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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Bicycling increases, so does injury rate

Image of Yehuda Moon cartoon on comics
From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 07.21.08:

Rookie and rusty cyclists hit streets ... and hospitals
Mike Schatz figured it was the right thing to do. Horrified by his first $70 trip to the gas station, Schatz drove to a bike shop last month, plunked down $2,500 on a new touring bicycle and began two-wheel commuting from his Grant Park home to his office in West Midtown.

The pluses included conservation and fitness as well as frugality--until the morning he went airborne above traffic on West Marietta Street. Hit by a car, he broke both elbows. Afterward he asked himself, "This is what I get for trying to save the environment?"

Cycling advocates say this could be the Summer of Splat on local roads. Take the area's dearth of bike paths, add aggressive Atlanta motorists, then toss in bikers who haven't been on the roads for decades. Presto — the buns are busting all over town. "We're seeing more people getting hit" by cars, said Dr. John Xerogeanes, chief of sports medicine at Emory's Orthopedic and Spine Center. "There are people crashing and people having trouble because they're starting to ride their bike in the city." (Read more.)
Granted, Atlanta is not a bicycling friendly city, ranked by Bicycling Magazine as one of the three worst in the U.S. However, Atlanta is not alone as a city with residents eager to escape the clutches of the gas pump pirates. Many of these fossil fuel refugees are flooding into bike shops and emerging as novice bike commuters. So it's appropriate to post on bicycling safety. The following is a very brief, very basic summary from the safety chapter of my new bicycle commuting book, to be published in November by Adams Media.

Know your bicycle. The best way to improve your bicycling safety is simply to bicycle more. Take your bike to a quiet street or park and practice riding. Learn how your bike handles: how it stops, accelerates, turns, and shifts. Gaining confidence in your bicycle handling skills will greatly improve your safety.

Keep it working.
Many bicycle crashes result from equipment malfunction. Keep your bike well-maintained and you will avoid many problems.

Pre-ride inspection. Before you ride, give your bike the "ABC Quick Check": Air, Brakes, Crankset, Quick Releases. Make sure your tires are inflated, brakes are good, chain is in the chainrings and cogs, and that quick releases are closed.

Be seen. Ride predictably, with traffic, where drivers can see you. Stay in the traffic lane, maintain a straight line. Never ride against traffic; wrong way cycling is extremely dangerous.

Be heard. Communicate with motorists, pedestrians, and other cyclists with hand signals, bell, and horn. Make eye contact with motorists, to be sure they see you. Smile when motorists yield the right of way.

Be assertive. Timid riding invites abuse. You have a right to the road. Claim it. Define your space. Don’t be bullied.

Be alert. Watch for hazards: potholes, debris, open car doors. Anticipate. Be familiar with your route.

Speed kills. Going fast on a bike is thrilling. But don't ride at a speed beyond your capabilities. Ride in control at all times.

Be smart. Obey traffic laws. Or the law of traffic. Know your limits.

Bicycling is safe. Sedentary couch potato lifestyles kill far, far more Americans than pedaling. What other suggestions do you offer new bicycle commuters?

Image: Yehuda Moon.
Visit: Bike Safety Hits Close to Home, Washington Post
Visit: Sharing the Streets: Bike Safety, Washington Post
Visit: Safe bicycling video from League of American Bicyclists, Bike Commute Tips Blog
Visit: Cyclists should be proactive about safety, Bike Commute Tips Blog
Visit: Is Bicycling Safe?, Bike Commute Tips Blog
Visit: What to do if you have a collision, (Interview with bicycling attorney Gary Brustin), Bike Commute Tips Blog
Visit: Special Safety Considerations for Women, Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site
Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site


Unknown said...

As an Atlanta bike commuter for the past year, I can definitely attest to the bad environment here. Picking an appropriate route is key-- the less-traveled streets are less likely to have jackass drivers who want you dead.

Also, I see a lot of cyclists who lack even basic bike safety skills. No helmet, riding on against traffic, holding a drink, wearing an iPod, texting-- you name it, I've seen it. (And yes, I'm aware that drivers do all these things and more.)

Anonymous said...

I know/work with the guy in that article. Nice guy.

I bike to work in Atlanta. Luckily my route is fairly neighborhood'esque roads, but they do have heavy traffic on them.

The biggest offense I see from Atlanta drivers is their hatred for being behind me. I've had people speed past me, even though I'm able to bike AT the speed limit, and they then bottom out their cars as they do 35 over a speed bump, and then I have to hit my brakes to not run into them. I think a little patience is all most ATL drivers need.

dr2chase said...

