These are the top three reasons that my adult friends give me
for not using their bikes for routine errands.
1) fear -- "cycling is so dangerous"
2) inconvenience -- "I just don't have the time"
3) difficulty -- "I'm not in that kind of shape"
I point out patiently (when I have the time and inclination)
that (3) I myself am more dumpling shaped than pencil shaped,
and I do just fine... that cycling uses fewer calories than
walking a similar distance... that our buses almost all have
bike racks.... (2) I have more free time since I got rid of my
cars... and more discretionary spending money too... some of my
friends are spending money and time on exercise machines in
"health spas" which they might not need if they actually walked
or biked anywhere... (1) cycling is nowhere near as dangerous
as most Americans peculiarly believe it to be.
and of course there is not wanting to be weird.
But when it comes to not using a bike even for easy, short
errands -- I find the number one reason, that I hear over and
over again, is "it's so dangerous" -- "the traffic is so bad
these days" [so you go out and make it even worse by driving,
right] -- "I feel afraid all the time when I ride my bike" --
"at least in my car I won't die" -- "I don't know how you can
be so brave [foolish]" -- "are you sure you wouldn't like me to
give you and your bike home? it's only 10 miles out of my way!" --
and so forth.
What Kristi said, about cycling in California being the domain
of jocks in Lycra, was imho right on. This stereotype I think
feeds a number of the negative feelings I list above. Her
description of how her feelings about cycling changed -- after
seeing a diverse population of ordinary people getting about on
bikes -- accords well with my conversations & interactions with
I think if there's one myth that needs to be blasted out of the
water with all available charges, it's this bizarre idea
Americans have that riding a bicycle is specially dangerous, a
real daredevil undertaking :-) People ascribe risk to cycling
disproportionately, while underassessing the risk of other
activities which they think of as normal. This phenomenon is
of course well-attested historically: during the period when
regular bathing was considered highly eccentric by Europeans,
it was also considered potentially fatal :-) Whatever's "weird"
is generally stigmatized as dangerous, and of course anyone who
wilfully does something "dangerous" must be very "weird." QED.
Ascribed danger is also used as a prescriptive tool, a way of
forcing or frightening people into line; a couple of centuries
ago, there were learned men who argued that if women were
taught to read and write, it would have devastating effects on
their "female organs" and quite probably induce sterility or
madness! Assessments of danger are culturally biased.
The other thing we need imho to shake ourselves out of is our
insanely selfish definition of "safe" and "dangerous" -- i.e.
it is "safe" for me to drive a heavy SUV and increase the risk
to all other persons on the street, but it is "dangerous" for
me to ride a bike or walk, even though I reduce the risk to all
other persons in my community, improve my health, etc.
The "world is dangerous" frame of mind in which most Americans
operate leads inevitably to an arms race situation, where
houses, cars, and individuals become more and more heavily
armed, isolated, etc. -- and imho it is this arming and
isolation which if it goes on too long, makes the world a
*really* dangerous place. Already there's that German firm
touting a "car theft prevention" device which will throw
a fireball out each side of your car, about 8 ft diameter iirc,
sufficient to injure (if not quite kill) any person who is
standing too close. IMHO a country with a few thousand of
these flamethrower cars in it is a much more dangerous
country, no matter how "safe" the person inside the car may
One of the Catch-22's of our time is that the more everyone
abandons the public street, the less of an audience is left
to witness and/or intervene if bad things are happening.
The fewer cyclists there are on the road, the more danger
for each remaining cyclist; the fewer pedestrians on the
street or path, the greater the opportunity for unwitnessed
crime. Again, each person acting to make him/herself more
"safe" is contributing to the overall increase in danger
and the breakdown of civil life... sigh.
:De Clarke, Software Engineer UCO/Lick Observatory, UCSC:
:Web: www.ucolick.org | Don't Fear the Penguins :