'Fear of Cycling' with extracts from "Cycling and Society" by Dave Horton, Peter Cox and Paul Rosen


Numerous studies have shown fear to be a significant barrier to cycling (British Medical Association 1992; Davies et al 1997; Gardner 1998; Gardner and Ryley 1997; Pearce et al 1998; Ryley 2004)

As much as cycling is now seen as ‘a good thing’ people are still reluctant to get on their bikes. Why? We can say that lack of good cycling infrastructure, such as cycling routes and cycle parking are major factors. Emotional barriers such as Culture, sex, body image or simply fear of falling of your bike can also play a part. We can also blame hilly topography, high levels of rainfall and cold winters as contributing to reluctance to get on a bike. And then there are the safety issues. How do we overcome that?

In a book written Dr Morton, Cox and Rosen called “Cycling and Society” 2007, it gives an analysed approach to ‘Fear of Cycling’ thus identifying real problems and associated fears. It also explains the mindset behind the ‘real problems’, so we have somewhere to start if we wish to change the way people think and react to cycling on our roads.

Lets briefly start with Emotional barriers;

Being seen, working one’s (unsightly) body in public. On a bike you are there for all to see. A car offers a shield and protects your vulnerability where a bicycle offers no shield from the ‘Masculine gaze’. A car offers a sanctuary coupled with a fear of traffic is part of the reason why people move in cars, thus adding to the problem.  So you can see how performing a physical activity in a public space can impact of our reluctance to get on a bike.

Fear of cycling can also impact on a wider social network. “Discouragement from family and colleagues can impact your desire to cycle. Offers of more socially-acceptable demonstrations of care through car-dependant practices such as chauffeuring of children show you a more socially-acceptable practice.” (Cycling and Society,2007, chapter 7’Fear of Cycling’)

There are many reasons why people don’t cycle such as fear of getting sweaty, of experiencing hard work climbing a hill, to fear of ridicule. And culture, many ethnic groups have little history or experience in cycling. So the list goes on.

“Fear of cycling has also shifted over time. High-Wheeling cyclists feared ‘coming a cropper’ in the late Nineteenth century to today, we have this omnipresent fear of traffic.” (Cycling and Society,2007, ‘Fear of Cycling’)


We live in an automobilised society and each year the numbers of vehicles on the roads are growing, and these vehicles seem to be getting bigger. How big can a SUV get?? So to us the cyclist, the amount of space to share isn’t really enough.

In “Cycling and Society”2007,Fear of Cycling, the author refers to a study,’ that advances in road safety tend to be unequally distributed’. (1992/93,Adams, 1995). John Adams also argues “making the use of compulsory seat-belts had no effect on road fatalities but was associated with redistribution of danger from car occupants to pedestrians and cyclists.  Motorists wearing seat-belts are told they are safer and start to feel safer. This increased sense of safety promotes an overall decline in standards of driving. Those on the outside of the cars become objectively less safe, and sensibly more afraid.” He ends by saying that the end result is cyclists and pedestrians withdrawing from the threat. Less cyclists on the road.

Another paragraph I find hugely important from the text of “Cycling and Society” is this;

” Fear has driven huge numbers of cyclists off UK roads (Hillman, Adams and Whitelegg,1990) . This downward trend in levels of cycling results in the remaining cyclists feeling less safe because those in a minority generally perceive themselves to be less safe than those in the majority. But those remaining cyclists are also objectively less safe , because other road users become less considerate of cyclists as cyclists become less common (and more strange) and as these road users themselves become less likely to also sometime cycle. The more people who cycle, the safer cycling becomes, the fewer people who cycle, the more dangerous cycling becomes (Jacobson, 2003). “

This pretty much sums up where we need to go. We need to get on our bikes and we need to start communicating with our politicians over rider safety. Drivers attitudes needs to change, laws need to be upgraded and people given the confidence to try.

Other factors we need to consider include Education.  Most people do not receive formal training on either how to ride or how repair a bike. A flat tyre 10km from home is a long walk if you can’t change your tyre.

Road safety education including bike etiquette, cycle helmet promotion and separation of riders from cars through cycleways are all essential factors.

We need to change people’s perceptions. It is too easy to trivialise someone’s fear of feeling embarrassed and humiliated.

Cycling has so much to offer the broader community when we live in a society where obesity is becoming the norm, diabetes is a growing health concern and combating climate change is now a real issue. We can also decrease traffic congestion in cities, and cycling is an economically viable means of transport, but it needs to be safe.

Fear of Cycling is real, but it doesn’t need to debilitate us.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


Not a member yet?

Sign up now

Free shipping on the Sufferfest DVD - use code 'SHIPFREE' at checkout! Dismiss