I serve on the Milwaukee Bicycle Steering Committee (love that name) as a representative of the bicycle industry. In our meeting last week, an interesting conversation broke out with regard to people’s perceptions of cyclists. Initially, I proposed that we should regard anyone on a bike as a “cyclist” regardless of the clothing they wear or the type and value of their bike. However, after some discussion, I changed my position. In the interest of getting more people on bikes, I think it might be better to do away with the whole “cyclist” designation. To me, a “cyclist” is someone for whom riding a bike is a lifestyle – a part of their identity. Other people may occasionally ride, but under that definition, they’re not “cyclists”.
Here’s the problem. This distinction creates an in-or-out situation. Those who are “in” look for ways to distinguish themselves from those who are “out”, employing all the usual techniques we remember from high school – clothes, language, rules, etc. That creates barriers for those who are out. They’ll feel like they have to have the right bike and the right clothes in order to gain acceptance. Becoming a cyclist will require effort and investment to do correctly. Consequently, they’re likely not to bother.
Look at it this way. We don’t consciously regard some people as “drivers” and other people as “non-drivers”. Those of us who do drive don’t make an effort to identify ourselves as drivers. We simply interact with each other knowing that most people drive cars. It’s no big deal. It’s just a part of life.
That’s how it should be with bikes. Just about anyone can ride a bike, most people own a bike, and everyone who does ride could ride more. By removing barriers and distinctions, we would make it easier for people to just hop on and ride. Who knows where they’ll go from there?