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Mercilessly disassembling cycling culture

Bike Snob

Cyclists' Public Enemy Number One

When it comes to being pro-bike, so-called “avid cyclists” seem to be anything but

The greatest adversary of the cyclist is a creature called the “avid cyclist.” (Taj Mihelich)

When it comes to being pro-bike, so-called “avid cyclists” seem to be anything but

Who is the cyclist’s worst enemy? Is it the SUV driver? The loose dog? Modest, loose, apparel made from natural fibers?

No, the greatest adversary of the cyclist is a creature called the “avid cyclist.”

Like regular cyclists, avid cyclists are a diverse group. They’re men and women, young and old, rich and poor. However, many avid cyclists seem to have one thing in common, and it is this: they freaking hate cyclists.

Despite having the word “cyclist” in their name, you won’t find avid cyclists at the mountain bike trail, on the road hunkered down in a paceline, riding around the city with one pant leg rolled up, or any place else you typically encounter regular cyclists. Rather, avid cyclists seem to frequent community meetings, local TV news segments, and Internet comment sections, where they can generally be found making sweeping pronouncements that begin: “Well, I’m an avid cyclist and…,” followed by a lengthy explanation of how cyclists don’t follow the rules of the road and/or why that local bike lane project shouldn’t happen.  

For the uninitiated, this can be terribly confusing. After all, Merriam-Webster defines the word “avid” thusly

characterized by enthusiasm and vigorous pursuit : very eager and enthusiastic

By this definition, I myself would be an “avid cyclist,” as would pretty much every other bike person I know. Yet in practice, when people identify themselves as avid cyclists before launching into an anti-bike tirade, both words tend to negate each other. Remember the old Reese’s commercials where the two people get their chocolate and peanut butter mixed up and both ingredients become exponentially more delicious? Well, pairing “avid” and “cyclist” is basically the exact opposite of that.

Of course, if you’re going to talk shit about cyclists or oppose some new bike infrastructure project because you think people who ride bikes are annoying, calling yourself an “avid cyclist” makes sense. In a way, it’s like when people say, “Some of my best friends are [insert group you’re about to disparage here],” except that in this case, they can take the extra step of claiming to be a member of the disparaged party themselves because it’s not like anybody’s going to check. Anyway, most avid cyclists probably do have a bike buried somewhere in the garage, and they may even ride it once or twice a year when there’s a charity ride or some other form of social pressure to go through the motions of riding a bicycle. So it’s possible they do labor under the delusion that this gives them the authority to criticize anyone else who rides a bike.

Then there are the avid cyclists who really do ride a lot, but who subscribe to the 'vehicular cycling" philosophy whereby when you do so, you pretend to be a car. Here’s what the father of vehicular cycling, John Forester, thinks of people who want bike infrastructure that keeps them safe from drivers:

He refers to this strain of rider as advocating “cyclist inferiority cycling.”“Subservient to motorists, cringing along the edge of the road, frightened of being hit from behind.” On the other hand, he insists, you have “true cyclists, “Enthusiastic cyclists — more men than women — in cycling clubs, who obeyed the rules of the road instead.”

Ah yes, “enthusiastic cyclists,” a.k.a. “avid cyclists.” Forester may say “enthusiastic” here, but what he really means is “selfish.” In this sense, people who call themselves avid cyclists are like the trophy hunters who call themselves “sportsmen.” See, there’s nothing “avid” or “enthusiastic” about fighting the bike lanes that keep people safe and get more people riding, and there’s nothing particularly sporting about murdering elephants. In both cases, you’re essentially just killing something we need more of for the sheer fuck of it.

Complicating matters further is that there’s a third situation in which you come across the term “avid cyclist,” and that’s in pretty much every newspaper or magazine story about people who ride bikes on a regular basis. In fact, if I type those two words into a popular Internet search engine, the very first result I get is an article in a certain men’s magazine titled: “Can Being an Avid Cyclist Hurt You in the Bedroom?” (Of course the answer to that question is “yes,” but not for the reason they’d have you believe.)

Sexual dysfunction conspiracy theories aside, more often than not these publications don’t use “avid cyclist” because they have a particular agenda; rather, they just don’t realize that it’s sufficient to just say “cyclist” because the avidity is implied. (The word for a person who rides a bike but doesn’t have his or her identity all wrapped up in it is simply “bicyclist.”) And all of the above notwithstanding, it’s important to note that there are those who choose to identify as “avid cyclists” and who are indeed unabashedly pro-bike. Again, I’d argue that you don’t need the “avid” qualifier in the same way you don’t need to call yourself a “proud vegan” (if there are two groups who won’t shut up about their lifestyles it’s cyclists and vegans), but if you feel compelled to stick an extra word on there anyway then by all means go right ahead.

Anyway, we may get the word back, because it’s entirely possible that the anti-cycling set is finally onto us and is ditching the word “avid” as their secret handshake. For example, here in New York, an attorney by the name of Arthur Schwartz has been fighting a city plan that includes new bike lanes. Earlier this year, by way of proving that he is not in fact anti-bike, he pointed out that he and his wife “have a Yuba parked in front of our house.”

So it could very well be that name-checking cargo bike manufacturers is the new “avid.”

Filed To: Bikes / New York / Relationships
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