Sunday, October 28, 2007

Are you a cyclist?

You bike to work every day, rain or shine, snow or sleet. Are you a cyclist?

In your backyard shed you have a mountain bike you bought years ago from Canadian Tire. On really fine days you and your significant other ride to a nearby park and toodle along the bikepath there. Are you a cyclist?

You belong to a cycling club and have several beautiful (and expensive) road bikes, none of them weighing more than 20 pounds. You don’t bike to go anywhere, but you put in a hundred-plus miles a week training, and you do duathlons or triathlons in the season. Are you a cyclist?

You ride a well-put-together hybrid bike with large panniers. You ride it to work most days. Though you won’t bike when there’s a lot of snow on the ground—you don’t like falling—you’re a twelve-month rider. You don’t bike anywhere else; indeed, you own a nice minivan you use to take your kids to hockey and to get groceries. Are you a cyclist?

Every summer you and your significant other bike hundreds of miles while on vacation. Your bike sports front and back panniers, a triple chainring, a well-broken-in leather saddle, and maybe a trailer with your camping gear. You can’t go fast, but you can go far. Are you a cyclist?

You ride a bike everywhere. It’s a matter of principle. Your bike is not beautiful nor expensive, but it’s serviceable and gets you places. Perhaps it has plastic flowers wired to the stem. You loathe our mechanized society and its consumption of irreplaceable oil. You loathe the BMWs and SUVs that clog our roads, that kill cyclists. You go to cyclist memorials. You demand bikelanes on every road. You bang on the sides of motor vehicles that (you think) threaten you. Are you a cyclist?

You and your spouse ride a tandem every weekend, and hang around with other tandem riders. Are you a cyclist?

You ride a recumbent bicycle, which you call a ’bent, or sometimes a human-powered vehicle. Your “upright” friends make fun of you climbing hills, but your back feels great. Are you a cyclist?

You’re a randonneur. Your season starts with a 200-kilometre ride. You think nothing of battling sleep while cycling the 1000 kilometres around Lake Ontario. Your training, indeed much of your life, is oriented toward qualifying for Paris-Brest-Paris four years from now. Are you a cyclist?

Perhaps more important: do you consider all of these folks cyclists? If not, which ones?

Ours is a huge community, yet a weirdly hidden one—we hide from each other with labels and badges and qualifications that include us and exclude those who aren’t (we think) “real” cyclists. Hang around with performance cyclists, and they’re mildly contemptuous of the scruffy do-gooders on heavy steel mountain bikes with squeaking mechanicals or of “gutter bunny” commuters. In the world of cycling advocacy, the performance cyclists—Lycra-clad whippets travelling in packs they give a fancy French name to—barely register. And, of course, to most utilitarian cyclists, biking to work or school on their mountain bikes or hybrids, and to most of the folks on the bikepaths on pleasant weekend days, neither the performance cyclists nor the advocates matter.

Nor should they. We’re all cyclists. Practically every adult and near-adult in Toronto is a cyclist—sometime, somewhere, somehow. Some of us bike a lot, some of us less, but we’re still cyclists.