I could post about the riots taking place in England, but there is enough about that going on out there in internetland, and I have nothing in particular to add to what others are already saying. I’m shocked, appalled, greatly concerned for the welfare of friends living in the areas affected and hoping that whatever resolution the Government comes to isn’t a knee-jerk reaction involving water cannon and further erosion of our democracy, without feeling particularly optimistic that this will happen.
So I’ll talk about something else instead.
This is a rare weekday post from me, the reason being that I’m not at work. I spend a lot of time telling people that cycling isn’t dangerous, and the numbers back me up. It’s not dangerous, which is why every time anyone starts bleating the same old same old about cyclists wearing helmets or dressing up in shades of radioactive lemon custard I get quite cross. It’s not only unnecessary, it’s victim blaming. It ignores the hierarchy of dealing with risk, which has personal protective equipment right down at the bottom and removing the source of the risk right up there at the top.
On urban roads the greatest source of risk comes from other road users.
So it’s somewhat ironic, not to mention galling, that I’m currently at home having aggravated an old injury getting out of the way of a speeding motorist. It has been suggested I report it, but in my mind it’s one of those things: it’s a hazard of urban cycling, along with punctures, potholes and pigeons shitting on your head. I’m not badly hurt —I’m already a lot better and I’ll be better still tomorrow— and the chances of identifying the driver are somewhere between zero and anorexically slim.
These things shouldn’t happen, but they do.
What interests me about this is my own reaction. I was in two minds whether to post anything publically about this for fear of making people think that cycle commuting is dangerous. I’m the one who was injured and it hasn’t changed my mind about whether or not cycle commuting is dangerous, so why should I think that telling anyone would make them think that it is?
This question cuts to the heart, I think, of why cycling isn’t more popular. We have become too risk averse. We are not given the opportunities to find out what it’s like to push ourselves too far, to get hurt. We no longer have the extensive experience of bruises, cuts, scrapes, burns, broken bones and gashed scalps that were such a feature of my childhood. We no longer know what it’s like to heal. Scars have long since stopped being something to show off in the manner of Quint and Hooper in Jaws or even Riggs and Cole in Lethal Weapon 3.
I remember when scars were the skin-words of life-stories. I remember sitting in a pub in Oxford comparing scars with a young man I had only met that afternoon, conceding him as the winner when he showed me the puckered marks left by seven stab wounds he had received saving his then-girlfriend from a gang of attackers. Now scars are something people pay cosmetic surgeons to minimise, and skin-words are carefully wrought in the abstract fonts of body modification, artfully designed rather than emergent.
People these days are more concerned with hiding the traces of their lived lives, with combating the seven signs of ageing and the application of science to achieving what Dorian Gray did with a portrait in the schoolroom.
I don’t think that people are worried about dying out there on the roads. If they were, they wouldn’t get in their cars. In Scotland there were 105 fatalities amongst car users in 2010 and only 7 cyclists killed during the same period [source]. Total casualties were 8,293 and 781 respectively.
I think people are worried about getting hurt, because they have so little experience of getting hurt they exaggerate in their own minds how bad it will be. This might not be the deciding factor when it comes to cycling, of course, no matter how much emphasis people place on perception of danger when explaining their reasons for not cycling. Perhaps those who claim laziness are correct. Perhaps it is simply peer pressure, or the sense that cycling isn’t normal; that only freaks, weirdoes, the excessively sporty and the excessively poor do it.
I only know that while I’m grumpy about having a hurt back, I’ve not been put off in the slightest. I still don’t think that cycling is dangerous and I can’t wrap my brain around the idea that there are people who are so convinced that it is they would rather drive 5 miles to work than get on a bike. The driver of the shiny black car that nearly took me out speeding around a roundabout in Sighthill is far more likely to become another statistic one day than I am; and I’m still more likely to injure myself banging my head off a kitchen cupboard (again) than I am to be injured commuting by bike.