The myth of cycling "collisions"
Michael Helmquist of Bike NOPA had the kind of cycling accident the other day that is a lot more common than being hit by a car: "Last Saturday morning I hit a pothole and lost my grip while biking on Mississippi Street. (The hole was one of those smooth dips in the pavement, a not readily noticed depression). I fell and in the process fractured my right elbow." Ironically, as he points out, the accident happened while he was riding with other cyclists looking for potholes on city streets that can be a serious threat to cyclists.
Bike messenger/writer Robert Hurst has written eloquently about the danger of potholes:
To cyclists, potholes are both an annoyance and a real danger. A really bad pothole can pinch a tube and put a flat spot on the rim. More seriously, potholes can finish off critical components that are on the verge of failure---faulty forks, cracked steer tubes, stem bolts. A surprise pothole might cause the rider to stack painfully against the stem, fumble the bars, and just plain wipe out hard (The Art of Cycling, Hurst, page 46).
A neighbor of mine, also a middleaged guy, had a similar accident recently, though his was caused by a streetcar track. Hurst also writes about rail tracks as a hazard to cyclists:
Ask around among any group of experienced cyclists, and you will find that more than a few have been felled by a railroad track. The most dangerous tracks are of two basic types: wet tracks and diagonal tracks. Railroad tracks that are both wet and diagonal to the cyclist's direction of travel are probably the most unforgiving of all possible forms of surface obstacles. Riders who wreck on such tracks report being slapped to the ground in a split second...Railroad tracks cause quite an ugly brand of fall. The rider doesn't have time to get the arms out or prepare in any way (Hurst, page 53).
In its cycling accident reports, the City of San Francisco lumps all cycling accidents together as "collisions," leaving the false implication that most cycling accidents involve other vehicles. Hurst writes about this falsehood, too:
The majority of cycling accidents are embarrassing solo incidents, with the cyclist sliding out on turns, stacking it up after ramming potholes, curbs, and other obstacles, or just generally losing control. Collisions with motor vehicles are potentially more damaging but account for no more than about 15 percent of all cycling accidents (Hurst, page 161, emphasis added).
The SFBC's favorite bike safety instructor, Bert Hill, tells us that 45% of all cycling accidents are "solo falls" and that only 18% involve another vehicle ("Mission: Not Impossible," Paul McHugh, Feb. 17, 2005, SF Chronicle).
John Forester has also written about cycling accidents: "When you mention cycling accidents, most people assume that you mean car-bike collisions, because this is the only kind they worry about. This is wrong, because car-bike collisions account for only about 12% of cycling accidents" (Effective Cycling, Sixth Edition, John Forester, page 262).