Sean and his weird question about cycling

Sean on his surf board

Let me build some context about my friend DJ Sean..

Sean goes surfing and comes back with a huge cut to his forehead that needs stiches.

A few days later he goes surfing again and comes back with a sea urchin stuck in his foot.

He goes to the beach and comes back with a scorpion sting.

It won’t surprise you when I tell you that Sean is on a first name basis with his doctor. In fact, he has him in his favourite contacts.

Driving back after the scorpion incident, Sean, turns to me and says:

“Andreas, there’s been something I’ve been meaning to ask you about cycling”

What is it that Sean is going to ask?

Is it how do we create more liveable cities centred around public transport, cycling and walking rather than the car? Is it what do you think is behind the growth in the number of cyclists? Is it what first inspired you to start cycling?

Or perhaps Sean wants to raise some kind of controversial question: Don’t you think helmet use should be compulsory for cyclists?


Sean, with a sea urchin still in his foot, stiches across his forehead and a scorpion sting on his finger asks:

“I’d love to cycle in Vancouver but isn’t it dangerous?”

I had to laugh, yet it’s a universal question on so many potential cyclists lips.

A question I’ve been asked 100s of times.

It always throws me.

Sure, cycling can be dangerous. Accidents happen.

Just as you can go surfing and end up with stiches and a sea urchin in your foot – so you can be hit by a car or you can come off your bike.

It’s not something I generally think about when I set off every morning on my bike.

Just as a surfer doesn’t go out thinking they’ll be bitten by a shark today.

Statistically speaking, surfing, cycling and a myriad of other outdoor activities involve a certain degree of danger.

Statistically speaking, these activities are far more likely to extend your life, than reduce it.

That may be little comfort but Sean and I are both logical guys, so I choose statistics to further answer his question.

Nearly 50% of cyclists deaths on London’s roads involve heavy goods vehicles. The drivers cannot see the cyclist that pulls up on the inside of the lorry. With the cyclist in the blind spot, the lorry unknowingly turns left in to the cyclists path.

Stay away from lorries and you’ve already greatly improved your safety.

Two more techniques are crucial for safe cycling.

The first is riding further out from the pavement. Drivers will generally give you as much space as you give yourself. If you hug the side of the road, drivers will attempt dangerous overtaking manoeuvres.

The second is glancing over your shoulder every 10 seconds when in traffic. This works well, as it establishes eye contact with the driver and it centres their attention on you. Our eyes are drawn to faces and it turns you from a nameless cyclist, in to a person.

The short answer to Sean’s question: I wouldn’t give up cycling. I’ve had a few minor incidents but they are vastly outweighed by the benefits and the joy it brings me.

“I’d love to try it” Sean tells me. He also shared a small parable with me:

“You don’t want to run across the finish line of life without any cuts and bruises – you should crawl across, bruised but having lived a full life”.

I’d be inclined to agree.

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19 Responses to Sean and his weird question about cycling

  1. Micheal White 01/04/2013 at 9:19 am #

    See, I would be more fearful of surfing than cycling.

    I do not in any way, EVER, want to be eaten by a shark.

    • Andreas 01/04/2013 at 3:32 pm #

      Yet the odds are next to none!

    • Sean Gallagher 01/04/2013 at 4:01 pm #

      You have a better chance of being hit by lightening or winning the lottery than getting attacked, let alone eaten by a shark. Probability and cycling statistics show that you have a much higher chance of getting hit on your bike. 😉

      • Angus 05/04/2013 at 6:29 pm #

        > Probability and cycling statistics show that you have a much higher chance
        > of getting hit on your bike

        which I why I wear a helmet.

        Not getting me anywhere near charks either…

        • MJ Ray 24/10/2013 at 2:17 pm #

          But helmets are not designed to help if you’re hit by a car.

  2. Stacey 01/04/2013 at 10:10 am #

    Andreas, your friend seems to attract danger, so I’d be wary if he asks you to go with him … or if you do, just investigate where the nearest doctors/hospitals are. 😉

    • Andreas 01/04/2013 at 3:31 pm #

      Agreed – I’ve got a mental note of where they are near here and I’m going to do the same for wherever we go to next!

  3. JHW 01/04/2013 at 11:41 am #

    Hmmm! I note the date and just wonder……

    DJ Sean has to be having a laugh.

    • Stacey 01/04/2013 at 12:01 pm #

      LOL – of course!

      • Andreas 01/04/2013 at 3:31 pm #

        Not an April Fools I promise!

    • Sean Gallagher 01/04/2013 at 4:04 pm #

      Loving it! 😀

  4. Sean Gallagher 01/04/2013 at 4:03 pm #

    The quote was “You don’t want to cross the Finish Line of life in a squeaky-clean, well preserved body… you want to screetch across the line, bumper dragging, with a few dents and bumps from adventures along the way yelling “WOOOO HOOOOO WHAT A RIDE!”” 😀

    • Stacey 01/04/2013 at 4:09 pm #

      With Andreas as your wingman?

    • Stacey 01/04/2013 at 4:09 pm #

      If so, does he know? 🙂

      • Andreas 01/04/2013 at 5:04 pm #

        Hopefully with a few less scorpion stings than Sean!

  5. David Arditti 01/04/2013 at 4:35 pm #

    This is a nicely-written, amusing post, but the point is surely that cycling shouldn’t be comparable to a fringe, slightly risky sport like surfing. It should be an activity that everybody has no hesitation or worry about building into their everyday lives. As such, I don’t think these risk comparison arguments achieve anything. The perception that cycling is dangerous won’t be tacked by telling people to ride further out, and glance every 10 seconds over their shoulder. If anything, such advice just proves the point that the cycling environment is not fundamentally safe, though a few wary people can successfully compensate for the risk. Ultimately, only changing the road conditions will change this situation and change the perceptions of a million Seans.

    • Andreas 01/04/2013 at 4:52 pm #

      David – the voice of reason as always. I really appreciate your comment. I mainly focused here on the statistical argument, but I definitely failed to go a level deeper than that and discuss the fact that Sean should never have worried about the safety of cycling in the first place, if his city (Vancouver) had built safe cycling infrastructure. Thank you for bringing to my attention.

  6. Roo 02/04/2013 at 5:55 pm #

    MTB ftw. I had one incident on the road.. just one.
    Broken C6, Fractured Scapula, many stitches.

  7. Wayne 07/04/2013 at 8:54 pm #

    Bang on…We live in Gravesend Kent but regularly cycle London. Like all roads the rules for staying safe are, as you state, move a further 2 foot away from the kerb. One, to make it difficult for someone consider passing comfortably and two, right now the roads are terrible and avoiding (swerving) into traffic because of a pot hole will cause problems anyway. So stay that further bit out. This is especially important near centre islands, let the driver slow down rather than speed though them. The other bit mentioned is looking behind. Works very well. It makes drivers know you are there. The one not mentioned is any road where there are lots of pedestrians and expected traffic (take Greenwich) and all of a sudden there’s no vehicle noise….. That’s the time to be very wary on your bike. This is when the simple pedestrian will attempt to cross the road without looking…….Safe riding guys…..I think summer is on its way. The ride to Greenwich and back today was marvelous…..London we love you !!!!

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