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Language Matters: Despising 'avid cyclist' and a news story anatomy

Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on October 7th, 2013 at 2:05 pm

"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’."
— Chris Bruntlett, via Hush Magazine

In our ongoing effort to raise awareness about how the words we use establish (sometimes harmful) cultural norms and have a major impact on our discussions around traffic safety and bicycling, we're bringing back our Language Matters column.

While many people still don't get why we take this issue so seriously, we are heartened by two recent examples we've come across that help make the case that this is something worthy of consideration and action.

The first is an excellent essay by Vancouver (Canada) resident Chris Bruntlett titled, I Am Not a Cyclist which was published on Hush Magazine's website last week. Chris emailed us to share the essay and said he was inspired to write it after an appearance on a local talk radio show where the host referred to him as an "avid cyclist" throughout the interview. Chris said he had recently watched Áron Halász's Cyclists Do Not Exist Tedx talk and he read our story from last month about a researcher's work on language use and bike advocacy.

Here's an excerpt from Chris's essay:

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... 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’.

Chris also shares his belief that as his city's infrastructure and culture slowly (but surely) change toward being more sensitive to bicycling it will no longer be a political or environmental statement. "Then, and only then," he writes, "will we stop identifying folks as ‘cyclists’, and treat them as individuals, with a diverse range of politics, incomes, ethnicities, careers, and interests."

And he ends with a simple request:

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.

Read the full essay at HushMagazine.com.

Our second item is the Anatomy of a news story posted in the current newsletter of the Cambridge (UK) Cycling Campaign (and brought to our attention by Steven Vance). The author, Raymond Brown, takes a recent news article about a traffic collision and examines each section based on the article's choice of words and language style. He takes on issues people often discuss here on BikePortland such as: Why the reporter mentions helmet use; implications of blame in relation to the word "collision"; and so on.

From Cambridge Cycling Campaign. Read it here.

Here's Brown's criticism with the news article's use of a common phrase:

‘He was struck’: the use of the passive here suggests it was serendipity, just ‘one of those things’, like ‘he was struck by lightning’, not the result of one or other party’s action. I would have said: ‘The collision took place on Milton Road just before the junction with the guided busway.’

What struck me about Brown's post was that the news article he featured is almost identical to hundreds of similar articles posted to the web nearly every day. What I've found (at least here in the States), is that those short statements about collisions are often posted by news organizations verbatim from police statements. While that in and of itself isn't a terrible thing to do, it's very rare that the news outlet will present the information as being copy/pasted from the police (I think that's an important distinction).

Read more at CamCycle.org.uk.

I think both of these posts offer important takeaways about language use and how it impacts our perceptions.

— More from our Language Matters series here.

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Comments
  • John Lascurettes October 7, 2013 at 2:24 pm

    As a related language thing, I recently rewatched Simon Pegg's "Hot Fuzz" and there were a number of jokes in there about using the official language guidelines. One of those items was saying "collision" and not "accident". I was slightly sad that it was used as a joke about pedants, but couldn't help but think, "amen."

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  • Slammy October 7, 2013 at 2:31 pm

    Chris Bruntlett's use of the term "Indulging" is boorish and snobby. I swear, what an odd thing to rebel against: Bike shorts. So what, he shops at the mall? Big deal, Camper shoes are still over a hundred bucks. He is bragging here, but I'm not sure why.

    No wonder he's not a cyclist. A cyclist proudly follows rule #18.

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    • Mindful Cyclist October 8, 2013 at 3:48 pm

      He really, really, really needs to quit giving others so much power about how they feel about him and people that ride bikes.

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      • Pete October 8, 2013 at 6:48 pm

        Does this mean your moniker must be changed to "Mindful Person Riding a Bicycle"? Oh, the typing!!

        Merckx be with you my friends.

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  • Jeff October 7, 2013 at 3:09 pm

    I really don't get why this is such an issue. The author is happy to call himself a vegetarian, based on his decision not to consume meat. He's happy to call himself a husband, a photographer, and a musician, based on other decisions he's made. Why is the decision to ride a bike, rather than drive a car, so different?

    I don't see any stigma in the word "cyclist." I'm happy to call myself that, just as I call myself a vegetarian. It doesn't mean I can't be any other thing I want to be. If I get a car from Getaround, I'm a driver, as long as I'm behind the wheel, at least. Sure, it's embarrassing (to me) to be a driver, even for a few minutes, but it's accurate.

