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.)

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.…

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?

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). 

  • Mark

    I don’t have a fixie or a $10k road bike, and I don’t put on racing spandex or hipster fashions. I just say “I ride my bike.”

  • mcas

    And meanwhile, there are 32,000+ fans on Facebook for a group called “There’s a perfectly good path right next to the road you stupid cyclist!” which advocates dooring and road violence against cyclists… (you can report it as offensive since it violates Facebook rules by ‘targeting an group of people’ and ‘advocating violence’.


  • Jake

    I call myself a “bike commuter.” Sounds kind of boring, but that’s exactly the point.

  • I reported the group, we’ll see if we can get enough people to also report them. When violence is celebrated, all it takes is one person to act out and real people get really hurt.

  • Oh, and I just like to bike. I commute, I ride to the store, and I put on the lycra for long rides. I just like my two wheels and human power.

  • Technically-speaking, I am an inter- or multi-modalist. When I am on a bike, I am cycling. I think we need more and better infrastructure for sustainable intermodalculturalmishmash, which in the city does not include private automobiles, even if they require no energy or even manufacture energy.

  • patrick

    I reported the group. I don’t really call myself anything, I guess “biker” sometimes. I ride a fixie, but I’m not a hipster. I just find it generally more pleasant: I feel more connected to the road, and my ride home actually feels a little easier (5 miles uphill going home).

  • Like mikesonn, I ride both for pleasure (even in lycra sometimes–the horror!) and for transportation. I don’t understand either the “I don’t ride my bike without lycra and a logo-festooned jersey” crowd or the “Cycling is transportation. If you ride for fun rather than to get somewhere, you’re doing it wrong” crowd.

    What do I call myself? I guess a bike freak. Or maybe a cyclist. Or possibly some idiot on a bike. Not sure it matters, really.

  • the greasybear

    I commute and shop by bicycle; I also ride for exercise daily. I don’t own any lycra, and never will. I *do* identify with cycling, and I think my friends identify me with it as well, but I don’t really have a word for myself in this respect. When I am riding, I am myself on a bike.

  • I use a unicycle so cannot be a “bicyclist”, and also carrying but not actually wearing lycra, but I am also just unicycling to my car which is parked a couple hundred yards away… and finally, I am not self-aware.

  • ZA

    I don’t have any particular problem with ‘cyclist’ even though I never commute in Lycra. To my mind, turning a description into an identity would require a big C, “Cyclist,” in the much the way you’d have the idea of a “Driver,” or (train/bus/ferry) “Rider.”

    I suppose creating an identity is inevitable in this culture, but the practical objective of getting more people moving with their own two feet shouldn’t be lost.

  • My impression of “cyclist” is different than what the author’s. To me “cyclist” does not imply lycra or “serious” cycling, and this is the way I see it used in local media. “Cyclist” to me is the in the same category as “motorist”. A formal word I’d expect to see in newspaper articles and studies. In everyday language I say “biker”.

  • What do I call myself? Someone who’s a whole helluva lot happier and healthier than all those poor sods stuck in their cars, idling in traffic. That’s what. Anyone else can call me what they want (and they do).

    I think Mikael Colville-Andersen has it right: Riding a bicycle has to become a regular occurrence that’s not associated with specific groups before it will turn truly mainstream. Unfortunately, sport-bike and helmet manufacturers have been the ones with the big sponsorship money to spend over the past few years, and so the bicycling “brand” has become associated with the Roadies, something most of us aren’t and don’t aspire to become.

    So maybe it’s better in this case to identify with what we’re _not_ as opposed to try and label what we are…



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