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Cycling is around 35 times safer than rugby, according to Auckland University researchers who compared accident claims and participation rates in several activities.
They calculated that around 6000 two-hour bike rides took place for each cycling injury claim covered by the Accident Compensation Corporation and one rugby injury claim was accepted for every 167 games, on average.
Medical student Michael Chieng, supervised by Professor Alistair Woodward, concluded a two-hour bike ride was about six times safer than horse-riding, 15 times safer than a day's skiing and 35 times safer than a game of rugby.
In 2012, eight cyclists died, 161 were seriously injured and 637 suffered minor injuries in police-reported crashes on New Zealand roads, the Ministry of Transport says. Two deaths have occurred this year, prompting a Herald series highlighting the road safety issues.
Cycling groups believe an over-emphasis on cycling risks keeps many people off their bikes - and that a big increase in the numbers cycling on roads would actually make it a safer activity.
Professor Woodward said Mr Chieng's comparison was done to challenge assumptions - "the idea that riding a bike is just too dangerous to think about, that you couldn't have your children riding a bike but it's okay to go playing rugby.
"It's fine to play rugby, but people have a slightly bent sense of the relative risks. The point was to put bicycle risk in some kind of proportion."
Cycling Advocates' Network chairman Graeme Lindup agreed there was a public misperception of the safety of cycling and said its comparatively low risk in the Auckland University analysis was not surprising. But that did not relieve the need to rectify the absence of safe-cycling infrastructure in many places.
Mr Chieng said the university's studies following 2006 Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge entrants for more than four years indicated bike crashes causing injuries were uncommon.
"A typical rider would be out on his or her bike for seven years before an injury, and on average would be riding for 70 years before suffering an injury sufficiently severe to be admitted to hospital."
A paper published in the journal Public Library of Science One last week reported that Taupo cyclists who had had a crash in the year before the 2006 event were more likely than the non-crashers to be younger, male, a university graduate, live in an urban area, spend more time in the saddle, listen to music while cycling, ride in a bunch, ride to work, at night and off-road.
They were less likely always to use fluorescent or reflective materials.
- Martin Johnston of the New Zealand Herald