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Bicycling: The SAFEST Form of Transportation

bikenight

Bikemont, Colorado

Of all the objections I get from people about why they can’t ride a bike to get around, perhaps the most frustrating is the claim that bicycling is too dangerous. According to this line of reasoning, we all need the protection of a two-tonne steel cage in order to survive the trip to the office or the grocery store.

I’ve always felt that this was complete bullshit, but I admit that my emotions may have been playing a part in this rapid condemnation as well. I started riding bikes about 32 years ago, and I just never stopped. To me, bicycling is being alive, and I’d rather run any necessary risk of death than be condemned to a life where cars were the only way to get around, because that sort of soggy dependence wouldn’t be much of a life to me.

But luckily for all of us, we don’t have to choose between safety and freedom. They both come together perfectly in the form of bicycle transportation, and once we work our way through the statistics of the matter, all talk of choosing cars over bikes because of safety can be banished from the face of the Earth – forever.

There’s going to be a bit of math involved, so for busy people we’ll begin with the final answer, then work through how we got there below.

Riding a bike is not more dangerous than driving a car. In fact, it is much, much safer:

Under even the most pessimistic of assumptions:

  • Net effect of driving a car at 65mph for one hour: Dying 20 minutes sooner. (18 seconds of life lost per mile)
  • Net effect of riding a bike at 12mph for one hour: Living 2 hours and 36 minutes longer (about 13 minutes of life gained per mile)

In engineering and math, one method we use to prove a case is to define the boundary condition. If you can prove that your design holds up even in the worst possible case, it is guaranteed that it will work in all situations. So the box above is as bad as it gets. It’s already pretty good, so let’s see how we got there.

First of all, in the entire United States (Population about 310 million), there were only 623 cyclist deaths in the year 2010. For perspective, there were about 26,000 deaths due to each of “falls” and “alcohol”, and 35,000 caused by car crashes.  So for every cyclist who dies on a bike, 56 die in cars. Out of the MMM readership alone (roughly 0.1% of the US population), 3 people die in car accidents every month. 

But of course, we are a nation of Car Clowns, so as ridiculous as it seems, we cover a lot more miles in cars than on bikes. Still, we cyclists put in a good show given our small numbers, pumping out about Nine Billion Miles on our rippling leg muscles.

Dividing 623 into 9,000,000,000, we end up with a cycling fatality rate of about 6.9 per 100 million miles. According to the NHTSA, that same statistic is 1.11 for cars in 2010.

So on the surface, it looks like cycling in the US is about 6.2 times more dangerous than car-driving per mile (note that this is dropping as cycling grows in popularity – in the Netherlands, cycling risk is way down around 1 per 100 million). One of the goals of this blog is to help make the same thing happen here.

But we’re not done yet. First of all, let’s compare a cyclist at a comfortable commuting pace of 12MPH,  with a car driver on the interstate at 75MPH. Now, the risk per hour is equal, because the car is covering 6.2 times more miles than the cyclist. So the accident risk per hour of the two activities is roughly equal. Many will complain about this comparison, but it is valid in the sense that cars encourage people to cover ridiculous amounts of ground each year for no good reason – an average of 15,000 miles per driver per year. So the average driver ends up much more likely to die than the average cyclist in a given year.

Exactly how big is the risk in a typical hour of cycling or driving? Let’s calculate it this way: the average MMM reader probably has about 55 years left in his or her expected lifetime (1.73 billion seconds) . Dividing this by the chance of trouble in each activity, each hour of driving or biking subtracts between 20 and 24 minutes from your expected lifetime due to the risk of accident.

But wait – we’ve so far neglected the whole reason I even talk about bicycling on this blog: because it is extremely good for you, and it saves you a shitload of money. It is not an exaggeration to say that a bicycle is a money-printing fountain of youth, probably the single most important and highest-yielding investment a human can possibly own.

How powerful is this effect? Consider this: for every hour of exercise you do, you extend your lifespan somewhere between 3 and 9 hours. So while the fatality rate above suggests that riding at 12MPH for one hour would shorten your expected lifespan by 24 minutes, you more than counteract that with a gain of at least 3 hours*. The net benefit of 2:36 is what you see in my box above. And that’s the worst case – it only gets better from there.

The years you do live will not only be greater in number. They’ll be healthier ones. How would you like to be packed with energy every day, rarely get sick, and be able to climb mountains and lift heavy things without fear of injury? What about being more attractive to people you would like to attract, more desirable to employers, having a clearer mind, and the ability to work harder? All of these are gifts that the bicycle giveth, even as the car taketh away.

What about money? Each hour of 12MPH bicycling also saves you about $5.00 in car operation costs (figuring cars at $0.50 per mile and bikes at $0.05). So that’s a minimum of $5.00 per hour of after-tax salary based on mileage alone.

Studies show that even mild exercise like riding 2 miles a day also saves you from missing about two sick days of work per year. Assuming your days are worth about $300, you spent 60 hours riding to earn $600. An additional $10 per hour. And how do we account for those extra 2.5 hours of life you gained? Since one of my rules is that your spare time is worth more than $25 per hour, you get another $62.50 in pay for each hour you ride your bike.

All-told, the net benefit is probably over $100 per hour, given the fact that being a cycling athlete makes you more productive, more attractive, more sexually capable, and better in every way than your old car-dependent self. And then there’s the joy of just getting out of that ridiculous clown apparatus and being a real human, powering your own transportation as you should be.

So that’s the worst possible case. It gets even better from here. Are you ready for a few final rounds of ammunition to fire into the limp corpses of the whining anti-bicycling complainers?

  •  Remember the US cycling fatality ratio of 6.9 per 100 million miles? That’s with our current group of cyclists: a disproportionate number of children under 14 with no driver training, homeless people, DUI-convicts who have lost their license, competitive road racers and downhill mountain bikers, and the less than 1% of adults who actually ride bikes to work like they should be doing. When you and I ride our bikes, we stop at the red lights and stop signs, obey the lane markings and use arm signals, use bright lights and reflective clothing at night. We plan our routes to pick the safest roads and paths. By following these steps, our own crash rate can be much lower than the national average. Probably even safer than the average for cars.
  • In the box above, I used the minimum 3 hours for the life-extension estimate. In reality, it is probably closer to 5.
  • While already much safer than car-driving, cycling gets even safer as more people join in. Drivers become more aware of cyclists, and more bike lanes and dedicated paths get approved and built instead of Clownways. So you win, AND you change the world – every time you ride.
  • “But I’m still afraid. How about I drive my car to the gym, and then work out really hard there to extend my lifespan?” – not a terrible idea, but you’re missing the math here. Car driving shortens your lifespan. Bike riding extends it. You’ll be safer if you ride your bike to the gym and do that same workout.
  • By saving so much money through biking, you are able to retire years earlier, potentially cutting out thousands of additional car-commuting trips to work. This improves your safety statistics even more.
  • And all this without even getting into the whole “Planet” issue. Sure, biking also solves most of the biggest problems facing developed countries – energy consumption, carbon output, climate change, urban sprawl, obesity, heart disease, depression, even wussypants mentality. But isn’t it amazing that the case is so strong even if you don’t give the slightest shit about the Earth?

Given these final adjustments to the data, I close the article with my own best estimates:

Biking vs. Driving

Driving a car at 70MPH for one hour:

  • 20 minutes of lifespan erased
  • $35.00 per hour of money burned

Riding a bike at 12MPH for one hour:

  • 4.5 hours of lifespan gained
  • $100 of monetary gains secured


On a Per-Mile Basis:

  • Car: Lose 50 cents and 18 seconds of life
  • Bike: Gain $8.33 and 1350 seconds of life

Regardless of how you tweak the stats for your own personal situation, the case for cycling over driving is so enormous that it would be difficult to even put them on the same level. Can you afford to take the risk of NOT riding a bike?

*Obviously, the life-extending benefits of exercise have limits, otherwise we could all live forever just by exercising enough to extend our lives by at least 24 hours each day. If you dig deeper into the linked articles and studies, you’ll find that the limit is somewhere in the 1-2 hours per day range, depending on exercise intensity (cycling is pretty low intensity, so let’s say two hours to max out the benefits).

I don’t know about you, but even as a retired person with a bike, I still don’t always get 2 hours of exercise every day. For the average modern citizen, the stats tell us that the average level is far, far lower – many people get ZERO exercise beyond walking between the car,  office, fridge, and couch. Maybe a visit to the gym or yoga a few times a week. For the average person, getting up to an hour a day will deliver spectacular benefits, and when you rule out “car clown” behavior (using a car for any trips less than 2-3 miles), it happens automatically.

Your situation might be different, but remember the intent of this blog is to change the behavior of a big swath of smarter-than-average people stuck in average situations. So I stand by the general accuracy of this part of the argument.

Further Reading: a random collection of bike stats at bikesbelong.org: http://www.bikesbelong.org/resources/stats-and-research/statistics/safety-statistics/

A nice comparison of safety stats at the Ohio Bicycle Federation that reinforces how damned safe bicycling is: http://ohiobike.org/images/pdfs/CyclingIsSafeTLK.pdf

Today’s Dilbert is appropriate for this: http://www.dilbert.com/2013-06-14/

An amazing story of the effects of bike transportation in other countries at The Guardian.

  • AA June 14, 2013, 12:47 pm

    I tried mapping out a route, and I physically cannot get to work without getting onto a state highway where people will be driving 60+ mph. (I live waaaay in the country, like I’ve seen people ride horses to the local watering hole.) And even though I am 4 miles from work there is literally one road that gets there and no bike trails.

    I could potentially use it to get to the grocery store (which is actually quite walkable), but work appears out for me unless I feel like being a lawbreaker. Considering the land I’d have to trespass on belongs to the state police academy, I think that would be a bad idea… :)

    Reply
  • StillWorking June 14, 2013, 12:55 pm

    In the first bullet point, MMM said, “When *you* and *I* ride our bikes, we [do it more safely than most people, therefore] our own crash rate can be much lower than the national average.” To be fair, if MMM readership are truly safer cyclists, then they ought to be safer car drivers as well.

