In many countries cycling is a way of life, but recent reports have highlighted the risks riders face when taking to the roads in Australia.
One of every five people injured on the nation’s roads is a cyclist, a report released this week by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare released found.
The AIHW looked at deaths and hospitalisations of cyclists from 1999-2000 to 2015-16, finding that 651 cyclists had died over the period for an average of 38 deaths a year.
Nearly 160,000 cyclists were treated in hospital during that time – an average of more than 9000 hospital treatments a year.
So is cycling safe?
Stephen Hodge, director of cycling advocates We Ride Australia, said the AIHW statistics were “disturbing”.
Quite clearly the roads are not safe enough, which is what the AIHW report showed,” Mr Hodge said.
Investment in infrastructure and bike paths that are separated from cars is needed to address a worrying decline in cycling participation among children, Mr Hodge said.
“Congestion on the roads and the level of traffic are clearly the greatest concerns to parents that aren’t letting their children walk, scoot or ride to school,” he said.
Low levels of cycling participation among women are also of concern, he said.
“Women are like the canary in the coal mine – if mums are riding on roads then you know that they are safe,” Mr Hodge said.
However, Marilyn Johnson – a senior researcher at Monash University’s Institute for Transport Studies and the chief executive of the cycling safety group the Amy Gillett Foundation – said that Australians shouldn’t be afraid of taking to roads on two wheels despite the worrying figures.
It is safe to cycle and the benefits are huge,” Dr Johnson said.
Dr Johnson said that thousands of people cycle safely every day and that inexperienced riders should not deterred from pursuing “simple ways” to ride for both health and convenience.
“It’s about making short trips to close locations that mean you don’t have to take the car,” Dr Johnson said.
“Little local trips that are further than a walk but not far enough to drive.”
When it comes to infrastructure and attitudes towards cyclists, however, Australia has a long way to go before it catches up to cycling havens like the Netherlands and Denmark.
A recent Australian study found that more than half of non-cyclists view cyclists as “less than fully human”.
However, while such research raises questions around “aggressive” and “impatient” behaviour on the nation’s roads, it is unhelpful to adopt a tribalistic view of motorists versus cyclists, Dr Johnson said.
“This is about people using a public road, and the majority of cyclists are also drivers,” she said.
“We’ve given priority for decades to getting around by private car and that’s hugely problematic in the major cities … and that comes from the government as much as the community.”