Cycling Biases

One of my current favs is McRaney whom I mentioned earlier as the author of _You Are Not So Smart_.

In his book, he covers a great number of cognitive biases and logical fallacies.

I’d like to cover some in the cycling world.

For those of you who came for pom-poms and gumdrops in the cycling world, and those who are sick of conflict and drama, you may skip this post.

I’m going to go over, once again, the insane obsession that some cyclists have for “taking the lane” as well as taking the English language and torturing it like it’s 2003. “I’m driving my bicycle.” (sic)

Now to make this more fun, I’ll post the quote, and reader will try to guess which logical fallacy is there. Note, though there might be more than one, I’ll write about one per quote. If you find a different, you still get credit.

“This is an example of what results from what John F. refers to as the “policy of promoting incompetent cycling on bikeways”.  This beloved Long Beach side path does exactly that… it encourages incompetent cycling on bikeways.”

This is the just world theory, the notion that the world should be fair. The 70’s and 80’s sucked for cycling which had motorists spitting on cyclists, the lowest ridership ever, and bad hair.

Now that things are getting better for cyclists, the older crew want us to suffer like they did. They especially don’t want people who are ignorant to get on their bicycle and be safe and to have fun. That wouldn’t be fair! Because we aren’t suffering as much as they did. Why should we reap the rewards of cycling without the pain of a little gobbing?

Exhibit Two:

“I rode 48 miles around San Diego yesterday, including all the complete circumference of San Diego Bay. Facilities are of an uneven nature, to be sure. But, riding on bicycle only facilities is the least satisfying.”

This is called the cognitive bias of expectation. McRaney talks about wine tasters who thought that wines in a better bottle actually tasted better.

Surprise! We used the same wine in every experiment. “Red” wine was actually white wine died red!

Similarly when Coca Cola drinkers were given the “Pepsi Challenge”, they often said that Pepsi tasted better. When they were told that they were actually tasting Pepsi, they changed their minds. When put into an MRI, Coke drinkers’ pleasure centers lit up. When told that they were drinking Pepsi, they started to squelch the natural pleasure that their brains felt!

So people who hate infrastructure, will NEVER enjoy it unless they engage in Prozac, cognitive therapy, and meditation. I feel that I can point them in the right direction to a happier life, but they won’t allow me to help.


Exhibit Three:

There’s a huge debate over whether getting rear ended is number one or number two in the highest number of injuries.

Normal people don’t care, they like to be protected from ALL injuries.

But due to the fact that some people think that riding in the middle of a high speed lane will magically make a cyclist nearly immune to injury, the notion that they are vulerable to injury must be denied.

And it is.

In fact, if you give these people an article which proves that traffic engineers, by specifically thinking about making these safer for cyclists, can do just that, these people will not see it.

This form of metal blindness is especially entertaining in the Unbound household, and it gives us hours of fascination, conversation, and laughter.

“‘And I don’t think I have to mention this, but I will – a bicycle is much smaller and much less visible than an automobile and thus more prone to getting rear ended.’ You didn’t present any evidence for this conclusion, so it must be anecdotal.”

If you guessed pure idiocy, you’d be right. However, the point I was getting at here was confirmation bias. Information that helps your case you believe without question. If your point of view is questioned, you throw out the data.

In this case, the person was able to convince himself the notion that a bicycle is smaller than an auto is absurd as is the notion that a smaller object is harder to see than a larger one, and the idea that one is more likely to collide with something harder to see.

Exhibit Four:

“You cannot present any studies supporting your presumption that cycle tracks and separated facilities are safer for bicyclists, because none exists…I would really prefer to educate (a very cheap solution) and enforce the current laws (potentially bearing revenue) before suggesting the implementation of the costlier forms of bicycle infrastructure (shared paths, cycle tracks).”

And the fallacy is…brand loyalty.

“Cycling education” is a brand, and those who have been advocating would look stupid, if their favorite product were suddenly obsolete just like the DOS users whined when MacOS (R) and Windows TM came and let the great unwashed use their computers without constantly referring to gurus.

Brand loyalty is a series of fallacies.

One of them is sunk cost which shows the longer you stump for something, the more likely you are to defend that choice even when it looks stupid.

This is because people love to protect their egos.

This is one reason people stay with an abusive partner, and why some people rate deadly, noisy, smelly roads as “hedonically better” than quiet and safe ones.

I, myself, am starting to love my abuser. Kiss me Fairmount with your smog covered lips.

Also, cyclists who consider themselves “educated” over-rate this education by the endowment effect (fallacy). Those who have something will rate it as more valuable than anyone else.

Exhibit five:

This one is the best.

“The main skill set is what I call defensive riding. This comes from motorcycle riding (I have been riding motorbikes for 20 years). When you ride a motorbike, you are much more exposed. You are operating in an environment where most people are protected by a cage, but you are not. People protected by a cage, like car drivers, tend not to be as carefully as they should around you simply because the risk to THEM is much lower than the risk to YOU. So you need to take extra precaution. You don’t ride a motorbike like you drive a car. Here are some essential motorcycle survival skills that I believe can be useful to cyclists:”

This is Narcisism, the notion that we are all somehow special and smarter than everyone else.

The truth is that we are all fallible, and knowledge and experience can only take us so far.

There’s the bonus fallacy of the illusion of control.

In reality, accidents are usually random, and though there are some things we can do to stop them; we can never, on our own, perfectly control the world.

This is why we need to help one another as much as possible, and to unload most of our efforts into infrastructure created by experts.

I’ll stop here.

How well did you do at finding fallacies?

0 – Jersey Shore Cast Reject

1 – Toddler Self-Helper

2 – Sophomore Philosopher

3 – Budding Logician

4 – Hyper-aware (of other’s fallacies)

5 – Over Read Zealot

So what’s the way out?

Personally, I have tossed out all pretense of logic and reason unless I want to stump someone who thinks that they’re Spock. 🙂

I realize that all my notions are based on biases, emotions, and whims.

And as Brand said, “If we create our own reality…which we do, why not see endless beauty?”

Why not indeed.


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