“Did you hear about that cyclist who was killed on the highway the other night?”
Somebody said that at work today. I flared right up:
“That wasn’t a cyclist. That was a person who happened to be on a bike.”
Everybody looked at me the way people look at a crazy person. But here’s my rationale: When a drunk driver ploughs down a highway the wrong way and gets killed, we don’t say: “Did you hear about that motorist who got killed?” We say “Did you hear about that drunk driver that got killed?” If a car thief steals a car and gets killed speeding away from the police, we say “Did you hear about that car thief who got killed?”
The point is that all people driving a car are not lumped together as “motorists”.
We acknowledge that there are all kinds of people behind the wheel of a car: some are motorists, others are drunks, others are thieves, and so on. Yet somehow, everyone who happens to be on a bicycle is lumped together as a “cyclist.” This annoys me because it tends to lump me in with people who do crazy stuff. But I, and all of the cyclists I know, are thoughtful, sensible people who ride their bikes carefully and respectfully, who try to be visible to other road users, and who endeavour to follow the rules of the road as much as the next person.
By contrast, the person killed on a bike on 15th February was, according to reports, cycling at 2.00 a.m. in the middle of a highway, while wearing dark clothing.
I have no idea why he was doing that. All I know for sure is that I will never do that myself, and I would be stupefied with shock if any of the sensible cyclists I know did that. I must assume that the man who did this had some kind of problem that I don’t know about: a problem that caused him to be in a state of mind in which he did not behave in a sane and sensible manner. In bald terms, cycling in dark clothes in the middle of the night on a highway is suicidal. So it’s not exactly shocking that he was killed. Tragic, but not shocking.
As far as I’m concerned, an appropriate way for people to refer to this would be:
“Did you hear about that person who committed suicide on a bike?”
“Did you hear about that apparently crazy or drunk person who committed suicide on a bike?”
I’m not trying to belittle this man, or make light of his death – his violent death was a tragedy, just like every other violent death: I am just making the point that it appears that this was not sensible behavior, and that therefore it annoys me that people lump him in with sensible cyclists. It scares people off cycling, and makes it look like cycling is a dangerous thing to do – when it is not. You are more likely to be killed as a pedestrian than as a cyclist.
This man should not be blithely lumped in with sensible and careful cyclists who cycle safely on public roads. We are not all the same, just because we all happen to be on a bicycle! I believe that not eveyone on a bicycle is a cyclist – what do you think?
By the way, if you seriously want to get fit with cycling, check out my Average Joe Cyclist’s Beginner Cyclist Training Plan: Phase 1.
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Ulrike Rodrigues says
Great topic, and close to my heart Joe! I had the same thoughts and was shuddering that some radio hot heads would point to it and say, “See! That’s one of those cyclists trying to take over the road!”
I remember a number of years ago I was leaning over a map at BEST’s old office at Main Station Skytrain. “Do you ride a bike for the ENVIRONMENT?” Someone asked me earnestly.
“NO,” I proclaimed selfishly, “I ride a bike because it’s FUN!!!” Jeez, I hate when people think of me as a cyclist… see my story about You Cyclists!
Perhaps we need a treatise like Bertrand Russell’s. Only you could call it, “Why I am not a Cyclist.”
Average Joe Cyclist says
Great read, thanks Ulrike (You Cyclists!). I know the main reason I commute on a bike is for the fun ot it. Many days the best part of my entire day is the commute – and there’s not a lot of people who can say that!
I’ve been thinking of working on a similar post since last winter.
One of our anti-bike radio personalities said “if your on a bike your a cyclist, plain and simple”. It was in response to someone who phoned up and said there are different types of cyclists.
One thing that has always bothered me is being lumped into the bike-courier crowd. If motorists simply look at couriers as an example of the average commuter cyclist, then I could see why they think we don’t obey the law. However I don’t know of any cyclist who says “that taxi or purolator driver is an example of a commuting motorist”. I knew someone who drove a taxi for a living, but would ride a bike all other times.
I also hate it when people say “those spandex wearers”, when simply referring to someone on a bike. I never have nor ever will wear spandex when cycling, and most in this city do not wear it either. The only time I see “those spandex wearers” are during the summer on recreational rides.
Ulrike Rodrigues touched on it a bit; I hate this notion that you ride a bike your a tree-hugger that’s doing it strictly for the environment. It’s not that I don’t care for the environment as I strongly do care, however the environmental benefits are so low down on the list as to why I cycle I rarely mention it.
If I were to write out a list as to why I started cycling, the environment wouldn’t even make it on there. I didn’t even think of it until I was two or three years in to cycling.
As for the cyclist you mention in your post, riding down the middle of a highway is quite stupid.
