Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Notes on Fear

For those of you following this blog and living in and around Memphis, Tennessee U.S.A., take note of the following passage:

"Fear of cycling is most effectively produced through constructions of cycling as a dangerous practice. By saying that cycling is constructed as a dangerous practice, I am not denying that cyclists are really injured and killed on the roads; rather I am noting how people’s fears of these (im)probabilities of injury and death are culturally constructed."

(Dave Horton,, 2009)

It's important to recognize that when a few cyclists are killed in Memphis by cars amongst a very small overall pool of riders, accidents will seem quite common.

But when the same amount of deaths occur in a place where you have a ton of bicycle riders, while those deaths continue to shock and humble, they also tend to appear as statistical anomalies.

Simply put, the same number of people crash in a city where you have 400,000 commuters using the bike each day as when you have 1,000 people riding their bicycle. It's just that, with the 400,000 riders you have a lot smaller statistical likelihood of crashing.

And you have a boatload of bicycle on the road each day.

So I agree with the above passage: fear is indeed a culturally prescribed inhibitor for would be bicycle riders. I rode my bicycle for over 10 years as a daily commuter in the "mean" streets of Memphis without having a single major crash (aside from something that was my own fault rather than a car's fault!). I never bought a motor vehicle, and I rode the bike pretty much everywhere.

So does that make me a super hero?

No more than the kid who can eat 48 hot dogs in one sitting.

Riding a bicycle is not a super human act. It is a simple act, a humble gesture of kindness to the world and to oneself. And it's pretty easy. Have you heard how heavy the Dutch bikes are?

Have you ever looked up how much power a human's leg is capable of producing?

Of all things, don't let fear hold you back from riding the bike. Once you start, you won't regret it. And you might not stop.


  1. I really like Dave Horton's piece, the difference in perceptions of fear between Europe and US is incredible.

    Long side note: please use quotes for 'heavy' (dutch bikes), I'd prefer that a well-reasoned guy like yourself would not perpetuate this non-issue / ridiculous notion...yes to leg power. I always say that if they really were that heavy, non of the millions of Dutch moms would ever think about using them. You've seen it yourself now :-p

  2. On the note of "heavy" Dutch bikes. I think Marc has pointed out the problem of perception, which is part of a larger issue within the American bicycle psyche. That problem is the need for gear that is expensive and specialized.

    Many folk in the U.S. think you have to have a sporty, light weight bike to get around.

    In truth, the bike need not be so light as reliable. For this reason, a bicycle with a coaster brake is better than one with a brake cable. The reason? A cable system adds tedious additional parts with the potential to break. The coaster brake is more simple and thus more reliable. Perhaps best of all, the CB requires little maintenance over a lifetime.

    Today I built a single speed coaster brake wheel on a single wall steel rim. In the U.S., people would ask, "Why bother?"

    In the Netherlands, it makes sense. Steel is flexible, so you can easily straighten a bent rim; the coaster brake is reliable, as seen above, and building wheels for the trained technicians here in the Netherlands takes maybe 30 minutes. Perhaps most importantly, the Dutch prefer such wheels. And that has everything to do with why they ride more kilometers more often.