Cyclist stereotypes?

Yesterday morning I rode to work on an old three-speed Sears bike – complete with coaster brakes and upright handlebars (North Road bars). A few years ago I took in this bike from a girl moving away from Chicago; at the time I thought it would be the perfect beach bike and errand bike in the summer. However, due to difficulties carrying it upstairs to my apartment, the bike remained locked away in my storage unit until this past weekend. On Sunday I dug it out and my mechanic friend gave it some TLC and a thorough look-over. Yesterday I rode it to work to hand it off to a friend – her first bike!

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This morning again I changed things up and rode the Abio folder that I’m reviewing.

These recent commutes to work in a more upright position got me thinking about just how I perceive my cyclin’ self when I’m riding these particular bikes versus another in my collection and how the motorists perceive me.

Most days I ride in on a rebuilt black Schwinn with bright pink tape on the bullhorn style handlebars. I prefer the riding position over classic drop bars. I feel like a force to be reckoned with when I’m riding “el toro” (as I’ve nicknamed that commuter), and feel like I need to go fast. But on this white classic cruiser and the Abio, it felt ok to be traveling a bit slower (though I really did make it to work quickly – maybe it’s a perceived slowness?). Yesterday the experience was akin to being a kid again riding my old banana seat bike with those coaster brakes. I didn’t feel like the hardened commuter anymore. Instead I felt like I’d rediscovered another side of cycling that brings me joy in a different way. I even showed off my joy when I arrived at work.

To the motorists, are all bikes and bikers equal? Do they view a cyclist on a cruiser differently than one on a singlespeed or a road bike? I know I felt like a different type of cyclist out there these past couple of days.


20 Comments

  1. HowardBollixter May 29, 2009 11:38 am 

    I think how a cyclist is viewed depends mainly on their comfort in traffic; assertive, brisk, controlling the lane when necessary, signalling, etc., just reads as more competent I think. Basically being predictable, at the very least. To that end I find I’m better off with a forward position, better acceleration to keep up with traffic, etc. I rebuilt an old Schwinn cruiser for fun (learning that coaster-brake guts are cool, ingenious!) intending to use that around town, but the upright position just didn’t work for me, and I use my SS about 99% of the time. Upright bikes are sure pretty though, very classy.

  2. Elizabeth May 29, 2009 11:58 am 

    I felt the same as you about upright bikes at first. But now my attitude is changing and I loved riding in a different kind of “style”.

  3. Tony Bullard May 29, 2009 2:16 pm 

    I think drivers judge by clothing. I think most non-cyclists don’t really know much of a difference between bike styles, so they either see roadies in their kit, or something else. I think they generally look down on roadies.

    As for “being confident and taking the lane” while I certainly think it’s something every cyclist should do when needed, I think drivers see it as being in the way on purpose,just to be cocky.

  4. Ghost Rider May 29, 2009 2:38 pm 

    I figured someone would bring up Dr. Walker’s less-than-scientifically-rigorous “study”…interesting food for thought, to be sure, but a lot more actual science needs to go into studies like this to garner any real trends.

    I’ve been riding on the roads for close to 30 years on a wide variety of upright, down-low, racing and cruising machines…and I sure have never noticed any difference in behavior from motorists. If you’re gonna get buzzed by a car, you’re gonna get buzzed — it doesn’t matter what you’re riding!

  5. HowardBollixter May 29, 2009 3:27 pm 

    Tony:

    I agree about the roadie clothing, having done a lot of that myself. I’m mostly in ‘civvies’ now, utility biking, and see behavior as more of distinguishing characteristic. Just my P.O.V.

    I agree, too, taking the lane can be potentially annoying to drivers, but I think the more riders do it, again, only when necessary, the more drivers who don’t ride will see the faults in current road designs. We have a lot of roundabouts here, and if you don’t take the lane you actually cause more traffic irritation with hesitation or worse, zipping onto and off of sidewalks. Similarly along the ‘dooring’ zones. What I wish is that these things were stressed in driver ed., and covered on the test, maybe we wouldn’t keep hearing “Get on the sidewalk!” foolishness.

    That said, there’s nothing to stop upright bikes form handling the same scenarios, I just find it easier with a forward position.

  6. Ghost Rider May 29, 2009 4:50 pm 

    I ride with so-called “roadie clothing” all the time…and haven’t experienced any change in behavior from motorists — this coming from one of the very most dangerous places to ride a bike in the U.S.

  7. Rantwick May 29, 2009 7:39 pm 

    I don’t think motorists could care less what you’re riding. I think the only notable characteristic for most drivers is the degree of impediment to driving where they want, at the speed they want. That sounds harder on drivers than I meant to be; although I am very respectful to and aware of cyclists when I drive, I think that is the main assessment I make too… except maybe to check out really nice bikes I can’t afford.

  8. Graham May 30, 2009 7:08 am 

    Of course I can’t speak for other drivers, but since I’ve started traveling more by bike, the only thing I notice about other bicyclists is that the ones riding Wal Mart Specials or beach cruisers are FAR more likely to tick me off by riding on the sidewalk or into traffic!

    Also, beach cruiser riders are usually slower and more wobbly, so I pass them more carefully. :)

  9. Robert May 30, 2009 8:48 am 

    I too agree that it really doesn’t matter what a bicyclist wears or what type of bike they ride. Most non-cyclists think you are nuts for riding anyways. I just started to ride 2 years ago (after a break during high school and college). I now wear the full “roadie clothing.” I wear the same stuff when I commute to work, but I only wear my mountain biking shorts…..they are baggy and I don’t feel so awkward walking into the factory where I work.