I can’t however fault him for what he wore, simply because I wear mostly dark clothing as well. My winter jacket is black while my spring/fall jacket is navy blue.
I do however always make sure my lights are on when it’s dark out. I have an extremely bright front light, and an exceptionally bright rear one. I also have a reflector and two reflective stickers on the back.
Average Joe Cyclist says
Ryan I agree with you about the courier thing. Almost every time I bike downtown I am appalled by some totally insane move pulled by a courier on a bike. As far as I’m concerned they are not “cyclists,” they are people who use bikes to do their jobs. They may be cyclists in their spare time, but not when they are on the job. Same as the homeless people who use bikes to transport large quantities of recycling. They are using bikes to try to make a living – they are not cyclists.
I am not sure what the deciding factor is that separates the categories. Partly it is what Ulrike and you both said, in diefferent ways – cyclists choose to ride bikes for the joy of it. Whereas if bike couriers could get their parcels delivered faster on broomsticks or pojo sticks, presumably they would use broomsticks or pojo sticks instead of bikes. Ditto with homeless people – I am sure if they could use flying reindeer and large sleighs to make more money faster out of recycling, they would do so. So for people making a living with bikes, the bikes are a means to an end – whereas for cyclists, the bikes ARE the end.
Something I forgot to mention with regards to the couriers and those who believe cyclists should be tested and licensed…
A few years back when skimming through the city of Vancouver’s website, I noticed that couriers had to be tested and have a license plate. Doesn’t appear to stop them from breaking the law, of course we all know licensing motorists hasn’t stopped them from breaking the law either.
I’m sorry, Average Joe, I was enjoying reading your blog, especially your posts about Montreal (where I live), but I spit out my coffee reading your reply to your own post. Your assumptions about bike messengers and their motives for doing their job are so off the mark. Considering that you’re trying to get others to let go of their assumptions about cyclists (and other bike riders, whatever that may be), you have shown a stunning display of hypocrisy and ignorance, so please let me enlighten you on three points:
First off, the pay stinks, so any messenger who does not really like riding a bike will stop riding a bike within 3 months of being on the job. Guaranteed. It’s practically in the job description. You must really like riding bikes because you will be required to be on one 40 hours a week, rain, sleet or snow, even if you have a cold, or a even a broken arm (unless you don’t mind unpaid sick leave). And you will be required to maintain your bike yourself unless you can afford a mechanic every month. So yeah, you really, really probably should like your bike itself too. The bikes ARE the end in this case too.
Second, you are correct in that some messengers do reckless things on the road and lack respect for other users. Thing is, other bike riders are just as guilty of that charge, only they do not have a unifying, identifiable look or a riding style that you can recognize at a distance that screams “messenger”, therefore you only see the offenses committed by bike messengers. You don’t see the countless absent-minded and entitled stupidity anyone who knows better can see (such as salmoning, going through reds, weaving) that is displayed by each and every other category of bike riders at least occasionally. And for the record, I know plenty of respectful, law-abiding bike messengers. You don’t notice them because they aren’t in the process of committing any violations in front of you.
Thirdly, your statement that a bike messenger would choose another method of transportation if it were faster is completely absurd. Yeah, yeah, you said a broomstick or a pogo (it’s not “pojo”). I get the metaphor. Where is the pride of delivering by any other means than by your own body power? Messengers do alleycat races after work to prove this point, for heaven’s sake. That’s like saying a marathon runner wouldn’t be insulted if you offered him a lift for the last 10 km or so.
Before you go thinking I’m a bike messenger and therefore I’m biased, I am telling you I am not. I’m an urban cyclist. I like being called a cyclist. I’ve been riding for 25 years, the last 4 of which have been all year round. And yes, sometimes it is utilitarian, just like for bike messengers and can-carrying homeless persons. I do all my errands on bike, get to work and classes on bike, go out with friends, visit my folks at the other end of town,…Just because my bike is sometimes a means to an end does not make me less of a cyclist.
Average Joe Cyclist says
Hi Natasha. You make some excellent points, and I apologize for offending you (and for the loss of your coffee). You are right – I need to re-examine my own prejudices! And might I add, I REALLY appreciate the polite way in which you made your well-reasoned points. This is the kind of input that leads the hearer to re-examine their thoughts and (sometimes, as in this case), change their viewpoint.
I see so much of the other kind of input in media – people shouting each other down, using hurtful words and personal attacks. That is not dialogue, that is just people screaming at each other from intractable, opposite points of view – leading to a situation where no one can possibly change or grow, and viewpoints remain diametrically opposed. I sometimes get comments like that – I publish them, but I don’t respond, because I know that the other person is firmly entrenched in their anger and prejudice, and all I will do is escalate the situation if I engage.
So thanks for that constructive and instructive input 🙂