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Is bike sharing safer than regular riding?

If you’ve been to downtown Baltimore, you’ve probably seen bike sharing programs in action: a business person zipping off for a quick lunch, tourists taking in the sights. Annapolis is introducing a bike-sharing pilot program this month. In fact, bicyclists have taken more than 50 million rides on these bike-sharing bikes around the country. Here’s an interesting question about bike shares: How many fatalities do you think there have been?

20? (Lower.)

10? (Lower.)

5? (Keep going.)

Since bike sharing programs started up in 2010, there have only been two recorded fatalities. Until 2016, there hadn’t been any at all. Zero. Conversely, regular bike riders experience more than 10 fatalities per 50 million rides. What accounts for the difference?

Design

Some people complain that the bicycles used in bike-sharing programs are clunky and heavy instead of being sleek road machines, but in terms of safety, that’s actually a feature. The lower center of gravity makes them more stable and less prone to tipping, and the drum brakes used typically work better in wet conditions. Their brightly-painted frames and seats that require a more upright posture also increase a bicyclist’s visibility to motorists.

Speed

Speed is another decisive factor. Collisions between bicycles and cars rise sharply when the cars are going faster than 30 miles-per-hour. In dense urban areas, though, traffic is typically going much slower than that, which tends to make drivers more alert.

The same goes for riders. With bicycles that can’t go very fast, bike-share riders are in a better position to not sustain serious injuries.

Caution

Bike-sharing programs tend to attract riders that are less experienced than the average pool of bicyclists. While this would seem to be a negative factor, some experts have argued that this actually makes them more cautious than normal riders, which could balance out their inexperience.

Even if you’re an ardent bicyclist that loves having your own machine, you can still learn from this information. Take whatever steps you can to increase your own visibility: bright colors, lights, etc. Try to ride in areas with slower traffic. Ride conservatively. Above all, wear your helmet. It could save your life.

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