I was asked recently: “can anyone who cycles call themselves a cyclist?”
After some thought, I countered that with a second question: “Have you ever google image searched ‘cyclist’?”
If you take a look on a fresh browser tab, unaffected by browsing history, the results are pretty consistent: male, lycra, road bike.
The first woman (at time of writing!) is 13 images down, the one after that is in position number 20, holding a mountain bike and not wearing a jersey – she lives on a site full of potential screensaver backgrounds. Because seriously, cyclist + woman = just something to look at.
There’s a lot written about cyclists too – ‘Things Cyclists Say’, ‘What Biking Tribe Do You Belong To’, ‘the A-Z of Road Cycling’. I’ll add, unashamedly, that I’ve written some of it, and it is good fun to have a giggle at our stereotypical quirks.
‘We’ cyclists like to live in our cycling world, where the roadies know ‘The Rules’, the mountain bikers know when to use ‘gnarly’ and when ‘epic’ is more appropriate and the commuters can spot a taxi driver with faulty indicators a mile off.
We sit in our happy little cliques and conform to our rules and the vast majority of the population has absolutely no idea that the cuffs on our socks are making a statement of belonging.
Is knowing the laws of your chosen cycling fraternity, and obeying them, what makes a cyclist?
When Graeme Obree built his bike, Old Faithful, from parts of a washing machine, with his stretched out ‘Superman’ position, he wasn’t exactly conforming. Eileen Gray probably didn’t fit in so well when she joined the Apollo Cycling Club (because other nearby clubs didn’t allow women).
Not only that, but if obeying the rules of the conventional cyclist stereotype is what makes someone a cyclist, then most of us wearing sports bras under our bib tights and possessing XX chromosomes are out of the club anyway.
All this cliquing and ego massaging for those who want to be part of the groups, is, most of the time in good fun. I don’t think anyone REALLY takes it seriously. However, sometimes members forget themselves and don’t realise that all the bravado can be truly off-putting for people on the outside.
More bums on bikes means more acceptance of cycling, more showers in offices, more decent cycling lanes. That works the other way, of course – an abundance of well thought out cycling lanes would help get more bums on saddles, too – but most of us aren’t in a position to start painting lines on roads.
So, yes, in my opinion, anyone why cycles has every right to call themselves a cyclist.
The dividing line might be those that have a bike, buried somewhere in the back of a shed, that’s grown more rust than mold on a year old piece of cheddar.
The people out there riding bikes – shoppers on Dutch bikes, roadies exploring the lanes, tourers carrying all they need to eat and sleep for a week, hybrid riders alongside the canals, those getting muddy on the trails – they are all cyclists.