. And then you should be fine.
So yeah. Is cycling safe? Kinda depends. But it is a lot safer than a car, though.
Was that story a little intense? Don’t worry, it wasn’t actually as bad as it sounds. And I survived just fine. I was lucky. I still am lucky.
Here is a picture of Darcy riding her bike.