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What type of cyclist are you?

Posted by on December 7th, 2006 at 8:13 am

PDOT is in the midst of updating their Central City Transportation Management Plan. As part of the update, they’ve asked city bicycle coordinator Roger Geller to draft a white paper that identifies the cycling issues in Portland’s Central City (more on that later).

In order to help explain various bikeway treatments to (non bike-geek) city planners and engineers, Geller places Portland cyclists in one of four general categories. I’ve listed them below followed by Geller’s description taken directly from a preliminary draft of the document:

The Strong and Fearless
The “Strong and the Fearless” comprise perhaps 2,000 or fewer cyclists in Portland, representing well less than 0.5% of the population. These are the people who will ride in Portland regardless of roadway conditions. They are ‘bicyclists” riding is a strong part of their identity and they are generally undeterred by roadway conditions—though likely few are courageous enough to venture too far up West Burnside into the West Hills.

The Enthused and the Confident
The “Enthused and the Confident” are those who have been attracted to cycling in Portland by the significant advances the city has made developing its bikeway network and supporting infrastructure over the past 16 years. They are comfortable sharing the roadway with automotive traffic, but they prefer to do so operating on their own facilities.

There are perhaps now more than 15,000 of this group riding their bicycles regularly in the city, comprising perhaps 25,000 Portland citizens, or 5% of the population.

The Interested But Concerned
A much larger demographic, representing the vast majority of Portland’s citizens, are the “interested but concerned.” These residents are curious about bicycling. They are hearing messages from a wide variety of sources about how easy it is to ride a bicycle in Portland, about how bicycling is booming in the city, about “bicycle culture” in Portland, about Portland being a “bicycle-friendly” city, and about the need for people to lead more active lives. They would like to ride more. But, they are afraid to ride.

There are probably 300,000 in this group (with perhaps 2,000 who ride regularly), representing 60% of the city’s population. They would ride if they felt safer on the roadways—if cars were slower and less frequent, and if there were more quiet streets with few cars and paths without any cars at all.

No Way, No How
Perhaps one-third of the city’s population falls into the last category of ‘cyclist.’ This is the “no way, no how” group who is currently not interested in bicycling at all, for reasons of topography, inability, or simply a complete and utter lack of interest.

I’m sure most of you are in the first two groups, but I thought these descriptions were interesting because they give a neat window into the mind of how PDOT thinks about bikes.

So, what type of cyclist are you? I’d probably put myself in the “enthused and confident” group.

Please support BikePortland.

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

  • Ethan December 7, 2006 at 9:05 am

    I cut my teeth riding in San Francisco, New York City, and most recently rural New Mexico (where the cars swerve AT you). Being strong and fearless was the only way to ride.

    Here in Portland, I often relax and assume the characteristics of an enthused and confident rider, but am happy to have the strong and fearless core to fall back on when I find myself at 82nd and Foster wondering which way to turn. The thought is that if you’ve only ever ridden on esplanades and bike trails, you’ll be at a loss when you find yourself at a confusing and car-centric intersection.

    I usually ride up the waterfront every morning. Today I rode up 2nd Ave for a thrill – and had my share of fearless moments – it keeps me sharp!

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  • Thom December 7, 2006 at 9:21 am

    “curious about bicycling”?

    They’re “bi-curious”?


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  • tonyt December 7, 2006 at 9:25 am


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  • Cecil December 7, 2006 at 9:40 am

    I find those categories to be somewhat inaccurate. For example, I am a strong rider who will ride in any condition, but I am also concerned the whole time about whether I am going to be hit by a car or slide off black ice into gravel. How about a category for “strong but not stupid”?

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  • Tbird December 7, 2006 at 9:48 am

    I’d say I’m enthused and confident…

    Seeing the estimated #’s of ‘interested and concerned’ around 300k, it makes sense that portland could benefit from getting these people on their bikes more.
    The main obstacle for these folks is : ‘They would ride if they felt safer on the roadways.’
    I think this is a good starting point to identify the need to expand and further define (physically, y’know with a painted line or better;)) bike lanes and routes thru the city. The city is very bike-able as we all know, but the largest group in portland is still afraid. I know this has been the topic of discussion in the past few months. I’m sure we could make a positive impact in the lives of all those ‘bike-curious’ folks.
    just a thought, or two.

