Cycling Risk Management

The air felt a bit fresher yesterday. The wind in my hair was more invigorating. I felt more in touch with the sounds of the world around me. Had the weather really changed that much? Then I realized that I had forgotten to put on my bicycle helmet. Suddenly, the fog that was cool against my skin seemed murkier, and I was concerned. Should I turn back? In the end, I decided to press ahead. I was on a bike path and would be a bit more careful to avoid holes or slippery patches or anything else that might cause me to take a tumble. I had been riding this path almost every work day for six months. I felt I knew the risks, and while I couldn’t eliminate them, I could manage them — this time. I had only begun wearing a bicycle helmet as an adult in my 30s. When I was younger than that no one wore them. Maybe we weren’t aware of the risks. But now, I feel vulnerable without one. Just like wearing a seat belt. Seat belts were only commonly available in cars when I was already an adult, and overseas it’s still possible in many places to get into a car that doesn’t have them — which makes me feel uncomfortable and vulnerable. So, does that also mean that when I’m wearing a seat belt or bicycle helmet I feel invulnerable? Well, probably not. But I do probably feel a bit less vulnerable that I really am. With my seat belt on, maybe I’ll go at a higher speed than I should, or with my helmet I’ll ride my bike in more hazardous traffic, not thinking as much about the risks.

Riding without a helmet brought home that risk management requires being aware of risks and accepting responsibility for managing them. Not simply putting a safeguard in place and ignoring that the risks are still there. There are risks in all that we do, from cycling to investment to exploring social networks. Accepting risk and managing it beats the false sense that risk has been eliminated every time. Having a helmet is important, but knowing the road is better.

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Darren Buck

I did the EXACT same thing this morning. Had the same feeling of speed, euphoria, connection…. Unlike you, I did not attempt to manage the risks, I instead sacrificed performance by turning around after a few minutes of riding, heading back up to my apartment. Turning back for an item that is more a symbol than a tool in your risk analogy, i suppose.

My wife greeted me, my helmet in her hand, and said, “Right decision, [email protected]$$.” I probably missed out on a great wind-in-my-hair ride, but my wife wields very broad and powerful oversight authority.

Andre Goodfriend

My wife probably would have done something similar, though in my case it would have been a matter of being asked to justify my chosen course of action. However, I have been delegated some decision-making authority while in the US on TDY on my own for the next few months. That being said, during a recent visit, my wife bought me one of those little rear-view mirrors that affixes to the bicycle helmet. I had been thinking about getting one, but had determined that there was acceptable risk until additional resources became available. I found though that I was not able to adapt to this additional technology. I could never position right and it became more of a distraction than an aid. So, I’m back to relying on my proven ability to turn my head from time to time.

I guess a question to ask in our personal risk management scenarios is “what would we feel we needed to turn back for after we had already begun our journey?” I’d probably go back if I had forgotten my wallet — unless I knew that I would only be going for a walk and would not need to buy anything. Then again, for that same walk, I would go back if I had forgotten my cell phone. In each case it requires assessing the risks and making a decision on the appropriate course of action.

Then again, there’s the “Home Alone” scenario of forgetting something important and not being able to go back…

Darren Buck

Fun analogy. Managing risks (riding known routes, extra vigilence) gives you the possibility of unlimited upside (a transcendental ride on the first beautiful spring day). But we accept the small chance and expected value of the downside scenario (maybe a pothole or broken chain pitches us head-first to the tarmac). Oversight systems (my wife, who actually audits a financial system regulator) look primarily at the largest severity risk (my head meets tarmac), and seeks the most effective way to eliminate that risk (quit staring at clouds and put on your helmet, dummy).

I’m a 99% compliant helmet wearer. Given this talk of risk and upsides and downsides, I wonder what that says about me as a Fed….

Andre Goodfriend

Good discussion on an analogy that’s a lot of fun to stretch. I probably fall into the 95% compliance category concerning the bicycle helmet. A helmet is clearly important. Statistics indicate that of the hundreds of bicycle accidents resulting in death each year, about 90% of those who died were not wearing helmets.

But that being said, one might also think that the helmet alone makes one near impervious to death. There are other factors that are harder to compile. Might it not also be the case that people wearing helmets are more safety conscious and have fewer accidents. The same compilation of statistics indicates that nearly 90% of bicycle fatalities were male. Gender is probably not the reason for surviving the accident, but it may be an indicator of different behavior. Even factoring in that more than twice as many men ride bicycles as do women, it doesn’t explain a fatality difference of about 4 to 1.

While a helmet does help protect the head against injury, it may also be representative of a particular type of behavior that is less likely to have an accident.

And it is this total behavior approach that must be part of risk management. Rather than relying on a protective measure, the focus must be on educated actors who are aware of the environment and the ramifications of their actions.

The banks and financial institutions had protective measures in place, but perhaps what was missing was placing the value on cautious risk management and long term survival rather than the thrill of speed in high risk ventures, and oversight that included transparency rather than self-regulation.

The analogies can be stretched ad infinitum. It great what a little cycling can do.