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  • I Am Not A Cyclist

    I Am Not A Cyclist

    Photo | Melissa Bruntlett http://www.velofamilydiaries.blogspot.ca

    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

    45 thoughts on “I Am Not A Cyclist

    1. Lee Smith

      Fantastic! This is an unfortunately novel concept to most; keep getting the good word out there! Cycling will be normalized, dammit!

    2. Lee Smith

      I would also say that “pedestrian” almost carries the same sort of connotations: an obstacle on the street, getting in the way of cars. “Pedestrian” and “cyclist” are very handy terms for dehumanizing those potential speed bumps. People are just people, and putting them into classes based on mobility choice (with a fairly clear hierarchy) is straight-up discrimination. Need proof? Replace the word “mobility” with “lifestyle” in that sentence. Or “music”, “cuisine”, “career”, etc. Except in this case, mobility is often not a choice due to socioeconomic circumstance, making it even more discriminatory.

      1. Dark Emeralds

        I couldn’t agree more! The term “pedestrian,” equating as it does with “humdrum, boring, meaningless, bureaucratic,” is what made that old bumper sticker possible: “So many pedestrians, so little time.” If you tried “So many people, so little time to run them down,” the bumper sticker, never funny to begin with, would be instantly recognized as sociopathic.

    3. Dark Emeralds

      I believe that this one-person-at-a-time approach is the only way we’ll change the cultural biases around people on bikes. I don’t want to “share the road” either–not with motor vehicles, and not with vehicular cyclists. A whole lot of the resistance to separated bike facilities (here in Portland, at least) seems to come from those cyclists, who are afraid that they’ll be forced to give up their daily opportunity for competitive athleticism. They may be right. I don’t know what to tell them, except that city streets aren’t best for car-racing either.

    4. rdh

      I disagree with the implication that it’s impolite for people riding bicycles to share the road with motor vehicles. Bicycles and motor vehicles are equally allowed on city streets. If individuals wish to choose routes without cars, that’s fine. So is choosing to ride on a street with cars.

      1. Chris Bruntlett

        I completely agree. In no way was I discouraging others from riding on major streets. I was just expressing my own personal preference, especially when I am cycling with my family. And cities who are serious about getting more “people on bicycles” would be wise to take this into consideration. If they want to grow mode share beyond a measly 4-5%, they need to start investing in bike infrastructure that is accessible to all ages and abilities, and not just vehicular cyclists.

        1. BikesNL

          Chris, all good points…I’m more confused apparently…I live and travel in a city that thinks it has a bike lane plan/strategy/infrastructure that isn’t a joke (St. John’s, NL), but it’s just sad…I have chosen to ride my bike away from motor vehicles for 10 years, so it has been for exercise, relaxation, enjoying the outdoors, arriving at some scenic points along the way…but definitely not for commuting to anything…if someone on a bicycle wants to get very far here there is no choice but to ‘share’ the roads with motor vehicles…a very scary proposition, esp. if you stay off sidewalks, as there is very little bike infrastructure, lots of ignorance by & lack of respect from many ‘motor-vehiclists’…in fact, now that I’ve done 3 rides in the past month (total 110 kms or so) on city streets, highways and suburban roads, I’ve observed that these roads are even more of a threat to my safety than many of those drivers…I wish it were not the case but on this past Saturday I was forced off one of these roads by a ‘vehiclist’ onto the gravel shoulder and there was a washed-out deep rut between the pavement and shoulder…as soon as I hit that rut I skid/slide onto that pavement in the lane just after the pickup truck passed me…now I’m separated shoulder, lots of road rash, a bike that’s toast, and (when I looked more closely today) a helmet with a split in the foam lining exactly where my head/helmet hit the asphalt [I used to be against helmets, actually, or at least somebody telling me by law I had to wear one]…I had started an advocacy for bicycles 6 weeks ago, as it turns out, and I am now, more than ever, convinced I cannot encourage others (residents or visitors) to ride bikes here, or do it myself, without doing everything I can to make it safer [Twitter: @Bikes NL] [FB: Cycles in Newfoundland]

    5. AvidCyclist

      Sounds like the writer wants to eliminate the word “cyclist” from the English language? I don’t get it.. “Cyclist” is easier than “person on a bike”. Nice fringe thoughts, though.

      1. Chris Bruntlett

        ‘Cyclist’ is convenient shorthand, especially in a world limited by 140 characters, but we can’t deny the baggage that comes with the term. And in cities where the bicycle is a normal, widely accepted transportation tool, the phrase is utterly redundant. I’d suggest you watch this Tedx talk from Budapest: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4IYWIJWuTlE and read this study from New Zealand: http://ir.canterbury.ac.nz/bitstream/10092/688/1/12606059_3B3-Koorey-AreYouACyclistOrDoYouCycle.pdf.

    6. Kyle Zheng

      Love talking bike culture. As you say, you don’t identify as an “avid cyclist”, rather just a regular person who rides a bike (just like everybody in copenhagen). But is there a difference between an “avid cyclist” and a “self proclaimed bicycle geek”? At least there ARE bicycle geeks in copenhagen (even though everybody is an avid cyclist)! :) http://averagejoecyclist.com/?p=2714

    7. Gerald Fittipaldi

      Nice article. Little by little I’m noticing more bikes that come with chain guards and fenders. Two exemplary bike companies are Breezer and Public Bikes. Maybe one day these practical items will be standard, as opposed to “add ons.” It took some time before cars came equipped with sideview mirrors and mud flaps.

    8. LesFleursDuMal

      A complete stop at EVERY stop sign? Im with you on everything else but if there is a total lack of cars/peds I am Idaho stopping…

      1. Chris Bruntlett

        The City of Vancouver is currently doing a fantastic job of streamlining their bike routes, giving priority to bicycle traffic in two meaningful ways: synchronizing/lengthening green lights along bikeways (à la Copenhagen’s ‘Green Zone’), and reconfiguring many intersections to remove the stop sign in the direction of the bikeway (but not the perpendicular motor vehicle route). These are two subtle, but significant examples of how creating better infrastructure can promote safer, more accommodating, more civilized behaviour among people on bicycles. And it’s working.

    9. bex0r

      I totally identify with this, especially not subscribing to the idea that you need specialized gear to ride or commute. I make cycling fit into my lifestyle, not the other way around.

    10. Ted Johnson

      If I were writing a style manual for how to use “cyclist” I’d say one is a cyclist when cycling; a diner when dining; a motorist when motoring.

      None of these things define me. If someone were to describe me as a cyclist when I wasn’t cycling, I might correct them.

    11. Colin

      You yield to every car and ped that crosses your path? Why? You have the right of way, too. Following traffic rules does not mean you need to stop for everyone.

      1. Chris Bruntlett

        I was, of course, referring to those instances where I am required by law to yield to other road users (crosswalks, four-way stops, etc). Sadly, I see this common courtesy disregarded all too often, and (as noted) make a point of voicing my annoyance towards the offending party.

    12. shebolt

      Rather than eliminated the term “cyclist” from your vocabulary, how about trying to change its perception? You, despite your misgivings, are a cyclist. So am I. By calling out all the ways in which you differ from so-called “cyclists” (you don’t wear technical clothing or a helmet, you follow all traffic laws, you choose to stay out of traffic), all you are doing is continuing to perpetuate those harmful stereotypes. It’s like women who are, for all intents and purposes, feminists, refusing to use that term because of the negative associations.

      You can be a cyclist, and still be a father, husband, designer, humanist, vegetarian, citizen, and all of the other labels you happily gave yourself while disdaining the label of cyclist.

      1. Chris Bruntlett

        For the one hour a day I’m sitting on my bicycle, I’m a cyclist. For the other 23 hours, I take exception to it. We don’t refer to people as ‘motorists’ or ‘transit users’ when they are outside of a car/bus. Why do we still insist on defining people as ‘cyclists’ when they’re not on a bike?

