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Monday, October 28, 2013

How Safe Is Cycling? It’s Hard to Say | NY Times

Kim Ludbrook/European Pressphoto Agency
Until his bike slid out of control while he was going 35 miles an hour downhill around a sharp turn, Dr. Harold Schwartz thought cycling accidents were something that happened to other people. Now, after recovering from a fractured pelvis, Dr. Schwartz, 65, the vice president for behavioral health at Hartford Hospital in Connecticut, has changed his mind.
“No one is immune,” he said in an interview. Like many avid cyclists, he is convinced that it is not if you crash. It’s when.
But Rob Coppolillo, 43, who was an elite level amateur bicycle racer for 10 years, led cycling tours in Italy and regularly rides in his town, Boulder, Colo., begs to differ. He’s never had an injury more serious than a little road rash, he says.
“For the vast majority of us, it’s a pretty safe sport,” he said.
Who is right? Although many cyclists have strong opinions on the safety of their sport, the answer is that no one really knows how safe it is, or whether its safety has changed over the years.
It’s not that there is a lack of data. Instead, it is that the data are inadequate to answer the questions. No one has good statistics, for example, on crashes per mile ridden. Nor do the data distinguish road cycling on a fast, light, bike with thin tires from mountain biking down dirt paths filled with obstacles or recreational cycling on what the industry calls a comfort bike. Yet they are very different sports.
What remain are often counterintuitive statistics on the waxing and waning of cycling in the United States, along with some injury studies that could give cyclists pause.

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