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A Cyclist by Any Other Name

If
you are a person who rides a bicycle, how do you refer to yourself? As
a cyclist? A biker? A bicyclist? Or simply as…a person? Who rides a
bicycle?

As riding a bicycle for transportation has become
more common around the country, the question comes up more and more
often. The word "cyclist," in common usage, has long meant someone
wearing Lycra, often riding for recreation. (Back in 2008, Bike Snob NYC came up his own definition: a person who rides a bike even when he or she doesn’t have to, and who also owns a floor pump.)

Many
people who ride bikes shy away from the appellation because they don’t
identify with hardcore roadies who never get onto their bikes without
donning special gear. The cycle chic movement — popularized by Copenhagenize and Copenhagen Cycle Chic
— has been fed by people like this, people who just want to be
themselves, riding a bike in their own clothes. People who don’t want
to put on what they perceive as a cyclist costume.

Streetsblog Network member blog 4onaQuarter,
who writes from the Orlando area, talked about the "cyclist" conundrum
in a post yesterday that highlights another problem — the hostility
many drivers feel toward large groups of recreational riders on the
road, and how that hostility can get transferred to anyone on a bicycle:

475105794_8ee6d53f72.jpgWe’re guessing these people are probably OK with being called cyclists. Photo: ImageMD via Flickr

I struggle a lot with the term "cyclist." It feels dishonest to use it when referring to myself, but
lord knows "biker" is all wrong, too. Although I’ve dedicated myself
to riding my bike, I don’t feel like I am really a part of the bike
community. This isn’t some sort of high school drama feeling — it’s more
that I feel too new to identify myself that way.…

For
me, riding is as much an act of advocacy as it is of pleasure. I do
enjoy riding my bike, but it’s not part of my history. Maybe I’m
a late bloomer, but I guess I’m forging that love affair only now. I
ride because I sincerely believe my riding can make a difference, no
matter how small. I ride because not only do I want my community to be
healthier and greener, but also because I tend to think that having a
progressive bike culture will lead to all kinds of other cultural
progress. Somehow I think that tolerance is woven in with a general
sense of community goodness — whatever that means.

So, finding this article
[about problems between drivers and weekend groups of recreational
cyclists] headlining my local newspaper the other day really peeved me.
Now today, I saw this article
[a response from a proud Lycra-wearing roadie] and I can’t decide which article peeves me most.…

If that’s what a cyclist is, or how it’s perceived by the "masses,"
I’m not sure it’s what I want to be. Bike lady is kind of nice. I
suppose I could just be a person on a bike, but that’s no fun. Any
other suggestions?

Let
us know what you think in the comments. Does nomenclature make a
difference? If you ride a bike, how do you identify yourself? Do you
care what others call you?

Related: CommuteOrlando Blog
on efforts to protest a particularly hateful Facebook group that
incites drivers to hit cyclists (or people on bikes — we don’t think
the folks who run these groups make semantic distinctions). 

  • “I ride because not only do I want my community to be healthier and greener, but also because I tend to think that having a progressive bike culture will lead to all kinds of other cultural progress.”

    Aw man, come on. You’re not doing the rest of us any favors if you don’t really like riding a bike. The whole idea is that it suits you, and it just so happens to have these other benefits (clean air, community, blah blah blah).

  • ah BSNYC… I own a floor pump! therefore I am a bicyclist.

    @ubray/josef – I think that once people actually get up on a bike (enough times to feel comfortable on it), they will find that they actually enjoy it. Early on it was an environmental and political (peace) choice for me, but it’s evolved into way more than that.

  • Interesting. It never took my original post. Reposting

    Ubrayj, just because someone is with you 99% doesn’t mean they should be rejected for the 1% in disagreement. The quoted paragraph said that he/she took pleasure in cycling.

    I started off just recreational riding on weekends, then starting to commute by bike. I ride because I enjoy riding. The more I ride, the more I enjoy it. I find excuses to go riding. I find my personal opinions more and more in common with the bike advocate groups, even though it didn’t start out that way.. I don’t necessarily agree with everything, but if you reject everyone who doesn’t think exactly like you, you end with a very small group, (x < 2)

    The bottom line for me is I don't really care about why they ride their bikes, so much as that they are riding their bikes.

    The more we categorize and segment the bicycling community, the more we can and will find fault in "them" depending upon which category we have placed "them" in. We have commuters, we have fixsters, we have recreational, we have the racers, we have enviro-advocates. Each one is open to stereotyping and associated bigotry.

    Please excuse any incoherence. Am battling a bad cold. Hope it makes sense.

  • I may ride a bike, but I don’t identify myself with the cyclist crowd. As much as I respect Brayj for what he does, I will never spend more than $200 on a bicycle. The “cyclist” community traditionally looks down on us dabblers with our $50 Walmart and $150 Costco bikes, but there are thousands of us out there who would be willing to ride a few miles to the grocery store or coffee shop if the trip was sage, idiots in cars wouldn’t try to run us over, and we had assurance that we could come back once we were done with our errands. Sure, the bike shop people argue that a $1000 bicycle will be more comfortable and/or more adapted for the longer commuting trips. But, if that $1000 bike is stolen, I’m out $1000. At least I can just go to Walmart and get another bike for $50 if my bike is stolen.

  • Ttrip was “safe” – ugh, the Bad Typing Express strikes.

  • Joseph E

    When asked how I get to work or wherever, I’ll say “I ride a bike”. Referring to other people on bikes, I tend say “bike riders” or rarely “bikers” in conversation, since that seems to be the most common term in SoCal. Cyclist implies a road bike, helmet and lycra.

  • Who cares about fashion?! A pedestrian is someone who walks, a cyclists is someone who rides (floor pump not required… but does come in handy). All of this snobbery takes away from the fact that there is not a better way to experience this City. I want to feel my hair blow back and smell the city and I can’t do that from behind the wheel. Whether your bike ride includes lycra or tweed means less than the act of riding itself. Ride because you like the way your package buldges in those tight shorts, ride because you want to minimize your carbon foot print, ride because in Los Angeles it is sometimes faster to ride than drive, ride for excersize, ride for pleasure. Just get on your bike a ride and leave the classifications for the guy in the BMW.

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