Rational Fears when Biking

I have been commuting for years, approximately seven. As time has passed, my comfort and proficiency with road biking has grown, naturally. Yet I still have many fears when commuting. The days I get up early to cycle to work are often wrought with fear. And there are varying levels of fear that change depending on my environment, such as the types of road I am traversing, the speed limit of the road, or even the neighborhood.

There are four major fears that I continuously have when commuting. I do not write this to deter you from commuting via bicycle, but to inform you that we all have fears.

The first and main fear is the possibility of being hit by a car. I worry about it constantly. Motorized vehicles like to go fast. And why not?  That is the allure of driving after all. Yet being on a road where cars and trucks whiz by at greater than 45 MPH, I often wonder when will I experience a collision. I mean, how awake are the drivers at 6:30 in the morning? Are they looking at their phone? Are they texting? Are they paying attention to the road? I know the driver is angry that I am in their ‘driving lane’, would they hit me out of spite?

cars

Furthermore, a car travelling at 45 MPH that experiences a collision with a cyclist, will likely have one mortality, me, the bike rider. If not, I will definitely be the more injured one. I do not have a protective two ton frame surrounding me. I have nothing, except for my helmet. Will that save me? I think not.

Second, I fear slipping and/or falling. I am constantly looking for debris in the street that could cause any danger. Just a small rock could throw my tire. Puddles of water or other unknown liquids can also cause slips or instabilities. This is amplified in the street where if I slipped or fell I could risk hitting a car or vice versa.

My first time falling, ever.
The road was wet with rain but the fall could be attributed to the beer I drank. Luckily it was Cyclouvia and there were zero cars on the road.

 

Third, I fear that my baggage will fall off my bike. Bikes are so great in the fact that they can carry such weight in stuff and things. But not all baggage and tie down equipment is created equal. I have had computers fall off, backpacks, and even lunches that were lost forever.

 

Finally, my biggest fear of all, is that my bike will be STOLEN. It happens all the time. It has happened to many friends of mine. Everyday I leave work, I search for my bike in fear, wondering if today will be the day that it is stolen. I am meticulous about how I lock my bike; frame and front tire. I remove all my fancy lights (they are expensive), as well as any other attachment. I often double check the lock, and pull on it a few times. I lock it to a place that is heavily trafficked by the public so that it will look unusual to passersby if someone tries to steal it. Or I’ll bring it up to the workplace if it seems necessary.

wekilltee1Buy this tee here!!

 

So why do I continue to cycle?  And the answer is that I love it. I love the adrenaline that is coupled with the fear; the relief of making it through a dangerous area on my bike. I love the wonderful things I am able to see when I am not rushing through life in a car and the enjoyment of being outdoors. My anxieties and fears won’t stop me. I won’t let them.

Don’t let your fears keep you from the experience of cycling!

About Katlyn

Bike commuter, environmental scientist, community advocate, feminist, foodie and traveler I love cycling and commuting.
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5 Responses to Rational Fears when Biking

  1. Tom says:

    Greetings, Katlyn!

    I noted your blog address via a comment you made on a recent blog post at Broken Sidewalk.

    I’m looking forward to reading more of your posts, but wanted to drop a quick note.

    As a long-time bicycle commuter (off and on for the better part of forty years, with a LOT of commuting over the last ten, especially), I’m interested in your perspective.

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    • Katlyn says:

      Hi Tom!
      Thanks for reading. You have been commuting a long time! I would love to hear from you as well. My posts are a bit sparse but I suspect they will be increasing soon. Is there any specific topic you are interested in hearing about?
      -K

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      • Tom says:

        I’m interested in a dialog of sorts–what works for you, what doesn’t,

        You list some of your fears in this piece, for example–and they are all valid (fear is, after all, an emotion that we can’t prevent). How do you address the fears, though?

        As an example, your fear of crashing with a motorist. It’s probably first on the list for many when asked to list their cycling-related fears, but it’s far from the top of the list of ways cyclists get hurt (that would be solo falls, which I see is also on your list). To address the fear, do you ride a certain way? Use a certain combination of lights and reflective things? How do those strategies work? How are we able to assess their efficacy as single bicycle users?

        For my own best results, my lane position is typically in the left tire track for motor vehicles. I am more relevant there from a greater distance, which gives the motorist behind me far more time to plan for a safe passing maneuver. My own observational experience bears out the research I’ve read–that motorists change lanes to pass me sooner and with far less drama this way. I also have better vantage when it comes to intersections, which is where the bulk of the motorist-cyclist crashes occur (rather than, as is commonly thought, the dreaded “hit from behind” crash, which is relatively rare).

        I’ve watched a LOT of cyclists in my own travels. One woman I noted was cycling south on Baxter Avenue one morning, and she was very close to the curb. I almost couldn’t see her because she was so close to the utility poles that she visually blended with them. Had she been four feet to her left, she would have been much easier to see–AND been more relevant to an overtaking motorist sooner so that such a motorist would give her more passing room.

        Another great thing about a more left-of-center lane position is that one has more room to shy away if a passing road user crowds one’s left shoulder. Compared to being squeezed against a curb, this is no small issue.

        Your thoughts?

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    • Katlyn says:

      Tom,
      On all roads, I ride center lane. Though I don’t think everyone feels comfortable doing so. It is easy to be intimidated by a car driver. If one does not fight for their space on the road, it will not be handed over to the cyclist.
      I wear bright clothing and make a lot of eye contact with oncoming drivers.
      And finally, I think you have to get over the fear and weigh the risks and benefits. Is it worth it to cycle? For me, I am stubborn and I think, I will not let motorists push me off the road. I have a right to be here too.
      I did write a response to overcoming rational fears when cycling. You should check out out. https://commute2nowhere.com/2016/10/17/overcoming-rational-fears-of-biking/

      Like

      • Tom says:

        I totally understand the “center lane” concept. The old-school motorcycle guys would call that the “greased rail,” as cars of that era often dripped a little oil along the center of the lane, making for some less-sure traction in that area. The motorcycle guys that taught me in the eighties taught me left tire track.

        As you have figured out, this does several things for us as bicycle users: 1) we are claiming our space, and by doing so communicating to other road users that we do belong, 2) we can see better than we can at the edge, 3) we have more room to get out of the way if another road user does something wrong.

        I learned a lot of this decades ago, and then relearned some of it as I got involved in cyclist education programs a little bit less than twenty years ago. In that process, I learned a key life lesson: There is much more to riding a bike than riding the bike, and American society doesn’t do well at teaching the “more” part–we mostly have to figure it out on our own, through trial and error. That error part gets pretty scary at times.

        Happily, there’s something of a shortcut: learning from others who have done a LOT of research on the whys and hows of cycling well.

        The better education programs are based on a careful analysis of the human interaction we call driving (using vehicles to navigate roads and streets). Over the last few decades, the education style has evolved along with the lessons taught. You might find the newer program–CyclingSavvy–interesting, in that it reinforces some of what you’ve figured out on your own, and expands on it to offer a ton of real-world problem-solving tips for navigating things like formerly-scary intersections. There is even an online program!

        http://online.cyclingsavvy.org/

        In the interest of disclosure, I am a CyclingSavvy instructor–one of two in the state. I want people to enjoy their cycling, not be terrified of being on their bikes. I find that by learning how traffic is supposed to work, I can more easily participate in the human interactions of traffic, being less intrusive as I am able, cooperative (which yields me huge dividends in cooperation from other road users), and courteous.

        I am also genuinely curious about others’ choices. How did you reach that decision? Would you like to make your riding more enjoyable/less fearful?

        Like

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