    I am very aware of the importance of language, but I don't see how a noun modified by a predicate phrase ("person riding a bike") is any better than a plain old noun ("cyclist"). The cited article sure didn't make it any clearer to me (he just sounds like someone who doesn't like people who are more enthusiastic about bikes). I'm open to understanding why it matters, though!

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    • Chris Anderson October 7, 2013 at 3:41 pm

      Calling someone a "cyclist" is a form of othering, at least in these contexts. Also notice how it's always the van and never the driver who has agency in these stories.

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      • 9watts October 7, 2013 at 10:22 pm

        Bingo.

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      • Beth Hamon October 8, 2013 at 9:34 am

        I have quietly and gently used the word "dyke" to describe myself for a long time. When the marriage equality issue started warming up a couple of years ago, I was asked at a volunteer training for canvassing to not use that word to describe myself during marriage equality discussions because it would be "off-putting and not useful to our movement". Never mind that "dyke" is an historical term (read Judy Grahn's excellent book "Another Mother Tongue" for insights on this); apparently we are supposed to tuck various pieces of ourselves away in drawers when they don't suit the purposes of the political machinery.

        I think this idea, while well-intentioned, may be similarly misguided.

        I would suggest that, as long as our landscape remains so aggressively car-centric, I am "othered" as soon as I swing my leg over the top tube of my bicycle. Mindful use of language at this point in our transportational history seems like little more than an academic exercise at best and bordering on censorship at worst. If I am "other" simply because of my mode of transportation, changing the language used to describe me won't change the landscape; just as tiptoeing through the marriage equality landscape won't change the fact that the queer community is populated by gays, lesbians, dykes, fairies and all manner of gender queers -- all of whom should be able to self-identify in whatever way makes the most sense to them.

        I am a bicycle rider. A cyclist. A woman madly in love with bicycling. All the same thing, in my book. Please let me decide what to call it for myself.

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        • 9watts October 8, 2013 at 9:50 am

          "Please let me decide what to call it for myself."

          That was (part of) what I took Chris Bruntlett as saying, too. It seems like the point of Jonathan's articles on this topic is that words are uttered in a context. It matters who is doing the speaking and labeling. People referring to themselves is rarely the focus, though I think your example is telling. Words have power, and the power is dependent on lots of things.

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        • Scott October 8, 2013 at 1:00 pm

          Call yourself anything outside of the machine. Anything you want. Always remember though that grease is perfect until the introduction of impurities.

          Keep the grease pure. Everyone wants better transportation, so avoid compartmentalizing the discussion.

          I would never ask anyone to be someone they are not, but when up against the machine it is not about an individual, but a greater whole. If you chop up the whole the focus gets shifted and the final objective gets harder to reach for everyone.

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          • Beth Hamon October 8, 2013 at 1:32 pm

            I hear your argument, and I understand it.

            However, I respectfully suggest that the machine in this case is unbelievably large, inefficient and very slow. When those in positions of influence encourage us to tiptoe around things so as not to disturb the downstairs neighbors, nothing really changes in a meaningful way or at a meaningful pace.

            For those of us above a certain age, it grows increasingly harder to be quite so patient. I've been commuting by bicycle daily since 1973, and back then I was one of a handful of riders on the roads. I am now of an age where I believe more and more in direct action. With all due respect, I am more than willing to let the pundits and influence-peddlers play with sentence diagrams; but I'm simply going to ride my bicycle as often and as publicly as possible.

            Cheers --

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            • Scott October 8, 2013 at 3:17 pm

              The machine IS large and cumbersome, and that is exactly the reason to not bog it down with subgroups. Just think about how quickly things began to change when the movement went from "gay rights" to "marriage equality". Something that was endlessly bogged and dogged by those who thought of it as an other instantly became more understanding because it was presented as something everyone could relate to. Marriage is just a small chink in the overall armor of stupidity and backwards thinking, but it is the little victories that lead to a change in the way things are viewed.

              I think people have read the article and are thinking they are giving up identity by dropping a label that they approve of. That isn't it. No one is asking anyone to change identity or give up a part of themselves, but to instead think of themselves as a part of transportation in general and work towards a total plan like they do in countries that are often held up as a goal on this website.

