The problem with the word ‘cyclist’

The news that the police should use some discretion and not issue Fixed Penalty Notices to anyone who rides a bike on a footway, irrespective of the local context, the type of person riding, and how they are behaving, was predictably greeted with a degree of outrage and hysteria – outrage and hysteria whipped up, deliberately or otherwise, by the British press.

A small part of the problem here is down to the word ‘cyclist’, which tends to conjure up in the mind of the average Briton an image of a young or middle-aged man, wearing odd-looking clothing, and travelling ‘at speed’ (although not faster than motor traffic) – or, failing that, a teenager or ‘youth’ tearing around antisocially on a mountain bike. Giving these cyclists ‘permission’ to ride on pavements is plainly not a good thing.

There are obvious reasons for this association – these are, usually, nearly the only types of ‘cyclist’ most people will see on a day-to-day basis. Other types of cycling – other types of people cycling – have largely disappeared in Britain, thanks to the hostility and/or inconvenience of our road system.

The Daily Mail chose to illustrate their news item about discretion on pavement cycling with this (old) picture –


A burly-looking man travelling purposefully on the pavement, which has plenty of people on it. If there is a kind of person who should be on the road – and who probably couldn’t complain about getting a ticket – this is it. Hardly appropriate to illustrate the issue.

The Daily Mail could, of course, have used a different kind of ‘pavement cyclist’ – one like this, for instance.

Screen Shot 2014-01-17 at 22.01.49

A ‘cyclist’ on the pavement

This is the kind of discretion that is being advised by the minister for cycling – not forcing young children to share space with motor traffic when they pose little or no danger or inconvenience to anyone walking.

Unfortunately when we hear the word ‘cyclist’ we don’t immediately think of very young girls riding tiny bikes with pink baskets. ‘A cyclist’ is not a child.

But it is this trickiness about the word ‘cyclist’, and what it suggests, that is part of a wider problem. When plans talk of ‘improvements for cyclists’ the public will unfortunately, and inevitably, have an image of the type of people cycling now, not the people who could be cycling, if conditions were right – people like them, or their children. ‘Why are we doing things for cyclists?’ they might ask – why are we doing things for a tiny minority of people, and strange ones at that, who wear funny clothes. 

There is no easy way out of this – for us to stop thinking about ‘cyclists’ in this way will require wholesale changes to the way our roads and streets are designed, so that the word ‘cyclist’ will encompass everyone and lose its divisiveness. But in the meantime it’s probably helpful to avoid using ‘cyclist’, when reasonably possible – not because it’s  intrinsically bad, but because it has unhelpful connotations.

Doubtless at some point in the (hopefully near) future we can reclaim it.

This entry was posted in Pavement cycling, Stereotyping. Bookmark the permalink.

48 Responses to The problem with the word ‘cyclist’

  1. mcupis says:

    Nigel, I’ve been saying for a long time that militant cycling campaigners cause huge damage to cycling. The epithet cyclist has become synonymous with the militant campaigner and the militant campaigner evokes real anger among very many people. As the militant supporter is the face of cycling, ignorant people assume that they are representative of all cyclists in much the same way as ignorant people assume that Al Qaeda are representative of all Muslims and Jeremy Clarkson is representative of all motorists.

    The vast majority of cyclists, who are just normal people who use bicycles and want and deserve reasonable help to do so safely and conveniently, are hopelessly tainted by the tiny militant fringe.

    • Paul says:

      That sounds like catch 22. If you campaign for better provision for cycling you are a dangerous militant who puts “normal” people off. If you don’t campaign you don’t get the better provision anyway. (see also “New Atheist” , “flamboyant gay” etc. )

      • Malcolm Cupis says:

        I don’t agree with this. There is a big difference between positive campaigning and negative campaigning. Positive campaigning for cycling is extremely rare. The vast majority of cycling campaigning focuses on building up arguments based on safetyand aggressively attacking people who use motor transport, rather than focusing on what makes cycling great and making people want to do more of it. I think cycling would benefit far more from concerted positive campaigning and would certainly generate far more sympathy and understanding from non cyclists who wouldn’t feel defensive as they do at the moment because they perceive they are under attack from a small minority who want to remove as much freedom of choice from them as possible.