    This analysis is presented in terms of life expectancy. What about non-fatal but really bad accidents? I’m curious how the numbers shake out when you don’t look at it purely in terms of premature *death*. Boil it down to this for me: if I drive to work (slowly, safely and conscientiously) versus bike to work (likewise conscientiously), what are the chances I make it without *any* harm to my person? Or if I do hurt myself, what is the statistical breakdown by degree of harm? Minor bruises, cuts and scrapes I don’t care about. Broken bones suck but they heal. But… injuries that require hospitalization? Or permanent conditions like dismemberment, neurological damage, loss of limbs? Frankly, that stuff scares me more than death.

    As other readers pointed out, the “bikeability” factor varies greatly in the USA depending on where one lives. Whereas I suspect that the “driveability” doesn’t vary nearly as much. So it’s not really a fair comparison to look at the national-level statistics.

    Now, what are the safety stats on *public transportation*? That’s what I take to work. I take a commuter train, and I can’t possibly imagine getting injured on it short of a terrorist attack. It may not have the exercise benefits that biking does, but I make up for that with my home gym. Not to mention, I can safely zone-out completely on the train.

    So public transportation for me for now. But when I FIRE (hopefully in the next five years or so), I want to move back to my hometown (wife and I have family there). It’s a smallish town in central Illinois, with a much less developed mass transit system. There biking is definitely not the norm: few people are on the lookout for bikers, and there is a non-trivial redneck population who seem to be outright adversarial towards cyclists. I would love to bike when we move back; I fully support the rationale for biking: economic, health, environmental. But despite MMM’s attempts at convincing me it’s safer, at a gut level, it just feels riskier than driving. What it comes down to is this:

    I can do everything right: bright clothing, lights, follow rules, optimal path, etc, and all it takes is that one careless/distracted/drunk clown that comes out of nowhere and hits me. I might not die, but I’ll probably have more than scrapes and bruises. Whereas in a car, in the same scenario, I’m more likely to sustain only minor injuries.

    I do agree that as cycling becomes more popular, it will only get safer. I just don’t have the courage to be part of the “biking revolution”. I want to see that revolution take place, and I’ll hop on my bike as soon as it happens. But until then, I’m cowardly waiting in the train (or car) for other people to take the lead.

    Reply
    • Jeff June 14, 2013, 1:10 pm

      Part of what MMM was saying is that the bicycle fatalities include children on bikes, but there are not many children driving cars. So the numbers may be skewed against bikes because it’s dominated by a younger population. But I agree with you. His use of these statistics isn’t right. If the populations aren’t the same, you can’t use the statistics for comparison.

      Reply
    • Thereis Nospoon June 14, 2013, 2:17 pm

      The National Safety Council annually publishes an awesome “odds of death by selected causes” infographic, the latest version (with data from 2009) is http://www.nsc.org/nsc_library/Documents/Odds%20of%20Dying%20From%20Graphic%202013%20ed.pdf I don’t know if that link will work here, but let’s just say you are less likely to die from cycling than lots of other things: cancer, stroke, suicide, walking (!), fires and the list goes on.

      Trains and buses are not accident free, and certainly not free of serious injury and death. I can think of two, huge, fatal commuter train wrecks in California in the past ten years. Dozens of people hurt in Connecticut last month. There was a bus fatality just this week. I’ve been in two trains that have hit cars on the tracks. I’ve also had a couple of wrecks on the bike. How many people do you know that have been hurt in car wrecks?

      You are, without a doubt, going to die. The question is, are you ever going to live?

      Reply
      • Tim June 14, 2013, 3:00 pm

        That’s a nice gigantic straw man you built on top of my car. All of those statistics need to be weighed by the number of people doing it. If I don’t scuba dive, the chance of me dying while scuba diving is 0. More people drive than ride bikes, and more people die in car accidents. But per mile, hour, or trip, you’re somewhat to far more likely to die while riding a bike than while in a car.

        Reply
        • Bakari June 14, 2013, 7:54 pm

          But that is false, which was the whole point of this article!

          Reply
          • Tim June 15, 2013, 10:58 am

            Did my earlier response to this get deleted, or are there errors in the comment system?

            Reply
            • Bakari June 15, 2013, 11:33 am

              I’m getting similar errors.
              But I saw it.

              As I have pointed out in numerous comments here (as well as my blog post on the subject, which sites sources, and you can access by clicking my name above this comment), 90% of bike accidents would not have happened if the cyclist was riding legally and safely.
              Which means if you or I make a conscious choice to ride safely (and learn what that means, instead of going by feeling) we have to adjust the overall population risk factor by an order of magnitude to find our own personal statistical risk.

              Ride on the street, with traffic, stop at stop signs and lights, and wear bright clothing and bright lights (even in the daytime) and that 6.9 per billion becomes 0.69 per billion

              Even without considering that, in comparing risk, MMM is suggesting you also factor in the higher risk of dieing of heart disease from driving everywhere instead of biking. That risk is real, even if you won’t do the dieing in the actual car itself.

              Reply
              • Tim June 15, 2013, 11:38 am

                Yes, I looked at your sources. They only deal with number of accidents, not fatalities, in a whopping 3 cities. And the number of accidents do not line up with age (again, see the source I’ve posted multiple times), so we know that reducing the number of accidents by 90% does not reduce the number of fatalities by 90%.

                And again, you apply this metric of driving safely only to one side. To have numbers that are anywhere near meaningful, you need to use the same criteria (driving safer) for driving cars as well.

          • Tim June 18, 2013, 9:13 am

            I’ll try again. I strongly disagree with Bakari’s interpretation of this article. The article very clearly shows the statistics for fatalities due to riding a bide from point A to point B are much higher than if you took a car. MMM argues that this effect is outweighed by the health benefits of riding a bike instead of driving in a car. But in terms of safety, as measured by fatalities, MMM’s numbers clearly show that you’re less likely to die traveling between point A and point B if you drive rather than bike.

            Reply
            • JZ June 20, 2013, 11:10 am

              But that is missing at least two things, even assuming that we accept the idea that we should ignore lifespan effects on safety. (You are very safe if you are sealed in a concrete block, but you might not live very long.)

              First, bicyclists include a lot of people riding the wrong way and/or on the sidewalk, as well as people doing stunt riding. How many cars do you see driving on the wrong side of the road into traffic in a day? Ten? Twenty? These behaviors drastically increase the risk.

              Second, cars drive silly long distances. They drive in circles looking for places to park, they drive past perfectly good stores to make vast journeys for miles looking to save pennies (at a net loss). Urry’s Mobility Theory (and to a lesser degree, Mokhtarian’s Travel Liking Theory) has demonstrated that having a car tends to make people plan things around making the huge trips as well, meaning that habitual use of a car gets people to think that increasingly non-Mustachian journeys are a good idea.

              If you use a bicycle or walk, your knowledge of the city is at a higher resolution and you will tend to have less need for a given trip since you will be likely to go to the three or four cool neighborhood shops that the people driving a car whiz past obliviously on their way to the Buy N Large.

              Reply
    • Patrick June 14, 2013, 7:58 pm

      I wonder if the perception of safety has anything to do with how many years you’ve been riding.

      I wonder because I notice that a lot of eastern US city dwellers perceive biking as dangerous but did not grow up on two wheels from the time they were 7 or so. I taught my wife how to ride a bike in Central Park when she was 30.

      I don’t think too much about the safety issue until I see some really crazy stuff go down out there. But, you have a lot of control on a bike that you don’t even have on a motorcycle — which also means a bit more responsibility. Just some heads up, and you’ll be fine.

      Sort of waiting for one Mr. Johnny Moneyseed to comment on this article given prior comments in these hallowed halls regarding bike safety.

      Awkward silence…. Alrighty then.

      Reply
    • Bakari June 14, 2013, 8:05 pm

      “Whereas in a car, in the same scenario, I’m more likely to sustain only minor injuries.”

      In 2011, 2,217,000 people were injured in motor vehicle crashes.

      The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says in 2010 that the cost of medical care and productivity losses associated with motor vehicle crash injuries was over $99 billion, or nearly $500, for each licensed driver in the United States. In addition, every 10 seconds an American is treated in an emergency department for crash-related injuries, based on data from 2005.

      The most common cause of the worst non-death injury, paraplegia? Car accidents.

      Sure, on a gut level, it “feels safe” to be inside a steel box. But it isn’t.

      Reply
  • Jeff June 14, 2013, 1:04 pm

    “let’s compare a cyclist at a comfortable commuting pace of 12MPH, with a car driver on the interstate at 75MPH. Now, the risk per hour is equal, because the car is covering 6.2 times more miles than the cyclist. So the accident risk per hour of the two activities is roughly equal.”

    Alternatively, only select roads of 45MPH and under (the only place you’ll find bicycles), and biking will look much, much less safe. I love most articles on this site, but this one is some pretty wonky statistical gymnastics.

    The bottom line is that transportation in the US is pretty darn safe regardless of mode. Biking has a lot of extra benefits. Just don’t be a stupid biker, and you’ll be fine.

    Reply
    • John June 14, 2013, 2:37 pm

      I think I agree that the stats used here are a little bit convoluted, and although I agree with the overall conclusion, the scale of it just feels wrong.

      I ride a fair bit, and on the basis that 1 mile ridden gives an extra 1350 seconds of life (22 minutes?? Really?!?) my weekend’s riding just gave me an extra 5 days 20 hours of lifespan. Sure, I felt great (maybe a bit tired) afterwards, but that just feels too much. (I’m not convinced it’s given me over $3k of lifetime value either. Great rate if so.)

      That said, here in the UK they suggest that the risks of riding a bike regularly will cost you a year of expected lifespan, while the benefits will give you an extra 20, for a net gain of 19 years, so maybe it’s not so far out after all.

      As for risks in a car on an interstate at 75mph as opposed to a 45mph road, motorways here have a *much* lower death rate than other roads – per mile travelled, they’re by far the safest. I’m sure the numbers are on the web somewhere … fudging the differences in death rates against the greater time spent would provide yet another way to confuse MMM’s figures!

      Reply
  • mark June 14, 2013, 1:36 pm

    The other way to measure is safety is by trip. I do all my trips via biking, walking and transit– so my exposure is very low (short duration/ short mileage trips). Cars encourage us to take long trips, increasing our exposure.

    Reply
  • Katie June 14, 2013, 1:39 pm

    I found this post, and the comments, very interesting.

