But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.
1 Corinthians 13:13
I’m guessing that many of you, after reading my last post, are wondering, “Is it really safe for Katie to be biking these days?” Because I’m sure this has occurred to more than a few people, I’d like to take a moment to discuss my choice to keep riding. (Okay, now that I’ve finished, it’s much more than one moment. Check under the fold for the whole post.)
First of all: I hear your concerns. I would never choose to do any activity that I thought could result in harm to The Boy. Here’s why I feel comfortable riding my bike while pregnant. Note: This doesn’t address potential health risk from over-exercise. This is about crashes and those types of risks.
Crash Statistics Are In My Favor
According to the League of American Bicyclists Smart Cycling Traffic Skills 101 handbook:
- 50% of crashes are caused by the bicyclist alone.
- 33% of crashes are caused by animals, other bikes, or something other than motor vehicles.
- 17% of crashes occur between motor vehicles and bicyclists. Of those, about 50% are the bicyclist’s fault and 50% are the motorist’s fault.
Let’s break this down.
50% of crashes are caused by the bicyclist alone. These falls occur when the bicyclist hits something, or has a mechanical or handling failure. I take precautions to avoid these things:
- I do a standard check (the ABC Quick Check) on my bike before I ride, every time, and I regularly take my bikes to the shop for tune-ups so they remain in excellent, safe running condition.
- As a certified cycling instructor, I have mastered standard helpful fall-avoidance techniques as well as emergency handling maneuvers.
- I received additional bike handling training when I joined Team Group Health. In short, I have excellent bicycle handling skills.
- Since becoming pregnant, I ride more conservatively, anticipating and actively avoiding any hazards that might potentially cause a fall.
Additionally, according to the TS101 handbook, “crash rates decrease with experience measured by miles… Bicyclists who ride regularly under adverse conditions (rain, darkness, in the mountains, etc.) tend to be more experienced and have lower crash rates than fair-weather riders” (p. 22). Every month I ride between 500 and 1,000 miles, and have logged tens of thousands of miles, many of them in inclement conditions that have also increased my experience and, ultimately, safety.
Essentially, by taking some basic maintenance precautions and having good bike handling skills, I have eliminated almost 50% of all falls.
On to the second-most frequent cause of bicycle crashes.
33% of crashes are caused by animals, other bikes, or something other than motor vehicles. This is harder to proactively avoid, since you can’t predict a squirrel’s sudden dash into your front wheel, or a teenager’s decision to step off the sidewalk and into the road. However:
- I avoid bike paths one very nice days or during extremely busy times. Trails tend to attract unpredictable kids, dogs, and pedestrians.
- I never ride on sidewalks, and ride at walking speeds around pedestrians.
- I constantly scan the road edges for animals and slow down when I see anything (wild animal, unpredictable pedestrian) that might present a moving hazard.
- Since becoming pregnant, I’ve stopped riding with unfamiliar bicyclists. I only ride with people I know and trust, who have handling skills I have confidence in.
- I don’t ride in close pacelines, but ride either slightly to the right or left, or a fairly far back off the wheel ahead. This is less aerodynamically efficient, but allows me plenty of reaction time.
So, now we’ve eliminated — probably not the full 83% of falls, but easily 75% or 80%.
Now to the one everybody worries about the most.
17% of crashes occur between motorists and bicyclists. First off, recall that about half of the time in these incidences, the bicyclist is at fault; the other half of the time, the motorist is at fault. Most of the time, the bicyclist-incurred motor vehicle/bicycle collisions come from a few really obvious choices:
- Riding on the wrong side of the road, towards traffic.
- Turning left from the right-hand side of the road (instead of the left-hand side or left turn lane).
- Riding out of a driveway or smaller road without pausing to look for oncoming traffic.
- Riding through a red light or stop sign*.
I hope that by now you know that I would never do any of these things. That pretty much cuts out the half of bike-car crashes caused by the bicyclist.
Then there’s the 8.5% of falls caused by drivers hitting bicyclists. Drivers tend to hit bicyclists in very predictable situations:
- At intersections, either turning left or right.
