In Defense of Bicycling...

This is a blog that I shouldn’t have to write; defending the health benefits of bicycling against a DOCTOR that is warning against it.

Seriously.  A craniofacial surgeon posted a blog on Huffington Post dissuading individuals over 50 from riding bicycles.  If you don’t want to click on the link, allow me to summarize;  he has recently observed an increase in the number of patients with facial injuries from cycling, so the risk of injury now outweighs the exercise benefit.

I wonder if this guy cautions against stepping outside when it’s raining.  Or warns dieters against eating cruciferous vegetables because they could cause one to choke.  He probably spends a great deal of money on lottery tickets because he certainly has faith in long odds.

One thing he doesn’t have faith in is the ability of any bicyclist riding where they might encounter vehicle traffic.  Let’s not kid ourselves, cycling in traffic can be dangerous.  Cyclists that disobey traffic signals, ride in the wrong direction, and exhibit a total disregard for anyone else on or near the road certainly put themselves at greater risk of accident and injury.  They also perpetuate a stereotype of cyclists that draws undue prejudice and animosity toward those of us that follow the rules of the road.

Why the good doctor assumes that all cyclists fall into this daredevil category, I have no idea.  It’s like me assuming he drives a Lexus, plays golf Sunday morning, and votes Republican.  This isn’t a fair assumption.  He could drive a Mercedes.

His rant seems to be written from the perspective of an angry motorist who doesn’t like to share the road with bicyclists.  Lest we forget he is a real doctor, he reminds us that walking two miles burns more calories than riding a bike the same distance.   Why risk riding when there is no health benefit?  Maybe because thermodynamics isn’t the only benefit of cardiovascular exercise?

Each time you throw a leg over a bicycle and begin pedaling, you elevate your heart rate.  This process exchanges carbon dioxide for oxygen in your lungs and transports oxygenated blood to every cell in your body.  Even a short, 8 to 12 minute bike ride is beneficial.  If you do this twice a day – to work or the grocery store or the library and back – you reap the benefits of better health.  If you ride farther and for a longer period of time, the benefits multiply.  A doctor should know this.

He also seems to have little faith in the coordination and reflexes of those over 50.  I ride with a lot of people over 50.  They may not be able to beat a 10 year-old at Wii, but they can maneuver around broken glass, dodge a distracted pedestrian, and avoid an opening car door in a nanosecond.  They also have healthier hearts, stronger legs, and greater flexibility than the majority of couch potatoes their age.  Bicycling is not the same as using a piece of cardio equipment in the gym.  Cycling sharpens the mind while it works the body.  Why would a doctor want to discourage this?

I believe that this respected surgeon could have done more with his bully pulpit on Huffpost than raise the fear flag.  That’s the job of Fox News.  He should have encouraged beginning cyclists to wear a helmet and gloves, practice their bike handling skills on the bike path (dodging runners, rollerbladers, dogwalkers, and parents with small children), and learn the safe and correct way to ride in traffic.

He could have used his position as a man on the front lines to remind motorists that they are not only obligated, but required to share the road with bicycles.  Who better than to say “your moment of inconvenience is not worth causing injury to your fellow man”?

One thing I will say about the doctor is that despite his ill-reasoned argument against bicycling, he truly cares about helping people avoid craniofacial surgery.  Considering this is how he makes his living, if more people heeded his advice, he’d work himself out of a job…





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  • fb_avatar

    Thanks for writing a great response. Thought I'm a republican who bicycles in traffic, so give us a little bit of a break eh.

  • In reply to Eliza Harris:

    Eliza, no offense meant - just pointing out that doctor stereotype...

    Keep riding and be safe!

  • fb_avatar

    Brent: In case you haven't seen it, you've been given a shout-out over at Commute by Bike:

    Click on over and join the discussion there.

  • In reply to Ted Johnson:

    Thanks, Ted, I appreciate the recognition.

    I really liked the commute-by-bike blog post - I was struggling to find the appropriate analogy myself and the apple choking comparison hit the nail on the head!

    Keep riding and be safe!

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