There’s no better feeling than the open air that whizzes past as you sail down the street on a bicycle. The invigorating energy of the wind produces a sensation that’s impossible to emulate on other forms of transportation. Although this feeling is unique, it’s also universal throughout the varied realm of cycling. Any cyclist can enjoy it, regardless of their reason to ride or what sort of bike they’re on. This insight has a unifying potential that shouldn’t be ignored.
All too often, those who cycle on a regular basis are divided into groups based on their chosen equipment and motivation. Each group has its own set of associated stereotypes, from the fearless daredevil mountain biker, to the hardcore winter commuter, to the pompous roadie, whose heart is wrapped too tight in form-fitting lycra to include the “lesser” cyclist in their elite sport. This separation is potentially problematic on two levels.
First, it nixes the prospect that some cyclists, like me, may have a foot in multiple camps. Pro cycling is among my favorite sports, and I ride as a roadie as often as I can fit it in, sprinting down local roads and daydreaming about winning a stage at the Tour de France. But I get almost as much joy from riding my commuter hybrid to the grocery store or across town to a friend’s house. Besides the reduced environmental impact, it’s a very practical and low-maintenance way to get around. Gassing up a car is both expensive and a hassle, but I can “fuel” my bike simply by eating, which I’d do anyway. It’s essentially free from day-to-day,, and all the bike asks in return is some very occasional TLC when something goes wrong. Add that to the incredible network of lanes and paths in the Twin Cities, and the question becomes: why wouldn’t I want to be a daily cyclist?
Since I still do have a stake in road riding, it stung me when a recent guest speaker in my urban cycling class (a fellow passionate cyclist, to boot) described road riders as “idiots who can’t ride without lycra.” Not only am I a counterexample of this, but I try to remain as inclusive as possible when it comes to cycling culture. Nothing melts my heart faster then getting one more peer hooked on biking. The monthly highlight of my social life came a few weekends ago, when a friend who knew I loved cycling asked me to come along to the local shop and help her pick out a used commuter. This kind of cooperation is vital to supporting the best interests of cyclists in any discipline. To build strength in numbers and better advocate for our common goals, cyclists need to be an inviting and approachable group, willing to welcome the novice and show them the ropes.
The second reason that cycling divisions are problematic is that they pit bikers against each other, instead of using that energy towards a collective goal. Regardless of why they ride, I think all cyclists can agree on one fundamental ideal – we’d all love to be treated as legitimate vehicles, sharing the same rights and responsibilities as other road users. When there is animosity between groups of riders (as demonstrated by the guest speaker’s comment), that utopia only becomes harder to achieve. In order to be perceived by drivers and pedestrians as more than a haughty band of eco-warriors threatening public safety, cyclists would do well to resolve the image problems that exist even within our own ranks. If we want bikes on the road to be publicly validated, we must push for this goal as a more united group.
Multi-discipline riders like myself have a big role to play in this. We must be positive representatives of each division we are a part of, taking steps to include not only cyclists from other disciplines, but also those who are starting anew on a bike. I encourage riders of all types to be a visible icon of the cycling world. Wear your helmet into the store after parking your bike (it’s more convenient that stashing it in your bag anyway). Post that beautiful sunset photo on Facebook for all your friends to see. Most importantly, if your passion is noticed by a friend or even a stranger, represent yourself and other cyclists in a positive, inviting way.
A single voice for all types of cycling can and should be supported by those with a lot of influential and financial leverage. For that, I present the instance of Trek-Segafredo, a road racing team that competes at the highest level of professional cycling. For several years now, the Trek team has prominently displayed the emblem of PeopleForBikes on their jerseys, team buses, and other equipment. PeopleForBikes is a national non-profit that supports bike projects of all types through community grants and advocacy. Furthermore, the team’s riders often speak publicly and on social media about the importance of promoting bike infrastructure, accessibility, and education, so that anyone – regardless of physical fitness or quality of equipment – can be a cyclist. If athletes at the peak of the cycling pyramid, riding on roads closed to traffic, can speak out for such a worthy cause, surely casual riders like you and me can do the same, no matter what division of cyclists we represent.
There are millions of regular bike riders across the globe. It’s high time that we all came together under one banner. Instead of classing ourselves individually as roadies, commuters, leisure riders, mountain goats, or countless in-betweens, we’d be more visible, both on the road and in advocacy, as a single, united group. We are cyclists.
Written by Dan Klonowski. Dan is a student at Macalester College in St. Paul, set to graduate in 2017. His two loves are baseball and cycling, and the Twin Cities have absolutely spoiled him on both accounts. Like any good cyclist, Dan loves a post-ride cup of coffee or ice-cold pint, preferably while watching the Tour de France or his hometown Chicago White Sox.
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