“So, what do you do?”
“I’m a cyclist”
“Oh really! You are a professional cyclist?”
“Nope, I just like to ride bikes a whole lot”
It’s a fairly amusing way to make conversation at the bar, but it is also 100% true. When you ask me what I do, I’m not going to tell you how I make a paycheck. Because bicycles rule my life and they are the one thing that I identify my existence with the most. Before I was a college student, a scientist, a skateboarder, a rock climber or even an unemployed traveler (as I am now), I was a cyclist. But what is a cyclist? This is a question I struggle with on a regular basis.
To me, it is a simple answer. A cyclist is a person who rides a bicycle. But somewhere along the way we have lost sight of the simplicity and started breaking up into different tribes. Like some kind of lycra and flannel clad Lord of the Flies. There are roadies, singlespeeders, commuters, downhill, BMX’ers, touring riders … and so on. I’m not sure what causes this compartmentalization. Maybe it is society, human nature or even marketing. But I’ve never thought it was very healthy. Sure, it’s nice to differentiate between disciplines but it shouldn’t be so polarizing.
I am constantly being judged and told that I don’t “look like a cyclist”. Granted, I more closely resemble a fire hydrant or a tree stump. But what does a cyclist look like and what the hell does that have to do with me being able to pedal a bicycle? I wonder how many other people this happens to. I can’t be the only one and it probably scares a fair amount of people away.
You see, I have an agenda with all of this social media blabbing and internet writing I do. I want to be a fun-enabler and get more people excited about riding bicycles. There are a lot of great organizations like Trips for Kids and Ride for Reading that work to get children on bikes. There are also groups like World Bicycle Relief and Portal Bikes who are doing amazing things in developing nations. But who looks out for our friends, relatives and neighbors?
This is a call to arms for all cyclists around the world. A mission to find one person around you and put them on a bicycle. Do you have a friend who “used to ride” and wishes they could get back into it? Well then take them for a ride. Does your significant other want to go for a multi-day bikepack in the Rockies? Give them a high five, a map and get after it. Maybe your buddy at work has always wanted to do a backflip on a BMX bike. Help him find a ramp, take it to a lake and give it a try. The possibilities for spreading this cycling addiction are endless.
I understand that cycling is an inherently selfish endeavor. I have been in this game long enough to know that it’s just you, some calories and a machine. But I also feel that part of being a cyclist is sharing our love of bicycles with others, no matter what discipline we participate in. Most of us have been riding bicycles since we were children and it should still be just as fun and welcoming today as it was back then. Hopping curbs, skidding, riding with no hands and splashing through puddles are there for everyone to enjoy. It’s up to us to break down the barriers, bring more people in and create more cyclists. We are incredibly fortunate to be using a form of transportation as recreation. Let’s not take that for granted.
10 thoughts on “On Being a Cyclist”
I couldn’t agree more. I’m a Cyclist too, I love Downhill and Enduro riding and it’s best fun when shared with your friends or even with a fellow cyclist you met along the trails.
On BEING a cyclist
I grew up in Tucson and I rode trails on my stingray before bmx bikes existed. I bought a ‘serious’ bike in 1978, toured the west coast in ’79, and I’ve been riding (more or less) ever since. I got pretty fast and competitive too (but didn’t much like the overtly competitive roadie scene), discovered triathlon racing (a less competitive, more encouraging scene… at least it was then), and got fit enough to podium. It kept me away from drug use too so there’s that. I bought my first MTB in 1983. Never really raced it though. I preferred the long trails, steep climbs and quiet vistas, I guess. Then I got injured, went back to school, career, family, etc. into oblivion. I’m much older now. I have way better bikes than I used to but I ride them slower. I still wear black spandex cuz baggies… meh… too hot in the summer. And at my age who am I gonna impress (or disappoint) anyway? I’ve ridden with you too, Reichel. A few times even. You’re right, Chris, you don’t look like a ‘cyclist’. If just you and I stood in a lineup and random people were asked “which one is the cyclist?” most all of them would pick me. And they’d be wrong. You are the cyclist, Chris. Hands down, without a shred of doubt. You embody the sport of cycling, the adventure, the recreation, the soul of biking like I never have. I’m very glad I met you one blast furnace of a Tuesday night and I’m glad you’ve given me the opportunity to read your exploits (and dream it was me). Well played, Mr. Reichel. Nice ride you got there!
Well said. It always bothers me when I pass another cyclist from a ‘different tribe’ who doesn’t wave back. Hey, we are both on this same stretch of road doing the same shit to have fun, even though my bike is different and I’ll be veering off on to a trail soon. That said, I am southern and generally wave too much.
A lot of cyclists from the ‘same tribe’ don’t wave. I think they are missing out by not looking around, more than snubbing me.
What is crazy is that the one-percenter, the kid on a rice rocket, and the adventure-touring BMW rider all wave back when I’m on my motorcycle. And I am none of the above.
You can’t wave too much.
I agree there are “tribes”. Yet there are some people that belong to many tribes. I like to think I’m apart of at least a couple of tribes. I own commuter bikes, Trail bikes, touring bike and a road bike. (I would ride my road bike more if there were more roads around where I live, but road riding is limited here in Northern Arizona.) I do admit judging riders from one tribe to the next, like how they dress or talk or whatever. Maybe it’s just the way it is, but it does not have to be a big deal. And I do know that all kinds of riding is fun, that’s for sure. And I sdo think that all cyclists would agree that riding any bike is better than not riding at all.
The Best. Couldn’t agree more. There were three adorable boys aweing over the long tail the other day, so obviously I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to do some street schooling with them…and their loyal street dog racing beside us! Was amazing. Couldn’t stop smiling.
Nail hit on head!!
Two thumbs up and a snap in Z formation.
I am a cyclist and loving it!!
I couldn’t agree more. Cycling is intimidating enough for the uninitiated without us judging other cyclists on top if. Working in a bike shop in my teens and 20s, I had a big cycling ego. That was only fed by feeling like I belonged to a “tribe.” While it felt good to have my cycling identity all figured out, I am sure it didn’t come across a welcoming to some of the people I came across that were just getting into it. Now, only in my early 30s, have I been able to shed all that. It doesn’t matter to me anymore. I have a kickstand on my bike it feels great! Seriously, just hop on any bike and ride and smile.