              It is not a negative, it is a positive when you look at it from the perspective moving the whole conversation forward. Also, proper planning can open the door for people who aren't as brave to make decisions about mode of transport. The you and I will not have to be as lonely as we once were on the streets.

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        • Aaronf October 8, 2013 at 1:38 pm

          Plus one to what Beth wrote. (Long thread, so fingers crossed that this ends up nearby!)

          The first paragraph of the article lays out an assumption that I wish was explored here in more detail in language discussions. Does language "establish" or does it "reflect" cultural norms? Or both?

          The reason this is really important: If language establishes cultural norms, we just police language, right? However, if language reflects the cultural norms and context of the speaker (that's where language comes from, right?) then we should be more concerned with finding ways to change attitudes. Attack the disease, not the symptom. This requires more mental effort than just saying "Don't call me that."

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    • gutterbunnybikes October 7, 2013 at 5:03 pm

      You can judge his enthusiasm for bikes from this article? Seems to me he's probably more enthusiastic than most on this site if his articles are being republished and he's getting radio interviews on the topic.

      His point is obviously missed by many of you "enthusiastic" types. And honestly it isn't very surprising. For many even on here "cycling" is a club, with inside jokes - like rule # 5 or # 8 or what ever... (And I got all you buggers beat on #5 cause I ride in all elements with steel rims and 40 year side pull brakes on a 50 lbs bike).

      Many of you are willing to define cyclist within your own narrow field of what a cyclist is. Many of you have done a very fine job of creating very reasonable reasons for an individual to attempt to separate themselves from you.

      Look back about a month ago when at least half of those posting were trying to dismiss the cyclist that was hit while trying to cross the 205.

      Or people getting their riding shorts all twisted over some light-hearted comments in a fashion piece.

      Or should a Hispanic rider show up to group ride, he must be a narc and definitely not interested in riding.

      And I bet that many of you don't also consider the people riding Huffy's and Magna bikes as cyclists either- gawd forbid- they don't look very enthusiastic, or those that use a bike and trailer to cash in the bottles that you leave in your recycling bin on garbage day.

      Of course they aren't cyclists, cause they lack the enthusiasm. Or is enthusiasm only judged by what you determine to the look should be and the amount of capital you are willing to spend on a bike.

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      • JV October 8, 2013 at 3:41 pm

        I think I am advocating for the exact opposite of what you state. All those groups of people that you mentioned are indeed cyclists, they are just not avid cyclists. Perhaps the term "cyclist" needs to lose its exclusivity, not be taken out of the discussion. Again, with the parallel to automobiles, everyone would recognize the operator of a motor vehicle to be a "driver" or "motorist". Regardless of whether you drive a $500 beater car or a $500k collectible sports car, the label still applies, and is related to the activity, not the person. It should be the same way with the term cyclist.

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  • Jim October 7, 2013 at 3:20 pm

    A person driving a car is a "driver".
    A person riding a bike is a "cyclist"
    A person that doesn't want to be called a "cyclist" when they are riding a bike spends too much time thinking about their image of themselves.

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    • Pete October 8, 2013 at 6:41 pm

      I wish Google would stop thinking I'm a "biker" and quit showing me motorcycle ads!

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  • Oregon Mamacita October 7, 2013 at 3:32 pm

    Jeff- your post I understand....

    Author Chris seems enthusiastic about bikes (it's the most "civilized" transport in his city). If I understand his point, he seems to think its is so "natural" to be a bike commuter that you shouldn't be labelled a cyclist.

    I am not sure why he gets to micro-manage how everyone describes his
    two-wheeled vehicle use.

    For me, the New Urbanism is about micro-managing how others live, so being unreasonably picky on how your socially virtuous and civilized cycling is described is to be expected.

    If we are serious about language, how about not labelling all grass-roots opposition to rapid and dramatic neighborhood changes as being a NIMBY and a climate change denier.

    Me, I ride my bike all over because it is fun.

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  • Spiffy October 7, 2013 at 3:45 pm

    maybe I'll start calling myself a transmotorcyclistian just to cover all my modes...

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  • JV October 7, 2013 at 3:46 pm

    I am also perplexed by this perceived outcry against the term “cyclist”. It is a temporary term to describe the vehicle a person is travelling with/on at a moment. The rest of the post about passive sentence construction to describe collisions is a valid journalistic criticism.

