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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). 

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