We must recognise that in low cycling countries our fears have a large impact on our cycling behaviour and our instincts (feelings) are poorly tuned to the real risk of cycling. To increase women’s cycling participation, we must therefore target building confidence and providing women with real cycling experience. This equates to an adaption process of venturing to try the unfamiliar and building new habits. A positive experience (enjoyment) makes it more likely that we will cycle again. A mishap in the early stages will discourage further cycling. This is why good cycle infrastructure makes a difference, as it creates a forgiving environment to cycle.
Real and perceived risk
We are going to come back to this again and again. There is a difference between real and perceived danger. Both create suffering, the former because of injuries and loss of life, and the latter due to fear and stress. Perceived danger actively discourages cycling and the very behaviours we want. Real danger can be fixed with better design. With perceived danger better design helps, but perceived danger is a psychological phenomenon that is shape by culture, our experience and relationships too. Culture change is all about our psychology.
Hospitals collect data regarding the reasons people are admitted to hospital and the causes for the injuries they have sustained. This is one way we know about cycling crashes. Crashes that do not involve hospital admissions are poorly recorded. Unlike car crashes, there is no obligation to report them. Hospital data highlight only a part of the picture.
Cycling is perceived to be more dangerous in low cycling countries than high cycling countries. Data would suggest that this is true in the sense that the injuries per km ridden decrease as cycling participation increases. This is partly explained by safety in numbers but we should not neglect the enormous amount of work done in high cycling countries by authorities over decades to make cycling safe for all people, from 8-80 years. As the popularity of cycling grows, the real risks decreases. When more people cycle, it becomes more socially accepted and the norm. Many of our friends will cycle and they will hear good things about cycling. A culture of cycling develops and we will have a network of friends that cycle, which means it is more likely that we too will cycle.
Hospitalisation data from cycling injuries demonstrates the difference between real and perceived risk. Men are almost four times more likely to be hospitalised than women. If real risk was an important factor, we would expect men’s participation to be strongly effected by this high injury rate. Men’s cycling participation remains almost twice as women. This would indicate that the reason men’s participation is high and women’s participation has little to do with the real risk of hospitalisation due to cycling.
The hospitalisation data below is obtained from the BITRE Report 2015:
BITRE, ‘Australian cycling safety: casualties, crash types and participation levels’, in Bureau of Infrastructure and Transport Research Economics, Department of Infrastructure, 2015, [accessed 8 September 2021] 5-6.
Unfortunately, we have found nothing more recent Figure 3: Cyclist hospitalisations per 100,000 population – age and sex distributions, Australia, 2012, shows that men are almost four times more likely to be admitted into hospital for cycling injuries. Almost twice as many men cycle than women.
From considering the cycling risk from the perspective of hospitalisations per 100,000 population, it is evident that cycling is twice as dangerous for men as women. If hospitalisations is a deterrent to cycling, then we would expect the cycling participation rate of men to be more greatly effected than women. This is a good example of the difference between real and perceived risk.
The overall number of annual hospitalisations of male cyclists is approximately four times higher than that of females. This is not explained solely by participation rates. For most ages, males have approximately twice the participation of females (see Section 3). Hospitalisation data by age group is standardised by population in Figure 3.BITRE, ‘Australian cycling safety: casualties, crash types and participation levels’, in Bureau of Infrastructure and Transport Research Economics, Department of Infrastructure, 2015, [accessed 8 September 2021], 5.
Table 5 gives cyclist hospitalisations by age groups. For children, approximately one third of all road crash hospitalisations are from cycling crashes.BITRE, ‘Australian cycling safety: casualties, crash types and participation levels’, in Bureau of Infrastructure and Transport Research Economics, Department of Infrastructure, 2015, [accessed 8 September 2021], 5.