How Motor-Vehicles are Affecting Road Cyclists’ Way of Riding in a 100-mile Radius of Bedford, Virginia – Shortened Version

By:Susannah Allen

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Literature Review 

My research focuses on how motor-vehicles affect the cycling community in a 100-mile radius of Bedford, Virginia. The cycling community has evolved a lot in the past 30 years, from aerodynamics, training, and safety gear. The rise of cycling deaths has sparked the market to produce bright luminescent lights, reflective equipment, helmets, motion sensors, and even technology with bike crash detectors. Cyclists hit with motor-vehicles are at a higher risk of dying, paralysis, or having a severe injury.

The cycling community is trying to find solutions to grow the cycling population while keeping cyclists safe. Cycling is excellent for health, and it is an environmentally friendly way to commute to work or stores; cycling is also an environmentally friendly way to work out. Cycling is a worldwide sport and way of transportation, yet participation has been declining based on the injuries and deaths in the U.S. Other countries such as Denmark and Germany are thriving as some of the best cycling countries. In the U.S, certain cities are the best and safest for cyclists, such as Seattle, WA; San Francisco, CA; Fort Collins, CO; Minneapolis, MN; and Portland, OR. These five cities are the best places to go cycling, according to Bicycling magazine (Shilton). The League of American Bicyclists has a list and infographic on the exact things that need to be done to become a bicycle-friendly community (Murphy). Virginia has two laws that help cycling a lot, they were both passed in July 2021. The first new law is that car drivers must change lanes to pass cyclists, and cyclists are allowed to ride two-abreast on the road (Bicycling in Virginia). These laws should help the cycling community in Virginia. Creating a more bicycle-friendly community is an excellent start to improving the cycling communities all over the U.S. 

Based on new equipment, infrastructure plans, and technology, cycling should be getting safer, but studies are seeing the opposite. My research is looking at how this data directly affects cyclists and how big of a negative impact it is making on the cycling community in the 100-mile radius of Bedford, Virginia. Cycling is a sport and way of transportation that should be safe and readily available to anyone. 


When collecting the data for my research project, I used a survey with 12 questions, consisting of multiple choice and short answers. The survey was then be broken down in parts and analyzed. I sent this survey to multiple bicycle shops in a 100-mile radius of Bedford, VA. I also posted the survey link to multiple Virginia cycling Facebook pages/groups. I found that posting the survey link on Facebook pages was more effective than the flyer handout at bike shops. I attribute this as a website link on a smartphone is easier to use than a QR code. When making the flyer for the bike shops, I included a summary of my project, why I was doing it, and its importance to me. At the bottom of the flyer, I included a QR code that would take the participants to the survey. I also included my email address if any participants had questions or concerns. After sending the survey out to Facebook pages and bike shops, I got a large amount of feedback. I started the survey on November 21st, 2021, and ended the survey on January 29th, 2022. This two-month period gave me time to get a diverse group of participants from all the areas in the radius. I was able to get a total of 253 responses. However, some of those participants responded with a bike shop out of the 100-mile radius, misinterpreted the question, or were hit by a car (for ethical reasons, no participant could be directly involved in a bike/motor-vehicle crash), so that left me with 108 usable responses from the survey. The participants were located in Lexington, Roanoke, Harrisonburg, Blacksburg, Lynchburg, Altavista, Salem, Charlottesville, and Staunton, Virginia. These cities have an abundance of rural and city roads that many cyclists use. 


I will assess my findings by analyzing: different biking experiences for men and women, different experiences for country and city road riders, different encounters with vehicles among riders having different amounts of road biking experience, and using a 1 proportion Z-interval test at the 95% confidence interval. My initial finding was that I acquired more surveys by men: 75.9% of the research was based on males, 23.1% were females, and .9% responded with other/prefer not to say. I do not find this shocking as the cycling community is male-dominated. When breaking down the statistics in numbers, there are 25 female cyclists, 82 male cyclists, and one other/prefer not to say. Examining the male cyclists, I found that eight of the 82 do not wear safety gear, and out of those eight cyclists, six have had negative experiences with cars, one even gave up road riding, while the other seven changed how they ride or where they ride, one participant said he had multiple bad experiences, and that is why he gave up riding:

Yes. I gave up road riding. A student at a local high school used to drive by me about the same time I’d ride. He’d buzz very close, trying to push me off the road. Then come back by and do it another couple of times. While yelling profanity. It was not my only negative encounter. And then, when smartphones started proliferating, I finally gave up. Not worth risking someone updating Facebook or texting while driving accidentally kill or paralyze me. (Participant 10)

 The other 74 male participants said they always wear safety gear but have still had many negative encounters and experiences. However, five participants said they wear safety gear and have not had a bad experience. Out of these participants who wear safety gear and have had a bad experience, only ten cyclists still have the same riding habits. The other 64 cyclists have changed their riding by going different places, stopping cycling altogether, riding only mountain bikes, using different riding techniques, or wearing even more protective gear. One cyclist said, “Yes. After several very close calls from distracted drivers and 1 incident of coal rolling I have given up road riding. I need to be alive to raise my kids. I only mountain bike now.” This statement reflects the cyclist’s feelings towards drivers and his experiences cycling. The negative experiences he has had forced him to give up something he enjoyed just so he could stay alive. As I examine the free-response portion of the survey, I am seeing this pattern repeatedly; many cyclists are giving up cycling because of distracted or angry drivers.  

