Why you should never tell anyone to “Ride safely!”

Concerns about rider safety have received a lot of attention following the tragic deaths of Mike Hall, Eric Fishbein, and Frank Simons in self-supported, ultra-distance races in Australia, the USA, and Europe in 2017. Many people on social media an in personal interactions have therefore been encouraging people to “Ride safely!” Personally, I think this is the most pointless instruction/encouragement that can be made, and the implicit connotations may be detrimental to the intended goal and it places the blame where it’s often not deserved.

First, I believe that every cyclist is managing their own levels of risk to the best of their abilities and tolerance levels and so saying “Ride safely!” is not going to change anyone’s behavior in any way.

Second, by saying “Ride safely!” you are implying that cycling is a dangerous activity, which may discourage people from cycling who read or hear the comment. Because having more cyclists on the roads is the best proven method for making cycling safer in general, discouraging people from cycling by presenting it as a dangerous activity will make conditions more dangerous for people who do cycle.

Third, by saying “Ride safely!” you are implying that cyclists can avoid accidents by behaving differently, and therefore people that are involved in an accident are partially to blame because they were not riding safely enough. Even implicit victim blaming is a dangerous game to play without any facts.

Therefore, although I absolutely hope that everyone stays safe out there, I will never tell anyone to “Ride safely!” and I will cringe every time I read or hear that comment. It won’t change anyone’s behavior, you don’t want to implicitly say that you believe cycling is dangerous and so discourage people from doing it, and you shouldn’t blame the victims without any facts.

If you want cycling to be safer, instead of telling people to “Ride safely!”, please go ride your bike, take public transport, keep your car in the garage whenever possible, and if this is not currently possible then choose to live closer to where you work/study/shop or closer to public transport (and/or lobby for better public transport). Personally, I haven’t driven in about 10 years.

By the way, please drive safely!

10 thoughts on “Why you should never tell anyone to “Ride safely!””

  1. Hi Chris, on a way I agree with you, especially a rider cannot change the behaviour of a crazy car driver. But I saw also riders riding in the night without high visible vest or with a pretty bad backlight. One rider even passed me without backlight. Also a lot of riders wear black clothes. So, I think in beeing saying: Take care of you, it means for me also that the rider should try to ride safely with being visible. That is a point a rider can do for his own safety. I alway have at least two backlights, a foot reflector and high visible vest in the night. When it was too warm, I was just riding in the vest.

    1. I agree, Urs. Giving riders specific recommendations about lights, clothing, and other aspects of safety can be helpful. I just don’t like the general comment of “Ride safely” that doesn’t really offer any useful advice.

  2. Chris I applaud your thoughtful article. Very well written. I rode extensively in Holland on the way and back from the start of Tcr 2017.

    We have a lot to learn.

  3. Thank god someone talking sense!
    I recently rode the divide and everyone said ‘ be safe out there’ what a stupid comment!

  4. Whenever my sister (or mother, wife etc) set off on a long journey, I always say “drive safe” as they leave.

    It’s just an expression. Quit overanalysing everything.

  5. Whilst I agree in general with your points, and especially if they are wishing “Ride safely!” just because they are on a bike and perceive it as more dangerous, I expect people have been wishing others a safe journey for as long as there have been journeys!

    For example, the OED has it back to c1451, and here’s a 1531:

    Wee haue sore longyd for your safe retorne hopynge to here some newes from oure euangelyke brotherne of Germany.

  6. I think this is a bit harsh. True, it is not likely to change behaviour or make them more safe but if it demonstrates a concern for their well-being, it’s fine by me.
    Love the website, by the way.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *