Photo by J
By Brett Ratner
You may have noticed that as people evolve from a “person with a bike” into a “cyclist,” part of the process often includes the assimilation into a cycling tribe of one sort or another.
Obvious examples are roadies, mountain bikers, and urban riders. More esoteric varieties might include randonneurs, adventure cyclists, as well as participants in the various disciplines of bicycle racing.
Naturally, each of these sub-groups can be identified not only by the types of bicycles they ride, but often by the way they dress, the jargon they speak, and even in some instances, a variety of affectations.
None of this is inherently bad. To the contrary, anything that helps get people on bicycles (and make people feel proud for being a cyclist) is a good thing in my opinion.
Tweed Ride, Photo by John Ladner
And I’d be lying if I said I’ve never attempted to achieve a “cyclist” identity by tying to fit into a cycling subculture or two…or three. In addition to that, I’ve had hundreds of great experiences over the years doing cyclist-type things, be they group road rides, a bit of amateur racing, centuries, brevets, gravel rides, mountain bike adventures, weekend bike camping trips, and even nighttime urban bar crawl rides. Few of these activities would have been possible without the presence of a close-knit group of cyclists willing to take on the task of bringing like-minded people together.
On the other hand, I fear that a lot of would-be cyclists are discouraged from getting on a bike because they see people who belong to these sub-groups, and assume that’s what cyclists are or have to be. Ultimately, I worry that potential cyclists choose not to ride out of fear that they won’t fit in to a standard cyclist stereotype.
If that’s the case, I’m here to say that you don’t have to be a “cyclist” to enjoy riding a bike.
What I mean is that you don’t have to wear a special outfit, pay registration fees to do organized rides, be part of a “scene,” etc.
Rubber Chicken Ride, Photo by Archie
In my opinion, if you’re on a bike and either having fun and/or getting to where you need to go, you’re doing it right. More importantly, you should never be made to feel bad about your cycling identity (or lack thereof).
And here’s another potentially discouraging thing about being a cyclist; cyclist-type activities generally require prep, planning, and special equipment. This can include cycling clothes and shoes, a specific style of bike and tires, sometimes the aforementioned registration fees, and in some instances it requires putting your bike in your car and driving somewhere. Examples include hitting that cool new mountain bike trail, gravel rides, and pretty much any form of racing.
To me, that stuff is part of the cost of doing business… and well worth it. But I have to admit; sometimes it’s nice to just get on my bike and go. It’s also occasionally nice to look like a normal person when I get to my destination. As such, some of my most enjoyable experiences take place when I’m not doing cyclist things. Instead, they’re when I’m just a guy on a bike.
Major Taylor Group Ride, Photo by Shawn A. Conley
So what does it take to be just a guy (or lady) on a bike?
If you’re a new rider, just keep doing what you’re doing. You be you, in other words.
Perimeter Ride, Photo by Daniel Kernan
If you’re a seasoned cyclist, I think it requires letting go of some of your cyclist ideals, and rediscovering that simpler time when you were first getting into bikes. Here are some examples that I think can help:
Make it About the Destination, Not the Journey
Who else but a cyclist would get up early on a Saturday and do a 40-mile training ride, and then hop in the car to have brunch a mile from the house before driving to the Trader Joe’s around the corner?
I think we lose our connection to the bike when we see it strictly as a piece of exercise equipment, and not a method of transportation… or more importantly, a source of personal freedom. To remedy that, I suggest picking a fun destination, and then riding your bike there.
Pierogi Fest Ride, Photo by Melanie
Be it a museum, a park, a brewery, or even just running errands and going to work, I think you’ll find fresh perspective in the simple act of using your bike to get you to non-bikey places.
Try Platform Pedals
Also, I’ve been rockin’ flat pedals on my commuter bike for six months now, and I really don’t feel any disadvantage for general riding. Besides, platform pedals have been making a comeback of sorts. Bikepackers are using them because it gives them the ability to take only one pair of shoes (saving weight and precious cargo space). Pretty much all the extreme mountain bikers use them. And many people (especially trail riders) claim that flat pedals help promote good bike handling skills. I’m sure you have a pair of platform pedals sitting in a drawer somewhere. Throw them on and give them a try.
Perimeter Ride 2014, Photo by Daniel Kernan
Wear Regular Clothes
Personally, I’ve been stocking up on clothes made of technical/synthetic/wicking fabrics, like the type you can find at REI/Erehwon/Moosejaw. These garments tend to be stretchy to offer a better range of motion, plus keep you cool and dry when you’re pedaling hard. Visually, they look the same as standard-issue cotton clothing, so you can arrive at your destination, unroll your right pant leg, go about your business, and no one is the wiser.
As a side note, and I have no proof of this, but motorists seem nicer to me when I'm wearing street clothes on my bike.
Get a Cup Holder
Your car has a cup holder. Mine, I kid you not, has 16 cup holders. I’m totally not joking. So why not make life easier and put a cup holder on your bike? Portland Design Works and Public Bikes offer nice models, which you can easily find at your local bike shop.
While this seems like a frivolity, I know from experience that making your bike better suited for practical transport makes you more likely to want to use it for practical transport.
Make Your Bike Easy to Grab
So there you have it. I hope this helps!
About the Author
Brett Ratner (firstname.lastname@example.org) has been a professional journalist for more than 25 years. He has contributed to dozens of publications, including The Chicago Tribune, The Nashville Tennessean, The Nashville Scene, Guitar Player, and Musician. Brett began commuting by bike in 2005. Shortly thereafter, his interest in cycling expanded to century rides, bike camping, and trail riding. The competition bug bit in 2012 and nowadays he occasionally races cyclocross, track, mountain bikes, criteriums, and gravel for The Bonebell.