How would you respond to this text message about dangers of cycling?

Concerned text

“I am desperately worried about you cycling in London. You are not a driver and don’t realise the hazards of cycling in such a busy area even with cycle paths. I was knocked off my bike when I was young and cars and lorries appear from nowhere.”

– A concerned mother of a cyclist in London.

Mothers worry and this London cyclist’s mom is definitely not alone. Especially as she has had her own personal bad experience.

But what is the best way to appease these worries?

Personally, I would show that I share her concern. I’d tell her that I know that it can be dangerous and therefore I’m taking action to make sure I’m as safe as I can be.

I’d tell her about a cycle training course I’ll be taking soon, provided by my local council.

I’d tell her about some of the typical mistakes many cyclists make that put them in a dangerous position and about how the course teaches you to avoid these.

I’d tell her about how I’ve been reading about safe cycling in London and I make myself visible both through my road position and by having great bike lights.

Whilst these are excellent steps for anyone to take, we can’t predict or protect ourselves against everything.

It’s not much comfort to a concerned mom that statistically speaking you are far more likely to extend your life thanks to improved health from cycling, than you are to reduce it due to an accident.

My hope is that as effective cycle campaigning persuades our local councils, transport planning authorities and the mayor of London to build better infrastructure for cyclists, we’ll hear less and less tragic stories of cyclists being knocked off their bikes by drivers.

Until change comes, we have to take a small risk, like we do with all endeavours in life and keep pedalling.

How would you respond to this text message?

I’ve covered this topic previously:

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26 Responses to How would you respond to this text message about dangers of cycling?

  1. Musashi 24/10/2013 at 9:44 am #

    Sounds like my dad!
    I think your response is pretty clear.
    I am also a motorists, so I do appreciate (even if I don’t always abide by) the rules of the road.

    Accepting and mitigating (as best you can) the risks is the best you can do – someone needs to teach the green-cross-code to pedestrians…
    I think mutual respect for other users of the road and a healthy respect for physics are the only things missing from your response.

    Not that any response will ever placate my father…

    • Nyge 26/10/2013 at 10:20 am #

      I’d tell her to never, ever, let her child go out at night on their bike without lights, and ideally hi-viz clothing. Because cyclists that don’t use lights and ride in dark clothing are really tempting fate – and there are still far too many of them on London’s roads.

  2. Alistair Burns 24/10/2013 at 10:24 am #

    Well yes Mum I am aware of the risks! But the alternative is to take the tube with the risks of robbery, terrorist action, tube rage, general grumpiness and so much more. I can be myself on a bicycle, not squashed up against a door by somebody with a coat smelling of a damp house while listening to unspecified noises from somebody with leaky headphones.

    • Jozudave 25/10/2013 at 3:23 pm #

      With you on this one!

      Better off out on the roads rather than stuck on a crammed tube dying a slow death of misery and torment!

  3. Jude 24/10/2013 at 1:29 pm #

    I’m sure my parents worry about me cycling in London but (thankfully!) they keep their worries to themselves. But if they were to say something similar to what’s in this text message, I’d point out that nothing in life is without risks. I’m not prepared to live my life according to what might happen, otherwise I’d never do anything.

    I’d also point out that I’ve been cycling regularly in London for about 12 years and in all that time have only ever had three minor accidents. The worst injury I’ve received from cycling has been a grazed hand. OK, there are some freak incidents that can still happen, but I honestly believe a lot of the risks can be avoided by cycling safely, being visible and paying attention to what’s going on around you (watching out for the people who aren’t watching out for you).

    • JHW 25/10/2013 at 4:58 pm #

      Yup! Good answers. And don’t forget to mention the benefit of not leading a sedentary lifestyle thereby exposing yourself to the risk of early death through heart disease, diabetes and other terrible illnesses.

  4. MJ Ray 24/10/2013 at 2:13 pm #

    How about: Mum. Don’t be daft. I’m more likely to live longer from cycling than die in a bicycle crash. I’ve had training. I’m more worried about you driving. I see nasty car crashes every week and your training hasn’t been updated in decades. Please consider taking a refresher driving lesson.

    • JHW 25/10/2013 at 4:59 pm #

      Mmmm! Might not start by saying … Don’t be daft..

