We all know what brave means, right? Brave means courageous, strong in the face of danger or pain. So... does this really mean people think I'm facing danger, or that cycling is difficult or painful?
Sadly, I think that most people do perceive cycling as very risky. So let's attack the risk aspect that people worry about. If we did have a car, I think driving the eight blocks to my son's preschool would be a little silly, & I'd walk or bike anyway. So let's compare walking & cycling. In terms of risk of death--because that's what I assume people are worried about: getting killed by a driver--walking is actually more risky, more than double the risk if you look at deaths by distance travelled. But nobody perceives walking as risky like they do with cycling. There are no helmet laws for pedestrians.
When I say walking is twice as dangerous as cycling, it's still only an infinitesimal risk. We're talking 7 in 100 million (yup, that's EIGHT zeroes) vs. 3 in 100 million km, here in BC. Riding in a car carries a risk of 1 in 100 million km. So they're all in the very small neighbourhood of under 10 in 100 million. (this article unpacks the stats even further--worth a read)
On to the concept of difficulty or pain. Because I have a hip issue that often makes it painful to walk, cycling is less painful for me than walking would be. Well, it's actually not painful at all. But not everyone has hip problems, I know. Cycling is technically the most efficient form of transportation there is in terms of calories of energy used per distance travelled. It takes less energy (in the literal sense of calories eaten or calories of fuel burned in a car) than walking or driving. Walking to preschool is slower & I'd have to put Bronte in the stroller, which I'd have to lug down & up a flight of stairs. That is a pain in the neck.
I suppose there's another aspect of cycling that gets me the "brave" label: riding in the rain. Whether I walk or bike, I get equally wet, since I can't hold an umbrella while riding or pushing the stroller. But I really don't get that wet. I have a cycling poncho & gumboots; that pretty much covers me, so just my face gets wet, which isn't the end of the world. Maybe if I were wearing a bunch of makeup this would be a problem, but who has time for that with two kids under five?!?
Set aside all this talk of perceived risk & statistics to think of the usual alternative to walking or cycling: driving. It's slightly less risky in terms of your likelihood of getting killed in a car crash. However, a lifetime of sitting in a car thinking cycling is "brave" carries other major risks like obesity, heart disease, some cancers, dementia, etc. Then there are the health problems like asthma that are exacerbated by the air pollution caused by driving. When you factor how cycling (& walking) offset these health risks, it's really driving that's more dangerous.
Maybe next time someone says I'm brave for cycling, instead of trying to come up with a retort, I'll ask them why they think so. Maybe it'll spark a conversation about perceived risk & the very real benefits of active transportation.
What about you? Do you ever call people brave for cycling or get called that yourself? Do you feel it's riskier than walking?
Follow Spokesmama here too: