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I’d like to talk with all of you about something that’s been bugging me…and this time it’s not about motorists vs. cyclists.

I’ve been a cyclist for upwards of 30 years, and I’ve experienced a lot of different cycling disciplines and cultures…from BMX racing and freestyle in the late 70s/early 80s to road racing in the mid- to late 80s, mountain biking in the early 90s, commuting, cargo-hauling, joyriding, beach cruising, urban assault and pretty much every other conceivable flavor. I’ve owned and appreciated many bikes in that time…road, mountain, fixed and free, singlespeed and bikes with dozens of gears.

Lately, though, I’ve begun to feel that all is not well in U.S. cycling culture. We’re at a crossroads like we were in the 1970s “bike boom” years — transportational cycling is making huge strides in U.S. cities and there are literally hundreds of advocacy groups clamoring for improvements. Urban cycling is HUGE — from sleek European uprights to the must-have fashion accessory for young citydwellers: the fixed gear bike. Media attention has focused on cycling like no other time in my recollection…road racing is televised fairly regularly and not a day goes by that there’s not a bike fashion or advocacy/health benefit/money-saving article in a major newspaper.

So why, then, is there so much friction within the world of cycling? In my 30+ years, I’ve witnessed the “us vs. them” mentality more times than I care to remember. Just off the top of my head, I’ve seen:

BMXers vs. fixed-gear freestylers
Roadies vs. mountain bikers
Bike geeks vs. “fashionistas”

Gearies vs. fixies

Commuters vs. racers
Vehicular cyclists vs. fans of road infrastructure

There are surely dozens more. Think about it: whatever discipline you partake in, there’s almost always an accompanying “us vs. them” attitude. I’m as guilty as anyone in this…I can’t pass a recumbent cyclist without making a smartass comment like “you’re laying down on the job!” Certainly, some of this “us vs. them” mentality is lighthearted — after all, many disciplines of cycling are competitive, and that spirit of competition breeds such a mindset.

Where I worry most is in thinking that such a mentality is divisive at a time when we ALL need to band together to fight for equal footing amongst road users — what do you think? Here are some other questions to help kick off a conversation: Is this a U.S.-only phenomenon, or do similar “us vs. them” mentalities exist elsewhere? Is it simply human nature to question folks who act differently or do things differently than us? Is this mentality really as damaging as I fear? Call it the “armchair sociologist” in me, but I’d love to hear YOUR thoughts on this — feel free to answer or comment on these and other questions as you think of them. If you’re writing in from outside the U.S., please indicate that in your comments.