Urban Myths of Cycling

Cycling is Dangerous

NO – cycling can sometimes feel dangerous but in fact it is actually a very safe thing to do, and the chance of having a crash (especially with motor traffic) is exceptionally rare. Of course it depends in part on where you are riding and your level of experience.

If you are riding on a separated cycle path, cycling is not very dangerous at all. In fact it is positively beneficial to your health! Cycling in heavy traffic can be a bit trickier, especially if you are new to cycling. Our advice is to avoid fast traffic, if at all possible. There are often quiet back streets that you can take to avoid heavy traffic and if you have to go along a busy road for part of the trip, consider riding on the footpath (and respecting any pedestrians there!). In some places, infrastructure for cycling is practically non-existent or very poor where it does exist and, if you are new to cycling, it may be best to keep out of busy or fast traffic until you have gained your confidence.

You also don’t need to cycle everywhere. Pick short trips that are quiet and a pleasure to ride, say to the local shop to pick up milk or to a cafe on a Sunday morning. You will soon find that you start to add new trips to your repertoire.

(see also our post Is Cycling Safe?)

Cycling makes you Sweat

NO – the first thing to know about cycling is that it doesn’t necessarily make you sweat.

Riding a bike is just like walking – if you walk very quickly or run, you get hot and sweaty but if you walk at a gentle pace, you don’t. The same goes for riding a bike – if you start to sweat (and you don’t want to) just ride more slowly – or stop and take a break.

Other things to help you sweat less include:

    • Wearing suitably light, ventilated clothing
    • Using panniers and baskets instead of backpacks
    • Getting yourself an electric bike (e-bike) to minimise your pedalling effort

You’ll also find that, over time as you get used to riding and fitter, that you will also sweat less.

(see also our post Cycling in the Heat)

My town is very Hilly and not suitable for cycling

NO – fortunately in Christchurch, this is not a big problem anyway. But, even if there are hills where you live (e.g. Auckland, Wellington, Dunedin), there are also hills in plenty of other places where people cycle a lot more than we do.

The trick is to figure out the gentlest route to your destination and go that way. There are usually lots of work-arounds – take some time to explore and find the best routes for you. Your trip may take you a little longer than the direct route but you’ll probably still beat the people sitting in cars, stuck in traffic. There is also no shame in getting off and pushing for a bit if the hill is unavoidable. Remember that the aim is not to personify Lance Armstrong {or insert alternative drug-free racing cyclist here…}, but to simply get to where you are going.

Other ways to beat the hills include:

    • Using bikes on buses to help you
    • Getting yourself an electric bike (e-bike) to help on the steeper uphill stretches

(see also our post Cycling and Hills)

You have to wear dorky outfits to cycle

NO – it is a complete misnomer that you need special cycling clothes for riding a bicycle.

Of course if you are sports cycling then you will probably want all the gear but you can ride a bicycle in any clothes that you have in your wardrobe. It’s just like walking – if you walk a few hundred metres down the street to the shops you generally don’t change or take a shower when you arrive, but if you were competitively speed walking in the Arizona desert, you probably would. The same goes for cycling. The key thing is to dress for your destination, so wear work clothes on your bike if going to work, and ‘going out’ clothes if you are going for a drink with friends.

Obviously, if the weather is a bit wet or cold, you may need to dress appropriately to stay warm and dry, but no more than you would if you were walking somewhere. See our advice on Cycling in the Wet and Cycling in the Cold.

It’s Too Far to Cycle

NO – most trips around town are easily traversed by bike. About half of the trips we make by car are less than 5km, a distance easily covered in 15-20 minutes by bike at a gentle pace.

It’s quite deceptive how far you can travel in good time on a bike. Biking is typically about four times faster than walking, so instantly your range of destinations has increased by an area of ~16 times when biking instead of walking.

If you’re new to cycling, start small and just make short trips that you’re comfortable with. Over time you can test out your range and try further afield. And there’s no rule that says you can’t still take the car or bus for other longer trips (or take your bike on the bus to go further).

(see also our post Riding Long Distances)

It’s Too Slow to Cycle

NO – particularly during rush-hour, you will find that cycling easily beats crawling along in your car in traffic.

Bikes can easily be pedalled at 20km/h and fitter riders will even exceed 30km/h. They may also have the advantage of short-cuts not available to cars (e.g. across Hagley Park, or down the Railway Cycleway), or be able to sneak through a pathway link when cars have to go around the long way.

A particular strength of cycling is the consistency of travel times. Whether riding at 5pm or 5am, the time taken to bike somewhere is remarkably consistent – try saying that about driving somewhere in town… that makes it easier to plan your schedule so that you get to work or your meeting on time.

You can’t cycle if you have to Carry (or Buy) anything

NO – firstly, many/most bike trips don’t require you to carry anything other than yourself anyway. And if all we are buying is food and drink, then we carry that inside ourselves after consuming it. Obviously spending money on entertainment like a movie or show requires carrying no more than your phone or wallet.

If you do have to bring or buy stuff, often it’s no more than what you would carry if you were walking – in other words, the kinds of things you could carry in a bag, satchel or pannier.

For more challenging cargo, you can get quite creative these days, with a host of bike racks, trailers, and cargo-bikes to help you carry the load. And there’s no rule that says you can’t still take the car for the occasional trips that require a bigger load (or arrange home delivery for large purchases).

(see also our post Carrying stuff by bike)

Cyclists don’t pay for using the Roads (or to build Cycleways)

NO – no-one pays to “use” the road. Everyone contributes via local rates and general taxes towards the construction of roads and cycleways; that includes people who cycle (or the parents of children who do). Motor vehicles also contribute more to pay for the maintenance required to repair roads damaged by their weight – the road damage effect of a bicycle is negligible. For more detail, see our post Myth-busting: Cyclists don’t pay.

For many more cycling myths debunked, check out the excellent website Cycling Fallacies.