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  • vj December 7, 2006 at 9:52 am

    I’m with Cecil. I ride confidently and in traffic, I ride almost everyday, but thoughts about physics (mostly, how big and heavy cars are compared to me) are never far from my mind. However, I think you have to be aware of the potential danger to be a good vehicular cyclist. So where does that fit?

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  • Jonathan Maus December 7, 2006 at 9:55 am

    Just remember that these categories were not meant to perfectly describe everyone.

    They’re intended to provide a mental picture to PDOT staffers and help them understand why, for example, Roger Geller would recommended a sharrow over a regular bike lane on a particular street.

    In the white paper document I referenced, Geller puts these descriptions (which I’ve only paraphrased above) before his in-depth recommendations for new bikeway treatments in the Central City.

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  • Jonathon Severdia December 7, 2006 at 9:56 am

    At two in the morning and 28 degrees out last December I rode from ACME in SE up and over Burnside on my single speed MTB on my way to, umm, Cornelius, where I was living at the time. What can I say?–I was out boozin’ and I missed the last MAX. Well, a couch was offered to me earlier that night, but I’m too proud to reneg on a reject.

    So…. where’s the category for the reflective berserk?

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  • heather andrews December 7, 2006 at 10:15 am

    Chalk me up for enthused and confident.

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  • Brad December 7, 2006 at 10:45 am

    Put me down for “Strong and Fearless”.

    Riding to and from Hillsboro has improved my climbing and descending skills greatly. I do think there should be dedicated bike corridors to/from SW Portland over the West Hills (via Dosch / Patton / Vista) and from NW over Cornell Rd. from the Bethany area in addition to that wonderful path that parallels Hwy. 26. Simply lighting the aforementioned roads for bike commuters and adding bike lanes / sharrows would create smoother, faster, and more direct commutes for Westsiders.

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  • Coyote December 7, 2006 at 10:47 am

    One category should be added, they are the 5% of folks at the far end of the spectrum. People who believe it is a profound mistake to divert limited resources to a inherently dangerous, uncomfortable, and obsolete mode of transportation. This group will become more visible and vocal with every victory for bicycle advocacy.

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    • Matt July 18, 2012 at 9:56 pm

      “… inherently dangerous, uncomfortable, and obsolete mode of transportation…”

      You’re talking about cars. Right?

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  • peerreview December 7, 2006 at 10:50 am

    can we read the white paper you referenced?

    what category is above Strong and Fearless? I know alot more than 2000 stong and confident cyclists, bi or otherwise. heck, I know at least 2000 fearless lady cyclists.

    how many surveys does the city need, anyway? the problem is that these “city planner” types spend their time behind their desk doing “their jobs”.

    if they want to know what it is like to bike in portland, maybe they should geton their bike. seemed to work to educate a certain moronic morning radio, uhhh, how can I say this politely, person…

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  • griffin December 7, 2006 at 11:05 am

    I would be in Coyote’s category, if it were offered, I also have to say that, as a completely cycling reliant mom who transports her kid through all weather and road conditions, I am a concerned and vocal advocate for better cycling support systems ~more designated bike lanes, more traffic calming devices, harsher penalties for reckless drivers, etc. Like Coyote, I feel it is obtuse and wrong headed to invest in infrastructure that is specific and exclusive to gas-burning vehicles, especially when the City claims to be all about encouraging alternative transportation. So, is the City going to use this info to encourage and empower more people to cycle more often?

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  • Cecil December 7, 2006 at 11:21 am

    It was only until I read Griffin’s comment that I realized that I had completely misunderstood Coyote’s comment! I had read Coyote’s post to refer to DRIVERS who consider BICYCLES to be dangerous, uncomfortable and obsolete (believe me, they are out there – my husband works with a zillion of them)(okay, maybe not a zillion, but a lot). Although I now understand the post correctly (at least I hope I do) and agree completely (assuming that my new understanding is correct), I also believe that the group I had originally thought Coyote was describing will also become more vocal with each victory for cyclists (consider the “30-year-old middle class white male” response to affirmative action in the 70s and the Bakke decision . . . .)