    The only thing that Chris Bruntlett's essay convinced me of was that he is not avid, but he is still a cyclist. As is someone delivering pizzas by bike, someone biking to the grocery store, commuting to work by bike, etc… Basically, if they were doing that activity by using a car, they would be called a “driver”. And yes, there are both avid and casual drivers as well. The whole industry of motorsports exists to serve avid drivers at various levels of skill the way that bicycle racing serves avid cyclists.

    Let's focus on other aspects of the language of transportation, but cyclist, driver, skater, unicyclist, pedestrian, and pogo-sticker are all appropriate and descriptive terms to describe a person using a particular mode of transport at a given time.

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  • Scott October 7, 2013 at 3:52 pm

    I hate being called a cyclist.

    Choice of transportation is not grounds for labeling.

    If you are in the Tour de France, you are a cyclist. If you are on your way to work, you are on your way to work. Regardless.

    Would you ever call someone a "bussist", or a "trainist"? Even motorist seems weird to say to someone who has done nothing more arrive at their chosen destination and at the brass tacks, this blog is about transportation. So when everyone is trying to get places, there is no reason to pin tags based on mode to each individual. The plan is to make city centers and the routes to them safe and free flowing for all modes so forming factions is only going to impede this.

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    • JRB October 7, 2013 at 4:22 pm

      We don't refer to people as "trainist or busist", because we usually call them "mass transit riders" or "passengers".

      Count me among those who don't understand the objection to the term "cyclist." To me it just means somebody who rides a bike, whether that is in the Tour de France or to the corner grocery. I'm pretty sure somebody who operates a motor vehicle is referred to as a "driver" regardless of whether they are in a NASCAR race or dropping off the kids at school.

      Bruntlett seems to see something pejorative in the term, but to me, and I think most people, it's as value neutral as "pedestrian" or "husband" or "vegetarian." I don't understand why he is in such a twist about it.

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      • Scott October 7, 2013 at 5:31 pm

        It's because it is in the context of a transportation conversation. All the other titles are benign in that context.

        "I'm a vegetarian." Great, but how did that affect you in regards to infrastructure and route options on your way from point A to point B? Do you see what I'm saying?

        It is the same reason that the GOP made up "Obamacare". They were able to separate it from the Affordable Care Act and denigrate it so that now most Americans don't know that Obamacare and the Affordable Care Act are the same thing.

        If, in the context of infrastructure, you allow either side to put labels on subgroups than you run the risk of people thinking they are missing out if someone else gets something or that they need to stand their ground for no other reason than to make sure the "other" doesn't get their way.

        Side note: I only used Obamacare/Affordable Care Act as an example of language use to a specific interests benefit. I am not wanting to engage in a discussion about these topics.

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      • 9watts October 7, 2013 at 10:18 pm

        "Count me among those who don't understand the objection to the term "cyclist." To me it just means somebody who rides a bike, whether that is in the Tour de France or to the corner grocery. I'm pretty sure somebody who operates a motor vehicle is referred to as a "driver" regardless of whether they are in a NASCAR race or dropping off the kids at school."

        Not so fast, JRB. You're missing a crucial bit here. The fact is, somebody who drops their kid off at school in a car will almost certainly *not* be referred to, symmetrically, as a driver.
        And for a variant on this that goes even further, see the dissected news story above. He/she isn't referred to at all. It is just a van, see?

        Calling them a cyclist, or referring to someone walking down the street as black may sound innocent enough, until you realize that those who are not on a bike, or not black are rarely identified in these terms. They're just people whose skin color or transportation choice is left unmentioned. Mentioning it does political work; in our society it is neither innocent nor neutral.
        The term unmarked categories gets to the heart of this matter. I've copied below the wikipedia description of this concept. Perhaps it is helpful.
        Unmarked categories

        The idea of unmarked categories originated in feminism. The theory analyzes the culture of the powerful. The powerful comprise those people in society with easy access to resources, those who can exercise power without considering their actions. For the powerful, their culture seems obvious; for the powerless, on the other hand, it remains out of reach, élite and expensive.