        • Sarah says:

          I’m involved in positive campaigning. I’ve got local elections coming up in March where I’m based, and I’m working with my local cycle campaign to try and get the candidates singing off the same hymn sheet as we are in terms of our desire to boost the number of people cycling and the number of trips made by bike and the comfort and convenience with which those trips are made. We are trying to stress the benefits to the town (liveability, preservation of our UNESCO world heritage, health, resolving gridlock, boosting mobility) as well as our “selfish” interests as local cyclists (who make up nearly a quarter of local voters). We are trying to come across as nice people and to avoid coming across as anti-car.

          But I’m not going to completely cease my involvement in “negative” or “angry” campaigning, either. Partly because negative campaigning is a very visceral response to my life being actively endangered by various combinations of bad engineering and bad driving. This sort of campaigning can take the form of letters to county councils along the lines of: “I was nearly the meat in the sandwich on Saturday when the driver behind me on the road from K. to V. decided to overtake on a bend into oncoming traffic. I would have been on the parallel cycle track and not on the road at this point if you had not placed closely-set metal barriers at the start of the cycle track which I was unable to negotiate with my child trailer. There was a bypass to get round the barriers, but the mud on the approach to it was ankle-deep. Please remove the barriers.)

          I also get angry when I am forced, as a cyclist, to subsidise transport choices which create considerable noise, pollution, and congestion and waste considerable amounts of space. I’m not opposed to choice, or to cars, but people should pay a fair price for their choices. Sometimes positive discrimination in favour of motorists results in cyclists paying them an actual, financial subsidy (when tickets include free parking, cyclists pay for a much bigger share of the resultant concrete or asphalt wasteland than they use – this is the case at my local swimming pool/sauna.) Sometimes cyclists are asked to subsidize motorists with their time (this has also happened recently where I live: a signalled T-junction with pedestrian crossings was replaced with a busy roundabout where cyclists are expected to yield to motor traffic at every arm. It can take 10 minutes or more for cyclists to get through the junction in the way the designer intended, and the design is also hostile to pedestrians.

          It isn’t always easy to “manage” either kind of anger. I’m torn between – as I see it – having reasons to be a militant campaigner and being aware that coming across as militant is disastrous in tactical and strategic terms. We can try and accentuate the positive and stress that we are reasonable people interested in contributing our expertise and making our cities and our countryside more livable – but the dilemma remains – if we never complain, how is anybody going to find out how upset we are by our near-death experiences and by the ways cycling is discriminated against?

          • paulc says:

            “I’ve got local elections coming up in March where I’m based, and I’m working with my local cycle campaign to try and get the candidates singing off the same hymn sheet as we are in terms of our desire to boost the number of people cycling and the number of trips made by bike and the comfort and convenience with which those trips are made. We are trying to stress the benefits to the town (liveability, preservation of our UNESCO world heritage, health, resolving gridlock, boosting mobility)”

            You could also try and get local businesses/employers on side with the following information:

            “A new report from PeopleForBikes and the Alliance for Biking & Walking makes a clear connection between more accessible and connected bicycle infrastructure and creating prosperity in our cities.”


            “Here are the four main takeaways.
            1. Bikeways make places more valuable
            2. Bikeways help companies attract talent
            3. Bike commuters are healthier and more productive
            4. Bike facilities increase retail stores’ visibility and sales”


          • Jitensha Oni says:

            When ministers supposedly responsible for cycling start calling out the “lycra mob” (so not one of their constituency then?) and councillors are saying “cyclists should be grateful” (for bad new infrastructure in this case), the attitude problem is not all on the campaigners side.

          • Spoquey says:

            I really like this reply and agree totally!

        • Simon Parker says:

          Malcom, I totally agree with you.

          In my submission to the Transport Select Committee, I wrote:

          “We often hear in this country about how dangerous cycling is, but rather than focus on the removal of a negative, why don’t we try to build on a positive? For the Enthused and Confident cyclists, the problem is not so much safety, as access. The bicycle is the fastest, most convenient form of transport in the built-up area. If we opened up our one-way streets and parks to cycling, people would respond very positively.”

