Alex Bikes

Ottawa bike politics.

Responses to the myths of winter biking

IMG_2487Friends and co-workers mean well when they tell me that winter biking is dangerous. Random drivers telling me to get off the road are less polite. Here are some responses to their most common concerns.

1. Why would you choose to bike in the winter?

I need to get around. The bus takes too long and I’m cheap. And I can’t drive (and if you want to know why, ask).

2. Winter biking is dangerous.

Winter biking’s safer than other modes of transportation.

Driving’s dangerous. From 2008-2012 in Ottawa drivers killed 11 cyclists, 37 pedestrians and 98 people in cars. Want to make the roads safer? Decrease driving.

Recreational activities? 25% of nonfatal recreational outdoor injuries in emergency rooms. An average of 29 people die every year by snowmobile in the Ottawa-Gatineau region.

3. Isn’t it cold?

Biking in the winter is like skiing or skating and warmer than waiting for the bus. Dress properly.

4. Bicycles have no traction.

If you think this it is because you have no experience.

A good cyclist with studded tires is more stable than a 2000lb car without winter tires. I’ve fallen less on bike than I’ve stopped to help stuck motorists.

10 responses to “Responses to the myths of winter biking

  1. Jim Davies (@drjimdavies) December 21, 2013 at 4:23 pm

    “Driving’s dangerous. From 2008-2012 in Ottawa drivers killed 11 cyclists, 37 pedestrians and 98 people in cars. Want to make the roads safer? Decrease driving.”

    Absolute numbers don’t matter– we need to look at proportions of deaths to numbers of users of transportation. I think the numbers will still come out in favor of cyclists, but there are so many drivers in the winter it makes sense that there would be more driver deaths if you go by absolute numbers.

    –Jim Davies, fellow Ottawa winter cyclist

    • alexthepuffin December 21, 2013 at 5:37 pm

      You’re right. Relative numbers are much more interesting to those who understand safety statistics (as you do).

      But most do not think that way. People don’t often understand the risk around them. I’m trying to show them that there are pretty normal dangerous activities that are never reported. The availability heuristic means most people just don’t see how dangerous walking and driving are (relative or not).

      There’s also the question of how to measure these relative numbers… by time? by distance? by trip? per capita? It’s hard coming by those numbers, although the NCR O-D survey can get you part of the way there.

      It’s clearer to me now just how clouded my own perception of risk is. Once I wrapped my head around how many more pedestrian deaths there are, and that pedestrian reported collisions are up 40% from cycling collisions, I realized that biking’s relatively safe. While walking, not once has someone told me to get off the fucking sidewalk, get a job, start paying taxes, etc.

  2. Heather December 21, 2013 at 7:04 pm

    I get the dangerous comment a lot. Everyone seems to recognize that riding a bike near cars can be dangerous. But somehow the bike is usually seen as the “dangerous activity” in that dynamic. Which kind of blows my mind, how willfully blind we can be to the true hazards out there.

  3. carol January 22, 2014 at 6:38 pm

    If bikes are permitted on roads or if special lanes need to be make they need to be licenses and insured the same as a car

  4. Demetrius November 6, 2014 at 1:36 pm

    Can’t wait for winter 2014 2015 cycling. My old Winter bike will hopefully get me through another season. Studded tires seem to last forever, and they are the best investment you can make.
    I may have to rig up a snow plow to my bike to keep my favorite bike path open this year!!!

    If you cycle 2 hours a day like i do, there is a 10% chance of dying while riding my bike, not because it is dangerous, but just because there are 24 hours in the day in which you can possibly die!!!

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