Janet (j4) wrote,


As mentioned yesterday, I went to a Safe Cycling seminar given by the Oxford Cycle Workshop. It was along similar lines to a recent post from LondonCyclist, and I won't try to do justice to an hour's presentation in a paragraph of LiveJournal, but it was reassuring to know that according to them I'm already doing the right things. The two main take-home points were be visible (not just in the sense of wearing hi-vis jackets and — of course — using lights, but also in the sense of making sure you're not hiding down the side of another vehicle, skulking in the gutter, or lurking in someone's blind spot, but rather claiming your place in the lane you're in) and be predictable (stick to the rules of the road, behave like a car where possible because then cars know what to expect). There was a third not-explicitly-stated rule of "don't be a jerk". I wish more road users followed that one. There's another post in my head about Stupid Behaviour I Observe On The Roads Every Day, but really, who wants to read it? We all see it often enough anyway.

Unsurprisingly, the Oxford Cycle Workshop chap didn't say anything about cycling while pregnant (and I didn't ask, as it was a bit out of scope!). I didn't expect him to (he didn't mention helmets either, interestingly), but I did expect better from a supposedly comprehensive book about pregnancy and birth; however, the NCT's book "Happy Birth Day" doesn't seem to say anything about cycling at all (as I mentioned yesterday, I've emailed them to ask about this). Its "Travel" section only includes driving and flying (and if you're flying, hey, you're obviously not that worried about the next generation anyway); "Exercise" only mentions walking, pilates, yoga, and swimming.

After poking around a bit more diligently on their site it appears that they disrecommend cycling after 3 months because of the risk of falling. (On the other hand, they're happy to include cycling in the SEO text list of types of exercise they mention that their maternity sportswear is useful for; and there's no mention of the risk of falling when you have an actual child on the back of the bike.) I asked both my GP and my midwife about it very early on, and they both gave a fairly "common sense" answer: if you feel up to doing it, do it; if you don't, stop. They gave the same advice about running, for that matter (also disrecommended by the NCT after 20 weeks, due to the high impact -- I have noticed that running seems noticeably harder on my ankles than it used to be, I'm taking it very gently but may yet have to stop). Oddly, nobody seems to say that running carries a risk of falling -- maybe they assume people go running on an asphalt track rather than on towpaths and footpaths full of potholes and stones and wet leaves? Anyway, on the cycling front, that's two medical professionals versus one big shiny book, so I'm going with the medics: I intend to carry on cycling (competently and confidently, but carefully, following the rules of the road) as long as I personally feel physically and mentally comfortable with doing so.

Please note, I'm not for a moment saying that there is no risk of falling involved in cycling: it's true, it's entirely possible to fall off a bike, I have indisputable evidence. I've done it three times in the 15 years that I've been cycling regularly (regularly and frequently, pedants). The first occasion was when I took a corner too tightly and scraped my wheels along the kerb; I fell on to the pavement, skinning the heels of my hands and getting wet leaves and mud all over my favourite woolly jumper. To be honest I was more embarrassed than hurt, really; it was one of those things where you know that you've misjudged but you can't do anything about it. On the second occasion I was drunk, and had cycled home along the (off-road) cycle-path without incident but came a cropper when trying to mount the pavement outside our house (to get the bike down the side passage). I don't recall injuring myself at all; drunk people seem to bounce somehow. The third occasion was when I was trying to see if I could cycle with my hands crossed, i.e. left hand on right handlebar and vice versa. Unsurprisingly, I got confused, wobbled, overcompensated in the instinctive (wrong) direction, and went over the handlebars in an ungraceful heap. My hands took the worst of the damage again (raw-skinned palms full of blood and gravel, ugh). All these were when I was a student; I've never actually fallen off my bike since then.

For what it's worth, yes, I was aware of the possibility that my balance would be affected by being pregnant (either because of queasiness or because of the extra/differently-distributed weight); fortunately, on a bike, if you feel at all uneasy about carrying on for whatever reason, you can just get off and push. I haven't had to yet except when trying to cycle up Headington Hill, and that wasn't balance, that was just exhaustion! (What bastard put the hospital at the top of a big hill, eh?)

So anyway, that's three falls while cycling, all basically attributable to stupidity. In the same time-span, I've fallen while on foot the same number of times, possibly more. Once I was running to meet someone, in heeled boots on wet cobbles; I slipped and landed on the side of my ankle, spraining it quite comprehensively (I had to walk with a stick for a week or so, and it remained sore for ages). Another time I slipped on a wet drain-cover and fell, bruising my hands and knees. More recently I managed to trip over a step, tried to regain my balance (arms pinwheeling like Wile E. Coyote on a cliff-edge) and ended up falling, grazing my hands a bit but (as so often) being more embarrassed than hurt. Not even so much stupidity going on there (except for the running on wet cobbles in high heels, yes, that was dumb): just unfortunate mistakes. OK, I also fell down the stairs from the Long Room at New College once as a student, but I was so drunk that I was only barely "on foot" beforehand; amazingly, I walked away (giggling at the ridiculousness of falling down a flight of stairs) with only a few minor bruises. Funnily enough, I'm not likely to be doing anything like that again any time soon (hopefully never!).

Based on this unscientific study, a) walking is just as dangerous as cycling, possibly more so; b) drinking is more dangerous than either; and c) I ought to wear padded gloves while walking or cycling, because my hands invariably come off worst. (I do wear gloves while cycling, otherwise my hands would be numb with cold before I'd got to the end of our street, but they're not especially padded.) Yes, I know that's not the whole story; but the whole story is a much longer discussion of risk, how we measure it, how we perceive it, how we make judgements about it, how we weigh the risks against the benefits ... and that's a story I don't have time to write tonight. Also, I suspect I can't do justice to it without doing a lot more research, and I don't know when I'm going to have time to do that. But of course we all make judgements about risk every day, with or without doing the research, with or without having concrete statistics to hand; we have to, otherwise we'd be paralysed by indecision. The person who says "but that's so dangerous!" invariably can't quote any more facts than I can to support their assertion. And they take risks too. There is no such thing as a life without risk.
Tags: cycling, pregnancy, risk, safety
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