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). 

11 thoughts on A Cyclist by Any Other Name

  1. Can I just say it is annoying when motorists are the only ones mentioned as being annoyed by cyclists, when I don’t have a car but am a pedestrian and I hate being menaced by testosterone-junkie two-wheel scofflaws as well.

  2. An example is the people who take part in those “alleycat races”, who ought to all be throw in jail for life for their menace to pedestrians.

  3. Isn’t cycle chic just as exclusionary a categorization as the lycra cyclist set? I rarely wear lycra, but I’m certainly not a chic tweed-clad Dane, and don’t really aspire to either. I ride my bike because sometimes I want to, sometimes I need to, and having to associate that behavior with a particular clique (regardless of fashion preferences) reinforces the consensus view that bicycling is some sort of lifestyle choice, and not just a tool to get around.

  4. If pressed, I call myself a transportation cyclist. I run for fun. I ride to get from point a to point b.

  5. Ditto to Aaron W. I ride mainly for transportation purposes and just occasionally for recreation. I don’t own any special gear other than the bike itself and while I plan to start riding for sport soon- I still don’t want to place myself in a group that sees other modes as enemies….though I’ve been in near accidents from cars not heeding cyclists. I just think the either/or “we’re enemies” isn’t going to help anyone.

  6. I use the term cyclist and I don’t think the term refers only to lycra-clad recreational riders anymore than the term “driver” refers only to NASCAR athletes. Biker is too often confused with Motorcycle riders. Bicyclist is fine, but I like to save the two letters. I kind of hate the Copenhagenize “I’m not a cyclist” philosophy. When you’re riding a bike, you’re a cyclist (or whatever you want to call it) by definition, and it’s pretentious to say otherwise, imo. One term you left out used to be used by the League of American Bicyclists – Wheelmen. Maybe we should go back to that, but with the gender neutral Wheelperson.

  7. I’ve always used cyclist to refer to anybody who rides a bicycle regularly. That could be every monday or every day. It could refer to a roadie, or a mountain biker, or a commuter, or a soccer mom with a bakfiets.

    Guys in lycra on road bikes are called “roadies.” Obviously it’s an overloaded term, but I doubt anyone will confuse it with people seeking sex from rockstars.

    Guys who just commute are commuters.

    I’m a cyclist, a commuter, and a roadie.

    I agree with bike snobs differentiation, although I see the intended humor: If you don’t own a floor pump you probably don’t ride regularly.

  8. I’m way late to this conversation (followed a twitter link) but I like Bike Lady. I’m pretty sure that’s what a lot of people call me at work already 🙂

  9. I am a human being who happens to ride a bike most of the time, but on occasion I drive a car and most days I walk.

    I am confused? what should I be called. A pedicycledriver?

    I think all the conflict between peds, cyclist and drivers can be toned down if we remember we are all human beings sharing the planet and it’s space. No one should be entitled or judged.

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