A version of the map above appears in a new article in the British Medical Journal on the benefits of biking. The map shows estimates of the routes most commonly taken via Barclays Cycle Hire, London’s bike share program.
The researchers used a computer model to simulate the effects on health of the bikers in the program based on user data, police records of accidents, and other sources. They estimated that the bikers added, altogether, about 72 years to their lifespans among men — but these benefits were concentrated among older users, who are in the minority. Among younger bikers, the benefits were negligible, perhaps because younger people have less need of regular exercise or perhaps because they’re more likely to do something stupid and get themselves hurt. Female bikers are also more susceptible to injury, for reasons that remain unclear, and the women in the researcher’s simulation gained less from biking.
Biking would be very healthy from a statistical perspective if it weren’t so dangerous, but then, it doesn’t have to be dangerous. The researchers conclude with a call for better-designed roads: “In the Netherlands, a comprehensive and well maintained system of cycle tracks, physically protected from fast motor traffic, have helped to make cycling widespread at all ages and reduce the risks of injury. Providing similar quality infrastructure in London might help realise the substantial potential health benefits that cycling could offer.”
Many thanks to Oliver O’Brien for the use of his map. Click below to read the study (full text).