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You Won’t Believe What Just Happened On My Ride To Work…..

| 16.06.14

Well, there I was cycling along and minding my own business then suddenly WHAM! The sun came out and I noticed a bird singing in the hedgerow.

Apart from that there is not much to report really. All the usual stuff of course, I shared the road with a few hundred people in their vehicles, they passed me and I passed them without much incident. Some came a bit closer than was necessary or pleasant, some probably resented having to slow for a few seconds before they could pass safely but we managed to accommodate each other and all get along fine.

So why am I boring you with this tale of humdrum normality? You were probably expecting some near death experience or an act of outrageous stupidity at least. Isn’t that what we generally get when people talk about their cycling or we hear about it in the media? It is either that or epic accounts of race winning speed or fund raising endurance that make your legs wobbly just thinking about it.

Well, here’s the thing. The stories you most often hear about cycling don’t reflect the day-to-day normality of travel by bike. They are unusual, extraordinary, exceptional, that’s why people make the effort to tell them. The vast majority of uneventful miles are never spoken of, unworthy of being reported.

Why is this a problem, isn’t the same also true of our journeys as vehicle occupants and pedestrians? The difference is that the vast majority of us have our own regular experience of travel by car or by foot so, when we hear about a dramatic driving or walking incident, we can put in a context and understand how the particular risks and hazards involved fit into that.

I hope most people will act on that information, use it to moderate or modify their future behaviour and reduce the chances of the same thing happening to them. I wouldn’t expect many, if any, to decide on the basis of an extraordinary incident to choose not drive or walk.

In the UK the majority of us don’t ride a bike regularly so don’t have our own context of unremarkable journeys in which to place the dramatic incidents. And why do we choose not to cycle? The main reason given is fear of traffic.

It seems we believe those stories are normal and what we should expect rather than exceptional and rare occurences. On the basis of this one-sided evidence a decision to take the car for a short journey can seem the sensible and responsible thing to do. It guarantees you will never be one of the average 1.6 cycling fatalities or 28.6 serious injuries we average each year in Gloucestershire.

Those numbers represent individual tragedies and the Road Safety Partnership will keep working to reduce the risk. The numbers don’t exist in isolation though and there are other much larger and mostly hidden risks related to our travel choices.

500-600 people will die prematurely in Gloucestershire each year through conditions related to physical inactivity. Thousands of others have lives impaired by those conditions. 1 in 4 of us is classed as physically inactive and in the Chief Medical Officers “high risk” health category. The recommendations are for 30 minutes of moderate intensity activity five times a week. Of course there are many ways to achieve that, sports, dancing, gyms, gardening etc., but active travel, walking or using a bike for shorter journeys, has been shown to be one of the most effective.

It embeds the exercise into our regular daily routines so we are far more likely to keep it up. It saves us money both in fuel costs and the large amounts of wear and tear short trips cause to our cars. It can save you time in towns as cycling has been shown to be the quickest and most reliable to travel on congested roads. From a wider perspective it helps to connect people more closely to their communities while high volumes of motor traffic tend to divide and isolate.

There are many other benefits that you will have already heard or can work out but I won’t list them all here. I don’t want to make out that people on bikes some sort of worthy, self sacrificing benefactors to the planet. They aren’t, they are just people travelling in an efficient and cheap way that happens to do them some good. Oh, and they enjoy it, it’s fun!

So there is good news about cycling and potential for a whole lot more, you are just not hearing it. I am not expecting the headlines to fill with “Hundreds of Thousands Have Uneventful Bike Rides” headlines anytime soon but, next time you read or hear about one of those tragic but rare cycling incidents, please try and think of it in the wider context.


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