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pe03466_.wmf (16474 bytes)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 they’ll also say they aren’t anti-bike and that bicycling is a healthy activity and is also good because it doesn’t 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, don’t pay property taxes on the vehicle or gas taxes for use of the road, have no inspection standards, don’t 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 Hell’s Angels as America’s most reviled Terrorist Two Wheelers.

At this point you’re probably guessing I am going to rebuff these accusations, and get into the equal rights slant. No, I’m 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 don’t 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, it’s 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.

I’ve 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 don’t 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.






Wayne Pein



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