Are you a nervous cyclist?

18 Jan

Sometimes I am nervous about getting on a bike. This is despite having cycled almost all of my life, including many years spent commuting through central London. Even though I know I will enjoy it once I’m off and riding.

Perhaps these feelings are just a reflection of my increasing risk aversion as I get older and my family responsibilities become more apparent. The unfortunate side effect of the important work done by cycling organisations and media to champion cycle safety and driver awareness is to amplify the sense of danger, through (necessarily) focusing disproportionately on worst case scenarios. Our perception of risk has been shown to be skewed by how terrible we judge the event to be, rather than the likelihood of it occuring (hence why people obsess about child abductions and plane crashes, rather than avoiding heart disease and car journeys).

I don’t have the statistics to hand (which is disappointing when I appear to be alluding to a statistical-based approach to assessing risk), but you have to believe the vast majority of cycle journeys are joyous affairs, passing with very little incident. For those with a less poetic bent, perhaps we can agree that most bad cycling experiences tend to be caused by rain, wind, potholes and the odd driver passing too closely.

Irrespective of any pre-ride negativity, I know that as soon as I step onto the bike and make that first revolution, I will generally be having fun. If not fun, then at least I will enjoy a grim determination to continue doing it for a bit. I can’t think of an instance where trepidation for my safety remained once I had commenced the journey.

For those parents or carers new to riding with children, either in a bike seat, a pull-along or riding beside them, if you are nervous, go somewhere safe to practice. A park, an offroad cycle path or on quiet residential road. Somewhere where you can make those first pedal revolutions and remind yourself that the fun outweighs, and replaces, the nervousness.

Yes, accidents (and tragedies) happen, which everyone should learn from (cyclists, other road users, politicians and transport planners).  We should adapt our riding and our behaviour to suit the conditions, the traffic and the terrain.  But nervousness should never stop us or our children getting on our bikes and riding.


One Response to “Are you a nervous cyclist?”

  1. Heather January 18, 2013 at 11:07 pm #

    The odds of being killed on a bike are about 1 in 30 million kilometres. It’s actually a higher risk per kilometre for pedestrians (although they have less risk of being in a serious accident). It’s all a bit debatable because although cyclists have a higher risk of death per km than car drivers, they tend to travel much shorter distances. So you cycle to your local shops, rather than driving to the next town. There’s some evidence that cycling is actually safer per hour of travel particularly for young men.

    I always think it’s funny that people talk so much about the dangers of cycling, but never mention that your risk of death is more than 100 times worse in a car than on a train or bus.

    I’ve also read that cycling is actually safer than tennis, football and swimming, but I’m not sure if those stats are reliable. The key issue is that the benefits of cycling (i.e. less heart disease) outweigh the risks 20:1.

    I think I read somewhere that the average commuter cyclists gets rained on 8 days a year, but it just feels like more because it sticks in your mind.


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