US non-cycling excuses, safety.

July 16, 2010

There’s an internet cycling claim, attributed to Mayer Hillman, that not riding a bike (at all) is ten times more dangerous than riding a bike, because it is so unhealthy to be unfit. I haven’t been able to find the statistics that back up this claim, even when I bought the book from which it allegedly came Cycling: Towards Health and Safety. The closest it comes is the statistic that in a group of commuting cyclists, roadway crashes (of all kinds) accounted for only 1.4% of deaths (whereas heart attacks in this group killed 33%, and the known reduction in heart attack risk with exercise suggests a substantial net reduction in mortality).

However, happily, I just found this:

Even after adjustment for other risk factors, including leisure time physical activity, those who did not cycle to work experienced a 39% higher mortality rate than those who did.

Unless you think a 39% boost in your risk of death is “safe”, a little old unarmored bicycle, no belts, no airbags, no roll cage, is safer than a car, at least for the first 50-100 miles of travel each week.

And there’s more (via UtilityCycling.org):
Conclusions: On average, the estimated health benefits of cycling were substantially larger than the risks relative to car driving for individuals shifting their mode of transport.

3 Responses to “US non-cycling excuses, safety.”

  1. […] 30, 2010 I found this article a few weeks ago that quantified the risk of physical inactivity (specifically, not biking to work), at a 39% higher […]


  2. eriksandblom Says:

    I got the report in the mail today. It seems the 20:1 number is exaggerated. The report mentions the study of 9000 government employees (page 114), where those who cycled an hour per week had half the number of fatal heart problems. Together with the numbers you cite (page 119), it seems the benefit is 10:1 rather than 20:1, but that’s looking purely at heart problems. Am I right?


  3. dr2chase Says:

    You may have gotten more out of it than I did; I’ll check my copy, but I think 10:1 is the prudently conservative estimate (normally, we’d regard that as a pretty favorable tradeoff, but of course we’re talking about bicycling here).

    There’s at least two confounding factors — one is that increased exercise is associated with other health improvements (e.g., some cancers reduced, improved mood), and the other is that the denominator, bicycle crashes, is small and variable. It might be 10:1 in England — but in the Netherlands, with better safety for cyclists, it is easily 20:1, whereas in the US, it is only about 5:1.


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