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Are cyclists heroes?

Posted by on August 1st, 2006 at 12:15 am

[The following ode was written by new contributor Elicia Cardenas and was originally published to the Shift email list almost one year ago. She wrote it in response to someone who questioned why some cyclists act like heroes or “holier than thou” once astride their bicycles. In the future Elicia will be writing about bike infrastructure, advocacy, and other geeky stuff. Welcome Elicia!]

I am heroic because I ride my bike. All of us are.

I am a hero because every day someone almost kills me while I am trying to get to work.

I am a hero because a car swerved into the bike lane and almost hit me, and I kept riding.

Critical Mass August - Portland OR

I am a hero because I ride even though I have a big bag and wet rain gear that smells a bit and it makes other people uncomfortable.

I am a hero because everyone I know who isn’t a cyclist thinks I’m crazy.

I am a hero because I am trying to make my community safer by staying out of a motor vehicle.

I am a hero because I am trying to make my city more livable by staying out of a single occupancy vehicle.

I am a hero because I am not contributing to air pollution.

I am a hero because I am not contributing to the oil economy that is driving the war in Iraq.

I am a hero because I see my neighbors face to face when I’m on my bike, and I can say hello.

I am a hero because I set a good example when I ride my bike.

I am a hero because I volunteer and participate in my community in whatever ways I can.

Everyone is a hero when they ride their bike.

I am not holier than thou.

I am just a cyclist trying to make the world safer for cycling every time I get on my bike.

That is heroic enough for me.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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    David August 1, 2006 at 5:27 am

    Damn, if you’re a hero for riding your bike, what does that make me? I walk everywhere.

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    joe August 1, 2006 at 6:15 am

    a sidekick

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    Jim F. August 1, 2006 at 7:22 am


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    jami August 1, 2006 at 7:30 am

    it does take courage to ride a bike. even in portland, getting on my bike the day after i heard that the people in the biggest SUVs thought it would be funny if i died took a little extra something i hadn’t had to muster since i first got off the sidewalk onto the street eight years ago (!).

    but i’ve found that the vast majority of non-bikers respect it and wish they had what it takes to do it. total car-worshippers might look down their noses, but really, the feeling’s mutual.

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    Brett August 1, 2006 at 7:51 am

    Are cyclists heroes? Well, you asked.

    Not all… but some are. I saw the pic of the man with one arm that did the STP. I just saw a 10 year old cyclist with a brain tumor on Sunday at Portland Meadows, he was riding to support cancer research/advocacy.

    The reason, in my opinion, that some people have the mindset that some cyclists have a holier than thou attitude is twofold. One is simple ignorance and selfishness… on both parts. The non-cyclist doesn’t understand that to take the time to make eye contact and flash a smile while signaling and making a lane change at 15mph may mean an accident. And the cyclist that doesn’t take the time to make sure they are seen and understood isn’t trying to bridge any gaps either. Now… if you think that you should not have to go the extra mile to be seen and that the non-cyclist owes you something… well maybe I’ll research what holier than thou means before I go any further. And two is that some DO have a holier than thou attitude. The lead in to this post speaks of a person that wondered why SOME cyclists act like heros or holier than thou… well SOME do act that way. I suppose the quick answer is that that cyclist has low self esteem and is adopting an elitist attitude to try to feel better about themself… pity. That’s just life.

    Now, some will dismiss this as semantics, but none of this story is heroic. It is at times commendable, honorable, brave, and simply the right thing to do, but not heroic. I believe in the spirit of what Elicia wrote. I just believe that it is a duty and a responsibility to do these things and not something heroic.

    Now, let’s see how fast you elitist, holier than thou bicycle snobs ostracise me. 🙂

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    pdxrocket August 1, 2006 at 8:03 am

    Anyone can be a “hero”; it doesn’t take a bike to do this. Also, for every couple of “heroes” there are the “villians”…for most certainly, some cyclists negate the great ones.

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    Anonymous August 1, 2006 at 8:32 am

    you’re our hero jonathan.


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    dayaram August 1, 2006 at 9:10 am

    I ride daily and while I’ve had some “close calls”in my close to 40 years on 2 wheels I don’t feel like I’m at greater risk on my bike. I am responsible for my own actions and don’t assume others will act rationally. Heroes are those actions are outside the norm and usually involve acts in disregard of their own safety.

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    Anonymous August 1, 2006 at 11:06 am

    One of the main reasons I bike is because being in a car freaks me out.

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    Nathanael August 1, 2006 at 1:46 pm

    “I am a hero because I am not contributing to the oil economy that is driving the war in Iraq.”