        The unmarked category can form the identifying mark of the powerful. The unmarked category becomes the standard against which to measure everything else. For most Western readers, it is posited that if a protagonist's race is not indicated, it will be assumed by the reader that the protagonist is Caucasian; if a sexual identity is not indicated, it will be assumed by the reader that the protagonist is heterosexual; if the gender of a body is not indicated, will be assumed by the reader that it is male; if a disability is not indicated, it will be assumed by the reader that the protagonist is able bodied, just as a set of examples.

        One can often overlook unmarked categories. Whiteness forms an unmarked category not commonly visible to the powerful, as they often fall within this category. The unmarked category becomes the norm, with the other categories relegated to deviant status. Social groups can apply this view of power to race, gender, and disability without modification: the able body is the neutral body.

        from here:
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Power_%28social_and_political%29

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        • JRB October 8, 2013 at 8:11 am

          Scott and 9Watts: I understand what you all and Bruntlett are saying. I am missing nothing. I just remain unpersuaded. I distinguish between referring to someone as a cyclist and the type of language used in the dissection of newspaper account. If the reporter had said "person on a bicycle" or "bicycle" instead of cyclist, I would not have found the article any less problematic.

          It's because I care a lot about language, words have been my profession for 30 years, that I find equating the examples cited in the wikipedia article pasted by 9Watts and the term "cyclist" to be false. The slights suffered by people on bicycles are in no way comparable to the historic and ongoing oppression of women, African-Americans, immigrants and other marginalized groups.

          For me, there is a lot going on out in the world more worthy of my outrage.

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          • Scott October 8, 2013 at 9:06 am

            Outrage is absolutely unnecessary here, you are correct in that. Yet as someone who works in words and language you have to know that they are important in moving something forward as they are in slowing something down.

            All I am after is the same type of wordsmithing that helps policy move forward without the stumbling blocks presented by "what about me?" and "why did you give that to this group?" type thinking that come from seemingly separate groups unknowingly working towards the exact same goal. It creates a mire to slow down a process.

            Are you the only person that doesn't want the safest, fastest transition from point A to point B for everyone involved? I don't think you are. Bikes, buses, feet, skateboards, rollerblades, skates, and cars are not going anywhere. So why would you want to apportion the resources available for planning based on any single group? Make it a total plan and let each individual choose who they want to be on their trip.

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        • 9watts October 8, 2013 at 9:02 am

          "The slights suffered by people on bicycles are in no way comparable to the historic and ongoing oppression of women, African-Americans, immigrants and other marginalized groups."

          While that is true, I don't think this automatically disqualifies people who care about language (and about justice) from noticing similarities, even as the consequences for the group may be very different.
          We could turn it around and ask 'Why is it that someone riding a bike is far more frequently identified by their mode choice than someone who sits in a car? and what are the repercussions of this?'

          "For me, there is a lot going on out in the world more worthy of my outrage."

          I agree. But I still think there are real-world consequences of this asymmetric labeling:
          - what we've learned in bikeportland comments about how juries tend to side with the person driving the car rather than on a bike
          - the institutional reluctance by law enforcement to rely on the VRU law
          - bias in news reports of crashes when it comes to descriptions, implied fault, etc.
          - official communiques from ODOT, PBOT, etc. that normalize driver inattention by admonishing those not in cars to be always alert
          - not to mention the vast realm of policy, infrastructure, budgets, priorities, wherein 'cyclists' are often portrayed as other, as receiving special perks (bike lanes, etc.)

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  • BURR October 7, 2013 at 3:57 pm

    I don't necessarily being labeled a cyclist, but the 'avid' part is just obnoxious...

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  • Slammy October 7, 2013 at 4:15 pm

    I have Avid brakes... does that make me an Avid cyclist?

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    • Granpa October 7, 2013 at 5:50 pm

      Maybe yes, Maybe no, but it sure does make your brakes screech

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      • Slammy October 8, 2013 at 9:09 am

        LOL, aint that the truth. Somebody suggested switching to Pauls...

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  • David Feldman October 7, 2013 at 4:22 pm

    This discussion is proof that wi-fi is cooking everyone's brain these days.

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  • IanC October 7, 2013 at 4:35 pm

    I agree with the author about being reduced from the varied, complete title of "citizen", to something limited to a particular interest or activity.

