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More on “Cyclists” versus “People Who Ride Bikes”

A couple weeks ago I posted an opinion piece entitled “The Last Thing Toronto Needs is More Cyclists” and attempted to make the point that any Torontonian should not be labeled, stereotyped or pigeonholed based on the type of transportation they like to use.

Photo by MBeauchamp on Flickr

The post fostered much discussion, both among people who understood what I was saying and those who thought I was saying that cycling advocates or people who eat-live-sleep bikes are not needed (I suspect these people may have just skimmed the post?) … when what I was in fact saying was that regular, ordinary “people who ride bikes” are more powerful than people who choose to label themselves as “cyclists”.

Cycling advocates are very important in the pursuit of better and more extensive cycling infrastructure… and here in Toronto, nobody does it better than the Toronto Cyclists Union and the Toronto Coalition for Active Transportation.   They have a presence at City Hall, reach out to groups across the city, and generally are involved in policy stuff that regular non-advocates do not have time for.

My post “The Last Thing Toronto Needs is More Cyclists” made the point that the label of “cyclist” is not only a loaded one (media portrayals of cyclists in Toronto often involve mentions of rule-breaking and self-righteousness) but inaccurate (since most people who ride bikes in Toronto are also pedestrians, motorists and transit users) and that it is harmful to the promotion of cycling in Toronto to use it… because the vast majority of cyclists in Toronto do not identify themselves as such.

The following infographic shows the numerical ratio between “cyclists” and “people who ride bikes” and asks what group obviously would have more influence.   We’ve used the approximate number of members of the Toronto Cyclists Union (which does an excellent job of cycling advocacy) as a rough estimate of how many people self-identify themselves as cyclists.  These ~1000 cyclists should be commended for paying to join an organization with the purpose of lobbying for cycling infrastructure improvements. We’ve also used the 2009 City of Toronto survey which identifies dedicated and occasional users of bicycles in the city for utilitarian and recreational purposes.

INFOGRAPHIC: BY THE NUMBERS

cyclist-infographic

Click for full-size version

Essentially, the label of “cyclist” is helpful because it’s a form of identification and unification… but it’s also a hinderance, as it allows mainstream media and society to lump us all into the same group and marginalize us as a monolithic group instead of the diverse and varied individuals we are.

Copenhagenize makes this point very well with the comparison of bicycle afficionados with vacuum afficionados… sure there are some, but there are far more people who simply find bicycles (like vacuums) a very useful tool to help make their lives easier and/or more fun:

We all have a vacuum cleaner, we’ve all learned how to use it and we all use it. But we don’t go around thinking about our vaccum in the course of a day. Only when the bag is full do we roll our eyes and sigh. Kind of like when our tire is flat/chain is loose and we chuck our bike into the bike shop.

We don’t have a ‘stable’ of vacuum cleaners. We don’t buy vacuum cleaning clothes from our LVS or wave at other ‘avid’ vacuum cleaning ‘enthusiasts’ whilst we clean. The relationship to our bicycles is the same as to our vacuum cleaners. They’re both merely incredibly effective and useful tools for making our daily lives easier.

- Copenhagenize

What do you think?  Is it better for all people who ride bikes in Toronto to be lumped into the “cyclists” label… or is it better for them to just be people who happen to sometimes (or always) use a fun, green, cheap way to get around the city?

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The Last Thing Toronto Needs is More Cyclists

8334 by 'Xander @416cyclestyle.

These are not cyclists - Photo by Xander N'Dante

It’s a controversial post title, isn’t it?   However, it’s true.

BikingToronto member Todd pointed me towards a great article over on Publicola about how if we want our cities to be more bike-friendly, we need less “cyclists” and more “people who ride bikes”.

Essentially, the point of the article is that no one should be identified as a “cyclist” unless they do it professionally (the same way race car drivers have “driver” as their occupation).  People who ride bikes are not “cyclists”… they are people who happen to ride bikes.

You may think this is a case of “splitting hairs” but think about it.

If you are a bike afficionado or spend all day thinking about cycling infrastructure or advocacy, you are in the minority in Toronto.  Do you think your neighbour/sister/friend cares what kind of bike someone rides, or if there is adequate cycling infrastructure in Toronto?

No, they don’t care.

They care about what they *should* care about… namely – themselves, their kids, and their lives.  They don’t have time to obsessively track how many KM of bikelanes are painted every year in Toronto.  They don’t care what a sharrow is or that there are organizations in Toronto who lobby City Hall on bike issues.  It doesn’t matter to them nor should it.   They have their own lives.  If they bike to work or bike on weekends with their kids, it’s because they enjoy it… not because they are “cyclists”.

I'm taking a ride with my best friend... by 'Xander @416cyclestyle.

"I'm Going for a Ride with my Best Friend!" - photo by Xander N'Dante

What Toronto *needs* for cycling to be more mainstream is less “cyclists” and more people who just happen to ride bikes.  People who don’t feel any desire to spend more than $1000 on a bike, or dress up in spandex, or protest some imagined political or legal injustice by riding around downtown with a big group of other cyclists.

I’m one of these people.    I feel uneasy being indentified as a “cyclist” because it’s such a small part of who I am.  I’m a guy who rides a bike (and runs a biking website that does a pretty good job of organizing Toronto biking info), but I also have a regular office job, a new house I’m renovating and many many interests outside of biking.  I’m not a cyclist… I’m a guy who likes to use his bike to get to work.

These people can do more for riding a bike in Toronto than any organization.  They can make it mainstream.

Just by riding.

Not as a cyclist, as a person on a bike.

That is what we all are.

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