Please allow me to get something off my chest: I despise it when someone refers to me as a ‘cyclist’. The phrase ‘avid cyclist’ is even worse. I am no more an avid cyclist than I am an avid walker or avid eater. I am someone who often uses a bicycle, simply because it is the most civilized, efficient, enjoyable, and economical way to get around my city. Though that is dependent on the weather, cargo, timing, and nature of the trip I am taking. As well as possessing a bike, I also own a share in the Modo car co-op, a Compass Card, and many pairs of shoes. The bicycle is merely a means to an end. It is a tool which does not convert me into a cyclist, any more than vacuuming my apartment turns me into a janitor, or brushing my teeth transforms me into a dental hygienist.
In a local context, the term ‘cyclist’ continues to provide us with a damaging mental barrier and convenient scapegoat. It serves only to alienate and denigrate an entire segment of society, and cast them aside as ‘others’. They are a brave fraternity, a suicidal cult; a subculture of urban guerrillas, dressed in spacesuits, weaving in and out of traffic. They are scofflaws: running stop signs, terrorizing seniors on the sidewalk, all while taking a free ride on the taxpayers’ dime. They are Critical Massers, radicals, advocates, environmentalists, athletes, hipsters, couriers, and students. They are easily typecast, maligned and disregarded. And worst of all, they are thought of as anybody else but me.
It is only when I engage with the people around me that they begin to understand I couldn’t possibly be further from this harmful and unfair set of generalizations.
I refrain from owning and wearing any form of ‘cycle wear’. My morning routine and wardrobe selection do not depend on the mode of transport I happen to be choosing that day; whether it be foot, bicycle, bus, train or automobile. In fact, while most folks I see on the local bikeways are busy indulging in dry-wicking shirts, cleated shoes, padded shorts and high-performance socks, I’ve already travelled halfway to work in my office attire. My cycling shoes are made by Camper, my trousers by H&M, and my jacket by Topman. I don’t have any special training, and I don’t wear a crash helmet or reflective clothing, because what I’m doing is no more dangerous than walking across the street.
I choose a bicycle that reflects my personality and style; one that is both practical and comfortable for my daily travels. It has just three gears, and handles the gentle inclines of Vancouver just fine, thank you very much. It has lights, a chain guard, kickstand, fenders, bell and a basket; which keep my back dry, my right pant leg in tact, my bike visible, and allow me to carry a generous amount of groceries, equipment, beverages, or paperwork in a secure and convenient manner. I use my front and rear lights whenever conditions dictate; because based on the number of unlit, helmeted people I see cycling around this town, we appear to have emphasized entirely the wrong safety device.
I ride with grace, elegance and dignity, always respecting the traffic laws. I move slowly and predictably, carefully coming to a complete halt at every stop sign, and always yielding to any pedestrians and motorists that cross my path. I make the point of greeting their look of surprise with a polite smile and a wave, in a modest attempt to alter one person’s perception at a time. I signal every turn, never running a red light or riding on the sidewalk, and vocalizing my displeasure whenever someone else does. I refuse to tailgate, ring my bell unnecessarily, or overtake another bike or car blindly. In almost three decades of riding a bike, I have never experienced a collision or major spill.
I have no intention of sharing the road with motor vehicles. In fact, I regularly go out of my way to avoid it. I always choose the path of least resistance, which thankfully is becoming easier and easier within Vancouver. Our existing network of bike boulevards, seawalls and cycle tracks allows me to comfortably ride for a considerable distance with my family, without having to rub shoulders with cars, trucks and buses. It might take me slightly out of my way, but the added ease, security, and pleasure is worth the extra effort. You will never find me running with the bulls along Commercial Drive, Main Street, Hastings or Broadway, because I refuse to ride where I’m clearly not welcome.
I fully realize my polite behaviour puts me in the minority, but the tide is slowly turning. As city officials continue to invest in improved infrastructure and 1,500 shared bicycles, we are drifting towards a point where cycling is no longer a political or environmental statement, but rather a utilitarian one, no different than walking down the street. Then, and only then, will we stop identifying folks as ‘cyclists’, and treat them as individuals, with a diverse range of politics, incomes, ethnicities, careers, and interests. The only common denominator is their mode of transport on any given day. So please, stop calling me a cyclist. I’m a husband, a father, a designer, a writer, a photographer, a filmmaker, a musician, a humanist, an urbanist, a vegetarian, and a football supporter. But most importantly, I’m the citizen of a multi-modal city. The bicycle is but a minor detail.
Words | Chris Bruntlett