Bike Commuter or Cyclist | Or Just People Riding Bikes

Why the divide between cyclist and commuter?

I was listening to Patrick Brady’s (founder of Ride Kite Prayer) podcast, The Pull last week. He was interviewing Peter Flax (formerly Editor in Chief at Bicycling Magazine and now Editor in Chief at The Red Bulletin) and I really wanted to continue this discussion with my commuting community (say that 10x fast).  I highly recommend listening to this interview but essentially they discussed the divide between “cyclists” (think spandex, race bikes, aero everything, etc.) and the bike commuter.  I think it is worth noting that I agree with Peter that we’re all just people on bikes.

Bike Commuter in traffic
I have the pleasure of meeting lots of people on bikes while I commute. Some, fully kitted up in spandex, others out for a leisurely ride with their families. Can we all just be nice?

This reminded me of a recent interaction I had out on the road. I was riding to work, in my usual baggy commuting clothes, on my single speed commuter (it is a cyclocross bike with drop bars), complete with fenders, a rack, and of course my Two Wheel Gear Pannier and I stopped at a red light. Another cyclist in full kit, with his carbon fibre road bike, pulled up beside me at the light.  As I’ve mentioned before, I always acknowledge my fellow cyclist so I said a friendly “good morning”. He proceeding to look me up and down and without saying a word, pulled his bike in front of mine, waiting for the light to turn. Okay, “friendly cyclist”.

Bike Commuter
When I commute I wear baggy T-shirts, loose shorts and sometimes a reflective vest for safety. Much like others who ride bikes to commute.

When the light turned green, I patiently waited as he fumbled to clip in and then the two of us were off in the same direction. Since I ride a single speed while commuting, I have a typical pace I like to ride at;  it’s a fairly relaxed speed. After about 50 meters, I passed the road cyclist. Unfortunately, we caught another red light so I stopped and the roady pulls his bike in front of mine again and waits for the light to turn green. This time he clips in right away and I sit behind him for another 50-100 meters until traffic clears and I pass him a second time. It seems that this road cyclist thinks we are racing and he can’t let me stay up front for fear of losing. To be truthful, I’m feeling a little like I need to prove myself, and that’s not a good feeling.  At the third red light, when he squeezes between me and a stopped car I decide to let it go and just enjoy the rest of my commute.

Cyclist with pannier on quiet street
If someone goes in front of you during a commute, let them. {They might not know they’re doing all the work anyway}

Now, I am a commuter Monday through Friday but I also spend a good deal of time training and racing, while fully kitted up, on the weekends. I join in both road and mountain bike rides with my local cycling club and even started racing cyclocross this season. I am both a bike commuter and an avid cyclist. It would therefore seem that I am part of both of these worlds.  But I can’t help but wonder, why are there even two worlds? Why is there a divide between cycle commuters and cyclists? Why can’t we drop the labels and all just be people riding bikes? Why the judgement? Because that’s what I felt while interacting with the road cyclist that day, I felt labelled and judged for being a commuter, for riding a commuter bike, and for not being a road cyclist.

Bike commuter in race
I started racing cyclocross this fall and I really love it. I guess when I’m commuting, I’m a cyclist in disguise?

The irony is that I have likely ridden with this gentleman before on a group ride with my local club and I bet he is super friendly…to other road cyclists.  The truth is that we are all just people who love to ride bikes. Whether it’s for our own fitness and health, to do our part for the environment, or maybe because we want to save our sanity by foregoing life behind a steering wheel.  Whatever the reason, I don’t think there should be a divide between groups of people riding bikes. Am I being utopian or is it possible to pedal together peacefully? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Bike commuters
More people on bikes = more happy people. But that’s just my opinion. What’s yours?

Have a good ride!

~ Joe

Instagram | @joe.meissner

10 thoughts on “Bike Commuter or Cyclist | Or Just People Riding Bikes

  1. I think you are right that we all, intentionally or unintentionally, judge those who are not in our “tribe”. I commute on a steel frame, cyclocross-ish bike with fenders, 9-speeds (and a 42 as the front ring), and your wonderful Garment Pannier. I usually wear normal shorts but a bike jersey. I have both found myself looking down on the cyclist on the bike path who has a clearly second-hand mountain bike / townie, but also enjoying speeding past the carbon-fibered, kitted-out guy that only wants to look like he is putting in the miles (or so I judge…). You’re right that we shouldn’t be this way, and I do find great solidarity with other cyclists, particularly commuters and roadies, because we choose to participate in a frankly dangerous arena everyday with cars and distracted driving. The more of us on the road means fewer cars AND more awareness of cyclists. But when i’m riding?….man do I judge and critique in my head.
    -Aaron Dyer (Instagram @aaronrdyer)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Aaron, Thanks for sharing your very honest comments. I guess we could get all philosophical about why one human might judge another in any situation. Why do moms judge one another? Co-workers? Strangers at the park? etc.

      I vote we just burn up all that negative energy on a ride, you?

      Liked by 1 person

    2. It is impossible not to judge. We just need to remember to shake it off sometimes. Sometimes I see someone huffing and puffing up a hill as I cruise past and I think “ha…sucker.” And then I remember huffing and puffing up that same hill and I change my mind to “Good on ya bud! Way to go!” Great comments here Aaron! And…Thanks for riding with our gear! We are incredibly grateful to have you in “Our Tribe.”

      Liked by 1 person

  2. There is such a wide range of people in the world…and that includes people that ride one bike or another (or in one style or another). There are jerks everywhere and there is kindness everywhere. Sometimes people draft you and you want to slam on the brakes and send them flying (but you shouldn’t…; ). Sometimes, you feel the extra pep in your pedals and another commuter feels like you are the one racing them. Sometimes you witness an accident and play traffic controller to keep everyone safe. And sometimes, you are late and you ride faster than you should in the otherwise chill bike lane. We think Bike Utopia is possible (Thanks for this great article Joe!). Regardless of your allegiance/position, you should always give the cyclist half-wave and support your fellow brothers and sisters on two wheels. We are all in this together!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Eeek… Traffic Controller! You’re right, there are lots of reasons someone might be riding faster or slower on any given day. Someone once told me to take a deep breath and have a little empathy – it’s probably good advice for almost every situation.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Something I’ve noted through the years is the fastest riders (as in Cat 1/2 racers or faster) are almost all non-assuming friendly people to all; and can often be found on junk bikes in jeans/t-shirts. It’s the riders who only think they’re fast who have attitudes about who they’ll wave back at or speak to, or need to be judgemental.

    I’m happy enough riding just my grocery bike that people on the sidewalk often smile at me, and I always wave or give them a bigger smile back. People got to get over this consumerism brand posession worth judgement thing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Absolutely Warren! The humble, unassuming and friendly leaders are the ones we respect and look up to the most. Less show and more go. Don’t tell me about it, show me what you’re doing about it. You are a true leader with a perspective like that! Thank you for sharing those wise words and being one cool dude. We need more like you on the road!

      Like

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