Buying the right bike would really help, too. The cult of go-fast has led many people to take to the road on a bike with tires that are too skinny, too sensitive to potholes, gravel and sand, and too vulnerable to linear cracks and steps in the roads.

Modern (kevlar-belted) fat tires have low rolling resistance, don't even fit in cracks, and have protected my rims (and me) from some horrible potholes.

The worst thing about the cult-of-thin-tires is that they may not even be faster. When I switched to fatter (2.35 inch, 60 psi) tires from thinner (28mm, 110psi tires) my measured commute time went down, and my measured speed went up. I then MEASURED, making a video of the experiment, the rollout down a gentle slope with fat versus thin tires, and again observed lower rolling resistance using the fatter tires. Any time someone tells you otherwise, ask them how they know. Ask them if they measured it. Ask to see the video of their experiment.

Anonymous said...

Having once lived and frequently cycled through that area, Atlanta does not have a monopoly on jerk drivers who think STR means riding the sidewalks, if there are any.

The average driver of motorized vehicles has more horsepower than ever before and drives larger vehicles than ever before. Cyclists must be properly prepared to deal with these nightmares whether generated by a driver text messaging or a cyclist enjoying his iPod. It's too bad that convenience is given a higher priority than our health.

vcspinner said...

Has the injury rate increased. Are there more injuries per 1000 bikers, or per million? Have the odds of injury to an individual cyclist gone up?

I would expect the injury count to go up with more cyclists. The injury rate would probably stay the same, or decrease.

Paul Dorn said...

vcspinner: You're correct. Injury count, not necessarily injury rate (per mile traveled, or per number of bicyclists). And as researcher Peter Jacobsen has reported (confirmed by experience in San Francisco and elsewhere): "The likelihood that a given person walking or bicycling will be struck by a motorist varies inversely with the amount of walking or bicycling. This pattern is consistent across communities of varying size, from specific intersections to cities and countries, and across time periods."

More bicyclists equals greater safety for all bicyclists. Motorists expect bicyclists, adjust their driving behavior in anticipation of the possibility of encountering a bicyclist.

Tom said...

I am an advocate of the handlebar side mirror. It doesn't take the place of looking back. It does make me more vehicle aware. The place I appreciate it the most is road off ramps and interstate highway entry points.

Kevin Love said...

hHere's my suggestion:

Each and every time that a car driver commits an act that is dangerous and illegal, note the licence plate number, telephone the police and make a complaint. Make sure that you mention that you are able to positively identify the driver and are willing to testify in court.

If anyone else saw the incident, get their name(s) and insist that charges be laid against the driver.

If the police do not lay charges, ask to talk to the chief of police and request that charges be laid.

If there is still resistance, most cities have a police oversight board. Write them a letter with all the facts. Make sure that you underline the fact that the driver's behaviour was illegal and dangerous and that laying criminal charges may prevent this person from killing or seriously injuring someone else in the future.

Even if there is ultimately no charge laid or no conviction obtained the very fact that an investigating police officer visited the driver to get his side of the story carries a clear message of deterrance that this behaviour is unacceptable.

Mike Schatz was the victim of a hit-and-run driver. Around here (Ontario) that is a very serious offence. Even when the judge allows the driver to get his license back, the car insurance company will set his insurance rate so unaffordably high that this person may be kept off the road for good.

If automobile drivers collectively know that behaving aggressively, dangerously and illegally will have a high probability of resulting in criminal charges then this behavour will lessen.

dr2chase said...

I've tried mirrors several times over the years, but they never worked for me. They never seemed to be quite in alignment with where I left them or wanted them to be, and so whenever I looked, I would spend several seconds re-orienting myself to wherever the mirror had ended up.

Since most of the hazards are in front of you, not behind, and since the rear of my bike is already gaudy, I figured that this was just (for me, at least) a dangerous distraction.

Anonymous said...

Don't ride on the sidewalk! It's dangerous to pedestrians, and gives auto drivers the impression that is where bikes belong. It's only appropriate for children who lack the speed and control to ride safely in the street.

Anonymous said...

My best suggestion for all bike commuters is to never be in a hurry. When you are in a hurry, you are much more likely to get into dangerous situations and make unfortunate decisions. If you allow some extra time, you can not only let the hazards pass you by without competing with everyone on the road, you can occaisionally pause to enjoy your ride (the sunrise, wildlife, a friend encountered) more. Mechanical problems and flat tires will no longer ruin your morning, either, and you will have a chance to cool off or change clothes at your destination. For practical cycling, scheduling ability is much more important than athletic ability. Val

clark said...

