Cycling and safety—are we at a standstill?

According to the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA), 44% of Canadians say they would cycle more if they felt safer on the roads. If you’re nodding in agreement, ask yourself: do you feel the same way about driving on the roads? In other words, do you hesitate to use your car because of concerns with road safety?

Perhaps you do, although likely not as fervently. After all, on a bike there is no steel cage protecting us – we’re just so vulnerable.

BUT IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE THAT WAY.

That kind of thinking is fair, but it’s not fact. Our collective fears around safety and cycling have taken on mythological proportions, and here’s proof: A Transport Canada chart compares fatalities by road-user type. It indicates there were 906 driver deaths in 2016 versus 42 cyclist deaths in the same year. What’s more, rates of cycling fatality dropped from 63 in 2012 to 42 cyclist deaths in 2016. Our roads are slowly getting safer.

INSTEAD, LET’S CONSIDER WHAT YOU STAND TO GAIN.

Cycling gets you moving. When we pedal, we are engaging in a form of resistance training that burns fat and builds muscle, particularly around our glutes, hamstrings, quads and calves. And, our hearts love bike riding. A study conducted by the University of Glasgow found that cycling to work can cut riders’ risks of developing heart disease in half! In addition to physical gains, cycling can help clear your mind, reduce stress, and make you feel good.

That’s the kind of stuff to keep focused on, and with some additional safety tips, we hope you will reconsider cycling as a healthy and safe method of transportation.

CYCLING SAFETY 101

  1. Bikes, by law. Bicycles are considered vehicles under the Ontario Highway Traffic Act, and other provinces are similar. As such, cyclists must understand and abide by the rules of the road, just like cars and trucks. Read pages 50-53 in this handout by the Ministry of Transportation Ontario for additional information. 
  2. Be safe, strategically. Stick to cycling paths, dedicated bike lanes and traffic-calming roads as much as possible.
  3. Use your head. The Ontario Office of the Chief Coroner found that cycling deaths can be prevented through helmet compliance.
  4. Bright idea. We should have a white front light and a red rear light or reflector if riding a half-hour before sunset and a half-hour after sunrise – it’s the law. Reflective vests and leg bands are also good options.
  5. Be heard. The law also requires we have a bell or a horn in good working order. You might find yourself saddled with a $200+ ticket otherwise.

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EXPERIENCE DOESN’T NECESSARILY MAKE US EXPERTS – SKILL DOES.

In addition to being a defensive cyclist with the right gear, we can be offensive by sharpening our cycling skills. Sure, some of us have been riding for decades (think: red Radio Flyers, banana seats and handlebar streamers), but that doesn’t necessarily mean we ride skillfully. Next week we’ll offer some tips on how to ride with skill and safety in mind—with a safety checklist to boot.