    The most dehumanizing is, of course, "consumer", which I find much more offensive. That term is usually used by corporate interests to justify damaging business practices to keep prices low, all in the name of protecting the "consumer" (banning beef concentrated area feed lots would hurt consumers because the price of a Big Mac by 8 cents).

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  • Granpa October 7, 2013 at 4:48 pm

    It is not the label that makes us "others". I really wish that drivers would see persons when they share the road with cyclists. If it were a vulnerable son or father they were driving next to then they might show more courtesy.

    In small measures I see that change happening.

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  • dwainedibbly October 7, 2013 at 5:26 pm

    I am an avid breather and, according to Mrs Dibbly, an avid eater, but not always.

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  • Mossby Pomegranate October 7, 2013 at 5:35 pm

    Are fat people avid eaters? I don't know. Sometimes I walk, sometimes I drive, and sometimes I ride a bike. I'm not an avid participant in any one of those modes of transit. I use any of them when appropriate.

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    • Opus the Poet October 7, 2013 at 9:03 pm

      Most cyclists I know are avid eaters. In fact one description I'm fond of is a cyclist is an eating machine on wheels. I have to be very careful when I'm not riding to control my eating, because if I continue to eat the same as when I do ride I will gain a ton.

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      • Mossby Pomegranate October 7, 2013 at 9:22 pm

        And drinking beer too! It goes straight to my hips. That's why I'm always moving... to counter the fact I'm always drinking.

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  • AndyC of Linnton October 7, 2013 at 6:40 pm

    Interesting topic. We use words to describe activity, yet they also can become loaded. I have no problem being called a cyclist when I'm cycling, it just gets problematic when blame is inherent in that description, and relegates me to the realm of an "other", which I feel is how most media portrays whatever isn't the norm. Oh yeah, reminds me of this MR. Show sketch:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jp83JZg0hU4

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  • GlowBoy October 7, 2013 at 8:16 pm

    I do think language matters -- one of my pet peeves is the use of the word "accident," for example -- but I think this is getting beyond silly.

    When I'm driving I'm a motorist. When I'm walking I'm a pedestrian. When I'm running I'm a runner. When I'm biking I'm a cyclist. SFW?

    Would it be really so helpful if the news story were changed to read "human being operating vehicle injured in collision with vehicle operated by another human being?" Yes, this helps avoid labeling, but it also strips out context and meaning. The label "cyclist" isn't being used here to describe who someone is as a person, but to describe their role in a particular situation.

    I do agree that there is a very serious problem with victim blaming, both in the specific news story and in society as a whole. But I disagree that it is about labeling people who ride bikes as "cyclists."

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  • jerryw October 7, 2013 at 9:28 pm

    A good writer has something good or valuable to say, lousy writers can only come up with drivel like this. This five minutes I wished I hadn't wasted.

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  • q`Tzal October 7, 2013 at 11:35 pm

    On the passivity of "he was struck" and similar blameless verbiage:
    How should this be phrased when the author has no solid evidence as to the guilty party in the collision?
    As I see it and more active or aggressive wording will invariably place blame, intentionally or not, on a party as interpreted by the reader in an almost random manner. This assumes that the author is not also applying their own bias...

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  • Al from PA October 8, 2013 at 5:15 am

    In French "cycliste" refers specifically to an officially recognized road bike racer. It's really kind of a term of respect. "Cyclo" is a bike tourist or someone who participates in organized hill climbs or "gran fondo" type events ("cyclotouriste" or "cyclosportif"). I don't know of any word that refers specifically to someone who rides a bike just to get around. Nor is there any equivalent to "avid cyclist." There is of course also a distinction between "bicyclette"--which implies a bike used in more purposeful riding, and "vélo," which is more just a bike you use to get around--although "vélo" can drift over and be used informally to indicate any bike (like the slangy "bécane").

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  • BIKELEPTIC October 8, 2013 at 8:11 am

    I believe he completely missed his mark on what he was intending to say with his essay. While he wanted to dispel the negative stereotypes of the lycra-clad road warriors or red-light scofflaws that commentators on various websites rant about, what he ended up doing was suck the entire joy out of riding. Commuting, racing, touring, midnight revelries, grocery-getting, child-moving, dating, meeting, training, tooling are all a passionate extension of "getting from Point A to Point B." When a client last year, who was astounded that I rode all year long, regardless of rain, sun or snow asked how I did it; I responded to her with a shrug unable to come up with a better response - "Because I just do it." Sure, there are those fair-weather bike riders that pull out the clunky, rusty chained beaters every spring for the sunny weekends and that is fine. But then there are those people that do it. And if they're cyclists, they're cyclists. To become overwhelmed with this bullsh*t over spun politically correct phraseology.