  5. Steve A 24/10/2013 at 6:43 pm #

    Mum, I’m worried about your car flying off the road and drowning everyone therein. That’s about the same chance as me dying on my bike. Would you like scuba gear for Christmas?

  6. Andrea 24/10/2013 at 8:44 pm #

    I’d worry more about the question than any of the answers! Luckily my mother has enough common sense not to worry about it (too much!)

  7. Vincent 24/10/2013 at 11:41 pm #

    Non cyclists overestimate the risks of riding a bike in the city, even in bike-unfriendly places like… anywhere besides Holland and Denmark.

    Anybody has statistics about bike accidents in the EU, compared with other types of transportation?

  8. Tom R 25/10/2013 at 9:09 am #

    Making her aware that you do know what you are doing will help.
    I do wonder whether there is any statistical link between training levels and the people who have cycle accidents?
    Knowing the potential risks is the first step, and then knowing how to reduce them

    • Mik 25/10/2013 at 9:38 am #

      I’d imagine the link is probably between accidents and people who think about cycling rather than just doing it, and it just so happens that people who think about cycling are also more likely to decide to take extra training.

      You can’t argue that it’s less dangerous than not doing it (been there when I motorcycled regularly) but you can make it less likely you’ll get hurt and in the end you have to weigh up the benefits against that and decide it’s what you want to do.

      I’d hate to be able to look at my life and realise that everything I did was sensible and completely safe.

  9. Chris 25/10/2013 at 2:38 pm #

    I probably wouldn’t have the opportunity to actually say much at all, once I’d finished bludgeoning her if she referred to herself as “Mom”!

    More seriously though, I am a motorist as well as a London cyclist, and I believe my driving ability has risen significantly since I started cycling in London.

    I would, therefore, tell my mother to petition all the motorists she knows to start cycling as well, as it would make the roads safer for all of us.

  10. Franki 25/10/2013 at 3:16 pm #

    Thanks guys! And thanks Andreas for posting this. As the daughter of said mother (usually referred to as ‘mum’ by both her and me but hey, this is an international blog), I have been mentally composing a reply for about two weeks but as so many of you have discovered, it’s a tricky one to do without resorting to sarcasm which experience tells me doesn’t go down well with parents.

    I think Andreas’ response is good and I will also chuck in some stats. Alas I emailed my council about cycle training but they only operate 8am-5pm weekdays and like most people, I work those hours. But I will keep an eye out for any weekend classes elsewhere in London.

    Thanks again everyone. Parents can be sooo unfaaaaair sometimes. 😉

  11. Tony D 25/10/2013 at 3:22 pm #

    As with driving, there are techniques of defensive driving. And this is true of cycling. With some basic precautions, some sound advice, cycling can be just as safe as any other form of transport.

  12. Peter K 25/10/2013 at 5:03 pm #

    Cycling is safe when you cycle where you can be seen (not in the gutter or hidden behind parked cars) and when you communicate with other road users by looking around you

    Traffic doesn’t move fast in London and drivers don’t want bits of bike decorating their bonnets

    Most councils do 1-1 cycle training arranged directly with the instructor at a time to suit you. If your own council is un-cooperative then try where you work or study as they may use a different cycle training provider. Or if you’re really stuck a private lesson might appease mum. (I’m an instructor)

  13. michiel 25/10/2013 at 8:53 pm #

    Maybe the mother should get on a bike and out of her car. Maybe she is an avid cyclist and I apologise. But why doesn’t she go out and experience it. Rather then send a text?

  14. Alehouse Rock 25/10/2013 at 11:49 pm #

    [[[[ Also, there’s been a huge increase in cycling in recent years, and if “safety in numbers” holds true, drivers will therefore be more accustomed to sharing road-space with us. I am also a driver, and enjoy granting cyclists their rights on the road, which I know annoys some motorists around me, but I assume my courtesy will set an example.
    There are always bad drivers, of course, but you quickly learn the riding skills required to avoid them. In 40 years of cycling, in and around London, I’ve never had anything like a real injury—but as a driver I’ve come close to death twice (in 30 years behind the wheel).
    So, as others have already suggested, there are risks in whichever mode of transport you use…..and as Bob Dylan put it: “It’s just life, Mom..” Here’s my tips: Never drink-and cycle, always hand-signal when changing direction, and don’t block your ears up with music devices—you need ALL your senses on tap. You wouldn’t mask your eyes, would you? (Cue deluge of denial from bud-lovers….)

