I ride my bike a lot.
I’ve ridden tens of thousands of miles over the course of decades. Not in a single stretch, but cumulatively. Over the years many people have told me that they would never ride on the road because it’s too dangerous. Lots of these same people then bemoan the fact that riding the same paved trail over and over gets boring.
They only have themselves to blame for their boredom. There is a direct link between a lack of adventure and the feeling of boredom. There is also a direct link between adventure and risk. Foolish risks make for foolhardy adventures, reasonable risks make for good adventures. The line between a reasonable risk and a foolish one is “in the eye of the beholder”, different folks have different risk/adventure tolerances. For some, riding the local paved path is adventure enough, others are itching for more but are afraid.
The way I see it, scuba diving is risky, but not overly so, you’re under water relying on your equipment to keep you alive, there are hidden hazards and dangerous critters. But most divers come back alive.
Sky diving is risky, but not overly so, you are way up off the ground relying on your equipment to keep you alive, and even if all goes well in the air the final transition from sky to ground can be damagingly abrupt. Even so, most jumpers walk away at the end of the plunge.
Golf is not risky… nor is it adventurous. But somehow it seems to be addictive…
From this extensive comparison it’s easy to see that activities that involve two feet planted firmly on the ground are in general less adventurous than activities that take your feet above terra firma.
Bike riding takes your feet off the ground and forces you to do the activity while balancing. At first just being able to balance on this contraption is adventure enough. But once you get the basics of this acrobatic skill you soon find that you want to continue this balancing act for longer distances and push your abilities. It’s like learning to juggle… you might start with balled-up sock, then move on to tennis balls, then hatchets, then flaming torches, then revved-up chainsaws, or hungry Piranha.
If you just stop at the tennis ball stage, you might find the activity gets tedious.
It’s a fair trade that riding a bike on the road is a higher risk activity than riding on a paved bike path, just as it is a more adventurous activity.
Riding to get somewhere that you need to be (commuting) and riding to get somewhere you want to go (recreational riding) are both road riding but are different in many ways. In general I prefer recreational riding to take me away from congestion toward the unknown edges of my self-propelled exploration area. Commuting gives me a sense of accomplishment knowing I save a handful of money every time I don’t drive and allows an extra scoop of ice-cream from time to time, but doesn’t feel that adventurous. Even though most commuting involves following identical routes to certain places (kinda like riding a paved bike trail) it is hardly ever boring.
Believe it or not after 10’s of thousands of miles riding on roads for decades (non-consecutively) I have never been killed. I have never been “Run off the road”. I have never been “Side-swiped”. I have never even been hit by a motor vehicle.
I don’t deny that riding on the road can be dangerous, but many seem to think it’s suicidal. I disagree. Chronically overeating is suicidal. Smoking is suicidal. A lifestyle void of serious exercise is suicidal. Texting while driving is homicidal. But riding a bike on the road is not suicidal and very, very rarely homicidal.
Riding a bike on the road is apparently safer than walking near one. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2012, 4743 pedestrians were killed by contact with motor vehicles while “only” 726 bicyclists died from interaction with those killing machines.
In the same year, 34,080 humans died “safely contained” inside motor vehicles.
According to riskcomm.com the chance of dying as a “pedal cyclist” is almost the same as dying from “falling from bed, chair, or furniture.”
I realize these are statistics and any statistic can be tortured to the point that it will say anything that you want it to say, but clearly the roads are not bastions of safety for all but cyclists. There is an element of risk for all when motor vehicles are involved.
Once you accept that cars are dangerous no matter what method of conveyance brings you into proximity to them, it’s easier to accept that riding your bike on the road is not crazy dangerous.
If you are OK with the risk of using household furniture then don’t be afraid to ride your bike.
Be smart. Avoid riding at high traffic times, Avoid high traffic areas. Never assume a driver is going to act wisely, but remember the point of road riding is not merely one of survival. Go ride, go explore. See how far you can push yourself, see what’s over the next hill. The reward is a sense of accomplishment and a more thorough appreciation for the places you travel through. As you blow through even the most picturesque areas in a car you only get a small taste of whats there. Go through the same area at bike speed and you’ll notice things you missed in the car. The grade of the road, the smells, the sounds, the breeze. Yes, there will be cars passing you, but after awhile you start noticing them less, riding becomes about you riding your bike not about other people driving their cars.
Let me summarize then;
Risk a little, have an adventure.
If you think you’re safe in a car you are deluded.
Ride your bike!