          The Enthused and Confident cyclists make up maybe ten per cent of the population, and yet the LCC and the CEoGB have not a word to say on their behalf.

          I also wrote in my submission:

          “There is no debate between myself and other cycle advocates about where we would like to end up. No, the debate is about where to begin. I have asked them maybe a thousand million, billion squillion times why they are not campaigning for the installation of high quality infrastructure to be undertaken within the framework provided by a functioning cycle network. I never do get an answer.”

          Why is this?

          • Because we haven’t a clue what you are talking about!
            Also “The Enthused and Confident cyclists make up maybe ten per cent of the population, and yet the LCC and the CEoGB have not a word to say on their behalf” I’m not sure where you are based but here in West Wales “The Enthused and Confident cyclists” make up about 0.5% of the population and even as a lifelong cyclist the CEoGB speak for me!

          • Simon Still says:

            You’ve lost me there. What do you mean by “within the framework provided by a functioning cycle network”?

            Census figures from 2011 show 8% of the population claim to cycle 3 times a week or more. That’s probably your ‘enthused and confidant’ and I’d fit in that category (6 or 7 days a week for me). However as a London resident safety is absolutely my issue – whilst access could be better it really isn’t a problem. Safe space on the road most definitely is and LCC and CEoGB most definitely speak for me.

            • Simon Parker says:

              I mean, network first, and then a separation of functions. I mean get the network functioning, get it up and running, make it work, and then make it work better. What is so difficult to understand about that?

              And before you say anything about the Netherlands, this is precisely how the Dutch set about things back in the 70s.

          • pm says:

            “The bicycle is the fastest, most convenient form of transport in the built-up area. ”

            And yet most people I know wouldn’t consider it, because they find the roads too scary. No amount of ‘enthusing’ is going to persuade them otherwise. There’s a limit to how far words can get you! At some point you have to change reality.

            • bikemapper says:

              Of course you have to start changing reality. As I said, there is no disagreement from me about where to end up. No, the disagreement is where to start. And the best advice about this is that you would start by thinking in terms of a network.

              The Cycling Embassy’s stated aim is “to act as a conduit for best practice around the world.” I call upon them to scrutinise the strategy of ‘Network First’, beginning here.

              Andrew Gilligan has recently said that we need to improve the quality of the debate. Let’s not shy away from this.

        • Mick Allan says:

          What a load of tripe. Aggressively attacking? Where?

        • “I think cycling would benefit far more from concerted positive campaigning and would certainly generate far more sympathy and understanding from non cyclists who wouldn’t feel defensive as they do at the moment because they perceive they are under attack from a small minority who want to remove as much freedom of choice from them as possible.”

          Unfortunately, space for cycling is antithetical to space for motorised vehicles. With the exception of brand-new developments, the road space has already been divided up, and the lion’s share has gone to motorised transport. You cannot create space for cycling without taking from cars, whether moving or parked. I’d also argue strongly for blocking residential streets to through-motorised traffic, which has created some of the ‘secondary’ Cambridge cycle network essential for quieter, if often indirect, routes.

          No amount of telling people this will benefit them in the long-run will have an effect until they can see it and try it. And you don’t get that by smiling on a shared-use pavements and being positive about how much fun cycling that is going to generate.

    • pm says:

      I’m sorry, but I find your comment a bit daft.

      For starters – in what world do “militant cyclists” have anything in common with Al Qieda? We aren’t talking about blowing people up! I’m quite happy to agree that blowing up motorists and their vehicles would be both morally entirely unacceptable and politically counter-productive, but that’s not really the issue, surely?

      Secondly, I think your attitude is akin to that of those in many other groups who are a bit pre-occupied with proving how ‘moderate’ they are and who consequently spend far too much of their time on reproaching those who get upset at being treated badly and blaming them for the problems that are actually caused by those with actual power.

      I really can’t abide that attitude in any context. If you wish to campaign ‘positively’ go ahead and do so – every little helps – but you aren’t entitled to blame those who are victimised for occasionally getting upset about it.