  15. Mark 26/10/2013 at 9:35 am #

    Chris – bludgeoning your mother for referring to herself as ‘Mom’ is a bit harsh, especially as you have her saved in your phone as Mom.

    My response would be to reassure her about the safety precautions you take, refer her to the statistics about the health benefits of cycling and remind her of the responsibility of drivers on the roads. I’m guessing she sent this from a position of care and maternal worry rather than some rabid anti-cyclist agenda, so go easy on her.

  16. Dave H 27/10/2013 at 4:11 pm #

    I’ll follow to endorse the comments that all living activities carry an element of risk. Going about that activity fully aware of the risks that exist, and mitigating the hazards you expose yourself to by prudent choices of where and when to move, influenced by the messages your brain gets from the 2 safety systems which almost every person comes equipped has worked pretty well for several million years.

    This of course works particularly well if the brain is rehearsed to instinctively react to signs of danger, and by past experience of similar situations, know how to avoid placing yourself at risk.

    Riding a bike as a kid is actually quiet a useful experience. You will learn through minor crashes, and incidents where you are unlikely to do great damage to yourself or others, that taking chances, going too fast for the conditions, and showing off/riding when emotionally unfit are all factors that can lead to a painful experience. Far better you do that with a pedal cycle when young and better equipped to recover than in a motor vehicle later in life.

    Examples abound also of ‘cotton wool’ kids, emerging to adult life, ill equipped to deal with those of ill intent, ensnaring them. My childhood contemporaries learned to manage the approaches of those folk when today’s society rushes about shrieking for almost unpoliceable curfews and controls. in many was we were as safe if not safer for being life-wise.

  17. Alehouse Rock 27/10/2013 at 9:43 pm #

    [[[[[ Oh, and I just thought of some more tips. 1) Never cycle—it’s dangerous. 2) Never go about on foot—it’s dangerous. 3) Don’t drive—it’s dangerous. Stay home, with the door firmly locked and bolted.

  18. Martyn Smith 28/10/2013 at 3:12 pm #

    I’d respond with:

    a)yes, I am a motorist, and I expect I know the dangers far greater than you do due to my experience of both forms of transport. Being so condescending and arrogant as to suppose you know better, without and in fact in contradiction of, the evidence, merely serves to make me respect your opinions, both on road safety and any other matter, and to dislike you generally.

    b)I find it pretty abhorrent that, upon recognising a dangerous situation, you seek not only to try to change my behaviour, rather than those you yourself recognise as the source, but actually want me to become an additional source of danger myself.

    In short: fuck off. No, that’s not eloquent or courteous, but frankly you deserve no better.

  19. George 01/11/2013 at 8:33 pm #

    Just smile and give her a hug. I wish I could respond to my mother’s texts, but I can’t – she died in a car crash 2 years ago.

  20. Sam S 03/11/2013 at 9:17 am #

    As you pointed out, one needs to focus on the risks of driving a car and compare them with cycling. Firstly the physical health factors outweigh the risks 20 to 1. Secondly, and often not commented on, is the mental health benefits. Daily exercise improves productivity, mental health, and sleep.

    Anyway, my primary motivation for commenting is actually to ask that you promote my petition I started on Avaaz, apologies for the hijack.

    Please could you promote my Avaaz petition to have warning signs like on tobacco products put on cars interior and exterior.

  21. CS3 12/11/2013 at 2:06 pm #

    Mom: > cars and lorries appear from nowhere

    …is physically impossible. Instead it’s more likely that this lady wasn’t paying enough attention when she was on her bike. Imagine the horror of the drivers who got her “appeared from nowhere”.

    Ans.: Do your homework before hit the road (or you’ll hit something else). Search the cause of the most road accidents involving cyclists – either one or both party ‘failed to look properly’, is the answer according to ROSPA 2013. I’d add LISTEN to the approaching vehicles on the safety tips.

    Cycling Accidents 2012

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