Cycling Risk

How risky is it to take the bike out for a ride? As with most activities, it’s fairly well known how many injuries and fatalities occur in a given year, but out of how many cyclists? This estimate based on bicycle sales of 87 million seems a little high to me, but lets go with it. I’ll use statistics from 2002, 662 cyclists killed and 48,000 injured. Crunch the numbers to the 0 to 10 risk scale and you get

Risk of Injury Risk of Death
Cycling 7 5
Driving 8 6

Now you can come up with endless flaws and doubts about this result, but it’s good enough for me. I believe that riding a bike is probably just that: less risky than getting into a car.

11 responses to “Cycling Risk”

  1. Those risk estimates are so weird. So many factors cannot be considered that would influence the numbers. I have to weigh risks all the time when deciding whether or not to go with some new medical treatment or high-side-effect med, and statistics tend to be such a crazy business, and so easy to spin, that if I let myself, I could live in fear all the time. I’d hate to think what my risk of death or injury is just sitting at my computer here.

    So I wasn’t fear mongering–too much of that going around these days, and worry is usually manipulative, politically or personally–when I mentioned the avalanche thing. I think its wise to take note of possible dangers, be prepared, and then follow your heart.

    As for you personally, Dylan, after hearing some of your hair-raising tales, I sometimes think I should probably worry more than I do, but I’ve always thought you did whatever you were doing out of a spirit of adventure and discovery, not out of a need to prove anything. That’s why my major mom role continues to be to cheer.

  2. I agree, these statistics are not very reliable, although when translated to the 0 to 10 scale a lot of error can be absorbed. I’m also not really trying to justify the risks I take outdoors, and I appreciate all the cheering on.

    The cultural and political fear-mongering is closer to what I’m interested in. The question I’d really like to answer is, how often does fear influence (or fail to influence) our behavior, when that fear (or lack of fear) is based on nothing at all except what we’ve been told to fear?

    The numbers, even if unreliable, provoke me to examine my fears, and ask if they are based on anything real at all. And when we, as outdoor enthusiasts, are criticized as risk takers, I think it’s good to be able to examine that criticism in the same way.

  3. I can’t help but think that the way you ride your bike is much more the operable element in assessing the risk. When you see people riding their bike on narrow roads with a minimal or non-existing shoulder–as though they had some supreme protector looking after them from above– you know their risk quotient far exceeds people who bike off highways and narrorw roads. I swear that almost every time I’m traveling by car,especially on roads leading to the country-side, I’m amazed at how unconcerned — is it possible these fully geared out families and individuals just don’t know about all the deaths of cyclists from being run over on the road shoulder?–so many seem to be about the unforgiving impact of auto on plastic helmet?

  4. These are a few of the many variables that could change the risk. Ultimately we have to use our own judgement to manage the risk of any particular situation, and we may often be able to reduce the risk by making good decisions.

    Still, nearly all the participants of any activity probably believe their judgement is good. I really want to know if I’m as deluded as everyone else, basing my assumptions of my risk on unfounded confidence or fear. The numbers seem to provide a starting point for that question.

  5. This is a super interesting thread-thank you cyberhobo for examining the relationship between fear and decision making.

    I believe the people endeavoring to participate in an activity are knowledgeable about that activity either through first hand experience and/or through research/planning.

    If they are not knowledgeable in their activity, they have a higher likelihood of succumbing to the risks involved…and skill is also a huge factor in risk aversion.

    If you are interested in Mountaineering stats, the majority of the accidents/deaths can be classified into two main groups-those inexperienced/beginner types of climbers who have not properly assessed the risks and those climbers who *know* the risks but ignore them due to overconfidence/bravado.

    From the short time I’ve known you (& Ann) I have to believe that you guys would know *how* and be quite *good* at risk assessment.

    IF anything would happen it would be because you pushed yourself or something outside of your control-and in this case-I have to agree with your Mom.

    I love to read about your adventures, and I’m superbly happy at your guys successes. These happy outdoor frolicks just don’t magically happen. It takes work, perserverence, somebody making a decision about which mountain to hike or which route to climb, and yes…RISK.

    Fear for me is a sanity check. It is there to make sure that I’m not out to lunch. For me it is a possitive thing, and can be very constructive (ie a looming thunderstorm gathering over the top of the Sierras means GET DOWN off the mountain or I haven’t placed pro in 10 feet-maybe I should get something in).

    I try my best to keep fear out of my decisioning. It can be hard at times though (like when I’m in a big city-sometimes I’ll go out of my way to avoid driving through a “bad part” of town at certain hours). Maybe that is irrational, but according to the “News” it is a veritable warzone in certain parts of LA!



    I think the insurance companies are very keen to gather stats on these lifestyle choices, so they can “better server” their customers.

    I think that is interesting-it seems that driving is just about the most dangerous thing most folks are involved in on a daily basis…so I wonder if the car insurance companies share the data they have with your health insurance! If both companies are under the same umbrella company-then I think legally they can. Hmmmm.

  6. Thanks Clare – what a great friend and hobolog contributor you are.

    I mostly agree, though I think it’s important to recognize that we can all get ourselves into situations, even with great care, that no amount of skill or knowlege will get us out of.

    I had not considered the influence of insurance companies – it might be difficult to tell how they might spin the data.

    More and more it seems to me to boil down to fear and confidence. When are they rational and irrational? It isn’t easy to know when you are in situations like the one you described in LA. For me part of the process may be to contemplate the scenario again later, when I’m feeling safe. Maybe that’s part of what I’m doing here.

  7. wait, are you saying we have the ability to choose to get hurt or not to get hurt or at least to choose to engage in an activity that might imperil our lives or to choose not to actively participate in an activity that might imperil our lives?!

  8. That’s right, it’s just that those of us who choose to get hurt have a different idea of what the rope is for…

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