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  • Jessica Roberts December 7, 2006 at 11:32 am

    I’m definitely in the enthused and confident camp. I know the rules for hard-core vehicular cycling but I don’t feel comfortable, e.g., taking the lane on MLK. I’ll choose a side street every time, especially when it’s been improved for bikes. I’d say I’m assertive but not agressive. OTOH I don’t own a car and bike just about everywhere I go, so at some point that counts for most of the world as some form of hard-core.

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  • Coyote December 7, 2006 at 11:33 am

    That is funny – was I talking about bikes or cars?

    My intent was to describe the anti-bike movememt.

    All advoactes of bicycle transportation should brace themselves for the yowling that will occur as cars become increasingly impractical.

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  • Jonathan Maus December 7, 2006 at 11:40 am

    Coyote, I agree with you.

    I think how we (bike advocate types) deal with the potential backlash should be discussed at the upcoming National Bike Summit in DC.

    We are entering a new phase of bike advocacy in the U.S. and the rules of the game must change too.

    (I’ve been thinking about a post on this for a few weeks and hope to share it soon.)

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  • Doug December 7, 2006 at 12:20 pm

    Mark me down for Enthused and Confident.

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  • Fred December 7, 2006 at 1:00 pm

    Put me down as Enthused and Confident. I will go out of my way to avoid heavy traffic even if it means more distance to travel. I agree with Brad that we need a dedicated route to/from the west side. Riding up/down Capitol Hwy between Hillsdale and Barbour can be scary.

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  • Richard December 7, 2006 at 1:02 pm

    I’ll go for strong and fearless. I try to avoid stupid – which is a knife edge away.

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  • peerreview December 7, 2006 at 1:04 pm

    “Make the bicycle an integral part of daily life in Portland, particularly for
    trips of less than five miles, by implementing a bikeway network, providing
    end-of-trip facilities, improving bicycle/transit integration, encouraging bicycle use, and making bicycling safer.”

    based on my reading of the “master plan”, our public servants have a hard time delivering on their plans.

    we, the community, however, can do anything we put our minds to…if you don’t believe me, then watch.

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  • Kristen December 7, 2006 at 1:07 pm

    I probably also fit in the Enthused and Confident section. Although, sometimes I’m more of the Strong and Fearless (depends on how aggressive I am riding) and sometimes I’m of the “You gotta be crazy to ride out there” category.

    Didn’t see that one. 🙂

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  • Cecil December 7, 2006 at 1:36 pm

    So my first reading of Coyote’s post was correct? That makes me feel better, given how reading comprehension is the primary focus of my job 🙂 Of course, it makes me feel worse in the sense that I agree that those people are out there and will become more vocal as we become more powerful (I still believe that many of the more aggressive bike-car confrontations this summer were due to driver’s misdirected rage over gas prices – to them we seemed to somehow be in the “enemy” camp, what with our non-petroleum dependent transport . . .)

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  • JV December 7, 2006 at 1:55 pm

    Richard says:
    “I’ll go for strong and fearless. I try to avoid stupid – which is a knife edge away.”

    Ditto. Nicely put.

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  • Jacque December 7, 2006 at 3:19 pm

    What exactly are the “Interested but Concerned” people, concerned about?
    “They would ride if they felt safer on the roadways—if cars were slower and less frequent, and if there were more quiet streets with few cars and paths without any cars at all”.
    It is the speed and congestion of auto traffic that’s the problem. I wish the planners would stay focused on the problem… fix that! Fix the problem, instead of racking your brains over how to protect cyclists and pedestrians while you still accommodate too many cars going too fast. Wouldn’t it be a whole lot less expensive, and MUCH more effective to simply lower the speed limit, and reduce congestion by taking out a lane of traffic wherever possible?
    I agree with Griffin 100%. (I assumed he/she understood coyote’s meaning, but was being clever and turned it around to what is closer to the truth. Bicycles are not at all INHERENTLY dangerous. It is the auto that is an inherently dangerous, and it is the auto that will most likely become an obsolete mode of transportation. Do the planners think catastrophic climate change is a fiction?) Anyway, Griffin’s quote… “It is obtuse and wrong headed to invest in infrastructure that is specific and exclusive to gas-burning vehicles, especially when the City claims to be all about encouraging alternative transportation” is right-on. We should be di-vesting auto infrastructure. If you un-build it, they will go away.

