Why Cycling is Bad
I can find very little to support this assertion, save for rants
by tabloid columnists like this article
on cycling by Tony Parsons of the Mirror, so I'm going to do my
best to propose some good arguments. The article by Tony Parsons
gives some good starting points, but I particularly like the anecdotal
evidence about the danger to bus drivers' genitalia from cyclists at
the end of the article.
The first issue is the problems which cyclists cause for
motorists, even the most considerate cyclist is going to cause
traffic problems simply by forcing vehicles to overtake or wait
patiently behind them. Vehicles waiting patiently will cause
congestion and vehicles overtaking risk having accidents. If a
cyclist starts behaving erratically or starts disobeying the rules of
the road then they stand even more chance of causing an accident or
holding up traffic.
Once a cyclist has caused an accident the motorist has very little
comeback even if they can prove that the cyclist was directly
responsible, few cyclists have even third party insurance hence as a
motorist you will have to hope that a rich cyclist causes your
accident. Not only does it cost the motorist money, but if the
cyclist is involved in an accident then it costs the health care
system or insurance system money to treat the cyclist.
Cycling is one of the most dangerous forms of transport in terms
of fatalities per 100 million passenger hours:
Motorcycling : 342
Cycling : 64
Walking : 27
Air : 20
Car : 12.4
Rail : 6.0
Bus/Coach : 1.4
These figures come from , there are also figures based
on passenger miles but either set show that cycling is pretty
dangerous compared to four (or more) wheeled motorised transport.
So cycling is bad because it causes congestion and costs
motorists, insurers and health care systems money when cyclists have
accidents. Following this logic cycling should be banned except on
cycle only areas.
Why Cycling is Good
There is a lot more evidence to support this assertion, this does
not mean it is correct, it may simply mean that those people who
produce the statistics and commission the reports want the assertion
to be true.
Environmental benefits are worth considering, cycling is an extremely resource efficient method of transport , bicycles take less resources to
manufacture and consume far less resources getting from A to B.
Bicycles also take up less space on the road than singly occupied
motor vehicles. In fact according to , a singly occupied motor vehicle uses 1860 calories of energy per mile, compared to 35 calories by bike.
Cycling has health benefits for the cyclist, regular exercise is
highly recommended by all health professionals for preventing a
myriad of ills, despite increasing your risk of injury.
Mayer Hillman of the British Medical Association has estimated
that the total health benefit of cycling is twenty times the risk.
This quote taken from , is confirmed by other studies into the issue.
Integrating Cyclists into the Traffic
There are two principle schools of thought in cycling safety, the
populist view is that cyclists should be segregated from traffic as
much as possible. There are two major problems with this idea,
firstly you would need a massive network of cycle paths so that any
given commuter can get from home to work otherwise part of the
journey has to be done on road. Secondly, cycle paths get used by
non-cycle traffic; a regular commuter will be doing 15-30 MPH,
getting stuck behind a horse, invalid carriage, pedestrian, child on
a bike, parked vehicle or skateboarder would be a major problem if it happened
regularly. Ideally, the cycle paths would be exclusively for cycles, unfortunately in practice other things and people use them (this is certainly the case in the UK).
The alternative is called 'vehicular cycling' pioneered in the US
by John Forester and in the UK
by John Franklin (of Cyclecraft fame), this is the principle that, according to Forestor, 'Cyclists
fare best when they act and are treated as drivers of vehicles'.
Simply you ride as if you were driving a slow, narrow vehicle,
obeying the traffic rules, giving proper signals and expecting other
drivers to treat you as such. In practice this appears to work well.
Statistics taken from  show that of the various groups of adult
cyclists monitored the safest groups (in terms of accidents per
million miles) were those that were likely to have undergone this
type of training. Ordinary college-associated adults had about 500
accidents per million miles where as American League of Cyclists and
Cycle Touring Club of England members had only 113 and 66 accidents
per million miles respectively.
The only conclusion I can come to is that; yes, cycling is
dangerous and can hold up motorists but it is a very resource
efficient method of transport and a good way to improve your fitness,
and lifespan. If we could make highly efficient motorised transport
and had work schedules which were conducive to regular exercise then
cycling would not be a good idea, unfortunately we do not live in a
world where that is the case. So should you ditch your current mode
of transport and start commuting by bike?
HOW-TO start cycle commuting
If your journey to work is just beyond sensible walking distance
and in a city center then this sort of commute is ideal for cycling
(or some other self propelled wheeled vehicle). You will save money
over motorised transport, it will be quicker and you may even get
fitter and/or slimmer. If it is within sensible walking distance then
the hassle of having to lock your bike up and getting wetter and
dirtier than walking may reduce the benefit.
If your journey is of any significant distance then cycling takes
real determination, I do 20 miles per day as a commute and if it was
not for the fact that it is giving me good exercise and reducing my
weight (significantly) then I might not bother. I might not bother
because logic tells me that getting the train/bus would be almost as
environmentally friendly and taking the car would be as cheap (if not
Other problems are cargo capacity, which can be increased by the use of a good rucksack and showering/changing facilities at work, in fact I have to use the local gym (thanks to RyoCokey for those.)
But if you do want to do a decent length commute by bike then here
are my top tips:
DO us appropriate protective equipment; helmet, reflective strips and lights.
DO drink lots of water during the day, particularly important if
it was cold or raining on your way in to work, because you will not
realise how much water you lost.
DO cycle safely, learn to ride a bike confidently away from
traffic and get some formal training for vehicles in traffic. I would
suggest either a cycle specific course or some advanced driving
lessons, in the UK there is the Institute
of Advance Motorists or in the US there is Defensive
Driver (I do not have first hand knowledge of this course).
DO NOT plan on doing it everyday, make sure you know what the
alternative is because there will be days (particularly when you
first start) that your body tells you it does not want to cycle.
DO keep your bike in good repair, you should not need a really
flashy bike but you should make sure it is reliable and that you
replace things before they fail catastrophically. Breaking down half
way between work and home is not fun (take my word for it).
DO get some road tires, if you are used to big fat tires then the
ride will seem rough at first but you will soon learn to avoid pot
holes and the speed difference is massive.
DO carry two (or more) spare inner tubes, because you may get a
puncture in the dark/wet making it difficult to find what caused it
hence instantly puncturing the new tube. Three punctures in one day
is my current record!
Finally DO wear comfortable clothing, personally I like lycra bib
shorts and a cycling jersey since they are cool and allow great
freedom of movement, the downside is that I look like a complete idiot.
Jeans are very bad due to the inner thigh seams (ouch!)
Having said all this and given dire warnings about how dangerous,
frustrating and hard work cycle commuting is, I still do it; yes, it
keeps me fit and slim (ish) but I think more than that it gives me a
genuine sense of achievement everyday and by the time I get home I've
forgotten all about the stresses of the working day.
on analysis of risk in travel (PDF)
Department of Transport Report (PDF)
 Is Cycling Dangerous?