When sorting through the women’s data, I noticed that only three women do not wear safety gear, and all three have had negative experiences with motor-vehicles. Out of 26 women, all of them have had a negative encounter with a motor-vehicle on the road, but two of the cyclists have not changed their riding patterns. At the same time, the other 24 have changed the way they ride, some examples were more defensive riding, riding in groups, or riding during different parts of the day, etc. One woman said that, “I try to avoid rush hour and have asked city officials to continue bike lanes, increase signage, and use social media to support cyclists. I also will avoid certain roads. I ride with three cameras to hopefully have proof of aggressive or distracted motorists if I am ever injured by a motorist while riding.” These overall experiences have matched very closely with the men’s experiences. Both genders have been disrespected and hurt by motor-vehicles. When looking closer at whether having safety gear on is helpful or not, it seems that many cyclists have negative experiences with or without wearing lights and other safety gear. So that brings me to a plausible development that while safety gear does not prevent negative experiences, I believe that it protects the cyclist’s life because none of the people wearing safety gear have ever gotten hit by cars. Some of the negative experiences with motor-vehicles are humans being rude to cyclists, but they were aware of the cyclist. This being said, safety gear does make other drivers aware of cyclist’s existence on the road, which is the point of lights and reflective gear. Many cyclists get hit when they are not visible, so having safety gear on will help catch the attention of drivers and could save your life. Overall, I see the same pattern with cyclists and their negative experiences with motor-vehicles whether the cyclist is a woman or a man. 

Looking further into the questions and responses, I will discuss the differences between city and country road experiences. Thirty-nine of the 108  surveyed cyclists ride on city roads, and the others ride on country roads. Four cyclists said they had never felt endangered while riding on a country road, and four never felt endangered on a city road. The other cyclists that have felt endangered changed their riding patterns. I found a theme where country-riding cyclists started mountain biking or gravel riding after a negative encounter. The city riders have made other changes like adding more lights or riding at different times and/or places. Looking back at the changes of country riding and seeing that gravel riding is becoming a more popular option has also explained why there has been such a boom in gravel cycling. My research shows that in the 100-mile radius around Bedford, Virginia, more cyclists ride on smaller, unmarked roads than those who ride on marked roads. This could be because this area is rural or because cyclists have found that the country’s roads are safer. Country roads are usually traveled far less often by cars, but are much narrower. My research can not prove this hypothesis, but it does show a trend that cyclists in the 100-mile radius prefer country roads. 

The next topic of my research exploration will be determining if the total years of riding correlates with the encounters cyclists have with motor-vehicles. One of the survey questions asks how long the cyclists have been riding, and options include: 1-6, 7-13, 14-20, 21-27, or 28+ years. The data showed that the only cyclists who have never had a negative encounter or felt endangered while riding were cyclists who had only been riding for 1-6 years. Eight cyclists report not having a negative experience with motor-vehicles, and all those cyclists  said they only had 1-6 years of road cycling experience. So my hypothesis that if cyclists have more experience then they will have a greater chance of a negative encounter while road riding was supported. The chart to the right shows the percentages of the cyclists and how many years they have been cycling. Another realization made from this was that many riders who have more than 7+ years of cycling  are transitioning to be gravel cyclists, mountain bikers, or using stationary bikes.


I used the 1-proportion Z-interval test to find the interval of cyclists who have changed riding habits because of motor-vehicles. First, I stated that I will find the 95% confidence interval of the true proportion of cyclists who have changed their riding habits because of motor-vehicles. I then checked all conditions to make sure it was reliable data. After I knew my conditions were met I could use the 1-proportion Z-interval test in the Ti-84 Plus CE calculator. I put 87 in for X, 108, in for N, and .95 for the confidence level. This test showed an interval of (.73091 to .8802). So I can conclude that I am 95% confident that the interval from (.73091 to .8802) shows the true proportion of cyclists that have changed their cycling habits because of cars. The p-hat value was .805, and this was found by dividing 87 by 108. 


It seems that many drivers do not respect or care for cyclists, therefore cyclists have been going to different cycling outlets. In relation to my gap, this is exactly what I was trying to find: how motor-vehicles were affecting road cyclists in a 100-mile radius of Bedford, Virginia. The motor-vehicles did have a negative impact on the cyclists in the 100-mile radius of Bedford,Virginia. They have made many cyclists stop riding, change riding habits, or start mountain biking/gravel riding. The results from this research will be used to advocate for cyclist safety and help cyclists stay safe on the roads, particularly in the area that I studied.  I plan to share the results with all the local bicycle shops I used, and the different Facebook pages. I also plan to advocate for cyclist safety in my community. Cycling is a sport and way of transportation that should be accessible and safe to all. 

I also examined the responses that I could not use, and I think it is important to value these responses even if they did not go into the final research. I found that 17 out of the 253 participants have been directly hit by a car. This means that 6% of the cyclists I surveyed have been hit by a car, which is alarming when dealing with life or death situations. All of those responses said they changed how they ride and some have stopped riding altogether.