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Cycling is good for seniors – but it’s also dangerous

More older cyclists are dying from crashes – and car drivers are not to blame. What’s going on?

  • Health
  • Read Time: 6 mins

The rise of the e-bike has seen older people take to the cycle paths and roads like never before.

Cycling has again become popular with seniors mainly because the addition of a battery has made it more possible, and less painful, for ageing bodies.

The good news is that despite more people of all ages taking up cycling, cycling deaths are declining.

However, fatalities involving single riders and older people are increasing.

Analysis of the 1,294 cyclist fatalities recorded in Australia over the past three decades shows cycling deaths slightly decreased overall by an average of 1.1% annually. However, fatalities in those aged 60 years and over increased by 3.3% annually over the same period.

Contrary to popular thinking that car drivers kill cyclists, it seems older cyclists especially have no one to blame but themselves.

The research, conducted by scientists from UNSW Sydney shows a significant increase in single-vehicle cycling deaths – fatal accidents involving cyclists just by themselves. The number of single bicycle fatalities increased by 3.7% per year for all cyclists and 4.4% per year for those 60-plus.

For the study, the researchers analysed cycling deaths between 1991 and 2022.

Adjusting for population, mortality rates per 1 million showed an annual decrease of 3.5% for cyclists under 60 years. Meanwhile, deaths increased by 0.5% annually in the over 60 group over the study period.

Strikingly, the proportion of cyclist fatalities for over 60s increased from 8.6% of all cycling deaths in 1991 to 45.7% in 2022.

The reasons

Researchers concluded older people are frailer so if they do have an accident, they are more likely to sustain and die from serious injury.

One of the researchers, Associate Professor Boufous, said, “Older cyclists may also be more likely to underestimate the likelihood of severe injuries due to single-bicycle crashes, so it is essential to raise more awareness of these risks.”

Ironically, the rise in the number of single crash deaths is linked to improved cycling paths, which separate cyclists from motor traffic.

“Segregated cycling lanes ... reduce the likelihood of multi-vehicle cycling fatalities, but it doesn’t necessarily reduce single-vehicle fatalities,” says Professor Jake Olivier, co-author of the study and deputy director of the Transport and Road Safety Research Centre.

Cycling health benefits

Heart health: Regular bike riding helps to reduce your risk of heart disease and related health conditions such as high blood pressure and stroke

Muscle strength: Regular riding builds muscles and helps keep you balanced.

Mental health: Cycling triggers the release of natural endorphins and can decrease stress and anxiety levels.

Low impact: People with arthritis may benefit because cycling puts less stress on the joins than running.

How to avoid injury

Always use safety equipment, including a helmet, lights, and high-visibility clothing. Riding gloves will help prevent chaffing, blisters, and cuts on your hands, while glasses or sunglasses will protect your eyes from the sun and dust, as well as low-hanging branches.

Ask a professional to set your bike up and show you how to adjust it.

Knee pain is the most common cycling injury. Adjust your saddle and height or get a professional bike fitting to prevent knee pain developing.

Avoid neck and back pain by stretching before each ride, and adjusting your handlebar height so you are not hunched over.

“Cyclist’s palsy” (damage to nerves in the hand from long-distance cycling) and carpel tunnel syndrome can also be avoided by adjusting your handlebar height, so your wrists are always above the handlebar.

Saddle soreness can occur when you are cycling for a long time, so be sure to take regular breaks.

Related reading: UNSW,, Health Direct 


John Austin

John Austin

Policy and Communications Officer, National Seniors Australia

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