    Overall I’m not quite ready to go from clown car to fearless biker, but I’m starting to get inklings. Have to figure out moving closer to work first (since right now it’s a 25min speedy highway drive). The reason I moved so far away in the first place was because as a single person looking for a social life the super-suburbs are a wash. Maybe I can make my friends move too ;) I’m also stuck with my car since I sometimes unpredictably have to drive between work sites mid-day, and it’s far enough that the additional change-bike-clean up routine would be hard to justify on company time.

    As an engineer I try not to let my emotions overcome my logic, but after being hit by a car and gaining a fractured never-healed-right collarbone the fear is pretty intense. I’ve biked on the roads but every time a car passes I freeze a little and struggle not to panic. Has anyone had similar experience, and has it gotten better with practice? It’s extremely stressful right now.

    One question I have is how to protect my bike from theft? There aren’t bike racks everywhere (and my bike has no kickstand, being a pricey racing bike). I own a bike lock but I wouldn’t feel secure leaving it for hours or overnight. Is there anything more I could do?

    Also, I’d really like to see stats on injuries/distance as well as the death stats you provided.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking content.

    Reply
    • Bakari June 14, 2013, 8:07 pm

      too many questions for the comments. Come over to the forums, people will be happy to address them all!

      Reply
  • Dragline June 14, 2013, 2:06 pm

    “The more you drive, the less intelligent you are.”

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X4QKiYar9pI

    Reply
  • Dave June 14, 2013, 2:10 pm

    Disclosure: I’m a wussy-pants, in that I probably could bike the 10-miles to and from work each way, but I would fear for my safety along the available routes.

    That out of the way, I’m actually commenting about the life-extension benefits of exercise. In general, these are undeniable, but the actual numbers you’re using here are…well, let’s be generous and say “slightly deceptive”.

    The problem being that those multiplication values drop off as the quantity of exercise increases, until they actually become not just less than one, but less than zero (i.e. negative – *costing* you life expectancy). And the drop off comes quite quickly, after more than two hours daily (only 60 daily minutes for “vigorous” exercise). It’s because rather than simply “adding” life expectancy, exercise is largely “returning” life expectancy that you *lose* if you *don’t* exercise.

    Thus there’s a maximum you can “get back”, which makes sense – otherwise, if your numbers were accurate, one could simply exercise two or three hours per week and effectively become immortal (which is not to say an extra 4 years of life might not actually mean the difference between dying and effective immortality in terms of living long enough to take advantage of hypothetical radical life-extension therapy the future might offer us).

    Even then, those multipliers seem subject to some bad math. Let’s use me as an example, say I’m 30, and be generous and say my life expectancy as a non-exercising male is 66.1. What I’m “getting” from 2 hours per day of exercise (3.9 years, according to one study), gives me an end-age of 70, or 40 years from right now. Now the “multiplier”: if I start exercising 2 hours per day for the entire (enhanced) remainder of my life, that’s 2 hours/day * 40 years * 365.25 days/year = 29220 hours of exercise. Sweaty! The life I’m gaining in this example is that 3.9 figure, so 3.9 years * 365.25 days/year * 24 hours/day = 34187.4. 34187.4 divided by 29220 gives us a multiplier of…1.17. So for each hour of exercise (for these specific assumptions), I get a net gain of .17 hours, or 10.2 minutes. So I’m definitely not wasting time, but it’s also not quite the huge font of extra hours your numbers might suggest. And this doesn’t account that a large portion of the 40 years might be “better”, because you’d be healthier from the exercise (minus whatever time you’re unhappy due to injuries, bike theft, flat tires, etc). How much better, net, times 40 years? *shrug*

    Of course, if you think “sleep” doesn’t count as “enjoyable” extra life, that’d knock about 11000 off of the “life gained” total, leaving you with a net loss. And it also doesn’t account for the fact that all the extra hours come at the end, when you may be less healthy or happy (because of all of the crazy kids on your holo-lawn with their psych-blob-rock and hoverboards and whatnot – I personally plan on getting into hoverboarding in a big way when I turn 65, but YMMV). Also, if bike riding in general makes you scared or miserable, that 1.17 multiplier starts to look like an even worse trade-off (because the time isn’t an “even trade”). Whereas if bike-riding is intrinsically enjoyable (as much or moreso than other things you’d likely be doing instead), it looks slightly better.

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache June 14, 2013, 5:56 pm

      Nice counter-analysis. But I don’t think you have to do 2 hours per day to get the 3.9 years – the articles I linked show much bigger benefits from smaller amounts of exercising.

      It is not unreasonable to have physical activity make the difference between a person at 60 being barely able to walk up stairs (or already dead due to heart attack), and a person at 80 still powering up the stairs and biking every day. That’s more than a 20 year difference.. and you see it every day here in the Boulder area, with so many older active people.

      In general, I agree with one of your points: benefits of exercise flatten out and then become negative if you overdo it – especially vigorous exercise like running. But 2 hours a day is a lot, and one of my goals here is to get the many people who are under 15 minutes, up into the 1-2 hour category. You gotta write for the most probable case, rather than the exceptions.

      Reply
  • Tim June 14, 2013, 2:29 pm

    MMM,

    Do you have any concerns that the studies you mention only look at effects up to less than MET-hr/week? That corresponds to about 3, maybe 4 hours of bike riding. And figure 1B from the PLoS Medicine paper you cited clearly shows the effects leveling off, shows the maximum increase in life expectancy based on exercise is perhaps 5 years.

    There’s no question that a small level of physical activity has huge effects on health. But people who already have a good amount of exercise (like pretty much anyone who owns a bike) are going to see a much smaller effect on their health.

    Reply
  • Benjamin WIlson June 14, 2013, 2:41 pm

    I would still ride my bike even if it were more dangerous. Cant imagine being forced to use a car.

    Reply
  • Rob aka Captian and Mrs Slow June 14, 2013, 2:54 pm

    Been waiting forever for this article to finally come out so I could comment. The one fact everyone seems to forget that while it may take time we can all optimize our lives. For example we knew a year in advance we’d be moving so we both put a lot of thought and effort on how we can reduce our dependance on the car. So we moved to an area that is super bike and public transit friendly. Before we had to drive everywhere and typically filled two cars every week. Now my wife takes public transit to work (5 min walk and another 5 mins to the office) and she loves it, can relax for a full 30 mins both ways and pretty much everything we need is within biking distance.

    As a matter of fact just yesterday we went out and picked up a package from the post office, dropped off some pants to be hemmed, stopped in the store to pick up a few items and then went out for dinner, all on the bike, before that would have all have to been done by car.

    So yes I understand at the moment it might not be possible to bike everywhere but somewhere down the road when life brings changes as it always does you be able to do as we did, change your whole life for the better.

    Reply
  • Brian B. June 14, 2013, 3:09 pm

    I was clobbered last year while riding a bike. I nearly lost my leg in the accident. I was hit from behind on a rural road in good weather while wearing a bright yellow jersey. The guy never saw me until it was too late. I still don’t understand how he didn’t see me for a 1/4 mile stretch. I plan on riding again, but I will probably use flashers at all times. You can imagine the looks I get from friends and family when I talk about riding again…no amount of statistics will move me out of the insane column in their eyes.

    Reply
    • betsy22 June 17, 2013, 11:14 am

      I wear my yellow reflective safety vest while biking on city streets. I look like a dork, but I’m happy for a little bit of extra visibility. (though obviously that’s not always enough since you were hit while wearing bright yellow)

      Reply
    • JZ June 17, 2013, 7:37 pm

      Ask how many of them have been in or know someone who has been in a car wreck. Then once they think of one, ask them how on earth they can think of getting in a car again? Clearly they’re insane to be taking that much of a risk!

      Reply
  • Dan June 14, 2013, 3:30 pm

    Most of you are not seeing the forests for the trees. I know it’s fun to analyze the analysis, but this is missing the bigger point of the article. You will look and FEEL better biking to work each day, all the while saving time and money.

    I decided to bike to work to exercise as it only adds 20 minutes to my day and that takes far less than driving to a gym to work out and driving back. Even if I ran, I would have to cut back to 20 minutes vs. 40 minutes on the bike to get the same time efficiency. That is because my old car commute was already 10 minutes each way.

    The benefit I never really foresaw was how GOOD I feel each and everyday. If you keep saying you won’t do it, you will never know how good it feels, and it feels AWESOME. You will become addicted overnight, plodding how to do it everyday and plodding ever safer routes, like I have, and I have already lost a few pounds within weeks.

    Reply
  • Chris June 14, 2013, 3:59 pm

    This posting is pretty relevant to my life right now. We live in Phoenix and our family car broke down about 2 weeks ago- It was an older Honda Odyysey with 175K miles but honestly the family didn’t use it very much. I work from home, and my wife stays at home with our two kids. We’d mostly use it to be honest for clown purposes.

    Anyway- i was getting really bummed out about the replacement options. A newer car, even used, meant we’d need to take out a loan + registration fees + gas + more expensive car insurance. However- there didn’t seem to be another option. Until, my wife and I looked at each other and said- “well, what if we didn’t buy a car?”. And that was that. I went out and bought a bike, and for the first time in 20 years i’ve been riding a bike everyday Biking to the park, biking to the library, biking to the grocery store. Getting on buses and bringing my bike with me. I’m still getting used to it, and its really hot here, but i’ve already lost 5lbs and I love the challenge of not having to own a car. Once i feel more comfortable on it i plan to get a pretty cheap bike trailer and start hauling our kids along.

    Plus- once we looked at the money we’re saving every month it’s a no-brainer. Even though my wife and I were both working from home, we were spending at least $200-$250 a month on a car. We’ve brought that down to $0.

    However- the funniest most interesting response has been from our family and friends. No one is supporting this. Our friends think we’re crazy. Our parents think that we must have some sort of financial problem and are suddenly worried about us. People have thrown at least 50 excuses at us for days now as to why this can’t work. I’ve been really blown away by the lack of encouragement we’ve received. So i love coming into this community because I get to read like minded folks who actually don’t think we’re crazy!

    After a week though, i feel like a kids again, and so we’re going to keep doing this bikes thing as long as we can!

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache June 14, 2013, 5:15 pm

      Phoenix biking in June?! Extremely badass! Congratulations!

      There’s another guy around here named Tanner that rides year-round in Phoenix as well – people like that show us all what is possible. I thought I was moderately tough for biking to Home Depot in 90F heat just today, but now I see I am nothing. Ride on, Chris.

