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What is a Cyclist?

The dictionary defines a cyclist as “Somebody who rides a bicycle,” and as far as the media and news reports go that pretty much covers it. If a person robs a bank and makes his get-away on a bike; the story will read “Cyclist robs bank.”

What about the three-year-old child riding his little bike on his driveway, possibly with training wheels still installed; is this little fellow a “Cyclist” or a child playing at being a cyclist.

My father never owned a car in his entire life, or even learned to drive one; a bicycle was his only independent means of transport. However, I don’t think he would ever have called himself a cyclist; never once did I ever hear him say, “I’m going for a bike ride.”

He never rode for exercise or for the simple pleasure of riding a bike; he only rode a bike when he needed to be someplace else, and his bicycle was the only means he had to get there.

Even today there are people who ride bicycles as their only means of transport, either by choice, or for economic reasons, but would they necessarily label themselves as cyclists? 

A person who has lost their driver’s license or a young person not yet old enough to drive will ride a bicycle, and would not call themselves a cyclist. But should they be unfortunate enough to be involved in an accident, the media will say, “Cyclist hit by car.”

Some use a bicycle as an exercise machine but would not necessarily call themselves a cyclist anymore than they would call themselves “treadmillist,” if there were such a word for a person who chose a treadmill as their exercise machine of choice.

I seem to remember that Bike Snob NYC once described a cyclist as one who owned a floor pump; and others who relied on their local gas station to inflate their tires were not a real cyclists.

I think that is a pretty fair assessment; when a person cares enough about riding a bike to start buying other stuff like proper tire inflation technology, they are on their way to becoming a cyclist.

At this point I need to be careful, lest I am accused of becoming “elitist.” When a person starts to ride a bike for no other reason than the pure joy of riding a bicycle; the temptation is to want to spread that joy and convert others to become cyclists and discover the joys of cycling.

When they resist efforts at conversion, it must be the same feeling that Jehovah’s Witnesses maybe get when they knock on my door but fail to convert me to their way of thinking.  There is a danger of being a “Cyclist” becoming almost a religion. I don’t recall who said this first but the quote went:

 “I would rather be riding my bike on Sunday and thinking of God, than sitting in church thinking about riding my bike.”

When a person reaches a certain level of fitness then riding a bike can become almost a spiritual experience. You are communing with nature for a start; the elements, sunshine, rain, become part of the experience.

You cannot help but be aware of the wind, whether it is a head wind or at your back. You cannot help but be aware of the terrain, uphill or down, and the road or trail’s surface.

Then there is the feeling of power that comes from propelling oneself forward at speed; I always think it is almost akin to flying. And with this power to fly it is hard not to have a feeling of superiority, after all not everyone can fly, or at least make a bicycle go fast as you or I can.

So as I go into a new year I remind myself that it is okay to feel superior, after all that is nothing more than a feeling of self esteem, which is good. What I will try to do is to not look down on lesser mortals who are not cyclists.

Those unfortunate souls who have not yet discovered the joy of being a cyclist; those trapped inside their unfit bodies and their SUVs.   

However, I will not preach to non-cyclists or try to convert them; I will not display an elitist persona of superiority. I will not show disdain at those who choose to travel by car or on foot.  To do so would be to become a fundamentalist cyclist, and there is already too much fundamentalism in the world today.

I will try to show my fellow traveler, be they on the road or on this journey that is this life; respect and common courtesy. Even though it is entirely possible they will not show me the same.

I will occasionally allow myself to "Poke fun" at the non-cyclist, in a good natured way, on this blog, knowing that the non-cyclist will not read it anymore than I will read the Jehovah’s Witness literature that was tucked behind my screen door.

I will try to lead by example that people might say, “Here’s a happy, healthy, content individual; what’s your secret?” Then maybe I might tell them.



Reader Comments (13)

Great resolutions Dave.
Happy New Year!

January 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJW

I am very lucky to own a copy of a book written by Frank Urry. A Brit who was a life long CYCLISTS Full of wisdom and true facts re cycling. One quote that I will share with you is "Why cycling for joy is not the most popular pastime on earth is still a mystery to me" THINK ABOUT THAT! Cycling for JOY! Like Dave and his Dad I was one that cycled because that was the ONLY way to get around, I NEVER thought about is as JOY! I never owned a car untill 1957 when I came over to the USA Now age 78 I get all the JOY I can by riding my bike.

January 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGRUMPY Crump

I really enjoyed your articles- intuitive and thought provoking! Thanks for putting the words down. My posts tend to the techie side so it's refreshing for me to read a different perspective.
Keep 'em turning,

January 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEric Abbott

In his book BikeSnob describes a cyclist as "a person who rides a bike even when he doesn't have to." I always thought that worked well enough.

January 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMason

It's simple. If your tires have Presta valves, you're a cyclist. If they have Schrader valves, you're a bike rider.

January 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJohn B

My Dear Fellow,
To hear you saying this, "I will try to lead by example that people might say, Here’s a happy, healthy, content individual; what’s your secret?”, apparently is meant for the people who didn't know you when you were in the frame building business!
As a former bike shop owner and retailer of your wonderful frames, I have been fortunate to know you both then and now. Because in your past days it would be tough to find someone asking "what your secret was"............

January 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBernie R.

Well said, Dave. Thank you, and Happy New Year!

January 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterChris Kostman

Self- propelled, self- empowerment is a cyclist and its no secret!

January 4, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterofoab

I can't think of anything I can add that would improve on your post. Good job, Dave. I'm looking forward to a new year of insight and wisdom here on your pages.


January 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTim Joe Comstock

I consider myself a cyclist...but I have always wondered why some idiot with a shotgun that shoots a road sign is described as a "hunter", but the clown who smacks mailboxes with a baseball bat isn't called a ball for thought.

Happy New Year and Happy Riding!


January 11, 2012 | Unregistered Commenter2whls3spds

By the same rule, owning a musical insrument doesn't make you a musician, or owning a set of golf clubs a golfer. But throw your leg over a bike and you are labeled a cyclist.

January 12, 2012 | Registered CommenterDave Moulton

You know guys it wasn't until my brother started getting serious about cycling that I became involved, and before I sat on a racing saddle and went with him I always thought "What could be easier than sitting on your butt and pedal for a few minute?" it was after that day I got a whole new respect for the ART of CYCLING

May 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTiaan

There are some Jehovah's Witnesses that are also cyclists, I mean recreational cyclists not mormon cyclists.So the guy that leaves a tract behind your screen window might be the same guy you see riding your custom built bike on a Sunday morning ride through the countryside. I would respect everyone equally, and avoid generalizations like these, even though they may make your thought process easier. JW's don't convert anyone, that is what Catholics in the Crusades did.

December 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJohnny

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