This question on an online cycling forum sparked many reassuring responses; if you ride a bike then of course you are “a cyclist”. The person asking quoted the length of her rides, how long she had been riding, and how often. Initially, I jumped to chip in with the same response as everyone else, but I paused, and began to muse over the question. What does it mean to be a cyclist? Surely riding a bike is enough? Why did the person in question even feel she needed to ask?
A couple of days later, something popped up on my timeline to cause me to revisit the question in my mind:
It talks about who you think you are, how you define yourself. Feeling like you are the person you define yourself as makes you feel good, as does gaining external validation of that ‘self’. It is about loss of this ‘self’ but is relevant here. Was the question a seeking of validation in this way, even if subconscious?
I KNOW that I am a cyclist. Why? Because, without hesitation, it would be the first thing I would use to describe myself. It is what I do. It’s a defining part of ‘me’. My Instagram account gives my name, and starts “Cyclist, …, …”. But I’m not a professional cyclist, my actual career is a long way down the list. What I am is passionate about cycling. I love it, in all its forms, and for the many great experiences it can bring. But most of all, I love the people I have met through it, and the community that I have become part of whilst riding.
You don’t need to have “cyclist” at the top of your list though, to be one; it could be a long way down that list. So, what makes you a cyclist? Is it actually just riding a bike? Or is it about your own sense of being?
I continued my musing, and set out on a COVID-19 lockdown ride, alone, a feeling we can all now relate to. I spend a lot of time riding on my own anyway: training, or just riding, but during this difficult period something was different; something was missing. There was the element of risk and worry associated with our current times, but it was something else. The roads were full of people on bikes but as I headed out of town, it gradually struck me. Despite me attempting to smile, wave, or say “hi” to the other people out on their bikes, no-one so much as glanced in my direction. These people weren’t part of the community I hold so dear. They weren’t “cyclists”, not my definition of “cyclists” anyway (a small note here, that I feel I can’t ignore, is that the UK popular media’s definition of “a cyclist” is far from mine, and far from the truth, but presumably the person who asked the original question wasn’t aiming at being classed as a cyclist in the eyes of one of the UK tabloids).
That was it…being a cyclist doesn’t mean wearing Lycra, or a full face helmet, or riding more than 100 miles a week, or being able to do a wheelie. Being a cyclist means enjoying riding your bike, enjoying and appreciating the value of the outdoors, and sharing that joy with others. As cyclists, we smile and wave and acknowledge each other, we stop to help each other, we have shared experiences, we have something in common, we are part of a community. When we do that we are doing it because we see ourselves as part of that, and it is validated by the returned gesture.
If you are new to riding your bike, have a chat with others you meet (socially distanced of course), maybe join a club, enter some events, but most importantly give a smile, a “good morning”, a “bonjour”, an “eh up”, or a wave to other cyclists. You may just get more out of riding your bike than you expect and, hopefully, you won’t then need to ask the question.