      Reply
    • Tanner June 24, 2013, 5:41 pm

      Chris, Awesome and I don’t think you’re crazy but I understand the feeling! I would love to hear about your families experience going carless in Phoenix. What part of the valley do you live in? My wife and I have discussed it but haven’t been able to come to a unified consensus on going carless.

      Reply
      • Chris June 24, 2013, 8:32 pm

        Hey Tanner-

        We live in Ahwatukee which is a pretty easy part of the valley to go carless in. Grocery stores, schools, a library, parks, pharmacies, and other community centers are all within walking or biking distance. My wife stays at home with the two kids and I work from home, so no commute definitely makes this endeavor a lot easier. I have meetings in downtown Phoenix around once a week, so I take a bus and transfer to the light rail. It takes around 1 hour and 15 minutes, but i just bring a good book. We lived in D.C. for a few years before we moved here, so we got used to alot of bus and train riding (as well as waiting for buses and trains). My daughter has a once a week art class in tempe so we take the bus to that as well. We get around, but you definitely have to do more planning.

        Then, for those times where a car is neccessary (like visiting family in New mexico) we just go ahead and rent-a-car. I never knew that our credit card actually covers car insurance, so without paying for that its actually quite affordable. We probably travel out of state about 2 times a year, and spend around $250 bucks for each trip. We also got an AMEX blue rewards card which has a rewards program with Enterprise. You get 5% off each rental, plus $20.00 once you spend $200.00. It was costing us around $2,000 a year at least to drive, insure and maintain our previous car so I think we’re coming out ahead. Plus- you can get a one day rental for like $25.00 bucks, or rent by the hour if you really have to.

        The negative: the days are scorching right now. With no car, its hard to go out in the middle of the day, especially since we have a 6-month old. So we try to get everything out of the way before 10:00 am whether its errands or fun time outside. I’ll head out early in the morning with a backpack and bike and go grocery shopping. (I was actually pretty shocked as to how much groceries i could fit in a backpack) Then we’ll hit up a park or community center for a couple of hours with the kids. But on the other hand from October to April our car free lifestyle will be perfect in terms of the weather.

        The other negative is that public transporation is pretty weak in the valley. In D.C you could catch a bus, on any route on a weekday and only wait for 5 minutes. Here- you could be waiting a half a hour. So timing it perfectly is pretty important. Know your routes and times. Plus, i know that multiple neighborhoods in the valley have community buses that are free so you can definitely look into that.

        But for us the positives are pretty awesome. Between no car insurance, no gas, and not having a car loan, we feel more free than ever, and are saving even more money. Plus- when you don’t have a car you don’t take those unneccessary trips to the restaurant, or some other money wasting venture. So the amount of money we’ve saved in the last month from not being able to make clown car trips is no doubt huge. Lastly, i’ve lost about 6lbs in the last month biking around and I already feel healthier.

        Anyway- sorry for the long post, but I hope its helpful. Take the leap! Even in Phoenix you can do it!.

        Reply
  • Melissa June 14, 2013, 4:14 pm

    Thankfully my commute is now down the hall, as I work from home. But I used to bike about 3 mi one way to work in my old town, population 125,000. There were no bike designated areas for riding or trails to my work. The town does not allow riding on sidewalks but the cops never said anything to me – I used them all the time when I felt a little unsafe for 20 yrs of riding. Plus at 7:30 a.m. sidewalks were basically deserted. Evening was a little different but since I could find side streets MOST of the way, it wasn’t a big issue. I used hand signals–always. I cleaned up in a remote bathroom at work (i.e. the basement restroom) carried my bike up 3 flights, and parked it in an empty cubicle. My biggest complaint was the stinky exhaust I had to endure in the downtown part of my ride. Other than that, I enjoyed it so much! And interestingly, it was almost the same amount of travel time. Now we ride around our small town (without helmets) for groceries and pleasure rides. We do wear our helmets mountain biking on the trails. We enjoy the health benefits and the gas savings. Also the small town we now reside in is a little more bicycle friendly. It’s all good!

    Reply
  • Naners June 14, 2013, 4:15 pm

    Lots of vigorous debate in the comments here! Let the record state that MMM does not arbitrarily delete comments of people who disagree with him.

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache June 14, 2013, 5:12 pm

      No.. but I’ve still been deleting a few today. When a comment is really off-topic, angry, or represents a true misunderstanding of the point of the article, I sometimes drop it in the hopes of making the remaining comments more useful. The people who made those comments often get mad at me.. but it’s worth the criticism for a better comment section. Use Reddit for free-for-all MMM bashing!

      Reply
      • Tim June 14, 2013, 5:14 pm

        Am I the only one who wants to see some of the deleted comments?

        Reply
        • Melissa June 14, 2013, 7:26 pm

          I want to see them, but just for fun and fodder! I get it though–if it were my blog, I’d be non-relevant and abuse deleting too. In keeping with the positive and cohesive nature of the general community… This blog is like Funville and MMM is our jolly mayor, keeping the town safe, happy, and on course for an excellent future.

          Reply
        • CincyCat June 16, 2013, 7:43 pm

          While I am sometimes curious about deleted comments (and, I’ve been on the chopping block myself at times), I personally trust MMM’s judgment on this. This is one of the few remaining personal finance blogs that I frequent because MMM is so diligent about removing off-topic, unproductive and gratuitously confrontational posts. I just want to learn about what I can be doing better, and maybe pass along a tidbit or two that others could benefit from reading. I don’t need to read all the negativity.

          Reply
  • Albert June 14, 2013, 4:28 pm

    I’m all for biking, but walking is even better if the distance to be covered is less than 2 miles. I live in a medium size city, but tend to walk a lot even though we have a good cycling culture and excellent public transport.

    Reply
  • totoro June 14, 2013, 4:56 pm

    I usually agree with the posts. I disagree with the math in this one.

    The net health effect comparison is pretty bogus imo when looking at safety. Driving takes less time to cover the same ground and maybe you are getting your exercise another way. My real concern is risk of death or injury while in transit. Driving is safer per mile travelled.

    In grade seven my favourite teacher was killed while training on his bike – not his fault. When I was nineteen my boyfriend was killed the same way – not his fault. My best friend was hit by a car (his fault really though) and survived but has shoulder trouble to this day. I personally know one person (high school classmate) who was killed or injured by a car despite the much greater rate of use of cars by those I know. Anecdotal as this may be, it matches with the stats.

    I did just get a bike though. I plan to use it on roads with bike paths or short commutes.

    I prefer walking most of the time and live centrally because of this.

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache June 14, 2013, 5:07 pm

      You can’t disagree with the math by listing four pieces of anecdotal evidence!

      After all, in this article I didn’t mention the carload of 4 friends I lost to a car crash in 1992. Or another close friend who died in a motorcycle crash, while the bike was being driven by another friend who almost died as well, or the family directly across the street from me who lost their 19-year-old son to a car crash 4 years ago. Or the fact that nobody I know has ever died in a bike-related accident. Yet I still use cars, motorcycles and bikes regardless of what I have seen happening around me.

      Stories of this type are tragic, but the whole point of articles like this one is that to live effectively you have to plug your ears and say “lalala” and make your decisions based on science and math to the best of your ability.

      My math and estimates are far from perfect. But they are still far better than my gut intuition, which is exactly why I ended up retired at 30, plus most of the other good luck that has ever happened to me. Calculations and spreadsheets for everything.

      Reply
      • Rachel June 21, 2013, 3:19 pm

        One good source of stats is Katie Alvord’s Divorce your Car! There are others as well but that is a good start and very readable.

        Ride on people!

        Reply
        • Gracefully Frugal October 1, 2013, 1:10 pm

          I know this post is old but wanted to say that the book you recommend is amazing. I read Katie Alvord’s Divorce your Car! for a research project back when I was 23 years old and I have not owned a car since reading that book 8 years ago! I highly recommend it for anyone who is interested in the car-free lifestyle.

          Reply
  • Jim June 14, 2013, 5:00 pm

    First time commenter, long time reader.

    MMM, I’m a huge fan of yours, but I wonder if there isn’t a problem with your analysis in that bike riders and car drivers often operate in different places — bike paths, bike lanes, side streets, sidewalks, etc. vs. busy streets and highways.

    I live in an inner suburb of Boston, drive five miles to work in another suburb, and would love to bike it. But the route is via narrow, curbed, two lane streets with frantic commuters racing along them as if they were highways. Your math doesn’t convince me that I’d be safer on a bike.

    A friend who lives near me and works in the same place bikes it but does so via a roundabout, 12 mile route which he deems safe. So he does an hour and 12 miles on his bike where I do 15 minutes and five miles in my car. That extra hour and a half per day in his commute probably negates whatever gains he makes in lifespan.

    Of course he enjoys his commute, but so do I since I make it a hobby to try to squeeze 60 or more MPG out of my Prius.

    Love the spirit of your post and its emphasis on exercise. But I fear that your math may be comparing apples and oranges, at least for some of us.

    Keep up the good work!

    Reply
  • PawPrint June 14, 2013, 5:48 pm

    I’m not the average age of your reader and, after taking my husband to the ER when he crashed his bike on black ice, breaking his hip, I’m not about to start biking in Seattle, land of many hills and wet streets. But I will put in a plug for walking or riding the bus or the combo of both if bikes aren’t for you. We use our car once a week to go to church (it’s a long way away and the bus schedule is meager on Sunday) and maybe to the grocery store, if we need heavy things that I can’t carry in my knapsack during the week. I end up walking about 90 minutes a day. My grandmother, who never learned how to drive, walked everywhere in her small town. I believe that’s the main reason she lived to 103 and didn’t take any Rx until she was over 100.

    Reply
  • Greg from adelaide June 14, 2013, 5:57 pm

    I have to agree. I am a cyclist and have been since I was a kid (and I am 55). I cycle to get places to get things, I don’t ride just to ride a bike, I want to ride for a reason, to commute, to go to the supermarket. Bicycle accident rates have slowly risen where I come from in Adelaide South Australia, and I have always thought it is because of the increase in road cyclists, or “sports” cyclists. I ride an old mountain bike with baskets each end for loads. I ride on side roads almost never on main roads, with a fluoro vest on and flashing lights day and night. I see road or “sports” cyclists riding on main roads, truck routes dicing with B-Doubles and Semi-trailer trucks wearing dark clothes. I think this explains the increase in accident rates here, and I agree that if you are cautious your death rate is much much lower.

    Reply
  • Bakari June 14, 2013, 7:30 pm

    I take it you have never in your life met anyone who was ever killed or injured on a motorcycle or in a car? Including not just friends and family, but all acquaintances, however brief or minor? How about just being stuck in a traffic jam, and when you get to the front, there are two severely smashed cars and about 10 emergency vehicles, and its one of those car fatality statistics right in front of your eyes?
    Why don’t those make us vow to never get into a car again?

    Reply
  • Payton MacDonald June 14, 2013, 7:56 pm

    Last year I put in over 1,000 miles commuting to work in North New Jersey, one of the most highly congested, bike Unfriendly environments in our country. If I can do it, anyone can do it. Here’s what you need to know.

    1.) Use a mountain bike. These allow you to get on the sidewalks, grass, dirt, whatever, and stay away from cars. They also have wider tires and better grip. Road bikes are very risky because you don’t have enough flexibility to get away from the cars.

    2.) Wear a helmet. I had two friends last year who crashed (at slow speeds) and their helmets cracked in half. Their heads were fine. No matter what the statistics say, if you don’t wear a helmet you are a fool.

    3.) Signal and obey traffic laws if you’re mingling with cars.

    4.) You MUST assume that every driver is drunk and texting (not far from the truth). You MUST ride defensively and proactively anticipate possible accidents. That “parked” car up ahead? Assume there’s a very short person behind the wheel who will pull out at the last minute and kill you. ALWAYS maintain a wide “cushion” of space between you and everything else.

    5.) If you ride at night or in the rain, light up like Times Square. I have a 200 lumen strobe on the back, plus a red blinker, plus a reflector vest, a 600 lumen light on the front plus a 200 lumen head lamp.

    6.) Invest in quality gear if you can. It makes cycling more fun and safer.

    7.) Scout your route carefully. You can dramatically minimize the risk of being hit by a car by finding the right route. Sometimes this means a few extra miles, but it’s worth it in the long run and makes for a more relaxing ride.

    Of course there’s some risk in cycling, but there’s a much greater risk in driving in so many ways. I see so many cyclists riding in the dark without lights, no helmet, and not obeying traffic laws. No wonder they get hurt . . .

    I have a much longer “dissertation” about cycling safety. Email me if you want it. I can send it in a pdf doc. payton.macdonald@gmail.com

    Reply
    • rjack (Mr. Asset Allocation) June 15, 2013, 6:11 am

      I would like to read the contents of your pdf. Can you post the contents in the forum and then add a link here?

      Reply
    • AJ June 15, 2013, 3:36 pm

      “2.) Wear a helmet” … “No matter what the statistics say, if you don’t wear a helmet you are a fool.”

      This single statement makes me ignore the rest of your points.

      Ignore the facts because you have two anecdotes, which don’t actually prove anything anyway?

      How about, DON’T ignore the statistics, Make your judgements based on solid facts rather than gut feelings and anecdotes.

      Reply
    • biliruben June 20, 2013, 4:47 pm

      Contrary to intuition, mountain bike tires have less traction on pavement than road tires, because the nubs actually provide less surface area. And weaving on and off of roads is a good way to get yourself killed. Be predictable.

      Also, you don’t have to spend a lot of money on gear. I’ve been putting in around 3000 miles a year for the last 20 years, and it sounds like you may have out-spent me in a single year.

      Also, check your local statutes, but anything except red on the back is confusing to drivers and may be illegal.

      Reply
  • Walt June 14, 2013, 8:57 pm

    I just got a free Trek bike from work for having worked there 10 years – it was the only thing in the gift catalog that didn’t have crappy reviews on Amazon or just obviously suck, like a ring with the company logo.

    I doubt I can make a 20 mile daily round trip at first, and it sounds like changing out mountain bike tires for street tires might be a good idea, but the trips when I’m not carrying someone else or something big, I’ll start trying to bike it.

    Honestly, I’ll start by going around the block and seeing if I want to die or not. (“Around the block” is about 3/4 of a mile.)

    Reply
    • Walt June 24, 2013, 7:48 am

      Just wanted to follow up – I got it put together yesterday and took it for a spin. My first time on a bike since 1992. Turns out you really do never forget how.

      Wow! I have apparently never ridden a halfway-decent bike. What a pleasure! And I had no idea that bikes even came with 15 speed combinations. (This is a Trek 820 mountain bike, which is apparently solid but not really fabulous by bike aficionado standards.)

      My last bike was a 5-speed Schwinn purchased for me in 6th grade. I doubt it was ever this nice, but if it was I sure don’t remember it.

      For anyone who hasn’t ridden a bike since they were a kid, beg, borrow or rent a halfway decent one and give it a try.

      Reply
  • bogart June 14, 2013, 9:33 pm

    There exist researchers trained in gathering and/or tracking down and in analyzing data relevant to this subject; not only do they undertake those tasks, but they then publish reports of their work in peer-reviewed journals. It’s an amazing system.

    An article entitled “Motor Vehicle Crash Injury Rates by Mode of Travel, United States: Using Exposure-Based Methods to Quantify Differences” that can be found online, full text, free, here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17449891 reports the following fatality rates per 100 million person-trips (not per mile) for 1999-2003 in the US:
    Passenger vehicle: 9.2
    Motorcycle: 536.6
    Walking: 13.7
    Bicycle: 21.0
    Bus: 0.4

    And the following nonfatal injury rates for the same time interval, same denominator —
    Passenger vehicle: 803.0
    Motorcycle: 10,336.6
    Walking: 215.5
    Bicycle: 1,461.2
    Bus: 160.8

    I don’t think it’s available full-text online free, but an interesting abstract from an article published this year looking at safety during short road trips in Holland — yes, Holland — finds cars safer than bikes:
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=How+does+a+modal+shiftfrom+short+car+trips+to+cycling+affect+road+safety (to quote: “The results suggest that, under conditions such as in Dutch municipalities, transferring short trips made by cars to bicycles does not change the number of fatalities, but increases the number of serious road injuries.”).

    Those reading can draw their own conclusions about how if an all such studies should affect their decision-making.

    Those interested in the gender difference in accident rates noted elsewhere in these comments can find an abstract on that topic here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=Exploring+the+male-female+discrepancy+in+death+rates+from+bicycling+injury .

    Anyone who has time available to them thanks to being retired, and/or who is in possession of disposable income, can easily access full content of (e.g.) the Accident Analysis & Prevention journal either by making the trek to an open-access academic library or by paying to download specific full-text articles online (and thereby avoiding any danger they might face on the roads).

    Reply
    • stepthrough June 18, 2013, 2:16 pm

      I think the most interesting thing about the Beck study that you cite is that there is no statistical difference between the fatality rates for women bicycling vs. driving. While men have a higher fatality rate in both modes, and male cycling fatalities were more than double the rate of male driving fatalities. Perhaps I’m stereotyping, but this makes me suspect that the cyclist’s behavior is a significant factor in their relative risk. I suspect that women ride more safely and lawfully than men (I’ll see if I can find a study to support that).

      The study is based on the 2001 National Household Travel Survey (NHTS); in the 2009 NHTS (the latest) bicycle trips had increased 25% (from 0.8% to 1%). Likewise, the Census Bureau shows a 47% increase in bicycling to work from 2000 to 2011 (only counting trips for which bicycling was the dominant or longest-distance mode). However fatalities have decreased slightly, so we can conclude that bicycling has become safer per trip.

      Hopefully the US will get better about collecting data on bike travel so we can have clearer answers to these questions, especially since we are one of the most dangerous developed countries in terms of traffic safety.

      Reply
      • RetiredAt63 June 19, 2013, 6:52 am

        “I suspect that women ride more safely and lawfully than men (I’ll see if I can find a study to support that).”

        Stepthrough, did you find a reference? Men are vastly more likely to win a Darwin Award (women are less than 1%); there are gender differences for risk taking.

        Reply
        • stepthrough June 19, 2013, 7:33 am

          At first glance, I find:

          Gender differences in risk taking: A meta-analysis. By Byrnes, James P.; Miller, David C.; Schafer, William D. Psychological Bulletin, Vol 125(3), May 1999, 367-383 They analyzed 150 studies and found that men nearly always take more risks than women; the factor is much greater in intellectual and physical risk (versus what, social? abstract doesn’t say…).

          Also Gender Differences in Risk Assessment: Why do Women Take Fewer Risks than Men? Christine R. Harris, Michael Jenkins, and Dale Glaser. Judgment and Decision Making, vol. 1, no. 1, July 2006, pp. 48-63. “Women’s greater perceived likelihood of negative outcomes and lesser expectation of enjoyment partially mediated their lower propensity toward risky choices in gambling, recreation, and health domains. Perceptions of severity of potential outcomes was a partial mediator in the gambling and health domains. The genders did not differ in their propensity towards taking social risks. “

          Reply
          • JDB June 22, 2013, 2:28 pm

            But you are implying it is the cyclists’ fault for being hit. In the 5 times my husband has been hit I’ve just been hit once. All 6 times we were side swiped by being turned into. I was actually thinking about this a lot recently as neither ofus break the law and we dress about the same. I am starting to think it is based on speed. Where I go 12 mph on a busy road by husband might do 20+mph. Cars dont think a bike will go that fast and will try to go around.

            Reply
            • Dan October 7, 2014, 7:42 am

              Your husband suffers from the “dreaded right hook.” I suggest purchasing the book “effective cycling” (used of course) to learn how to properly drive a bike in traffic. I am always aware of drivers now, way more than I used to. You can’t take for granted they see you or can judge your speed.

              Reply
  • DC Jr Mustachian June 14, 2013, 11:17 pm

    I’ve actually heard that elevators were the safest form of transportation. The odds that a person will die from an elevator accident in a year are 1 in 10,440,000. At one point my commute was two elevator rides plus crossing a street.

    Reply
  • Bakari June 15, 2013, 12:36 am

    I don’t understand why this comment keeps disappearing! All the rest show up fine, even the ones with links. Oh well, try again.

    “By following these steps, our own crash rate can be much lower than the national average. Probably even safer than the average for cars.”

    It is indeed.
    Studies that have actually looked at the details of the crash, and not just overall stats, implicate cyclist behavior in the vast majority of accidents.

    Even when the cyclist is determined to be less than 50% “at fault”, these accidents would not have occurred were the cyclist riding safely and legally.
    The most common cause of bike/car collisions is riding on the sidewalk.
    Others include riding the wrong way (on the left side of the street, facing traffic), running stop signs and red lights, and riding at night with no lights.