      I also question the basis on which you talk about ‘the vast majority’. I don’t think you really know what ‘the vast majority’ feel, because, for one thing, actual existing cyclists are a hugely diverse bunch, composed of people from very different demographic groups (are you really speaking for the council-estate dwelling hoodie-wearers who whiz around on the pavements round my way, for example?).

      And for another, actual existing cyclists aren’t necessarily the relevant group, as they are a small, atypical, minority. Personally I’m less concerned with the views of many existing cyclists (I think I probably disagree with a great many of them, especially those for whom cycling is a ‘sport’) as I am with that of the people I know who don’t cycle because they think its too dangerous.

    • Spoquey says:

      I agree with Paul. I have always been a cycling campaigner because I think if cyclists want better conditions they really have to be a nuisance. My wish is to see any child who wants to cycle to school or any parent or elderly person who wants to cycle to the shops to be able to do so without getting squashed. I am not a militant fringe. I pay my taxes and expect at some point to get what I pay for – safe roads.

      I am an older woman and I do wear lycra. Is there a little niche for me?

    • Andy says:

      I fully agree with you here – I feel absolutely no affinity with these “cyclists”, despite being a team rider for a mountain bike brand. I’ve got absolutely nothing in common with the car hating and narrow minded manifesto they seem to preach, and the way they seem to view it as almost a religion/cult/cool kids club rather than a means of transport or hobby.

      I wish these militants wouldn’t think they speak on behalf of all people who ride bikes because they definitely don’t – and they make it easier to bunch us all in with them when making sweeping statements against bikes and improved facilities.

  2. Paul says:

    I always associate the word cyclist with those people who ride bikes as a lifestyle choice and in doing so show respect for the environment they are travelling in, respect for other road users; will have well maintained and appropriate machines and more than anything obey the given rules. I also use the term cyclist to differentiate those in the above category from what I call ‘blokes on bikes’ (BoBs) – those people (mainly males) who have no interest in their machines, will flout the rules and have no regard to those around them. Unfortunately – and in my experience – a lot of wannabe professional roadies fall into this, riding in an aggressive manner with no thought other than to get somewhere quicker than they did yesterday. Worst of all however, are those BoBs who fall into the category directly opposed to the ‘cyclist’ category; guys who will cheerfully ride on pavements, whose machines are often defective, and by that I mean amongst other things, will have either one or brake calipers/straddle wires disconnected; guys for whom the term ‘lights at night’ is anathema and who therefore have some sort off misplaced sense of their own immortality, and who moreover view their rights to do what they like as inalienable

    Unfortunately our modern world dictates that we think about ourselves first and sadly the world of two wheeled non-motorised transport is full of these egocentrics.

  3. Paul says:

    The words “cyclist” and “motorist” can imply different sorts of people. (see “war on the motorist” beloved of the Tories. ) Cycling and driving are travel choices that people can make an it is generally agreed (NICE for example) that if more of them choose cycling (or walking) it would be better for everybody. Resolve to always phrase sentences to use cycling rather than cyclist.

  4. fonant says:

    I’d like to see the word “fietser” become an English word, with exactly the same meaning as the Dutch word: an ordinary person who just happens to be riding a bicycle at the time. As opposed to a “wielrenner” (wheel runner) who is someone who uses a bicycle more seriously.

    Or perhaps we could borrow the American word “bicyclist” (with apologies to other trike riders!)…

    But generally I try to talk about “people riding bicycles” rather than “cyclists”.

  5. I sometimes ride on the road with my kids on the pavement and it’s bloody awful but necessary. I hate having to shout at my kid from the other side of the street. It’s awkward when he gets stuck behind people because he’s to quiet to ding his bell and they are too oblivious to let him pass. If I was on a protected path with them they’d be at arms length.

    • Sarah says:

      I recognize that scenario as it’s the one which is ordained by law here in Germany – little kids ride on the pavement (not on the cycle track, if there is one) and accompanying adults ride on the road (or on the cycle facility, if there is one.) It works fairly well a lot of the time, but there are situations where it breaks down badly because parents can’t keep the kids in sight and supervise them effectively unless they also ride on the pavement, which is illegal, but also something you can be penalised for NOT doing; judgements have gone against parents whose children were involved in collisions when they were too far away to supervise them properly. I think sometimes there’s no real alternative to cycling on the pavement with young children – there is a stage where they still need very close supervision but are too speedy to get it from an adult who is walking with them.

