I am not a cyclist

This is a cyclist:


This is me:


A cyclist has special clothing for cycling, a helmet, an expensive bike, clip-on shoes, and they travel fast. I, on the other hand, cycle slowly, I don’t wear any special clothing, and I’m terrified of those clip-on shoes cyclists wear. I ride my bike in regular clothes. I don’t ride my bike for leisure on the weekend or to compete in races. I ride my bike to get from one place to another. For me it is a cheap and healthy form of transportation.

The perception of cycling in our society is that it’s exclusive, expensive, and for young and athletic men only. I want to change this perception because it’s wrong. This is what people who live in car-centric cities think because for them the few people they see riding bikes are young, athletic men who look like they’re competing in a raceย (the fearless Australian woman on a bakfiets is the exception). Cycling should be for everyone. It’s free (apart from the cost of the bike). You don’t need any special clothing at all and it can be enjoyed equally by rich and poor, young and old. Anyone can ride a bike. But most people will not unless there’s somewhere safe to ride. Most of us are not cyclists.

31 thoughts on “I am not a cyclist”

  1. Agree with everything in this post – I cycle a single speed bike to and from work, in all weathers. I don’t have a car. If I need to travel, I get public transport.

  2. We have cyclists at work. I tease them about their obsession with cycling clothes. They tease me by telling me how important it is to look good, which I think is funny because by definition to me the dangers of traffic mean that all my cycling clothes have to be brightly coloured. They keep trying to persuade me to clip in, and when I say they look scary, tell me that they have only fallen over X number of times because of the clips.

    1. I don’t know why people use those clips for commuter cycling. Some people even continue to use them after falling over. I think it’s all for show.

      1. They all cycle fast at work, and the clips help them go faster. Hats off to them, they are all very fit and healthy. They do all look funny when they walk down the corridor though.

    1. I had no idea who that was. It’s from the free photo library in WordPress.com. I searched for “cyclist” ๐Ÿ™‚ I’m loving the free photo library.

  3. No, no, no I am not having this (although I suspect you are just being provocative Rachel and I am rising to your fly like the overweight salmon that I am). ๐Ÿ™‚ Cycling is a broad church and cyclists come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and on all types of bikes. They certainly wear all manner of gear. They cycle different journeys for individual reasons and from many motivations. Perhaps the maxim, “two wheels good, four wheels bad” might unite most in the church, but I am not willing to splinter the congregation into commuter, casual, roadie, off-roader, tourer, time-trialist, mountain-biker, or whatever. United we’ll thrive, divided we’ll wither. Cycle as you please, but greet every cyclist you meet as an equal with a smile and a wave: it might be one or other version of me in my touring gear, day-ride lycra or allotment-going clothes with matching hessian bag on my handlebar to carry my flask and sandwiches. Scratch away the superficial and you will find – a cyclist. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    1. Anyone who pedals themselves from Paris to the Algarve is a cyclist ๐Ÿ™‚

      The reason I’m making the distinction is not to be provocative or to create a wedge between groups, it’s because when cycling is perceived as it is in the UK then most people do not ride their bikes. It’s perceived as dangerous (and to a certain extent it is here, compared to cycle-friendly countries) and not something the average person can use as a mode of transport. In the Netherlands everyone rides bikes and there are hundreds and hundreds of them everywhere but it’s pretty rare to see a cyclist by my definition. They are all regular people dressed for their destination and not the journey.

      1. You will think I am like a dog with a bone, Rachel, but it’s only a bit of fun. I am delighted to be called a cyclist, but I bet you typically do more miles in a year than I do. The Oxford Dictionary offers a definition: cyclist – a person who rides a bike. That’s good enough for me. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  4. London these days is chock full of cyclists; it’s different from when i started commuting in the 1970s and 80s when I seemed to be one of those fit young men you referred to (long gone, sadly!) It feels like a positive development even though the conflicts with other road users causes more friction than before when we went under the radar mostly. As you’ve often said, if only we could segregate the users into their own areas what a better world it might be but by having an increasing quantity and therefore voice, things do begin to change. One noticeable difference this year was the number of people who came to the Crisis for Christmas shelters by bike; we had a challenge finding them places to leave them safely as a fair few couldn’t afford locks.

    1. I am impressed by what London has achieved and although I’m not a Boris Johnson fan I think he is largely to thank. It requires someone fearless and outspoken to take on the taxi lobby and various other motoring groups. Most politicians are too scared. Many people can’t afford a car and a bicycle gives them the freedom to get around. I’m not surprised to hear it was popular with people attending the Crisis at Christmas.

  5. Well, I’m both a cyclist, and use one of my bikes to run errands and get around the city. I don’t have a car, and walk and cycle everywhere. I also like to train, and compete on my bike. I do several centuries every year and look forward to the events. I have all the gear and also bike in casual clothes. There are a lot of us.

