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Overcoming the fear of bicycling

Unless you are reading this post on your smart phone while riding down the Burke-Gilman (please don’t do that), you should probably be more afraid of the chair you are sitting in than your bicycle. If bicycling has such clearly demonstrated health benefits, why is fear the biggest deterrent to widespread use? This is the question Elly Blue asks in her newest piece for Grist.

Many people don’t bike out of fear — with the most significant terrifying factor, of course, being cars. As many as 60 percent of people in U.S. cities would like to ride a bicycle if it weren’t for traffic-related concerns.

But you might have more to fear from not riding.


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Fear the chair in which you read this.

Fear your car commute.

By all means, fear a poor diet and sedentary lifestyle.

But bicycling?

First off, it is okay to be scared sometimes. Cars are loud, smelly, heavy and unable to express emotion. Even if the driver is calm and courteous, the engine rev still sounds impatient. Our city is designed to move many of these cars at potentially deadly speeds. Clearly, this is intimidating.

But any increase in danger is offset by the overwhelming health benefits, argues Blue:

Bicycling, on the other hand, is astoundingly, incontrovertibly good for you. A 2009 review of the scientific literature found that the slight increase in risk from bicycle crashes is more than offset by the vast improvements in overall health and lifespan when you ride a bicycle for transportation. In fact, the health benefits of bicycling are nine times greater than the safety gains from driving instead.

The research is compelling enough to elicit amusing talking points about the environmental detriments to prolonging our lives.

But things are getting better. More people are riding, making riding safer for everyone. The more of us that ride, the more power we will have to create safe roads. The more safe roads, the more people will ride. We are on the right track, we just need to keep pushing ahead.

Cascade created this moving gif showing the increase in bicycle usage as the city expanded its network of more complete streets (I would argue we have few streets that have gone all the way). The Bicycle Alliance has said that a statewide complete streets bill is one of their legislative priorities.

So, next time a friend or family member expresses concern for your safety as you strap on your helmet, tell them your health is precisely the reason you ride. And remember: With each mile you ride, you make our streets a tiny bit safer for everyone else, too.


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3 responses to “Overcoming the fear of bicycling”

  1. For the record, Rep. Moeller’s complete streets bill (HB 1071) and Rep. Fitzgibbon’s design standards bills (HB 1700) are top priorities for us at Cascade Bicycle Club as well.

  2. I was pretty scared of cars today. However, I wore my bike helmet and it could have saved my life while I walked in from the parking lot over the ice. I suggest you consider loaning your bike helmet to a friend or family member who drives an auto the next time it’s icy. It may save their life when they make that hazardous trek from car door to building door. Seriously. I do think, however, that it is excessive to ask them to use one to take a shower. Some danger is necessary to get the hair clean.

    PS: I would have ridden the bike today, except I discovered my brakes wouldn’t work in the icy conditions even though riding was just fine.

  3. Thanks for posting this. I frequently claim that the health benefits of bicycling outweigh the risks of injury and remembered seeing some evidence of that, but haven’t been able to locate it.

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