  6. Dean says:

    What do you suggest we use instead of “cyclist” if we are to avoid using it? “Biker” suggests motorbikes, “rider” could be attributed to horses and “bicyclist” is just plain ridiculous.

  7. congokid says:

    Over the past few years I’ve tended to use variations on the phrase ‘people on/using bikes’, though this might originally have been a derogatory term (shortened to POBs) I’d encountered on a Usenet bike group.

    Another is ‘vulnerable road user’, which encompasses pretty much everyone not using motor power to get around. Neither option flows as smoothly as I’d like, but they can serve to make the term cyclist less ubiquitous.

    It appears we have a long way to go before the act of cycling is so commonplace in the UK that the word cyclist is applied only to those indulging in it as a sport – and that day might never come.

    In the meantime, on once occasion I felt I’d deflated an anti-cycling rant by suggesting the commenter not think of people who cycle as cyclists, rather as ‘you – but on a bike’.

    • “‘you – but on a bike’.”

      Problem with that is that they have no idea of the issues involved. They could easily say ‘Yes, but I’d ride in the gutter where cyclists are supposed to be’ and suddenly you’re in the position of explaining primary and secondary to someone who is never going to get on a bike and doesn’t understand why you don’t just get out of their way.

  8. Har Davids says:

    I’m glad to be living in a country where there’s just one word to describe the ‘people who sometimes prefer riding a bicycle to other modes of transport’, which is such a mouth-ful. Realizing that the bike can be part of a solution to the problem of grid-locked cities would be a nice start. After all, with less cars on the road, everybody benefits.

  9. rdrf says:

    I agree with Mick Allan. Who is “attacking” (let alone “aggressively”) motorists?

    I spend a lot of time pointing out the numerous problems caused by users of motorised transport, and they may FEEL that they are being “attacked”, because they don’t like the truth being pointed out to them, however quietly and courteously I do so.

    In my view there is not anything like enough criticism of the various depredations of motorised transport users. We need a lot more of it.

    We should worry more about doing this than what the word “cyclist” may or may not mean.

    • Sarah says:


      Pointing out that with great power comes great responsibility is not attacking motorists. Wishing to end positive discrimination in favour of motorists (hidden subsidies, undeserved prioritisation) is not attacking motorists. Setting limits on the pollution and congestion which a city can reasonably be expected to endure is not attacking motorists. Setting limits on the amount of land which can be concreted over in a given area (to minimize flood risk etc.) is not attacking motorists. Slowing down traffic to the point where modes can co-exist safely and streets become liveable is not attacking motorists.

      Isolated measures – like speed bumps – are, granted, not especially motorist-friendly. But they are typically installed not because militant cycle/pedestrian campaigners have requested them, but because it has come to the notice of the authorities that a significant minority of motorists have been driving like hooligans at the locations in question. Powers that are abused have to be curtailed.

      Encouraging people to make short journeys by modes other than private motor transport is quite likely to make driving easier rather than more difficult for the people who actually need to do it. And the easiest driving of all is, of course, is the driving that people no longer have to do at all, because their streets have become safe enough for their kids and their elderly relatives to take themselves wherever they need to go autonomously instead of ringing their family taxi driver for assistance.

  10. Andy says:

    “A burly-looking man travelling purposefully on the pavement, which has plenty of people on it. If there is a kind of person who should be on the road – and who probably couldn’t complain about getting a ticket – this is it.”

    So, ‘burly looking’ men have no right to fear traffic then? We should just suck it up, grow a pair, or any of the other epithets used to shame us into becoming cannon-fodder, so long as the laydeez (and children) are safe. Someone pass me the Six Six One catalogue, there’s a good chap.

    (Or we could just give up cycling altogether – much less embarrassing for everyone).

  11. Ellen says:

    Have cyclists been misrepresented? Yes
    Does that mean I should avoid calling myself a cyclist? Ok so…

    Cyclist: a person who rides a bicycle.

