What is a Cyclist Anyway?

posted in: Cycling, Opinion | 0

Like a lot of issues in the world, the rhetoric between cyclists and non-cyclists has become a binary argument between those who do, and those who do not.  At its extreme, both sides treat the other in isolation of all other things, each as the enemy of the other.  No more so is this seen with the division between cyclists and motorists.  The fact that people who ride bikes may also drive cars, or vice versa, pales into insignificance compared to the science of convenience that endlessly perpetuates the discussion.

But what’s in a name? The Oxford English Dictionary simply defines a cyclist as being ‘[a] person who rides a bicycle’, yet the ‘-ist’ suffix is generally ‘used to form adjectives and nouns that describes (a person with) a particular set of beliefs or way of behaving’.

The only behaviour common to all people on bikes is that to achieve forward motion they have to mount them and spin their legs around a bit. The more antisocial acts performed by people on bikes, like jumping red lights or riding on the pavement, have more in common with drivers sneaking slightly over the speed limit or parking in disabled parking bays than anything inherent to simply riding a bike.

As for having the same beliefs?  There are definitely cycling cultures out there, but could the term cyclist really cover the far-removed worlds of the cycle courier, World-Tour road racers, or indeed, the person who just wants to get from A to B?

So, the term cyclist, with its weight of imagined stereotyping stacked against it, is a seemingly poor description for someone who rides a bike. After all, a person who walks or hikes is a walker or a hiker, not a walkist or a hikist. In the same way motorists are often referred to as drivers, perhaps the cyclist should become the cycler. 

Perhaps, better still, to overcome the acrimony between different road users, we should just start to see everyone as people, rather than just an adjective.