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  • shilo December 7, 2006 at 3:42 pm

    I suppose I should be listed in the “strong and fearless” even though I feel like that overestimates me a bit, paticularly on the physicality aspect.

    I ride, everyday, everywhere in any weather and I’m generally not scared by traffic or potholes etc.
    however, I’m a huge hill wimp and a long ride for me is 40 miles max.

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  • J-on-Bike December 7, 2006 at 4:14 pm

    Enthused and confident.
    Wet and dark road conditions sometimes deters me from riding based on the time of day (rush hour or not). Or I just leave work a little earlier. 😉

    Also a little mystified by the absence of visibility gear on many cyclists.

    Hell, if I could rig my bike to blink like a Christmas Tree, I would.

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  • Pete Jacobsen December 7, 2006 at 5:20 pm

    I don’t like “Enthused and Confident” for my riding style. I’d definitely take “Enthused and Concerned”. I’d ride more if I was less worried about traffic or had better low-traffic travel routes.

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  • John December 7, 2006 at 5:36 pm

    The Strong and Fearless but i think the phrase is better expressed as Full time Bike commuter. Biking whenever possible, and willing to take any roads necessary to get to destination. Maybe I’m a bit of a pessimist but it seems like the “The Interested But Concerned” group is a bit over inflated. I would doubt that 60% of the city populations has ever even considered bike commuting as an option. my guess is this group would more accurately be 50,000 people. tops.

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  • Andre December 7, 2006 at 6:25 pm

    If we assume that a large majority of those 300,000 “interested but concerned” people are drivers we need to think of what their regular interactions are with bikers. I don’t own a car, but whenever I borrow someones it scares the absolute heck out of me to drive around bicyclists. If people are not confident driving around bicyclists they’ll assume that it’s equally unformfortable for the cyclists to be on the road if not more. So how do we make it more comfortable and safer for bike car interactions to take place.

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  • hhw December 7, 2006 at 6:30 pm

    I’m “interested but lazy.” Probably a bit more concerned than the “enthusiastic and confident” group, but I’m not so much afraid to ride as I am out of shape and avoiding the work required to get from shaky and gasping after 2.5 miles to glowing and energized and ready for more.

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  • Macaroni December 7, 2006 at 7:05 pm

    I don’t see how the #3 people can be called “cyclists” and I sort of agree with John above about 50K vs 500K “interested but concerned.”

    I live close-in NE as do many of my friends and acquaintances, so biking everywhere shouldn’t be a problem. Two bike commute irregularly, and believe me, those that don’t have shown no interest in bike commuting or I’d have showed them how. I simply don’t believe 500,000 or even 50,000 people are open to changing their lives and making sacrifices.

    Regarding the “master plan”, I continue to believe that bike commuting won’t increase until business owners make bike-commuting logistics easier for their employees. Maybe the city can come up with an incentive (that they can’t cheat on). Perhaps a tax break or some other form of corporate welfare.

    Look how many businesses won’t even offer public transportation subsidies to their employees. Hence, more use of that aforementioned outmoded form of transportation.

    I’m probably in the #1 group, maybe the #2, but I don’t know what is meant by “they prefer to do so operating on their own facilities.” If that means separate bikeways, or bikelanes, that’s not what I prefer. Too slow and often too clogged.

    Thanks, Jonathan for the heads up here.

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  • Ron December 7, 2006 at 9:53 pm

    enshused and confident here.

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  • jami December 7, 2006 at 10:00 pm

    enthused, probably. not fearless at all. i’ll ride on the bike-laneless bits of hawthorne if i’m too rushed to hit a side street, but when i see people riding on 39th or powell, i consider them pre-dead. brave, paving the way for enthused weaklings like me, but pre-dead all the same.