"The likelihood that a given person walking or bicycling will be struck by a motorist varies inversely with the amount of walking or bicycling."
that seems counterintuitive to me, but maybe it's merely semantics. seems like the risk would be the same, each time you bike or walk someplace.

the riskiest parts of town i ride throught might be called suburban sprawl -- four lane roads, a few paths but mostly riding the lane edge and the sidewalk. at intersections and driveways the best move is to slow down or stop and not proceed until you have eye contact and acknowledgement from the driver/s pulling out and/or turning. these situations are the only ones when i ride timidly.

Casey said...

haha just don't rent a bike from these guys:

Kevin Love said...

Paul wrote:

"More bicyclists equals greater safety for all bicyclists."

Kevin's comment:

John Pucher wrote about this in his 2000 article "Making Walking and Cycling Safer." Take a look at exhibits 9 and 10 on pp. 33-34 at:

I think he has updated these charts recently. I'll take a look.

erin said...

Take a Test Spin) 7:30 on a monday morning isn't the best time to take your bike out for the first time and try to navigate city streets. So on a weekend, try your route to work at your leisure. Get lost, get found, take a breather if you need to. Get confusion over the lights at that strange three-way intersection out of the way, before your first rush hour. When you do bike to work your first day, you will know where you are going and how long it will take you to get there.

Anonymous said...

Another good post on an extremely important topic. Good info, although I disagree that "making eye contact with motorists, to be sure they see you" is going to improve your safety. I read this somewhere years ago, and did it for a while.

I've concluded that it's just stupid and a waste of time. A driver knows you're a person without seeing your eyes. They'll be polite or a jerk according to their own inclination.

danc said...

Favorite article snippet ..,
... bicyclists are taking to the road that don't have much road experience and haven't bothered to take classes in road riding ...

Short video that illustrates basic cycling principles: "Cyclist's Eye View" at

Learn and enjoy the ride!

Anonymous said...

1. Select residential, side streets for your route.
2. Wear brightly colored shirt/jacket and helmet.
3. Use a mirror.
4. Assume that 10% of all drivers are stoned, crazy, or both. Can you tell who's which?
5. Stay off of sidewalks. Become part of the vehicle flow.

Anonymous said...

Where I live the police do not enforce cars speeding or adults riding bikes against traffic or on sidewalks. I have complained to the benevolent constabulary and the City Manager and neither have bothered to answer my e-mails.

Anonymous said...

Earbuds with an iPod reduces traffic and wind noise, as well as sirens. It is nowhere near as much sound reduction as a car interior has. That said, I have a handlebar mirror, helmet and a bright jacket to go with my iPod Shuffle.

Last year, I got knocked off my bike by a pedestrian stepping off the curb and into a bike lane—against the light. Very glad I had a helmet on for that one—I fell flat down and landed on my clavical and then my head. Head did alright in the crash.

Anonymous said...

Use handlebar mirror, and know it is no substitute for looking. It does eleminate some head turing, and that is a +

I do not ride on sidewalks, except in a few occasions, like my final approach to the office. No pedestrians, one blind driveway that I approach slowly.

I alway ride with traffic, except for the few exceptions where I move over to the other side, like my final approach to the train station where is is safer than turning left at the crossing.

Bikes are subject to the same rules as cars, and I agree with following this "where practical". But bikes are not cars, and I make exceptions where I deem them to be appropriate, and safe.

I do not wear a helmet because a state law says I must. I wear one because of the laws that we all have no choice but to obey; the laws of physics.

erin said...

marc- they may not reduce as much as a car interior, but cars speak to each other with loud horns, whereas bicyclists speak to each other with our measly human voices. Just the other day I said clearly, "on your left!" as I was about to pass another cyclist- only for him to veer left *immediately* after I had indicated I was about to pass. In avoiding him crashing into me, I fell and yelled a bit, which is what made him finally notice that someone else was using the path. His reaction? "God, what a b****! I couldn't hear you."... as he removed his earbuds.

Ditch the iPod when you're on your bike. It is just as dangerous for the rest of us as it is for you, and it is rude.

Anonymous said...

Compulsory helmets and public health

Findings have just been published of a study to evaluate the effects on public health in Australia of compelling people to wear a bicycle helmet while cycling.......

Summary: mandatory helmet use causes significant drop in cycling. Which results in higher accident rates.

Anonymous said...

Well, Atlanta is one thing outer lying counties are another. I agree stay the hell off the sidewalks but you have to use the sidewalks along state highways in some cases because of the poor road layouts in order to access safe side streets. But go ahead and be a signal "48" - "41-4", i.e. DEAD accident with injuries. I would rather take a car impact at 25 miles an hour than 70...