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Family Biking: Let’s (not) talk about safety


On Clinton, and only Clinton, we ride side by side even when cars are near.
(Photos: Madi Carlson)

Last week I wrote a “rah rah” post about making a plan to pedal more and beat the winter blahs. That post inspired a few comments about readers’ plans for winter biking; but there was one commenter who felt I, “Missed a huge opportunity to point out that riding at night or even in a light rain increases one’s chances dramatically of death and maiming.”

So this week I figured I should write about safety. Or rather, why I don’t write about safety.

Our Family Biking column is sponsored by Clever Cycles.

➤ Read past entries here.

Why do my posts not focus on safety?

First; bicycling is very safe. And second; because my one true desire is to get people out of cars and onto bikes and my greatest tool for doing that is demonstrating how fun and easy family biking can be.

In my 10 years of blogging about family biking I’ve only once written a post about safety. Back then I had a seldom-used car, so I had the authority to compare driving and bicycling: “I feel less safe in the car,” I wrote, “I’m much closer to all the distracted drivers — yakking on cell phones, texting on phones pressed against steering wheels, or busily looking for parking spots.”

The history of traffic engineers prioritizing “Level of Service” (LOS, to measure auto traffic flow) leads to unsafe roads and signs like these.

One article I’ve read that has always stuck with me is, Which really is more deadly: cycling or sitting down watching TV?.

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Here’s more from my old post that still rings true to me today:

As a family biker I have to say I feel even safer than the statistics. It’s not due to a sense of responsibility for my passengers, though that probably adds an innate level of cautiousness I’m unaware of. I contend it’s simply about size, speed, and posture. My bike is BIG and therefore easy to spot. But even more helpful is that I’m very slow — people driving (and people walking, and other people on bikes) have tons of time to notice me. In fact, in uphill door-zone bike lanes I’m slow enough to peer in the window of each parked car as I approach to see if I have to worry about an inhabitant opening a door into my path. That’s a luxury many bicyclists don’t have. While I’m not bolt upright like on a Dutch bike, my cargo bike (and my city bike before it) is fairly upright so I’m tall and can look around much more easily than on a bike with drop bars. It’s remarkable how different things feel on my road bike — I’m small and superfast and feel somewhat at the mercy of my surroundings.

Safe — and fun! — even in the rain.

If you’ve ever been on one of my group rides (such as Kidical Mass PDX), you will have heard a brief safety talk at the beginning. I go over any hazards we might face. My kids hear safety reminders incessantly. So perhaps I’m a bit disingenuous because how I ride in practice is not how I write about riding. I used to worry about misleading people, not in terms of safety but in sugarcoating the realities of biking with kids. For instance, I don’t share all the hardships of cold fingers, wet shoes, and the occasional whining and tantrums (granted, I’m the one doing most of the whining and tantrumming). Instead I choose to focus on the fun stuff.

Since we’re all in this together, I’m curious what you think. Would you like to hear more about safety as it pertains to family biking and/or biking in general in this column? Please let me know. Thanks for reading.

Remember, we’re always looking for people to profile. Get in touch if it sounds like fun to you. I’d especially like to feature families of color so please get in touch or ask friends of color who bike with their kids if they’re interested in sharing their stories. And as always, feel free ask questions in the comments below or email me your story ideas and insights at madidotcom [at] gmail [dot] com.

— Madi Carlson, @familyride on Instagram and Twitter

Browse past Family Biking posts here.

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