A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Keven Moore: Cycling has increased during COVID-19 pandemic, and so have the safety risks

As a pre-teen and teenager growing up in the 1970s before my first car, my bicycle was the most valued asset that I ever owned. It provided freedom from my boring life of only three channels on TV at home.

It also allowed me to get to baseball practice, play at the park, go swimming at the local city pools, and ride to the arcade in the mall. It provided a way to deliver newspapers and visit friends in nearby distant neighborhoods to play kickball and get to know all the new girls in junior high school.

Today, according to Statista.com, between 15 and 20 million units of bicycles are sold in the U.S. annually and the number of bicycles in the U.S. is estimated to be about 103 million. Nobody knows just exactly how many bikes exist in the world, but it is estimated that there are somewhere around a billion.

Cycling has increased significantly in the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Steve Harp)

Bicycles were a staple for many in my generation, but I do still own a bike a hand-me-down from my son. As a parent I tried to share the same experience with my children and bought them all bicycles so that they all could have the same experience, but it never took root with either of them. I suspect that’s because many kids today are too distracted with 982 channels on cable TV, Netflix, PlayStation, XBox, Tiktok, social media, and other means of entertainment.

However, with the COVID-19 pandemic and shutdown the demand for bicycles has skyrocketed. I first noticed this during the shutdown order while working from my home and looking out my office window. As I noticed scores of people riding by every day at all hours of the day, from your true bicyclist enthusiast, to your “Hey, I’m bored. I think I will go ride a bike” kind of cyclist.

I also noticed several families out riding bikes together through my neighborhood. Then on one of my essential supply runs to Walmart back in May, I noticed that all the bicycles had sold out and all the racks were empty.

From my research, the spike in sales comes on the heels of stay-at-home orders. Others are saying that the demand for bikes skyrocketed once the gyms closed due to COVID-19, thus causing many of the bicycle shops to sell out of bikes across the country. According to an article in the Bicycleretailer.com, U.S. cycling sales through all retail channels grew 75 percent in April to a total of about $1 billion in retail sales for that month, according to The NPD Group.

Bikes for family use, and neighborhood riding and lower price-points showed the strongest year-over-year sales gains. Lifestyle/leisure bikes grew by 203 percent; front suspension mountain bikes were up by more than 150 percent, and children’s bikes increased by 107 percent for the month. Accessories sales also grew, including helmets (up 49 percent), water bottle cages (up 60 percent), and bike baskets (up 85 percent).

The number of bicycles in the U.S. is estimated to be about 103 million. (Photo by Steve Harp)

The problem however is that the demand is still there, but the supply dried up because the majority of all the bicycles sold in the U.S. are manufactured in China and the supply dwindled due to COVID-19 pandemic and recent trade negotiations and tariffs. So to find one today you may have to try your luck on Craigslist or Facebook marketplace.

I suspect that another driving force for bicycle sales to spike was the widespread cancellation of youth sports programs and bike riding is one of those few outdoor activities that families can all safely participate in together. It allows parents to share the experience and time with their kids instead of taking them to games and practices.

Since the state has begun to reopen from the COVID-19 pandemic, I have also noticed more bicycle commuters on my drive into the office.

Helmets prevent head injuries for cyclists. (Photo by Steve Harp)

With the recent increase in bicycling sales and use, come a higher degree of risks that needs to be considered by the cyclists and motorists that are sharing the same roadways. Even with nearly 40 million cyclists in America, they are no match to a moving car or truck traveling at much greater speeds than the average 12-15 MPH on the average road bike.

According to a report in Bicycling.com, 2018 was the deadliest year for cyclists in 30 years, and they have yet to release 2019 statistics.

But according to the report, there were 857 cyclist deaths and it rose by 6.3 percent from 2017 to 2018, despite an overall decrease of 2.4 percent in total motor vehicle accident deaths.
The CDC also estimates that nearly 467,000 bicycle-related injuries occur every year.

So if you are a new cyclist or an avid bicyclist remember these safety tips:

• Wear a helmet that fits properly and complies with Consumer Product Safety Commission standards. Helmets are 90 percent effective in preventing head and brain injuries. Despite the fact that nearly 70 percent of all fatal bicycle crashes involve head injuries, only 20 percent of all cyclists wear helmets. Every dollar spent on helmets saves society $30 in indirect medical costs and other costs.

Keven Moore works in risk management services. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Kentucky, a master’s from Eastern Kentucky University and 25-plus years of experience in the safety and insurance profession. He is also an expert witness. He lives in Lexington with his family and works out of both Lexington and Northern Kentucky. Keven can be reached at kmoore@roeding.com

• See and be seen. Ride like everyone you encounter on the roadway is blind. Then increase your visibility by wearing fluorescent or brightly colored clothing. If you must ride at night, use a front light and red reflector or flashing rear light. Also, use retro-reflective tape or markings on equipment and clothing.

• Stay alert. Scan ahead for potholes, cracks, railroad tracks, wet leaves, animals that may dart in front of you.. etc. Look for a gap in traffic, plan your move, then signal your intentions.

• Watch out. More than 70 percent of car-bicycle crashes occur at driveways or other intersections.

• Obey traffic laws. Bicycles are considered vehicles, so the same rules apply to cyclists that apply to vehicle operators, including obeying traffic signs, signals, and lane markings. When on the street, ride in the same direction as traffic.

I would encourage all drivers to remember to be courteous and share the road with cyclists. Allow at least 3-feet clearance when passing a cyclist on the road and remember to yield to cyclists at intersections and as directed by signs and signals.

Drivers should be especially watchful for cyclists when making turns, either left or right, and remember to look for cyclists before opening a car door or pulling out from a parking space.

Even after the COVID-19 pandemic has subsided, cycling is not going away and is growing in popularity as we Americans try to become healthier and more active. You are likely to encounter a cyclist multiple times during the summer months.

So, remember to yield to the cyclist, and if not remember to keep your auto insurance policy current because you just may be tapping out your limits of liability if you are not careful.

Be safe, my friends.

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