    After cyclist behavior, the primary cause of bike/car collision is poor visibility.
    Combined, they account for 90% of crashes.

    If you ride in the street, with traffic, follow all traffic laws, and wear bright clothing and run bright lights (even in daytime, just like modern cars do), then your chances of death or serious injury decrease by 90%. This is true regardless of where you ride.

    I have sources for my stats, click on my name above for the full blog post on it.

    Reply
    • Bakari June 15, 2013, 12:39 am

      notice that this means, regardless of which of the many conflicting sources for stats you use, once you correct for rider behavior, cycling comes out as safer than driving in all of them.

      Reply
    • Maverick June 15, 2013, 4:19 am

      I sometimes PREFER to ride my bicycle facing traffic. I can SEE how close or inattentive (weaving) the oncoming vehicle is behaving. Make me feel safer.

      Reply
      • Bakari June 15, 2013, 10:59 am

        What makes you “feel” safe is putting you at extremely high risk of actually dieing or getting injured. It is also illegal.

        Cyclists very rarely get hit from behind from a driver coming too close. The one place even inattentive drivers look is in front of them, and they have plenty of time to see you since, moving the same direction, your relative speed is low.

        However, when you get to driveways and intersections, drivers are NOT expecting someone going the wrong way, and people don’t look for what they aren’t expecting. That is where cyclists get hit.

        If you actually want to BE safe, not just “feel” safe, look up some statistics, and/or look for a bicycle safety class in your area.

        Reply
        • CincyCat June 17, 2013, 5:58 pm

          I know that in my neck of the woods, bikes in the street are considered vehicles, and must ride in the same direction of traffic if they are riding in the street. Riding against the flow of traffic is illegal.

          Reply
    • Tim June 15, 2013, 10:30 am

      This is a good comment, but there’s a couple flaws.

      1) Your sources talk about the number of crashes, but I didn’t see anything that directly talked about fatalities. Since we’re talking about fatalities here, that needs to be addressed.

      2) The data you presented is markedly different in the age distribution of fatalities that I presented earlier. We know that the age group 45-54 has the largest number of fatalities while riding bicycles, and that’s a very small number in your data.

      3) To do this type of analysis right, you’d have to do the same thing for cars. Essentially, you’d have to rule out all crashes where there was some illegal activity.

      4) Even if you did that, there will be plenty of people who still break the law. Heck, the first response to your comment was someone saying they prefer to ride their bicycle facing oncoming traffic! And there’s no doubt drivers and bicyclists will continue to go through stop signs, not look to their left or right, and other at fault behaviors.

      Reply
      • Bakari June 15, 2013, 11:18 am

        1) I haven’t found that data. If you ever come across it, please share!

        2) as above

        3) Not just “some” illegal activity, but specifically unsafe behavior on the part of the victim. For example, if person A runs a red light and hits person B, and Person A dies, that could be factored out from person B’s risk analysis. But if person B dies, that can’t be, because they couldn’t have changed the outcome by their own behavior.
        In every crash at least one driver was doing something wrong. If two cars are at fault, half the time one driver was at fault, half the time it was the other guy. But unless in 90% of cases BOTH drivers are being reckless, then you would not reduce the risk factor by 90% by driving safely.

        My point is that is 90% of bike crashes the cyclist IS doing something reckless, therefore you can adjust the numbers that much if YOU ride safe

        4) And those people will continue to die. But they don’t make your or my commutes more dangerous, as long as we don’t ride facing traffic, etc. Yes, there is always a chance I get hit by someone else who is drunk or talking on a cellphone, but it is still true that I decrease my own personal risk factor dramatically if I am not drunk or having a conversation.

        Reply
        • Tim June 15, 2013, 11:26 am

          http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/811386.pdf was in a comment that you already responded to!

          Reply
          • Bakari June 15, 2013, 11:47 am

            Yes, I saw it and read it, and it doesn’t say anything what-so-ever about rider behavior as contributing factor in the crashes.

            Since cycling fatalities are relatively rare, and since no one automatically compiles detailed information on the circumstances of every bike crash, it isn’t easy to find out what percentage of fatalities could have been avoided by changes in behavior on the part of the cyclist with a significant sample size. Hence using serious injury as a proxy.

            Reply
            • Tim June 15, 2013, 1:11 pm

              You’re right that it doesn’t say anything about rider behavior. It also doesn’t say anything about driver behavior. What it does have is 10 years of data on every fatality for both bicycles and cars for the entire country.

              I appreciate what you’re trying to do, and say that rider behavior can reduce the risk of riding a bike. But without a meaningful sample size on fatalities, and a corresponding set of data on car driving behavior, you can’t make any meaningful comparisons.

              Reply
              • Rob aka Captian and Mrs Slow June 16, 2013, 5:55 am

                Not exactly what your asked for but here are some statics regarding deaths helmets vs no helmets

                http://www.fubicy.org/spip.php?article191

                The take away is making helmets mandatory is a huge mistake.

        • KruidigMeisje June 17, 2013, 1:50 pm

          In London they are researching this behaviour bit. Apparently in most cases there, the car driver is at fault:
          http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2009/dec/15/cycling-bike-accidents-study
          though other studies say 50-50
          http://www.rospa.com/roadsafety/adviceandinformation/cycling/facts-figures.aspx
          (though I must say that the police in GB are not know for unbiased reporting. And 20% is hit crossing a road is a weird high number, suggesting something about traffic and/or infrastructure)
          Does this help you?

          Reply
          • Bakari June 17, 2013, 2:28 pm

            First, I know nothing about cycling conditions in the UK. I’ve only been talking about the US, where I happen to live.

            Second, there is a problem with the use of the term “at fault”.
            It seems in the first they are only considering the cyclist to be at fault if they run a red light or stop sign.

            The second of your links goes into better detail about the specific situation. Apparently in the UK, (just like in the US), a high proportion of bike / car collisions occur as the bike is “entering the road from the pavement”. In other words: riding on the sidewalk.
            If riding on the sidewalk is legal in a particular place, it is still the ultimate cause of the accident. In other words, had the cyclist not been on the sidewalk, the accident wouldn’t have happened. So while they may not be “at fault” in the legal since, they really ARE at fault in the literal since of, they caused it to happen by their own poor choices.

            Similarly, the high proportion of “‘failed to look properly’ by either the driver or rider, especially at junctions.” matches the expectations if a high number of cyclists is on the sidewalk, riding on the wrong side of the road (against traffic), or has poor lane position (hugging the shoulder or dipping in and out between parked cars). The police may mark each of these collisions as the driver’s “fault”, but none would have occurred if the cyclist was treating their bike as a vehicle in traffic.

            The number of collisions from drivers turning left in front of an on coming bike and clipping them while passing underscores the importance of bright colored jackets and helmets, and extra bright flashing lights INCLUDING IN BROAD DAYLIGHT.
            Modern cars have headlights on at all times. Bikes have an even greater need for extra visibility. It also helps to be as far to the left (to the right, I guess, in the UK) as possible, up to and including taking the lane on a multi-lane road. It may seem counter-intuitive, but the further you hug the shoulder, the more it encourages drivers to try to squeeze past when there isn’t room.

            Around here, I’ve seen an increasing number of cyclists with this:
            http://www.cantitoeroad.com/safety-wing
            to encourage a proper passing distance by motorists. If I lived in the UK, where according to your link getting hit by passing trucks is much more common, I’d probably get one.

            Reply
            • AJ June 18, 2013, 9:50 am

              Bakari the problem with “taking the lane” as you encourage, is that it is a massive disincentive for increasing cycling numbers.

              Most parents will not want their children taking the lane in front of traffic, to stop them overtaking. Most elderly people are not confident doing it, and in fact most normal people find it uncomfortable. I do it, mostly at “pinch points” and intersections because it DOES increase safety but it’s a defensive technique required to deal with the fact that roads aren’t designed safely for bicycles, not a preference.

              I lived in the Netherlands for nearly 4 years and never had to “take the lane” for safety, because they have proper infrastructure.

              I realise that many “hard core” cyclists dislike dedicated infrastructure but focusing on training reluctant cyclists to take a primary position in front of sometimes heavy, and sometimes fast moving, traffic will do nothing to normalise the mode of transport.

              Ditto for bright colours. I’m sorry but if I’m riding somewhere I dress for the DESTINATION, not based on my mode of transport. I don’t dress specially for walking somewhere or taking the bus either, and having to wear special clothes makes me less likely to bother.

              I would like to see cycle campaigners focus on the real improvements, rather than the tweaking around the edges that ignores the elephant in the room.

              Reply
              • Bakari June 18, 2013, 3:41 pm

                I don’t encourage taking the lane as a general, all the time thing (as some truly hardcore bikers do).

                I am also most definitely in support of bicycle infrastructure, including both on-road bike lanes and off-road paths and trails.

                But IF you do happen to be riding on a road without bike improvements, and a portion of it is too narrow to safely fit both a bike and a car at once, then the appropriate thing to do is take the lane.

                If someone is not comfortable with that, they should find another route, or not ride.
                Some people are not comfortable merging at freeway speeds. They shouldn’t be driving. The fact that they aren’t comfortable does not make them any less at fault when they end up causing a crash.

                There is no conflict between dressing for the destination and for safety. Which is why in the comment you are responding to I specifically said bright jackets and helmets, instead of “clothes”. A light weight shell or vest stuffs fits over your regular clothes, and stuffs into a seatbag or pocket when you reach your destination.

                Its not an either / or question. If people were regularly driving on the wrong side of the street, on the sidewalk, and at night with no lights, driver education would be a major part of improving driving safety. Of course, since you need a license to drive a car, it already is.

