Why are people so afraid of bikes?

Cyclophobia or the degradation of society?

In this week’s Over to You, I want to know what the heck is wrong with people. Actually that’d be asking too much. I want to know why are (some) people so afraid of bicycles?

My new neighbor brought this disturbing trend to the forefront of my mind. After seven years of rolling through a little path that I thought was National Forest, he sought me out to tell me that it was the corner of his property and bikes weren’t welcome. "No problem, that’s fine," I said as I thought it’s his loss to be scared, fearful and isolating. Without prompting, he posited “bikes erode the ground a lot more and you know, you could run into a kid.” Seriously that was his reasoning.

Did the roadie world’s culture of drugs and deception of the early 2000s sour the general populace?

First, it’s been proven numerous times that bikes don’t cause any more erosion than hiking but it's a common, worn-out excuse of the paranoid.

The second reason though, that's the one that made me question things, is that in over 20 years of cycling I’ve never hit anyone (not even close), but in his head bikes could be that dangerous and that was reason enough for it to be said out loud. 

This was far from an isolated incident.

While commuting I've seen parents practically rip their poor kids' arms out of their socket because a bike is rolling slowly, bell ding-dinging on the same multi-use path. I’ve seen grown men and women literally scamper breathlessly uphill because a bike was in their field of view. I've seen young adults freeze like statues teetering on the edge of the trail because a bike was approaching. What causes this? Have they been hit by bikes? Did a bike spew hydraulic fluid in their morning coffee? 

A legit concern?

Is their fear a legit concern? Do bikes careen into innocent pedestrians all the time? No, not really. A Bloomberg article from 2014 states "you're more likely to be hit by lightning" than killed by a cyclist. In 2013, in New York City, there were 309 bike/pedestrian crashes reported (up drastically from 244 in 2012), but over 16,000 reported injuries where vehicles crashed into pedestrians or bike riders. Yet the irrational fear of cars doesn't seem to exist. 

More research has shown that while the rise of bike riding and commuting in the early to mid-2000s saw accident numbers increase, people and cyclists are learning to get along. In the state of New York, between 2004 and 2008, cyclist-caused pedestrian injuries went from 3.29 per 100,000-person population up to 5.45, then dropped to 3.78 by 2011. 

In California, the numbers are even less. After lowering from 2.68 to 2.63 injuries per 100,000 people between 2005 and 2007, the rate dipped as low as 2.12 in 2010 before edging back up a bit to 2.24 in 2011.

It's our fault?

Even though bicycle riding has been around for over 130 years, longer than almost any other form of transportation, and is an activity used for fun, work and transportation by billions of people in every society around the globe, certain people and places have become very, very nervous around bikes. 

Were the late eighties to mid-nineties' hey day of mountain biking and its unfortunate Mountain Dew extreme (!!!) branding the cause? Did the roadie world’s culture of drugs and deception of the early 2000s sour the general populace? Has the Red Bull Rampage and other freeride events tainted the viewpoint of people? 

Are brazen, reckless cyclists to blame? I know one bad apple spoils the bunch. Maybe it's the bike's fault with its etheral, silent speed and oddly buzzing/clicking rear hubs? 

Has the Sierra Club's message of MTB hate reached much farther than I acknowledge? 

Perhaps it’s a remnant of the over-arching fear state that media, government and insurance companies are perpetuating? Has car culture warped our sense of what’s safe and unsafe? Has any form of motion not enveloped in a giant metal and plastic cage been programmed into us to evoke fear? 

So over to you… 

Is cyclophobia a real thing? Are there that many people who never learned to ride a bike or who have taken a bad crash that it’s reflecting in everyday society or is it something else entirely? Do cyclists routinely crash into pedestrians and I'm just oblivious to it? Let us know in the comments below…

Russell Eich

Tech Writer, US
Russell fell head over heels in love with bikes in the '90s, and has been involved in the bike industry ever since. Between wrenching in bike shops, guiding professionally, and writing about bikes, Russell has honed an appreciation for what works, gained knowledge of what doesn't, and can barely contain his enthusiasm for what comes next. His two-wheeled passion continues in the Rocky Mountains high above Boulder, Colorado.
  • Discipline: Mountain, road, cyclocross
  • Preferred Terrain: High altitudes, forgotten singletracks, bike parks, roads without cars
  • Current Bikes: Custom Meriwether steel hardtail, Specialized S-Works Enduro 29, Kona Jake the Snake, Trek 69er, and a bunch more
  • Dream Bike: Yeti SB5c, Intense Tracer 275C, Black Cat custom road
  • Beer of Choice: Gin + Tonic
  • Location: Rollinsville, CO, USA

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