    1. You’re definitely a cyclist in the sense that you really do race. But I agree that it’s possible to be both a cyclist and someone who commutes by bike.

  6. Great post! I am always afraid to bike places because I know I look kind of dumb and clumsy for a good bit of this. Glad to see some fellow non-bikers are out there.

    1. You’re definitely not alone in feeling that. If people only see athletic types in special gear cycling around their city then it creates a barrier for them. I think many people feel the same way, especially if they haven’t cycled much as children.

  7. I agree. I love cycling but ride a carbon road bike in Lycra. Yet when I rode through Holland last year it opened my eyes to how the two countries are different. Everyone in Holland uses a bike as a mode of transport yet over here itโ€™s more to do with fitness. The road system in this country means everyone in cars, vans, lorries and cycles fight for a small space on poor quality roads yet in Holland cycles lanes tend to be separate from the road meaning less casualties and deaths. Outside schools I saw hundreds of bikes where children had rode to school rather than be driven in the uk, thousands outside railway stations it really is a different mentality. Such a shame in the uk we are not brought up the same way to use the bike in so many different ways rather than a Sunday ride out in Lycra.

    1. Indeed. It’s viewed more as a Sunday leisure activity in the UK than as a way to get around. This is sad because we’re missing out on so much – the health benefits, the improvements to congestion and air pollution, as well as lower parking and road maintenance costs. The bike can solve all these things.

  8. You say you don’t have special clothes…but that looks like a speed kilt to me..

    You’re right. Cycling is not the domain of young fit men or MAMiLS (middle aged men in Lycra) It is the domain of everyone. I wish more people rode bikes.

  9. I look at it a different way. Anyone who rides a bike, no matter what form (recumbent, mountain bike, cruiser, road) are cyclists. The picture you posted is a racer. I happen to be one of those with Lycra outfits, but Iโ€™m not like the picture above. I just wear that because I go long distances (in excess of 50 miles or more).

    As long as you are out there, riding a bike, you are a cyclist … even if you are riding a bike from Target, in jeans, and yes, even a skirt, I consider you all cyclists.

  10. I loved your article Rachel and appreciate the distinction you are trying to make, which I think is important. Without the right sort of infrastructure biking remains largely the preserve of “cyclists” and further exacerbates inequality and discrimination based on gender and age. Until you would feel comfortable sending your grandma or your six year old out on a bike trip by themselves we are not there yet. Countries that have the right sort of infrastructure in place have a very different cycling culture, which truly embraces all kinds of riders. My partner Beth and I are starting a social enterprise to address this very issue. You can check us out at https://rakishride.com

    1. Thanks for your comment. It’s encouraging to see others who also want to change the cycling culture to one that is more inclusive. What is an effective way to do this? It’s satisfying to write about it on my blog but that doesn’t achieve very much. I write to my local politicians and the city council regularly and have submitted one petition so far. I also participate in our local “Pedal on Parliament”. However so far none of this has changed anything in my city. We still prioritise cars. There are no protected paths for cyclists and no plans for any. What can we do?

  11. Hi Rachel – I understand your frustration and would encourage you to keep advocating within your own community as well as educating yourself on the information we need to put in front of our leaders. We will be publishing a “advocacy guide” shortly so watch for that on our blog but in the mean time I’d suggest checking out this site: http://www.copenhagenize.com and also keeping your eye open for other local advocacy organizations that are effective. We are fortunate to have a number of them in Minnesota and Minneapolis and we learn a lot from being active in these groups but even in a super progressive city like Minneapolis we still have very little in the way of protected infrastructure and we still see a lot of development of the wrong kind of infrastructure. There is power in numbers.

  12. Sorry but I’m not convinced. What you’re describing is a sports cyclist, but a person on a bike is a cyclist, just like a person in a car is a motorist.

    You say cycling should be for everyone, but then won’t admit you’re a cyclist?

    I’m a cyclist. I’m overweight, I cycle in my skinny jeans and combat boots to work, but I also have bib-shorts because I like to challenge myself to ride longer distances. I also have SPD shoes and pedals for riding around the woods, for better footing.

    But whether I’m pootling down the road to do my shopping, or riding down country lanes at 30mph, I’m a cyclist. And I’m not ashamed.

    I don’t like this stigma attached to the term. You should be proud to be a cyclist.

    1. Hi Rebelgirlrides! Thanks for stopping by. I do also call myself a cyclist. I was trying to make a point in this post that not everyone who rides a bike is a young, fit man who wears lycra. My 8-year-old daughter also rids a bike and is a cyclist but because city councillors view cyclists as sporty adult males rather than vulnerable little children they don’t build segregated infrastructure for them on our roads.

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