Friday, 1 October 2010

Riding around the Void

Ghost Bike Memorial
Yesterday a very precious friend of mine got knocked off her bicycle. She is alive, Thank God, but is in the Royal London Hospital with a badly broken leg and an awful lot of bruises.

More than the physical effects, the emotional aftermath is not going to be a breeze. This friend has been a comrade on the roads, a dedicated cyclist for about as long as I have. Whether she chooses to get back on her steed when she finishes the long process of recovery remains to be seen.

The danger that we face out on the roads is something that every cyclist is aware of, but most of us push the thought to the back of our minds. I've never looked at the stats. I cycle past the rotting flowers or ghostly bikes pinned to railings subdued, mutter a prayer for the families and then firmly forget. When people congratulate me on my 'bravery' for biking in the capital, I shrug it off, mentioning the sense of safety in numbers, the improving facilities, the sensible choices you can make to avoid danger.

Of course you can't completely avoid danger. We know this. We're like minnows swimming with whales- armoured, myopic whales. Whilst the majority of drivers are aware and polite, a significant minority are reckless and distracted. They are mindlessly piloting weighty metal weapons, and we, just fragile flesh, choose to dance with them. Bendy buses and big white vans and disastrously designed junctions and our own impatience all add to the likelihood that sometime, somewhere, we may well get hurt. The lucky ones like my friend will suffer a repairable injury; a dodgy back, a broken bone or a strain. Some (and I can't bring myself to look up how many) will be killed, leaving a big gaping wound in the lives of those who love them.

And yet.

None of this puts me off. I really don't know if it is the same kind of self-protective denial that smokers use, an innate sense of indestructibility or a willingness to play the odds. I will keep cycling, because I think it is worth the risk. I don't really know how big the risk is, but unless someone can convince me that cycling is going to make me vastly more likely to die I will keep doing it. And maybe even then. There are many things in life are worse than dying, and living in fear is one of them. Taking the tube everyday is probably, realistically, not one of them, but it might come close.

So I'll helmet-and-high-vis it up, keep my lights in full working order and avoid nipping down the left side of anything bigger than a Fiat Punto- but keep riding. Trusty and I will not be deterred. For the risks may be big, but the rewards are bigger. Today I'll be out on the road, thinking of my friend but defying the danger. There is too much fun to be had.

Image by PortocalaMecanica


  1. Good post.

    I'm sure I've read before that the British Medical Foundation reckon health benefits from cycling regularly far outweigh risks of injury. Cyclists typically have fitness levels of a non-cyclist who is 10 years younger. Obviously that doesn't help you if you're one of the unlucky ones, but...

    I always think there's an element of 'if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem', too. Cycling isn't inherently dangerous; it's just all them others with whom we have to share the road..

  2. @mculmer helpfully tweeted me a summary of the stats for 2009 from the Department of Transport
    if you do want to know:

    pedestrian deaths 500
    car user deaths 1059,
    motorcycle deaths 472
    cycling deaths 104.

    Obviously if you want to think about the risks in more detail you'd need to know the numbers of each category to begin with to give you a percentage, but overall I think that is reassuring.

  3. I got knocked off my bike last month by a car, broke my shoulder & wrist & torn my rotor cuff in my shoulder. I can't wait to get back on my bike!

    If your friends accident wasn't her fault she can claim compensation. Theres a fund that pays out for injuries suffered on the road even if no-one else was involved or they can't find the driver.

    Your blog is fun to read, I like it :)

  4. Very well said. People always tell me I'm mad/brave/mental for cycling in London, and ask why on earth I do it, and I never really have an answer for them. I just know that even when its tipping with rain and cold and miserable, I'd rather be on my bike that the tube. I hope your friend is back on her feet ( and bike) soon