    I commute 2-3 times a week on my Trek 520 and I just started riding on my mountain bike recently, since my 520 is in the shop. So far, all motorists treat me the same, regardless of my bicycle. I also signal and stop at intersections like a car normally does and so far no major problems. I sometimes get buzzed by cars and especially school buses, which happens on any of my bikes (racer, touring, & mountain). I don’t have any bike lanes where I live, so I am on the road all the time, with a mix of rural & urban riding.

    I think the majority of the problems lie in the types of riders and their behaviors on the road. Ignoring stop signs, passing cars on the right while they are stopped at an intersection, etc. I do think there is a difference between someone wearing and not wearing a helmet, much like how many people perceive motorcyclists.

  10. Raiyn May 30, 2009 11:47 am 

    @ Ghost
    I think what’s meant by “roadie clothing” is more aimed at those who wear full team kit like they’re Jan, Lance, or Levi as opposed to those of us who mix and match Coolmax T’s with baggy MTB shorts. Admittedly I give full kits the fish-eye too.

  11. Dobovedo May 30, 2009 12:13 pm 

    Turn the question around – do you see drivers of different types of cars/trucks differently?

    I certainly do, in a general sort of way, although I don’t assume anything about any one driver.

    So.. stands to reason.

    FWIW, I normally commute in roadie “kit” because I use my commute as training and often ride extra after work. But I do ride around town on errands in street clothes too, and I disagree about “roadie clothing”.

    I believe that the more you look like a competent rider and that is based on appearance as much as anything, the more you are treated like another vehicle.

    But there’s a flip side. For one thing, when wearing full kit, drivers are far more likely to wave me through intersections when I don’t have right of way.

    I actually wish they wouldn’t do that, and take their ‘turn’. But I figure there’s lots of different reasons for it. Some probably assume I’m going to blow through, and not follow the law, even though I’ve come to a full stop and clipped out.

    Some are just being nice. Some want me out of their way. Heck, for all I know, some just want to check out my butt! :-)

  12. Ghost Rider May 30, 2009 12:47 pm 

    Raiyn,

    I knew what was meant…and that’s me on my recreational rides (doesn’t matter that some of my team kit is as vintage as some of my bikes!). I’m a sleek lycra warrior with garish jerseys on my days off. Well, at least sort of garish, in any case.

  13. Tinker May 31, 2009 12:25 pm 

    El Toro, or La Vaca? Given that El Toro is a decidedly masculine phrase, don’t you think La Vaca is more appropriate for pink wrapped handle bars?

  14. Ghost Rider May 31, 2009 2:45 pm 

    I dare you to tell Dennis Menchov that pink is for girls! 😉

    I prefer male names for bikes…it’s very German to refer to a car or bicycle by a masculine name.

  15. Mike Myers May 31, 2009 3:08 pm 

    Where I live, I think all cyclists are viewed with equal disdain by motorists. I live in a place that’s even less bike-friendly than Tampa. I act like a vehicle but my good behavior is undermined by all the wrong way, no lighting, sidewalk-riding, DUI riders.

  16. Marrock May 31, 2009 7:51 pm 

    I had that same look on my face when a friend of mine gave me the old Huffy ATB that got me back into riding.

    Put some air in the tires and started rolling, then spent the next half hour trying to figure out why I had stopped riding in the first place while keeping a silly grin plastered on my face.

  17. Quinn May 31, 2009 9:31 pm 

    I know motorists around here view different bikes/cyclists differently. I have ridden 6 different bikes around town, I have commuted on 3 though, a regular mountain bike, a cyclocross bike and a 29er, after 2 years of having Many close calls, the last straw came when a Big SUV over took me with no more than 4″ of room, when I was on my ‘cross bike.
    Previous to the close call I noticed that when riding my 29er motorist treated me more like a scooter/moped. The problem was, That 29er wasn’t suited at all for commuting (the XXIX), so I went and bought the SE Racing Stout, and custom spec it to be a 27 lb 2×9 butt rocket rather than a 30 lb tank, and with the “wtf is that” rubber-necking factor, the close calls have dramatically dropped

  18. AT June 2, 2009 5:13 pm 

    Welcome to the world of cycling as it is practiced by 99.9% of all cyclists in the world.
    Having recently been in Europe, I had been expecting to see a hardcore cycling culture– streets busy with roadies at 20+ mph. Instead, I saw many more cyclists than I expected. But they were not assos-clad jocks, they were Grandma’s, business people, hipsters, and students all on fendered “step through nerd” bikes made of “gas-pipe” tubing and sporting all kinds of racks, lights, locks and other doo-daads.

    This is way that cycling is practiced by people who actually use bikes for everyday life. It is practical, efficient and reliable. In Europe, the road bikes are for athletes. Everyone else looks like you in the picture (minus the helmet and gloves).

  19. ken_sturrock June 3, 2009 5:29 pm 

    Even though I live in the same town as Jack, I *do* seem to notice a difference in car behavior depending on what I ride. When I ride my “city bike” I seem to get more respect than I do when I’m on my race frame. Maybe it’s because I look like a “normal” person that car drivers can relate to or maybe it’s because my city bike looks a lot more massive with it’s panniers and basket that cars feel less inclined to try to “sneak past the bicycle”. I can’t explain it but it seems to be a real phenomenon.

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