Sunday, May 31, 2009

Cyclists Are People Riding Bikes

In my never-ending consumption of online bike-related material, I have noticed that many cyclists feel the need to point out that every person on a bike should not be considered a cyclist. The gist of this sentiment is that cyclists generally know what they are doing or are more serious about bikes and cycling than most, while "some guy on a bike" could describe people who are just goofing around, are not riding a bike by choice, are ignorant of rules and laws, proper etiquette and so on.

I truly understand where this desire to differentiate comes from: talking about riding and commuting with people invariably leads to a story of some kid or moron or moronic kid who did something dangerous or stupid right in front of your friend's car the other day. Given the less-than-positive view held by many drivers when it comes to people on bikes, you just want to scream "but that's not me! Please don't lump me in with those people!" (Translation: I am a cyclist!) In many cases, you may well say (rather than scream) something right along those lines, and your friend may well appreciate your point, and that is good.

There are a couple of observations I would like to make regarding this phenomenon. Firstly, in conversation with your friend, this distinction is one worth making. However, when it comes to online forums or discussions about cycling, you are generally wasting your breath (or keystrokes) in making such a point, because 99% of your readers already appreciate the difference very well indeed. I wouldn't guess that many non-cyclists spend time reading cycling blogs or forums... although as always, I could be wrong. I suppose there is some kind of "affirmation value" for online readers, but in preaching to the choir all you'll get is an "Amen", not a "hmm, I see your point", which is what I think most of us are really wishing for.

Secondly, it is not realistic to think that motorists in general will ever appreciate the distinction. How do cyclists think of drivers? We identify risk or annoyance with a whole vehicle type, not individuals, usually by using the word "cars". Everyone knows that there are good and bad drivers, but the fact is that any car we see may be in the hands of a dangerous, inattentive or hostile person. As such, we stay on our guard at all times, regardless of which car(s) we're dealing with at the moment. Similarly, drivers will never make the mental distinction between responsible cyclists and "people riding bikes", and expecting them to get visual cues from what we wear or how we're riding at the moment is analogous to trusting implicitly any driver of a Prius who's not gunning it or weaving all over just now. It just isn't going to happen.

Since making distinctions like this in the larger context of the Internet or the media in general is probably a waste of time, the only useful remedy is education for both "people riding bikes" and motorists. Rather than trying to make people see the difference between the cyclist and the "person on a bike", let's make that person into a cyclist by giving them the information and instruction they need, starting with our kids. The more cyclists we can encourage to responsibly take to the road, the closer to big shifts in thinking we become. After all, cyclists are people riding bikes.

I am stepping off of my soap box now; thanks for reading.



Keri said...

Well said!

Other community benefits could follow as well:

- these educated cyclists would ride more because it's more fun and they can get more places without fear.

- they'd promote cycling in a positive way, because it would be a more positive experience.

- they wouldn't reinforce the mythology that cycling is dangerous, because they wouldn't have constant close calls.

- when the did drive cars they would drive better, because they'd understand the experience of "other" road users.

- Increase in polite drivers, decrease in bitter whining cyclists, decrease in animosity toward bonehead cyclists, decrease in crashes... you might almost eliminate that low-hanging-fruit of excuses not to ride a bike ("It's too dangerous"). People would have to just be honest and admit it's 'cause they're too lazy ;-)

I could think of more, but I'm off to ride my bike, and dream of the positive consequences rippling out into the community... just from this one simple thing.


RANTWICK said...

Hey, thanks Keri. You managed to quickly break out the "shifts in thinking" I vaguely referred to near the end of that post.

Glad you liked it.

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