- Driving through a stop sign or stop light. (Hmm, sound familiar?)
- Dooring a bicyclist.
- Driving out of a driveway without stopping to look for oncoming traffic.
All my riding behavior is geared (har har) towards preventing these scenarios.
- I follow all the rules of the road, same as if I’m in a car. I obey road signs, stop signs, and stop lights. I use hand signals and scanning to communicate with drivers around me. I exercise particular caution at intersections, knowing there’s increased risk there.
- I take great pains to make myself visible: I usually ride in the bike lane, or about 3′ from the edge of good pavement, but I do take the lane when it’s too narrow to safely share; I ride in a straight line, not swerving, avoiding the door zone and road hazards; I wear bright-colored clothing; I ride with blinking front and rear lights, even during the day; I don’t even ride at night these days (although that’s easy enough, since the sun rises around 5 am and sets after 9 pm these days).
It’s amazing how much driver behavior I can influence by where I put myself on the road and using hand signals and body language. No driver wants to hit a bicyclist, and often drivers feel nervous about passing. I make sure drivers know when it’s safe to pass me, and if it’s not, I communicate that clearly.
No, I cannot control all drivers. There are teen drivers with terrible judgement and elderly drivers with cataracts and slow reflexes. There are distracted drivers texting or talking on cell phones. Indubitably, my choosing to ride with cars does involve some risk. However, it’s safe to say I’ve cut out the bicyclist-caused half of these collisions, and I actively reduce the chances of motorist-caused collisions through proactive defensive riding.
In summary: I can control, and therefore prevent, say, 90% of the causes of all bicycle falls. The other 10% is mostly out of my control, but I have emergency handling skills for those situations.
I hope I’ve shown how I’ve almost eliminated most causes of falls on a bike. Yes, it’s true, accidents happen, and I can’t make bicycling 100% risk-free. But then, living isn’t safe. I could fall down the stairs, get in a car crash, slip in the shower, inadvertently eat something exceptionally unhealthy… fill in the blank yourself. Heck, even staying in bed has its own risks. That doesn’t even get into physical failures like cancer, heart disease, etc. The point, of course, is that nothing I do could be totally safe, and with all the actions detailed above, I’ve brought the risks of bicycling into the realm of the reasonable.
Health Benefits of Bicycling Outweigh Risks
Then there are the mental and physical health benefits of riding.
Every appointment, my OB-GYN expresses delight at my physical fitness and her optimism at the benefits of that fitness towards a relatively easy labor. Staying physically healthy during pregnancy is an elusive goal for many women, who seem to think this is the opportunity to slack off and eat junk for nine months. I, meanwhile, have gained a healthy amount of weight but also maintain an equally healthy level of activity that will carry me through strong and healthy. On days I ride more 30 miles or more, I sleep much better and more soundly than I do otherwise, and wake up much better rested than otherwise. Plus, of course, there’s great benefit to the baby for me to be physically fit, with minimal weight-induced health issues.
Additionally, I receive unquantifiable but very real mental health benefits from riding. Riding brings me great joy, relieves stress, and helps keep me calm and happy in a way that no other activity can. The baby actually receives health benefits from my remaining calm and unstressed — much kinder hormones floating around. Studies have shown that stress in pregnant mothers has a significant negative impact on their babies (citation: listen to “baby and stress” from Brain Rules for Baby; according to the author, stress hormones: produce babies who were more irritable and less consolable; lowered the baby’s IQ by about 8 points in various tests; inhibited future motor skills and ability to concentrate; and shrunk the baby’s brain size; among other negative effects).
Yes, walking or swimming give fitness benefits too. But I just don’t love them the way I love bicycling. And I’d say that, overall, the potential health benefits far outweigh the potential risks. So for now and until it becomes physically impossible, I will continue to ride, and love every minute of it.
* By the way, this is drivers’ single biggest complaint about bicyclists. “I hate it how bicyclists ride through stop signs! They want to ride on the road, but then they don’t follow the rules!” True. I won’t even get into that right now.