Dear Umbra,

So what about bike commuting? Is it safe? Is it good? Is it encouraged?

P.K. Borzo
St. Paul, Minn.

Dearest P.K.,

Yes, yes, yes. Lungwise, biking is at least as safe as driving, if not more so. It’s true, as many readers pointed out after my previous column, that we breathe more heavily when bicycling than driving. But the scientists thought of that. In general, we are not worse off biking in regular old city traffic, especially if we are able to stay to the side of the pollutant slipstream. Of course, there are a lot of variables — if you’re still worried, you could always wear a mask.

Unsafe at any speed?

Is biking safe in other ways? I don’t know what to say to that. I think accident and injury statistics are essentially meaningless when applied to our own individual choices. Car accidents happen often, but we don’t consider them until that sickening crunch intrudes on our safety delusion. Likewise, no numbers will stop a determined cyclist.

If you intend to start a biking habit, use common sense. Evaluate your own confidence, and use the experience of others. If people cycle in St. Paul, but you never see a single cyclist on the route you would take to work, find out where the decent bike route lies. Ask fellow cyclists whether they consider your route safe. Find the bike lanes, the roads with good shoulders. Every major city has a bicycling coalition devoted to helping people like you, and some cities, including yours, publish route maps.

And think about your local drivers. Seattle drivers are completely spaced out, never use their turn signals, and can’t plan ahead in traffic. They enrage me, but they are aware of and expect cyclists on the roadway. New York drivers, on the other hand, see everything on the road as an obstacle — but their reflexes are excellent. I expect Twin City drivers are courteous and predictable, given Minnesota stereotypes.

If you are hit by a car, or skid on a rainy street, you will feel endangered, injured, terrified, and stupid. That’s true of any transit accident. On the plus side, it is unlikely that you will maim anyone but yourself, and very unlikely that you will be the target of a terrorist attack. You will lose weight and save money, and perhaps get the high honor of being considered a wacko. The wackos live longest, my friend.

In solidarity,
Umbra