    I notice that no one pointed out in the sample article, my biggest pet-peeve; the VAN. You don't get into a collision with a VAN. Unless the van's parking brake wasn't set and it rolled on it's own into you at velocity I am pretty sure there was probably a foot (or hand accelerator) swerving into you. The PERSON (people first language here) driving the van hit the person riding the bike.

    (That's not to say that people first language or political correctness has its place. Discrimination etc. But, cyclists? Come on.)

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    • Alex Reed October 8, 2013 at 9:52 am

      It's interesting to me that the balance of comments here is against the first article. Personally, I almost completely agree with that article. I don't identify as a "cyclist" even though I ride quite a bit because I purely do it for transportation. If walking for my commute and errands were practical, I would probably do that instead of biking and probably enjoy it (very slightly) more.

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      • davemess October 8, 2013 at 12:58 pm

        and would you be super incensed to be labelled a "pedestrian" then?

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        • Alex Reed October 8, 2013 at 2:51 pm

          Not super incensed but I would find it kind of strange....

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        • Alex Reed October 8, 2013 at 5:11 pm

          To clarify, I would find it kind of strange if it were mentioned outside of a transportation context. E.g. I'm at a party, and my friend says, "Hey Alex, I think you might like to meet Lisa, she's a pedestrian too!"

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          • BIKELEPTIC October 9, 2013 at 12:38 am

            you're going to the WRONG kind of parties then!! I would like to introduce you to some amazing people with a little organization called Oregon Walks (formerly Willamette Pedestrian Coalition). Did you know that the month of October is Walktober!? A pedestrian (hah! pun!) version of Pedalpalooza! 3 weeks of Fun on Foot! It's still in its infancy, 2nd year, but last year was a great success and they are power [walking?] their way through harvet. Great way to meet some awesome safe-street activists! walktoberpdx.org

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            • Alex Reed October 11, 2013 at 2:55 pm

              Hey, thanks! Walktober looks super neat :-)

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  • paikikala October 8, 2013 at 8:48 am

    I've started reading "Thinking Fast and Slow", a description of cognative science, and so far one essential idea is that words, and their repetition, matter. We form ideas and feelings based on what we have seen and read. These ideas and feelings are reinforced the more often the words or associated ideas are experienced. Anyone up for an experiment? post signs in your neighborhood (or better, along a crappy route) that say BIKE = GOOD and see how it feels to ride there in a couple months.

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  • pdxpaul October 8, 2013 at 11:51 am

    This discussion and the contrived outrage in the OP is why we can't have nice things.

    Can we get another fashion piece, please?

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  • Jim Lee October 8, 2013 at 2:03 pm

    A bicycle turns a human into a big fast animal--the cyclist!

    With or without fashion vibes.

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  • merlin October 8, 2013 at 5:18 pm

    The news article example is more interesting to me than the question about whether people who ride bicycles are "cyclists." The person driving the van never appears in the article at all - and I have observed this in local news coverage too. I prefer to mention each of the actors as "persons" - a person riding a bike, a person driving a car.

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  • bikefrog October 8, 2013 at 7:42 pm

    yikes, that guy may not be a cyclist, but he sounds like a real bike snob

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  • Mark Hashizume October 8, 2013 at 9:42 pm

    Perhaps whenever a reporter post/publishes their news article of such a tragedy/accident then you can send the editor and the reporter a similar critique to sensitize them for the next time?

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  • Skid October 9, 2013 at 8:22 am

    He seems to view a bike the same way I view a cell phone: as just a tool. I actually like bike, or more accurately I love them. They are a vocation and an avocation for me. I am a cyclist and a bicycle enthusiast and I do not have a problem with being referred to as one. I am even proud to be a cyclist. I don't see the description as limiting, I know that it does not describe the beginning and end of me. It is not the language that is divisive, it is the attitude surrounding it.

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  • Dave October 14, 2013 at 8:17 am

    I wish I could write like Beth Hamon!

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