Wednesday 4 February 2009

Like suicide and murder

Could it perhaps be a slight over-reaction to describe two people riding on a bike at the same time as being "like suicide and murder" ?

I've just returned home and cycled past a couple of schools here around lunch time and saw any number of children being given lifts on the back of their friend's bikes. Lots of smiles from friends enjoying their lives together. No concerns about it being unsafe. Given that cyclists here have the lowest death rate in the world, it would seem that this isn't a great problem.

The image comes from a comic called "Danny and the Demoncycle" which was produced by the "Highway safety division of Virginia" back in 1972. This would seem to pre-date many of the current health and safety concerns over cycling, so unlike a modern day equivalent it doesn't also go on about helmets and fluorescent clothing.

It's one of many examples of where excessive concern about something which carries a very small risk is mis-directed. In this case, it's likely to stop children cycling at all, with all the negative effects that this implies for health, wealth, and society. Real safety doesn't come from scaring people off bicycles. It comes from efforts to improve the conditions on the streets.

I wonder if the same department also tried to stop people from driving cars. After all, they were responsible for roughly as many deaths in the last century as wars, yet the motor industry has always been keen to emphasize safety.

Thanks to the Old Bike Blog for drawing my attention to this. But remember... "Sorry Pal, No passengers ! Doubling on a single bike is like suicide and murder !"

Oh, and remember that carrying a passenger is actually illegal in many countries. Haven't the police got anything better to do ?

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  1. This comic book had nothing to do with scaring kids from riding bikes. It was showing what happens when you ride unsafely ignoring basic traffic rules.

    If you look at the last page it shows danny much older still riding a bike because he came to his senses.

    Much like you and me.

  2. I wondered if you'd notice that comment :) It's sad that a generation of children were basically told to be 'Safe' ie "Don't get int he way of cars" It seems to be a classic 'blame the victim' notion. The message seems to be that bikes are dangerous and maintenance intensive, inconvenient, and in the way.

    (Hehe, the Google word verification for this comment was 'panne' German for 'crash'

  3. I think they should have a "where they are now" strip on these two. Since riding bikes was soo dangerous, they stopped as soon as they got their drivers licences. Now, they are in their 40's. Getting some health problems perhaps due to obesity, etc...

    I haven't been riding for 2 weeks due to ankle injury and I'm gaining weight.

  4. So riding a bike alone is only suicide? :o)

  5. I'm sure there was an earlier version of this pamphlet, where the caption for this picture was, "Sorry pal, no passengers! Sharing my bike, without you having to work hard for your own would be like Communism, and a great threat to the American Way of Life."


  6. Tom, I'm not sure I have yet fully come to my senses - at least not in the sense that this comic encourages.

    It really has rather a lot of negativity about cycling - including the rather wonderful bit on page 17 about how in future he will behave "like a grown-up car driver". Bikes are for kids, then...

    Or page 18 where he talks about the "new international signs that will help make our highways safer" - including a "no bicycles" sign. Something that is at the very least somewhat rare in these parts.

    I don't really believe that the people who wrote this actually wanted to scare children off bicycles. However, their naivety will have helped to do the same thing anyway.

  7. @Karl: Would there be another where the other kid is offering a dollar bill? That'd be capitalism!

  8. Eating is bad for you too, so I've been told; you might get poisoned. Or to put it another way: Bah, humbug (to coin a phrase)!

  9. What a fascinating site. Thank you for the link. I particularily enjoyed the 1961 George Wallace election cartoon in which he promised segregation forever and other "Alabama values." See it at:

  10. How would they have been killed anyway? Most likely by losing control and riding into the path of...a tax paying, voting, motorist. Can't have that can we?

    Remind me why I live in the UK again?

  11. In my childhood I spent whole summers riding bikes with friends - not all of whom could afford bikes, so we did go 2 or even 3 to a bike - on one ocassion we added a makeshift cart carrying 2 more lads. We did it on quieter roads within the estate, not on main, busy roads. It was fun and no harm came to us.

    More seriously, I agree with David, in the UK 'cycling safety' = 'control the cyclists'. It's a containment exercise with token infrastructure 'gifts' (those wretched 'bike lanes') - not a positive effort to increase safety through substantial infrastructure and visible measures to help cyclists cycle (the subjective safety David rightly identifies as critical for cycling to spread).

  12. Missouri is one of the places where it is illegal to have more people on a bicycle than there are seats to accommodate them. Yes, it's silly.

  13. It's also interesting what type of bicycle the cartoon character is riding. A bicycle very typical of the Dutch people today, although not with gears, chaincase, or lights or a wheel lock. And the equipment the boy was riding is very typical of what Dutch kids today do. No helmets, no high viz, not even a flashing light on his hands. Just a bicycle typical even for the 1910s.

  14. Many of the laws that police enforce are when the bicycle is not equipped to handle a second person. Having the second person on the crossbar, A that would be quite uncomfortable, and also, not very safe. Riding on a rear luggage rack that is designed to handle masses like what humans have, maybe 40 kg for a child, 60 kg for a teenager and 75 kg for an adult, less for a woman, is perfectly fine in the Netherlands, and I think it might be legal in other countries.

  15. Restlesstablet: The racks on Dutch bikes are not rated for such loads. Typically the manufacturers rate them for just 15 kg or so. However, they're built very robustly and can easily carry more - at your own risk. In many other countries it's possible to carry a passenger if the bicycle is specially adapted for passengers. That's the case in the UK. What counts as a special adaption is rather difficult to say as there is no legal definition of this. Typically people expect there to be foot pegs and handlebars for the passenger.


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