Say the word
bicyclist to the average person, and various images are conjured. Some people
visualize a self-sufficient, moderately fit, relatively young person, or at least young at
heart, pounding the pedals, backpack or bike bags stuffed with stuff. Others picture a
lycra clad racer whizzing by, or perhaps an urban poor person slowly and harmlessly
meandering to somewhere. Unfortunately though, bicyclist often evokes negative
thoughts, since the average person is a motorist, and a substantial number of motorists do
not like bicyclists for one illegitimate reason or another. (Paradoxically theyll
also say they arent anti-bike and that bicycling is a healthy activity and is also
good because it doesnt cause pollution, so they are selfishly glad somebody is
helping to keep their air clean.)
Some motorists assert that bicyclists break the law without consequences, dont
pay property taxes on the vehicle or gas taxes for use of the road, have no inspection
standards, dont need a license, need not wear helmets like motorcyclists or moped
users, and clog the roads whether single file or two or more abreast because they are
slow. Have I missed any transgressions levied by drivers? Oh yea, sometimes there is gaudy
colors and spandex. Because of these failings, some motorists reason, bicyclists have
inferior rights. Somehow, bicyclists have supplanted the Hells Angels as
Americas most reviled Terrorist Two Wheelers.
At this point youre probably guessing I am going to rebuff these accusations, and
get into the equal rights slant. No, Im not, although I easily could. I have two
other angles to pitch.
First, there are a number of questions that beg answering: Since most these offenses
are viewed by motorists as freebies for bicyclists, why dont they all
take advantage of the supposed benefits and spin the cranks? Is the government
or somebody forcing them to drive or drive all the time? Why are there so few bicyclists?
How are these infractions bicyclists fault? When drivers accuse bicyclists of not
paying fees to use the roads, do they think we are tax evaders, purposefully skirting the
law? Do they think bicyclists made the laws? Even if we wanted to have the same
requirements as motorists, how could we, since there are no requirements in existence?
Should we demand that our simple conveyance be regulated at personal cost? Should we
voluntarily send a check to the DOT? Should bicyclists wear gas-powered air conditioners
on their heads in order to pay gas tax?
Second, the word bicyclist automatically defines someone as belonging to a
group, that group having the common bond of riding a bicycle, of course. On one hand,
its a simple and descriptive word, but on the other it enables motorists to
stereotype and malign, especially since bicyclists are a decided minority.
I propose that whenever a person who occasionally rides a bicycle, i.e. bicyclist, says
or writes anything about bicycling, that instead of always referring to the rider as a
bicyclist, he or she at least sometimes refers to the wheelman as a person who
sometimes rides a bicycle or something similar. Admittedly, this is a bit more
cumbersome, but it sends the message that there is an ordinary person sometimes astride
two wheels, not some horrible bicyclist cyborg invader who is part machine part alien,
bent on ruining motorists lives. Since motorists themselves are people, perhaps this
change of nomenclature will have positive benefits.
Ive thought of simple acronyms, but none is especially elegant. PWORB is People
Who Opt to Ride Bikes, and POB is Person on Bicycle, a bit easier. COB is Citizen On Bike.
Perhaps using the word human would yield good results in a catchy acronym.
We are people who sometimes ride bicycles. As husbands, wives, sons, daughters,
friends, neighbors, doctors, lawyers, Indian Chiefs, butchers, bakers, and candle stick
makers, we dont want to be marginalized, harassed, or put into danger because of
careless or aggressive driving regardless of how frustrated drivers may be for whatever
reason. We wish to be treated as if you or a loved one were on the bike. Period.