    13. Chris Bruntlett

      “This, I think, is the essence of the matter – the expectation that bicycle users should wear helmets, and that car drivers shouldn’t have to. Because bicycle helmets are now increasingly seen as a ‘normal’ piece of equipment, it becomes ‘irresponsible’ not to wear one. Conversely, because nobody drives a car with polystyrene strapped to their head, you might look like a bit of a lunatic if you chose to do so – even though, by doing so, you might actually be acting just as ‘responsibly’ as a cyclist wearing the same item. Attitudes to bicycle helmets, in other words, seem increasingly to be framed by custom, and expected behaviour, than about actually preventing harm.” http://aseasyasridingabike.wordpress.com/2012/11/26/helmets-expectation-and-inconsistency/

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    15. Chris Bruntlett

      “Car crashes remain a significant source of head injury in the community. Car occupants have an annual hospital admission rate of around 90 per 100,000 population.”


      The Australian government has even gone as far as developing a prototype car helmet, which covers 44% of impact points usually suffered by car occupants, and reduces the severity of an impact to the head by 67%. The annual reduction in harm is estimated to be in the order of $380 million in Australia, and would be much higher in Europe and North America.

      But obviously, such a measure would be fought vehemently by the automobile industry and motoring majority. We wouldn’t want to brand driving as dangerous, which would only serve the cause of encouraging people to consider safer transport options like… oh I don’t know… cycling?

      So no. I am comparing apples to apples. And if I felt that I needed head protection for my slow, upright, leisurely travels along the bikeways, cycle tracks, and seawalls of my city, I’d wear it.

    16. Melinda Caroline

      It seems to me that one’s choices with regard to how and where one rides
      are at least somewhat dictated by circumstance. A city like Vancouver
      is one thing– sounds like you guys are working toward some really
      enviable infrastructure, and anyway Vancouver’s what I think of as a
      “real” city, where for many people the majority of their errands are
      likely to be within a reasonably short distance.

      I, too, commute
      by bike some of the time, but I do it in Tucson. Tucson purports to be a
      “bicycle-friendly city,” and it does have some really nice multi-use
      paths (on the outskirts of the city for the most part) and a lot of
      (incredibly poorly maintained) bike lanes. But for the most part, if I’m
      going to get where I need to go in this city, I’m going to be rubbing
      elbows with traffic. And Tucson is extremely decentralized, so it’s not uncommon for me to cover 30 miles in a
      day just in my work commute and an errand or two. Do I choose my
      clothing accordingly? Absolutely, because those 30 miles are going to be
      a lot more pleasant when I “indulge” in my padded shorts than they
      would be with a denim seam getting personal with me. And yes, I wear a helmet, because I’ve seen how motorists treat cyclists around here.

      a cyclist– when I cycle– and I make the choices that keep me and others
      around me safe. I realize not all people on bikes do, but y’know… a
      jerk is a jerk, no matter his mode of transportation.

    17. KP

      Yeah, not really.

      “In the three years 2008–2010, there were 62 traffic fatalities in Seattle. More than half involved pedestrians (25 deaths) and cyclists (7 deaths)”.

      About the same as the murder rate… not being ironic.

    18. KP

      A seat belt isn’t going to stop you hitting your head on door pillars or side windows and 50% of head injuries are from vehicle occupants, compared to around 1% for cyclists.

      A compulsory helmet law for occupants of vehicles has been estimated to be 17 times as effective in preventing head injuries as a compulsory bicycle helmet law.

      We have a 96% compliance rate for wearing helmets and since the introduction of the helmet law in 1994 the number of cyclists has dropped by 22% while the injury rate for cyclists has increased by 50%. The drop in cycling is associated with an additional 54 deaths a year due to the loss of the health benefits of cycling (pop 4.4. mil).

      If you want to stop head injuries, stop cars hitting cyclists; especially if they’re travelling fast as anything over 70 kph and they estimate the potential for a fatality to be 100% whether you’re wearing a plastic hat or not.

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