Getting (hit) older together

When I met the other tandemists at the Durham Habitat ride, I realized that being a tandem couple automatically places us in a different age class. As with most other tandem pairs I’ve met, these two were probably 20 years our senior. I’m sure there are lots of dedicated tandem riders in their early 30’s like us, but my (admittedly small) sample puts us in the minority. Frankly, I’m happy to be in the company of couples that have years of experience navigating the roads, as well as years of experience navigating life together. Maybe it’ll rub off on us like a chain grease on your calf – or for my lovely stoker, on both calves, from the drive train on the right AND the timing chain on the left.

While I’m excited about growing older together with my betrothed, leaving us years to master honking, we may in fact be growing older together with the entire population of cyclists. I’m not a demographer, not even an amateur one, but a quick look at NHTSA’s recently published traffic safety stats for bicyclists, based on 2008 crash and fatality data, makes it look like cyclists as a population are actually getting older. [BTW, there’s lots of great public crash data available in these annual NHTSA reports]

Here’s the macabre statistics. Steadily since 1998, the average age of cyclists killed in traffic crashes has gone up.

bikes safety facts 2

At this point in my life, perhaps I should be comforted by the fact that I’m still under this average. But we’re gaining fast, unless that age keeps rising. I suppose this chart could indicate that younger cyclists are just becoming more skilled at earlier ages and are better at avoiding accidents. But no, I think these statistics must derive from exposure of all cyclists to traffic.

What this chart really says to me is a number of potential things: 1) people in the U.S. are bicycling longer into older age, 2) more Americans in their “working” years are choosing to commute to work by bicycle, 3) there are more cyclists of all ages riding bicycles now, including older adults (those over 30) riding more and riding into later years, or 4) there are less young people choosing to ride bicycles. I’d like to think that all of these possibilities are actually positive indications, except for the very last one. NHTSA’s Federal Highway Administration should be putting the finishing touches on the National Household Travel Survey, due out in January 2010, which should illuminate these numbers.

Also evident in the 2008 numbers is that fatalities for “pedalcyclists” (that is bicyclists plus other 1- to n-wheeled machines operated under human power) is the only category other than motorcyclists that saw an increase in fatalities. Again, I think this must mean that there are just more people choosing to ride bikes these days. At least more older people, maybe those who ride tandems… (gulp).


2 Responses to “Getting (hit) older together”

  1. 1 Steve A November 6, 2009 at 7:57 am

    Looking at the bike racks at schools, there’s definitely some truth to #4. The “cycling is too dangerous” propaganda is having an effect.

    • 2 pomocomo November 6, 2009 at 10:20 am

      Yeah, I guess the K-12 kids aren’t riding to school as much anymore, and maybe it really is the working adults in the cities that are deciding to switch to bikes for commuting that could be the real growing demographic for bicyclists.

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