I recently had a very frustrating conversation with my hairstylist.  It went something like this:

Hairsytlist: “So I’m thinking about moving a bit further away from downtown, but I just love being able to walk to work.”

Me:  “Well if you don’t go too far out you can always bike to work.”

Hairstylist: “Oh no I don’t bike!”

Me: “Why not?  It’s good for you.”

Hairstylist: “I just don’t.  It’s dangerous.  A coworker of mine had her bike destroyed by a car.”

Me: “It’s not that dangerous if you’re smart about it.”

Hairstylist: “No, biking is too dangerous.  Besides I’m getting a scooter.”

At this point I realized that my hairdresser, while a very nice person, is an idiot. Like a lot of Americans, she has lost the  ability to logically assess risk.  What is wrong with the publics’ perception of biking when somebody would even possibly hazard that riding a motorized scooter is safer than riding a bike?  This led me down another path of thinking.

In 2005 there were 42,636 automobile related deaths in the United States and another 29 million injuries.  This dwarfs the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  If any other product, drug, or consumable item were killing over 40,000 people per year and injuring millions, the public would be revolting in the streets and the offending device or practice would be banned.  However, when people kill with their cars we fall into a massive logic hole.  Why?  The answer is probably part biological and part selfish.  First, we have no evolutionary aversion to the danger of cars.  While many of us are hardwired to be afraid of snakes or spiders, we have no natural fear of a one ton projectile moving at 60 miles per hour.  Selfishness is the other part of the equation.  Without cars, how could we go wherever we want as quickly as possible without having to break a sweat?  How would I get to my exurb and still sponge off the high paying jobs made possible by urban centers and civilization?

This lack of reason is utterly bewildering.

I love my bike.


5 responses to “What?!

  1. Speaking of evolution: I have this (completely untestable) hypothesis that we humans have not evolved to have the reaction time to travel as fast as the internal combustion engine has allowed us to. Relative to human existence, we have only had the motor car for a blip of time. Before that, the fastest human was traveling by bicycle which supplanted the horse, but were/are modes that, for the most part, move a person at a clip at which one is still able to react to their environment.
    Whatever the reason, as your post aptly points out, the fact that tens of thousands of people die by automobile every year in this country alone shows that it is not at all a safe activity.

  2. I don’t get that either. Some people are incredibly afraid of things that might kill 10 persons a year while they at the same time condone the thousands of road casualties.
    As long as you know which traffic situations you should avoid (e.g. passing a truck on the right or riding too close to parked cars) there is no problem with cycling.

  3. Ha. I have also noticed that logic hole. Automobiles are the number 1 killer of children – why does no one seem to care?!

  4. Jolly Crank – interesting theory. Makes sense to me.

  5. It’s very hard to convince people to ride that don’t want to be convinced. People like to make up excuses because they think that cycling is “hard” and only weirdos and ecologists do it. Logic arguments won’t help. You need to reach an emotional level and add positive aspects. That’s hard. I still don’t know how to do it, but every now and then it works – not for hardliners though. I convinced my brother to try and ride in the winter once to meet his girlfriend. And pushed a friend of mine to take her bike to Vienna (where she lives). She hasn’t used it yet, but I’ll get her started soon.. Well, little victories, but still ;-).

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