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  • Darrin December 7, 2006 at 10:11 pm

    “Strong and fearless”, I imagine my “fearless” edges towards “stupid” at times but, eh…

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  • Roger Geller December 8, 2006 at 11:41 am

    Thanks Jonathan. More to come soon.

    What struck me about these numbers is how relatively few we regular cyclists truly are. Most of the people I know are cyclists; I spend my days working to make cycling better and more accessible in Portland; I am constantly thinking and talking about cycling. In my daily experience I’m surrounded by cyclists and thoughts of cycling so to me it’s always felt like there are a lot of cyclists in Portland. But the reality is that those regularly bicycling for transportation are very much in the minority. Which is not to say that a majority of people wouldn’t like to be able to ride more regularly. I believe they would.

    However, to dramatically increase the number of people cycling we’ve got to address, among other things, the barrier posed by concerns about personal safety. That 60% or so of “Interested but Concerned” may ride their bikes for other purposes, but not regularly for transportation. Recent surveys find that close to 3/4 of Inner NE and SE residents own bicycles. They may take rides in their neighborhood, or drive out to a trail, or take their bikes on vacation. But, they do not yet view the bicycle as a means of regular transportation for a variety of reasons, with safety heading the list.

    Don’t take the descriptions or numbers of these categories too literally. They’re just a way to think about our intended audience as we work to create a world-class cycling environment in Portland.

    Also keep in mind that the best policies–and we have very good ones–are by themselves insufficient to change the landscape. Those policies need to be actively supported by the majority of the population. Given that the automobile remains the primary, and often only means of transportation for a majority of Portlanders, taking away lanes, as suggested above, is not very easy to accomplish.

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  • Tiah December 8, 2006 at 2:17 pm

    Enthused but lazy? Um, I commute every day, but soemtimes I “cheat” and just bike downtown to catch a bus to my final destination.This is specifically for my going to school at PCC Sylvania days.I’ve rode out there a few times, but it certainly isn’t an ideal route riding on Barbur with a bunch of cars and busses whizzing by.I rode cyclocross this season, I do some group rides with my bike team…but I have issues with waking up early in the morning…hence the lazy…I can deal with traffic, I just inform myself that the cars will not try to hit me(even when sometimes the drivers seem to want to prove me wrong). I actually try to avoid side streets as much as possible as there are far more stops and if someone were to hit me it seems that it wouldn’t be as safe as being on a higher traffic road where there are many witnesses(and potential helpers if I were to be damaged).
    I get aggrivated at bad drivers,I sometimes yell back at people who yell at me, or yell at someone who appears to be driving with tunnel vision, but in general I like to ride my bike every day…(preferably after 10 am).

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  • Evan December 11, 2006 at 1:47 pm

    Does riding around downtown in the middle of that ice storm last winter qualify me as strong and fearless? What about riding down Vista or Broadway every day on a 35-pound cruiser (plus gear) at 30-40mph, then climbing back up that same hill on the same bike in the evening? I did put a disc brake on the front wheel at least. I ride my bike no matter what the conditions because I still think it is the most appropriate transportation choice. My second choice is the MAX (often with my bike); my third choice is my car. Ugh, you mean I have to drive? Maybe I won’t go.

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  • […] If we want those “interested but concerned” Americans to take more short trips by bike, we must offer them a bike that is simple to operate, efficient, affordable, and most importantly, has a design that strokes their ego. […]

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  • brady January 16, 2008 at 2:00 pm

    I guess I\’m \”strong and fearless\” but would rather not be. I don\’t like riding on roads like Cornell and Thompson (busy, >= 40 mph, no lane), but that\’s how I have to get where I\’m going. I wish there were more lanes and I could be a wuss but a safe one. I try not to be stupid, but like others have said, there\’s a knife\’s edge there. and I can\’t believe there are only 2,000 riders in this boat…

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  • Daniel (teknotus) January 17, 2008 at 9:59 am

    \”The Enthused and the Confident\” would usually describe me, but sometimes I follow people on rides who fall into the fearless group without feeling my pulse race.

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