    I’m not sure you know very much about how petroleum is used in the modern world, hero.

    I love my bikes, and ride them everywhere, but I don’t feel noble, nor do I feel a need to inflate my own ego like this guy. The fact that he actually felt the need to disclaim himself at the end proves that it was on his mind the whole time.

    Ride your bike for your own reasons, but don’t make yourself out to be som hero.

    Now Spider-Man – he is MY hero.

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    Brett August 1, 2006 at 2:24 pm


    (Elicia is a girl)
    but right on about the petrol use thingy

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    Nathanael August 1, 2006 at 2:28 pm

    Doh! I read the name wrong. Waiting for feminists to attack me for defaulting to the male pronoun in 3, 2, 1…

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    gwadzilla August 1, 2006 at 2:55 pm

    I am not sure
    I think we need to define the term

    after a quick google

    Strenght and Courage
    and some other stuff


    you are a hero

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    Sasha August 1, 2006 at 5:21 pm


    It seems a bit contradictory to state that you ride in order to act against the oil economy and Iraq war (and are a hero for doing so), but also proclaim not to be holier than thou.

    Since both of those are gross over-simplifications, I’m going to go with “No, you’re not a hero.”

    Very few people actually are, and it is not something for self-proclamation.


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    Geoff G. August 1, 2006 at 7:05 pm

    Oh, come on people! Where is the love?

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    Matt Picio August 1, 2006 at 8:11 pm

    About the oil issue:

    86% of all oil in the United States is used for transportation fuel. Bicycles use a VERY small amount of oil for their synthetic rubber and lubricants in comparison.

    I agree with the “hero” definition. Anyone who rides and defends what they do despite naysayers, creepy guys in NW Portland, jerks throwing water bottles, people who yell and honk their horns, and co-workers and family who think they’re nuts is a hero in my book. Or crazy. Or both.

    And if you’re Elicia, or Elly, or Timo, or one of the other many who I’m forgetting to mention who educate the public, work in transportation, or otherwise actively make this a better place to bike, then you’re doubly a hero in my mind.

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    zach August 1, 2006 at 10:34 pm

    the food we eat is delivered to stores by motor vehicles, etc…

    although we can minimize our footprints, we can’t eliminate them. and trying our best does not make us heroes – it’s just the right thing to do.

    doing the right thing should be expected of everybody. heroism is something special.

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    Jon August 2, 2006 at 6:33 am

    Elicia, that must have been you, cape flapping the breeze, riding over the Hawthorne. The cape is very hard to see around for passing cyclists, probably serves as a damper on your forward movement on a windy day too.

    I reject the principles of heroism in all it’s forms. I bike because I like it, screw heroism.
    I appreciate the creative efforts you’ve put into the poem, but to declare oneself a hero is simple hubris (patently not heroic). At the same time, I fully support your decision to be a hero and eagerly look forward to more of your apathy fighting efforts.

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    Matt Picio August 2, 2006 at 11:05 am

    Zach, the point is that when a minority of people do the right thing, even when the majority subtly and not-so-subtly encourage them to do the opposite, THAT’s heroic. Doing the right thing depsite the odds, despite one’s own laziness and apathy, despite the weather, the traffic, etc – that’s heroic.

    If you watch most any news story about someone we would call a “hero”, like someone saving a child from a burning building, the “hero” will usually say they didn’t do anything that anyone else wouldn’t have done, or they’ll say they were merely “doing the right thing”. That’s heroic.

    And though I’ve only met Elicia once, I’d say that the point of her article is to declare the rest of us heroes, not herself. Don’t mistake the vehicle of the wording for the intent of the message.

    -Matt Picio

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    Ray From A Different Coast December 21, 2006 at 6:31 pm

    Sorry folks but, sometimes simply doing doing what you think is the right thing does make you a hero. You may not think so, but it does. Save a life, put out a fire, help a child, raise money for charity, ride a bike, simply being polite in a a world where entertainers make millions for being rude, just doing the right thing. Yes, all these things can make someone a hero because I know people that are frightened or unwilling to do any of these things and cannot see beyond themselves. When your friends, family, and co-workers think you are a hero “even if they think you’re crazy” yes, it makes you a hero even if you don’t think so.

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    adam December 21, 2006 at 7:46 pm

    Brett, sorry, I just cannot resist. I need bikeportland intervention. however, elicia, who some say is a girl, must be a hero for her words say so.

    my heroes are all the people who get from a to b without emissions nor harm to their fellow man.

    if you prefer to walk, that is called “pedestrian”. if you want to ride your bike, please do so.

    now, get on with it.

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