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Bike snobbery

I’ve been getting more and more into cycling in the last few years-for my commute and also going on lovely countryside rides as a Breeze ride leader. This has meant more exposure to cycling twitter (don’t go there!… and never express an opinion about helmets!) and other social groups where everyone gets all excited about their really long rides, it’s impressive and lovely and I wish I was that fit/had the time/inclination to spend hours out there.

It can also be quite intimidating and sometimes I wish there was more discussion in cycling groups about utility cycling.

IMHO one of the things that makes councils/politicians/the anti-cycling public think we’re not-like-them is over representation of the unhelpful stereotype of the keen, usually male, sports/leisure cyclist with expensive kit, spending hours in the hilly countryside reaching some self-imposed goal.

Enthusiasm & sporting achievements are great, but if you contrast this image with places that cycle a lot, the main difference seems to be that it’s seen as an everyday activity, doable by anyone. So maybe it would be useful if we all (and the main bodies representing cycling) put more emphasis on making utility cycling a visible, natural and easy choice for everyone.

Some things that could help:

-More imagery from cycling groups to include people in normal clothes, doing normal things such as shopping, dropping off kids etc. Also more women because hey, we exist 😁.

-When someone says ‘which bike should I buy’ let’s not blind them with facts about weight and tyres – for many people a basic cheap hybrid or a step-through city bike with panniers will be the most appropriate choice

-Stop telling people to increase their seat height or to switch to clips because it worked for you. You’re not them. You may be right but un-asked for advice can sometimes have the opposite effect than the one you want.

-Electric bikes are not cheating. For some people they are the only way they can get out and about, and for others they can extend their cycling life by 20 years.

-If you are going fast and find slower cyclists or pedestrians get in your way YOU ARE THE PROBLEM not them. Slow down and give them room, or find a place with no pedestrians and plenty of space. Cars speeding on urban roads are unsafe and inappropriate. Cyclists aggressively intimidating other shared space users are also unsafe and inappropriate.

-Quit the bike snobbery: Halfords is fine. Electric bikes are fine. Folding bikes are fine. Just like we don’t all buy a Tesla or a Ferrari we don’t all need a posh sports bike, nor can we afford it.

Also, for what it’s worth, I think the expansion in use of step-through bikes would increase utility/urban cycling far more than any other incentive (except decent bike lanes, obvs!), as the average person is not likely to want to wear something specific for their transport choice. Also in utility/urban cycling there are more stops at junctions where it can be uncomfortable to wait if your bike is at the ‘correct’ riding height, which is always just that bit too high for comfortable standing height. (Maybe that’s because I’m short, but worth thinking about).

PS: sports and leisure cycling is still fab. Lycra is very useful/functional, but this is not an either/or choice. I have 3 bikes for commute/bumble/speedier rides, and they each invite a different set of things you want/can bring with you/clothes/attitude. There should be space and support and representation for all.

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  1. Paul Credland
    June 29, 2020 at 9:33 am

    Good article.
    I agree with most of it especially ladies on cycles (I have two daughters who enjoy cycling)
    Seat height adjustment is fairly critical to enjoying your ride in terms of physical comfort and best use of a rider’s energy.
    Any good advice on this topic should be carefully considered!

  2. Tim J Kitchen
    June 29, 2020 at 9:34 am

    I fully agree with all you say. I am a SUSTRANS volunteer ranger and I do not wear Lycra, I do not have an expensive bike (cheap and cheerful electric from Argos) with clips etc and I do not feel the need to cycle as far and as fast as I can like a maniac.

  3. Katie Smith
    June 29, 2020 at 9:51 am

    Nicely said!

  4. wornoutengine
    June 29, 2020 at 9:51 am

    Absolutly agree. A very good eye opening article.

  5. Nic
    June 29, 2020 at 10:46 am

    Fab article … just bought a step thru(ish) hybrid and just loving the fact I can still ride a bike after 40 years and love it 😂. My fellow lady riders say they are “bike riders” not “cyclists” so there is an obvious difference appearing in language too…. like you say it just needs to be “seen” as a normal thing to do 😊

  6. June 29, 2020 at 1:03 pm

    I agree with everything you say, though I am a cycling twitter activist fighting for these things so I feel I need to be there. I’m not a sports cyclist I am not in any club and I am respectful of all road users. I am a road safety campaigner who comes from a place with very poor minimal cycling infrastructure. I commute and use my bicycle as my main mode of transport.

  7. Tom Shooter
    June 29, 2020 at 2:12 pm

    A fabulous article, there’s absolutely no need for bike snobbery of any kind, we should be encouraging all the way. I’ll be sharing on my website if that’s ok

  8. Ian Nicholson
    June 29, 2020 at 2:21 pm

    Mostly agree.
    People should be free to choose whatever style of bike they like, wear what they like (with or without a helmet) free of criticism. My choice of bike is a little unconventional and I’m certainly not into full lycra.
    Utility/transport cycling in regular clothes is hugely underrated in the UK.

    But offering advice isn’t the same as criticism. Badly set up bikes with underinflated tyres, a squeaky chain or even a ridiculously low saddle are rarely choices.
    I was taught that I should be able to put my foot on the ground from the saddle, When I read about the 109% rule I tried it and found it too high. So I compromised. A few weeks later I decided to raise the saddle a bit more and found it much better. The again a few weeks later. I’m almost at 109% now and it is a lot more comfortable. But if you don’t like it, don’t do it.

  9. David Evans
    June 29, 2020 at 2:40 pm

    All very sensible and well thought through.

  10. Jo Kelsall
    June 29, 2020 at 2:57 pm

    Well said!

  11. Henri Cervantes
    June 29, 2020 at 4:11 pm

    agree with everything except being opinionated about seat height! proper bike fitting is the easiest way to make riding appealing, and improper fit has turned off more potential riders than any safety issue.

  12. June 29, 2020 at 6:08 pm

    In essence, we are riding a bicycle, frequently with friends. That’s essentially the same thing we did when we were 11 or 12 years old. I’m a fairly serious rider, but I haven’t lost sight of the fact that riding my bike is playtime. Have fun, be careful, be home in time for dinner.

  13. Richard
    June 29, 2020 at 8:56 pm

    …a great article and some very good points made….

  14. Emma
    June 30, 2020 at 7:11 am

    👏👏👏 love it! Well said.

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