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Cycle commuters face greater risk of injury, finds new study – authors call for safe infrastructure

People who travel to work by bike are less prone to cardiovascular disease, cancer and premature death, however

A major new study has found that people who commute by bike in the UK are significantly more likely to be admitted to hospital due to injury than those who travel to work by other modes of transport. At the same time, however, researchers found that they also had a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and premature death than non-cycle commuters.

Researchers from the University of Glasgow, who reached their conclusions after assessing data from 230,390 commuters who participate in the UK Biobank study, say that the findings highlight the need to provide safe infrastructure for cyclists.

The data revealed that 2.5 per cent of participants – 5,704 individuals – cycled to work. After a follow-up period of 8.9 years, it was discovered that 4.4 per cent of all subjects had been admitted to hospital because of injury at least once during that time, or had died due to an injury.

That rose to 7 per cent among those who cycled to work, with the study, published in the BMJ, finding that they had a 45 per cent greater risk of injury compared to those travelling by “non-active” modes such as cars or public transport.

The risk of injury for cyclists also increased with the length of their commute.

In common with previous research, however, the study also found that people cycling to work were less likely than non-active commuters to contract heart disease, cancer and suffer early death.

The risk of cardiovascular disease was 21 per cent lower, that of a first diagnosis of cancer 11 per cent lower, and of premature death 12 per cent lower.

The study said: “Compared with non-active commuting to work, commuting by cycling was associated with a higher risk of hospital admission for a first injury and higher risk of transport related incidents specifically.

“These risks should be viewed in context of the health benefits of active commuting and underscore the need for a safer infrastructure for cycling in the UK.”

Lead author Dr Paul Welsh of the University of Glasgow commented: “Now, as a result of this research, we can to some extent quantify the risk associated with this form of commuting.

“If 1,000 people incorporate cycling into their commute for 10 years we would expect 26 more injuries, but 15 fewer cancers, four fewer heart disease events, and three fewer deaths.

“So, the benefits offset the risks, and this should be encouraging, but more needs to done to make commuter cycling safe,” he added.

Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.

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