  • Michelle June 15, 2013, 1:16 am

    You convinced me with a previous post that cycling would be good for me and my wallet. A week ago I bought a little used bike off of CL for about 1/2 of it’s new price. After hauling it to my home town, I rigged the rack with a little basket and a long ribbon from a Crate and Barrel package (I can get high class later). I figured I’d just start riding it and I’d figure out the best route, how the gears worked, what to pack, how much time I’d have to allocate, etc. This morning, I packed up some clothes and shoes for work, the bare necessities out of my purse and a lunch bag, which I then carried in a back pack in the basket, tied down with the ribbon. In my small town, there is little traffic and the route between my house and office conveniently has very wide “shoulders” except for about 1 block. It only took me 10 minutes and sometimes with red lights, it takes me that long to get to the office in my car! I had some errands to do around town though–so I ended up accumulating my laptop which was in the shop and a bag ‘o walmart stuff. With a cloth grocery bag and some stacking, I made it home with all my original stuff and the new stuff. I was riding the Beverly Hillbillies version of a bike at that point, but made it home with ease! I’m going to do it again on Monday. OH, Mr MM-remember there is one more advantage–my car stayed in the cool garage all day and didn’t roast in our Southwest paint peeling sun or get dirty or scratched in my office parking lot! Not only did I keep a few miles off my car, but it will look better longer too!

    Reply
  • Marrena June 15, 2013, 5:53 am

    I’m lucky, I live in a walkable neighborhood and right near a bus stop connecting me to a terrific subway/commuter rail/bus system so I have choices. Pretty much the only time I drive is to grocery shop or go to the laundromat once a week (both nearby) or to get my kids from their dad or go to soccer games–in towns with no public transportation and too far to bike.

    It’s true there aren’t a lot of fatalities in bike riding, but I do know a lot of people who have had serious injuries. I would change my mind if my city were set up like this:

    http://www.treehugger.com/cars/biggest-bicycling-infrastructure-achievement-north-america-youve-never-heard-about.html

    Reply
  • Jawin June 15, 2013, 7:11 am

    I found this TedTalk this morning which is VERY appropriate for the content of this post.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LndpgmPLW-0

    I have recently started riding to work and am enjoying it so much that I am now avoiding automobile’s as much as possible. My commute is only .8 of a mile but I plan to experiment riding different routes to get in more of a ride before work.

    I do physical labor and the guys at work are constantly amazed that I have the energy to ride/walk/jog after a 10 hour day. One guy said that he would rather be fat than walk or ride a bike to work. Another said asked how old I am (I’m 44) to which he replied “Give it 6 more years.” What he doesn’t get is that is exactly why I am doing this in the first place. I want to be riding a bike when I’m 90!

    I am beginning to rub off on my oldest son (he’s 19) as just yesterday he rode his bike to work after lunch and his job is further away than mine. Now if I could get some of the other kids and my wife to do the same. Maybe they will come around.

    I’m off for a ride now!

    Ride, ride, ride.

    Reply
  • Lance June 15, 2013, 8:40 am

    Hey Mr. MMM, Love the article. This was my #1 excuse back in the day. After I started reading your blog, I realized that my fears where silly. I am 45 years old and recovering from a ruptured disk that occurred last summer. I have been biking to work now for the past six weeks. Just as you stated in this blog, I mapped out a course and tested it with a friend on the weekend. Originally it was an 18 mile ride one way. I have since found a safe cut over to the bicycle friendly paths that I use that is only 13 miles one way. This week I put in over a 130 miles and I feel great. I live in your neck of the woods in Aurora, CO. As you know that area is fairly urban. Still every morning I get to see Geese, fox’s, rabbits and all kinds of birds. I get to hear the sounds of nature all around me. Much different than the typical car commute. The only regret I have is that I didn’t start this sooner. Love the Blog and am learning a lot from you and the community. Thanks!!!

    Reply
  • Hector B Mexico June 15, 2013, 8:55 am

    Hi.
    I am from Mexico City and I am a big fan of your ideas. I am completely agree with you about biking, except That in Mexico the people drive like crazy. I think is suicidal to always commute in bike here, although there are Mexicans mustache that do that…. I need to do a lot of changes

    Reply
  • RetiredAt63 June 15, 2013, 9:00 am

    My tax dollars at work! Ontario Ministry of Transport has a nice web site going through all the information a cyclist needs to be safe on the road:
    http://www.mto.gov.on.ca/english/pubs/cycling-guide/

    The web site makes the same points as people have listed here – you are a legal vehicle, the rules of the road apply to you as a cyclist, and you are safer following them than doing things like go against traffic, ride on the sidewalk, etc. Plus lots of tips on how to set up your bike, other gear, lighting, how to drive when there are parked cars, etc., etc.

    Reply
  • Neil June 15, 2013, 10:47 am

    This morning I was riding across Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia, to take pictures of my unit in training. I was wearing a military combat uniform: long sleeves, combat boots, and a 20-pound pack. I decided to ride 12 mph instead of riding faster. I still sweat, but not badly. It was 82 degrees and 87% humidity when I was riding. I have ridden in Beijing and Shanghai. Lots of people commute at 9 mph and don’t get too sweaty.
    Actually, a military installation is as comfortable to ride in as Europe. The military mandates cars must give a bicycle 6 feet of room when passing. I feel like I am in the Netherlands when I am riding on base.

    Reply
  • Rob aka Captian and Mrs Slow June 15, 2013, 2:50 pm

    Love the picture (the one that shows first before clicking on article) a bunch of families out enjoying a day of cycling and not a single fuckin helmet anywhere.

    Anyways here is the link to the TED talk posted above somewhere.

    Ask me why I don’t wear a bike helmet

    Reply
  • Andrew June 15, 2013, 2:57 pm

    One other thing to consider in terms of safety is that not everyone in car/bike accidents die. Medicine and vehicle design have greatly reduced mortality rates for collisions, but going really fast and then crashing still causes serious injuries.

    My guess would be that if you expanded the statistics to include injuries, there would be more (and more serious) injuries coming from car accidents. This is just a guess, but in my mind it’s about speed. Even if medical science is really good at keeping people from dying, the physics involved make things pretty serious when you decelerate from 60mph to zero in a short distance.

    Bikes generally travel slower, so almost all bike accidents that don’t involve cars or cliffs would result in less serious injuries, whereas car accidents involving: other cars, poles, ditches, walls, yeti’s, or just about anything, would all be more serious simply because they go really fast before something makes them stop.

    Reply
  • LeRainDrop June 15, 2013, 4:21 pm

    Today I saw a guy on a bicycle nearly get run over — as in, probably would have killed him. Imagine you’re on a bicycle traveling east down the two-way street. The direction you’re going is down a major hill. When you reach the end of this road, there’s a traffic light, and your only option is to turn left because that’s a major street, and it goes one way — north. So you’re heading down the hill, and your light just turned green, with good time for you to continue coasting down, getting faster and faster, to go through the light. Well, I’m walking across the cross walk at that intersection, according to the traffic signal, and we are in no risk of hitting each other. However, I do look up just as you’re getting to the green light, perhaps inches from the intersection still moving quickly, just as you should be. All of a sudden, an SUV traveling north up the main street, who has a red light at this intersection, barrels directly through the intersection and inches from running you over. You barely braked enough to save your life from this idiot who just kept on going without a care in the world. So, yeah, that’s what I saw today, and this was right next to a major city park, where there are lots of bicyclists and pedestrians, and drivers should be particularly cautious.

    Reply
    • tallgirl1204 June 18, 2013, 1:36 pm

      It goes both ways– yesterday I nearly had a head-on collision with another bicyclist who was bombing down a hill headlong in the left hand bikelane, going the wrong direction and running a stop sign at full speed. I was turning right to go up that hill, and fortunately I was able to swerve (into the traffic lane) and avoid him.

      Just to give you the image, this guy was in his 60s, wearing no helmet, but with headphones on. I think a head-on (or more probably a t-bone into my bike) would have injured me, and possibly killed him, at the rate he was going.

      That said, I sure like riding my bike. These occurences are rare.

      Reply
  • Jeff June 15, 2013, 4:38 pm

    The fitness benefits are very important.

    However, please don’t assume everyone is obsessed with being more attractive top the opposite sex. Quite a lot of us are more interested in our own sex.

    Reply
  • Justin G June 16, 2013, 4:31 am

    That is all without including the decrease is life expectancy for every hour sitting too!

    Reply
  • Neil Gussman June 16, 2013, 2:16 pm

    In the 1980s there was a study of thousands of fatal and grave motorcycle accidents ironically called the Hurt Report. A Dr. Hurt did the study. The result said drugs and alcohol caused half of the serious injuries. But the surprising category to me–and one I have been careful of ever since–is that many serious injuries and deaths occurred when the cyclist was turning left and in parking lots. In both cases the speeds were slow, at least for the bike, the oblivious driver causing the accident was going fast enough to kill or maim the rider. Another interesting conclusion that affects motorcycles more than bikes is that motorists perceive vertical objects as stationary. bicyclists overcome this by pedaling. Shoe reflectors add to this motion in lower light.

    Reply
  • frugalfranny June 16, 2013, 2:47 pm

    Here is a great resource/place to invest energy for those of you who say, “Amen,” to this post and have some time on your hands for some advocacy on this topic for our younger generation:

    http://www.saferoutesinfo.org/

    There are lots of stats and tons of info about infrastructure changes, education, etc. MMM, if you are not involved with SRTS already, you really should be – it’s right up your alley!

    Reply
  • jj June 16, 2013, 6:00 pm

    Help me here.

    I am a non-cyclist who is at a tipping point over getting a practical cycle for everyday use. However, a car-free friend was recently in a cycling accident. She survived, but has required major reconstructive surgery and will have at least a year of ongoing medical needs. It’s really tough for me to absorb the cold hard statistics that cycling is safe when weighed against seeing, up close, the anguish of someone I care about.

    I’m a relatively weak cyclist and I’m trying to become stronger before buying a commuter bike, but now I find myself super flinchy even when riding my beach cruiser around the block. How do you find a way to balance the emotions with the statistics? Especially some of the commenters who’ve known bike fatalties… how do you emotionally come to terms with that?

    Reply
    • Bakari June 16, 2013, 8:02 pm

      Unless you are an unusual outlier, the chances are very high that you can think of people you’ve known who were killed or injured in car crashes.

      Personally, I can think of 2 killed (2 in the cars that I knew, everyone in both vehicles in both crashes died – neither was the fault of the person I knew, one being hit by a drunk driver who ran a light, the other being 6 years old), one who lost both legs, two with major reconstructive surgery, and one with years of physical therapy.

      Of course, these anecdotes don’t affect actual safety (or lack there of) any more than the bike accident stories do, but the interesting thing about it is that when we do know someone personally in a car crash, or when we do hear about them on the news, or when we drive past them on the highway, it never makes us stop and reconsider the safety of driving in cars. Why don’t we all react like Rainman when we see a fatal crash on the highway, and get out of the car right there and walk the rest of the way?

      I don’t know the answer to that question, but me personally, I’m trusting the statistics over my gut instinct.

      Reply
  • raisin mountaineer June 16, 2013, 10:07 pm

    Haven’t seen this comment yet, so here goes: Consider changing the time of your commute if you decide to use a bicycle. Also, consider altering your commute route in consideration of the time of day and traffic.

    If I leave for work before 7 a.m., I can drive to work on just about the same route as I do in my car. The primary “pinch point” is not crowded early in the morning, and I can run the gauntlet of that few scary blocks with hardly any traffic. Also, the “to work” route has all right turns. If I needed to ride during rush hour, I would use my evening route, which I will describe next.

    Coming home (at any time between 3-8 p.m.) that same morning stretch is crowded and scary, and also would require several left-hand turns across multiple lanes of traffic. So I ride back neighborhoods (not as direct, but not crowded), and at the worst pinch point, I get off my bike and WALK it (and carry it up some sidewalk stairs) to get into my neighborhood before riding the rest of the way home.

    Thinking it through, and adjusting routes and schedule, beats the heck out of clinging to the notion that my only choices are riding in horrible traffic or driving my car.

    Admittedly, I am a fair-weather biker, but inspired by this blog, I will try to stretch my current limitations.

    Reply
  • JP June 17, 2013, 2:54 am

    I’m a Paramedic and the attitude in this country really ticks me off. A lot of people making comments here have earned my ire. I’ve been at this long enough that these “statistics” here aren’t numbers, they’re not math equations and sourced peer reviewed studies. They’re people. They’re human lives. They’re your wife, or your son, or your dad, or you. Every. Single. Number. According to MMM’s numbers 35,000 human beings are killed or murdered every year in America for CONVENIENCE. Sometimes it’s because somebody was texting, or drunk. Sometimes it’s just bad weather and the city or county or state decided it would cost too much money to take the two lane, 65MPH highway and make it a divided highway with a concrete barrier. Essentially the government says, “Sorry, but your family of 4’s lives aren’t with the 1.2 million it would take to clean up these 45 miles of highway.” And for what? Because you felt like driving instead of walking, biking, or find some other way to do it?

    Has ANYONE noticed this conversation isn’t about how dangerous bicycling is? This conversation is about how dangerous getting hit by a car is. How many bicycle vs. bicycle fatalities are there? Are many bicycle vs. lamp post fatalities are there? Statistically speaking it’s such a low number they don’t exist.

    Riding a bicycle is not dangerous. Getting hit by a BMW going 55 in a 35 IS.

    Obviously this is a touchy subject for me, so I apologize. I guess once you’ve done CPR on enough 16 year old girls or draped tarps over enough 19 year old boys or stood there with an SUV full of four dead adults wondering what the $^&#! you’re supposed to do with that; it makes you wonder if the convenience is really worth it.

    I just want to know why we as a culture feel it’s acceptable to sacrifice 35,000 American lives every year because it’s easier that way. And that’s not even touching the numbers of disabled survivors or how many family members have their lives torn apart. Our priorities are as backwards as possible, IMHO.

    As for me I walk and take the bus for now. The drivers and the bicyclists in this town are so insane I don’t want to be in either group.

    Reply
    • Bakari June 17, 2013, 12:26 pm

      I don’t think its just for convenience, and that no one cares.

      Its that the human brain is naturally subject to lots of major fallacies of reason and logic (in other words, people are stupid).

      People want to save lives. Consider the big deal in politics and media recently over mass shootings. Many people want to restrict guns to prevent deaths – others want law abiding citizens to have them, so they car protect themselves. Both want less people killed.

      But nobody notices that cars crashes kill 2-4 times as many people as from homicides by firearm each year. The government would do more to end needless death by reviving (and enforcing) a 55 mph speed limit than by restricting assault rifles, but politicians are subject to the same cognitive errors as everyone else.

      Everyone drives. So we take it for granted. Deaths and injuries in car accidents are SO common that we don’t even notice them. Its like that for everything. When a war first starts, they mention every casualty by name in the news, but when it gets big, its just an abstract number.

      Reply
    • tallgirl1204 June 18, 2013, 1:25 pm

      JP, you made me cry. Yep, every one of us has “that story”– for me it’s the grandmother who died in a car wreck, leaving my then 13-year-old dad to never quite recover emotionally. She was the ghost of my childhood.

      and yep, I have friends who have been badly injured in bike wrecks– one of them due to a car driver error, the other due to his own (and lack of helmet made it way worse)– but way, way more friends have been victims of drunk drivers while in cars (or walking) themselves.

      I think that cars provide a perception of safety, and with every new “safety feature” that perception increases. Bikes seem scary because there’s nothing between me and the road but my levi’s, but they also go pretty dang slow, I can see and hear all around me, and I can (and do) change my route when I feel myself getting scared.

      Reply
  • Michelle June 17, 2013, 6:22 am

    I love the MMM blog and recommend it to all of my friends and family. I noticed today that no one mentioned Bike Snob NYC in the comments here and I thought those who were not familiar with the blog might enjoy it too.

    BSNYC is an angry but funny bike commuter/writer, and his blog has a lot of rude language, but the basic points are similar to those of MMM. See: http://bikesnobnyc.blogspot.com/2013/06/bsny-friday-un-quiz.html

    Reply
  • Gerard June 17, 2013, 7:14 am

    I’m unclear about the age data that people are discussing. Are 40-somethings really the most likely to be in an accident? Or is that the average age of people in accidents? Obviously if it’s the second, then it might come from averaging out dangerous 6-year-olds and dangerous 74-year-olds.

    Reply
  • frugalfranny June 17, 2013, 7:39 am

    Maybe someone has already suggested this, but if you are interested in decreasing your chances of cycling accidents, please look up your local chapter of the League of American Bicyclists and take a bicycle education class.

    http://www.bikeleague.org/

    Even after 25 years and 1000s of miles of biking as a commuter, tourist and racer (without ever an accident), I learned a lot when I took the training and became a trainer. I highly recommend it. As someone pointed out quite a few posts ago, you are much safer if you are an educated cyclist, just like you are much less likely to get into a car accident if you are an educated driver.

    Reply
  • rod June 17, 2013, 8:56 am

    MMM, great post, lots of comments. Seems like people love them or hate them darn bikes. I am a biker, like you. Aside from the stats, I just like the pedals under my feet. That’s why I ride! I love my cruiser and big wald baskets for hauling stuff home. I find it joyful to ride my bikes, it makes me smile more and feel alive. I hope I can ride until I’m gone. I applaud your pro biking crusade, keep on peddling! Pun by accident there. I am going riding as of now. Its a great day for a ride.

    Reply
  • Patrick June 17, 2013, 9:50 am

    I feel as though you really reached to skew the numbers on this one – even down to the significant figures used to calculate deaths per million miles. There’s no reason to measure biking vs driving on a per-hour basis. You are constantly preaching to replace driven miles with biked miles; per-mile should be your measurement basis.

    Some people believe math is blind, but as an example, I would like to use the same numbers to counterpoint. I think we can agree that it takes longer to get to your destination on a bike and using your own $25/hour value you lose a bit of time=money biking.

    In fact biking 25 miles, lets say that’s two hours of your time costing $50 or $2/mile. Driving 25 miles is only $0.50/mile by your own calculations (which includes time i think? if it doesn’t let’s say it would take 30min costing $12.50 or an additional $0.50/mile)

    So on a per mile basis:
    Biking = 6.956 deaths/million miles and $2.00/mile
    Driving = 1.11 deaths/million miles and $0.50-$1.00/mile

    I simply ignored all the biking causes people to living longer. All of your sources mention ‘excercise’ as a prevention to ‘obesity’ nothing about biking and people can get excercise anywhere or just eat healthier to prevent obesity if they choose to not excercise. I feel that to the non-obese public there would be minimal correlation between the additional excercise by biking and additional life length.

    Full disclosure – I do bike everywhere under 5 miles and a lot under 10 miles but really just disagreed with your mathematics and expect better from a fellow engineer.

    Reply
  • cnc June 17, 2013, 11:40 am

    Really good discussion, and I appreciate the post. I admit to being flat out afraid to ride my bike to work. All it takes is one distracted driver eating, texting or on the phone, which I see every single stinking day. Maybe I don’t die, but I’m in serious trouble if I get hit.

    I won’t argue with your statistics, though the relative statistical risks are a little unclear as I think is indicated by the discussion. You can argue statistics, probably successfully, but I watch those drivers speed, roll stop signs, wander into the bike lane, tailgate, etc., etc. every single day.

    Another point I’d like to make – lots and lots of people where I live ride their bikes to work. I see them every day. I’d say 95% bicyclists I see completely ignore traffic laws. They blow through stop signs and red lights without even slowing down. I’d say about a third wear helmets. I *DON’T WANT* to hit a bicyclist, but people ride so irresponsibly that I have to expect them to do something stupid so I don’t hit someone. I’m not trying to be anti-cycling. Just relaying my experience with both drivers and cyclists in my area.

    Many drivers are responsible. Many cyclists ride responsibly. But not enough on either count. And honestly, my long-term plan is to move close enough to work to walk, because it seems a lot safer.

    I’d like to see a lot more bike lanes. Maybe instead of using stripes for bike lanes in the city, use rumble strips, road warts, cuts in the pavement or something that gives drivers an additional indication that they’re outside their lanes and shouldn’t be there unless they’re pulling over to park.

    Again, appreciate the conversation, and am willing to be convinced.

    Reply
  • Dan June 17, 2013, 12:25 pm

    I live in the Boise Idaho area and while the traffic isn’t as congested as in bigger cities it still has a lot of traffic on major roads during commute times.
    Factor in the endless road construction and delays and cycling is often faster and safer. I see so many motorists making illegal turns and going through shopping center parking lots to get around road construction projects creating real hazards for pedestrians. In addition, the congestion and summer temps make for some very testy drivers and that is never safe as tempers heat up as fast as the temperatures.

    My son and I are planning to do all our activities this summer by bike.

    Reply
    • PawPrint June 18, 2013, 10:36 am

      Luckily, Boise has a wonderful Greenbelt and many people search out routes that put them on the Greenbelt. You can ride from Eagle to downtown on a bike path, although getting through Eagle to the bike path is a bit of an issue.

      Reply

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