Friday, July 29, 2011

Gangs of cyclism

As in any activity developed or mature enough to have a substantial base and a critical mass, the bigger community will further divide itself into sub-groups, tribes or factions. This is absolutely normal. Normal and healthy. Confrontation between (even the bickering among) these groups eventually generates progress, new ideas, so long as the general interest is kept in mind by all. Any social movement pushing a specific agenda experiences this phenomenon. Most manage to keep some sort of balance between these tribes and keep those tensions in check, the goal being to avoid jeopardizing the movement. The key idea here is to avoid jeopardizing the movement.

Well, that's not the case with cyclism.
 Anyone who thinks (or pretends) that cyclists are one big united community, "We are family!" type of cotton candy picture is living in a severe bubble-gum cyclotopia.
There are several nomenclatures for the different cycling tribes. This one is mine:

- Commuters
- Urban cyclists
- Sports
- Recreational / week-end / occasional / fair-weather / fitness
- Vehicular

Some of these groups overlap: vehicular cyclists tend to be commuters but are also present among sports cyclists. Most urban cyclists commute. Yet these distinctions make sense to me as they separate different mindsets and realities.
Particularly, people often wonder about the difference I make between commuters and urban cyclists. This differentiation is really mine, I have not seen too many people emphasize it so much.

Basically, urban cyclists are those for whom a bike is the only transportation vehicle, along with maybe public transport in the winter and some occasional car-sharing (i.e. Communauto). They do everything with their bikes. Commuters on the other hand seem to overly focus on their commute. Going to work and back, that's about it. For other activities, a significant proportion of them seem to revert back to their cars, which they usually still own as opposed to urban cyclists who do not own cars. Urban cyclists will live in town or very close. Commuters will live slightly outside of the city core, but in an environment that is still considered "urban". They'll bike to work, but if they have to visit friends or family or get groceries, all the sudden, there are all kinds of good reasons why it is not feasible yet for them.
I actually have lots of respect for this; I see it as an intermediary step toward full urban autonomy. Usually after a few years, they sell their cars and move into full urban mode.
The progression usually follows this pattern:

Casual-leisure-part-time cyclist => Commuter => urban cyclist

Now, back to the greater picture. Among cyclism's sub-groups, some do not and have not always behaved with cycling's best interests in mind. Cycling has got two main internal enemies:

- Those who do not care at all because cycling is only and exclusively a sport to them:
They cycle like others go to the gym or play hockey. They will load their bikes on their SUVs and drive up to their recreational centers, sometimes honking at and endangering some of their fellow cyclists along the way. Traffic, commuting, transportation mean only one thing to them: cars.

These really are motorists and nothing else. They are like foxes in a hen house. If allowed to much say in cycling organisations they will block any progress towards better cycling infrastructure and will oppose traffic calming measures as if their lives depended on it.

- Those who are very comfortable with the way things are: 
Crazy traffic, psychopath maneuvering, criminal speeding, bring it on! They love it, gives them such hard-ons... Just merge in with the freaking traffic and "drive" your bike like a car... three, four, five lanes... gotta love them! Just make sure you signal all right, so the dude coming at 70 km/h behind you will give you all due respect for that oh-so-visible fluorescent jacket. And as you switch from lane to lane to make that left turn, make sure you are pedaling at traffic speed with 2 years old junior in the back seat, pooky the chiwawa bobbing his head in the front basket and one week worth of groceries hanging and clanking in the side panniers.

(Meet Pooky!! Yeah, I know, that's not a chiwawa... Just for the sake of argumentation, let's pretend it is)

These folks are called vehicular cyclists
For them, if more people do not cycle, it's because they're too chicken. They're whinnies and pussies who need to be shaken up. So they'll offer cycling classes. Organise all sorts of campaigns. They'll push gear like it's cocaine. Then they'll shove you into traffic. Manage!
Mind you, they'll never encourage their own children, wives (yeah, most are men, surprised?) or grannies to attempt any of this. But YOU yes.

These folks are absolute enemies of cycling. They are a selfish little clique of elite cyclists who only care about themselves. They are not interested in see cyclism grow or in making it easy for beginners. On the contrary, they want to keep it a chasse-gardée for their own little elitist and egocentric enjoyment.
They are the worst type as they can go largely unnoticed until it is too late. By the time people realise what is happening, it is usually too late: they've taken over most prominent cycling organisations and started advocating against infrastructure improvements, claiming bike lanes and bike paths are dangerous.
They've controlled most western cycling organisations from the seventies up to very recently. They've preached their nonsense for all these years. Results: none! Cycling rates never passed 2% in any of the countries in which they have wrecked their havoc.

They've got to be squashed to silence and verbally beaten down to a pulp as they have been harming the cycling community for too long.

Now, I am NOT saying that all sports cyclists are so careless, nor that all vehicular cyclists are that thick. Lots of them are perfectly fine people. However, in general, urban/commuting cyclists will usually not receive much help from these people.

Strategically speaking, it would much better to forge alliances with:

- Pedestrian associations 
- Health associations of all kinds promoting sound lifestyle policies and comprehensive disease prevention
- Child obesity concern groups 
- Child safety groups
- Lots of school administrations would love to see car traffic decrease in their areas
- Folks against sound pollution and urban noise (they exist)
- Elder leisure groups who like to walk and visit their towns
- Architectural heritage folks who like to preserve cachet and correct the mistakes from the 60s and 70s (like the movement for the removal of urban highways)
- Better living, liveable environment folks
- Voluntary simplicity folks
- Those in the degrowth movement (stronger in Europe)
- Peak oil activists (those ones really rock the cashbah)
- Those for the empowerment of minorities, of people living in poorer neighbourhoods and for the integration of immigrants
- Student associations
- Political parties who are very clear on cycling infrastructure issues
- And of course urban planners of the new school type

That's a lot of folks. Properly ganged up, there is no reason for the situation not to change fast.

(EDITED for pictures and links)

Follow-up post:" Ganging up: TRANSIT"


  1. Absolutely agree. I've seen far too much harm from "vehicular cyclists" who advocate against proper infrastructure and certainly have no interest seeing children or elderly people - or even most women - cycling.

    I got told to "tasse-toi, ma tante" by a couple of those lycra lout jerks recently - on the bicycle path, while doing nothing wrong.

    (For people not from here, "mon oncle" et "ma tante" are insults directed against comparably older people who are supposedly slow-witted and pokey. For a teen, one can be "mon oncle" or "ma tante" at 30 or so).

  2. LOL "tasse-toi, ma tante"
    C'est tellement méchant gratuitement!
    Anyways, they have been diluted with the increase in "softcore" cyclists so theiir voice and opinion weights less and less. Yet, we still need to be careful.
    I was at the public consultation about sharing the lanes, and some of them came up and waxed on about how they are very comfortable jockeying on Sherbrooke and need no lanes etc.
    Yet, more worrying, was my impression that some of the folks in the City Transport department do hold very vehicular views on cycling.
    Now, THAT's a problem for me. So I am thinking about handing a mémoire as well, which I initially did not intend to do...

  3. Very, very nice! I have only just started to forge alliance with some of the groups you mentioned above. But there is more room for growth.


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