    ‘Cyclist’ is an accurate description for a person riding a bicycle. That the word ‘cyclist’ conjures up a narrow representation (in the UK at least) does not diminish the accuracy of the word.

    ‘Cyclist’ is not the first word describing a provocative concept to be subject to the suggestion that substitution for a friendlier word, something that has not yet been successfully smeared by those who fear it, might make the job of defending and promoting the concept a little easier. It will not be the last.

    If we change the words our opponents will still fear the concept, and will still fight it. Sometimes our job as advocates for change is to stick-up for the concepts we believe in by using the words which most accurately describe them. Sometimes that means sticking up for the words themselves.

    Used neutrally ‘cyclist’ is not insulting. Used positively it describes a thing of beauty. The hard work of influencing popular understanding of the word ‘cyclist’ is ours to get courageously on with.

    I am a cyclist. Anything else is dickering about at the edges.

  12. I agree with what is said in the original post – which is not that there is a simple solution, but that there is a difficulty. So I have nothing to add, and will do so at length.

    You hit the nail on the head with:
    “‘Why are we doing things for cyclists?’ they might ask – why are we doing things for a tiny minority of people, and strange ones at that, who wear funny clothes. ”

    The problem is not so acute for “cycling”, which difference may warrant “Cycling Embassy of Great Britain” – the wicker basket drives the point home that you are an embassy for cycling, not cyclists. But then *why* is there this difference that “cycling” is less problematic than “cyclist”? It may seem to offend against Reason. As some have argued here, rationally, “cyclist” is just the appropriate english word for anyone who goes “cycling”.

    That may be true in a dictionary. But in the connotative world of politics, as in poetry, it is not true at all. For a cyclist is an ‘ist’ as a socialist is an ‘ist’, and not only because of the rhyme – though we should not forget that: “Extraordinary how potent cheap music is.”

    Even seeing this problem of the word, a cyclist is rather the sort of ‘ist’ that I am – as those interested enough in the politics of the road to read this blog must likely be, various as we are. There is no ‘us’ in the sense of single behaviour, or collective responsibility. At the same time, to carry on using a bike with all, amid the obstacles that the Kingdom throws up, cannot but go with some distinguishing experiences. There’s the rub. For those distinguishing experiences of the Englishman on the bike may look, to complete outsiders, like the rudiments of a hive mind, a philosophy, even an ‘ism’: bicycle-ism; the ‘bicycle lobby’.

    Unfortunately, some recent history of the bicycle as a political object might exaggerate the tendency to see cyclists as ‘ists’ in the way that socialists are ‘ists’. I wail and lament that the obvious merits of cycling – obvious merits as a method of transport, and for heath, and for civilising cities, and so forth – have got mixed up with the question whether burning fossil fuels can or cannot be a component of virtue. I’m not clear whose minds it is most mixed up in. I suspect: mainly those who, when driving, see a passing cyclist as a moral accusation, and react in resentment as if they were being hectored about polar bears and judged for infidelity to the wife. Jeremy Clarkson, for instance. It is as if every cyclist were experienced as wearing a tabard, reading front and back: “The End is Nigh: Repent”. It is that imagined tabard which is the magnet of mad aggression and confused unreasoning rage – depersonalising ‘people on bikes’ into agents of The End Times. It is that tabard that Jeremy Clarkson thinks of when he spits the word ‘Cyclist’. In this, a perfectly proper concern about the global impact of the internal combustion engine has been incorporated into our one enduring political squabble, between Roundheads and Cavaliers; Virtue and Fun.

    It would be damn awkward for the bicycle to pick sides in the world’s only permanent civil war – and in the UK, that’s exactly the side-picking which, through the “cheap music” of the popular imagination, the word “cyclist” achieves.

    • …or did more reliably achieve, until Bradley Wiggins. So perhaps the connotative situation is not, now, as dire as I paint? After the flurry of victim-blaming we have seen this winter, and the apoplexy of some Surrey residents at the thought of another cyclist on the road when it is *not even the Olympics*…. 2012 feels suddenly very far away.

  13. Pingback: The Beauty of Biking: Witness the World on Wheels | Globe Drifting

  14. Then there is the etymology – the ‘-ing’ suffix has old English roots of various charms and connotations. ‘-ist’ on the other hand is a French import bringing together:

    a) A person who uses something (cyclist)
    c) A member of a profession or one interested in something (cyclist lobby)
    d) A person who holds biased views (cyclist militant)
    b) One who follows a particular ideology, doctrine, belief system or theory (cyclist fundamentalist)

    That’s the trouble with the -ist suffix.

  15. CBRNDC says:

    The English language is great.
    Someone who descriminates on the basis of race is a “racist”.

    Surely someone who spits hate towards anyone who rides a bicycle must be a “cyclist”

    • michael says:

      Logically, its more ‘someone who judges based on type of vehicle’. Bicycle is the type of vehicle. The -ism is derived from the general category not the object of discrimination.

      So discrimination on the basis of choice of vehicle would be vehicularism, I suppose. TfL are institutionally vehicularist!

  16. Pingback: dmhabis

  17. Nice post.
    I need to remember that, sometimes, it will help me communicate with others if I say ‘people riding bikes’, rather than ‘cyclists’.

  18. John Harland says:

    You could blame a lot of it on Reginald Shaw of the CTC and his 1953 book “Teach Yourself Cycling”. Shaw spends a lot of the book denigrating the “Mere bike rider” and portaying the self-righteous bourgeois “Cyclist” you can train yourself to be, by following the instructions in the book.

    I suggest that the word still has strong social-class undertones although now it tends to be aligned with middleclass activists with their fluorescent “Look-at-Me” jackets and righteous helmets, and an atttitude of particular entitlement in traffic because of their virtue in not using quite as much in the way of scarce resources.

    I suggest, too, that a “Cyclist” is someone whose identity is tied up in riding a bike. In The Netherlands, the proportion of Cyclists is very close to that in the UK, or in Australia (measured by population proportion belonging to cycling organisations). For the other 90% of people who ride bikes, it is just a very convenient way to get around.

    • pm says:

      Your choice of stereotype seems a bit confused – choosing to wear a flourescent jacket in order to pander to motorists’ tendency to not look where they are going, hardly shows a sense of ‘entitlement’, if anything its the inverse, a form of submissiveness.

      And if anyone has an “attitude of particular entitlement” in traffic it would be those wielding deadly weapons, i.e motorists (and the larger the weapon the greater the sense of entitlement). The general rule on the roads is ‘might is right’.

      Personally I don’t consider myself a cyclist, but rather ‘not a motorist’.

  19. Great post, I’m with you on this. Cyclist is an odd label, not literally, but because of the way it is perceived. Besides, do car drivers introduce or define themselves as “drivers” at cocktail parties? I riffed on a similar theme here on the psychology of drivers and cyclists which you might find interesting:

    • I enjoyed the riffing. At one point, you rightly had a go at some bad cycling. However, you then felt the need of a supporting argument for having a go at bad cycling, other than on the grounds that it is bad. I’m a bit dubious about your further argument, on which point, I’ve more sympathy with:

      • Nice piece David, very eloquently put. Perhaps leaning towards an ideal world where facts should rightly triumph over perception, judgement and stereotypes. You’ve a very good point that even if the small minority of cyclists who break laws disappeared from our roads, it would still be human nature for some drivers to perceive cyclists as cheats when they overtake cars in traffic jams. I’d be interested to see research into the perceptions of cyclists split by city and rural dwellers, for in the country, the car still trumps the bike, whereas the reverse is often true in the city.

        • That’d be Mark Treasure’s “very good point” if you refer to the eloquent blog cited.

          Not sure about the way you see your research proposal going. Driving a car in central London is such an odd thing to do as a regular means of transport that this must be somewhat selecting for attitudes. Possibly, we aren’t far off a point where people who drive Range Rovers in Westminster really are “motorists” in terms of self-identification and tribe, and not just persons in cars.

          • Odd indeed, but that’s still a large number of oddities, which is probably what some of them think as they see the growing number of people taking to bikes. Thanks for the top tip on the blog.

  20. Hi, I reblogged this by accident. Don’t think I can unblog or delete from my side? Could you do the honors please 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.