Urban Cyclists Have an Image Problem

Laura’s Team Pick

I just spent 10 minutes copying and pasting my favorite parts from this article about urban cyclists before I gave up because I was copying the entire article. It’s no secret that car-drivers and bike-riders don’t always get along. There always seems to be a few aggressive drivers who feel it’s necessary to shout expletives at every car, human, and animal smaller than their 3 ton vehicles with fake testicles hanging off their bumper who make all of us look like technologically-advanced cavemen. And there’s also irresponsible cyclists who are convinced that they have some kind of environmental moral imperative to act like a d-bag, and who ruin it for the rest of us.

Will Doig lays out exactly what cyclists are and aren’t doing. Things we do right: advertising, devotion, and diversity, apparently. Doig says studies show that “ridership is remarkably equal across income groups” and that the theory that bicyclists tend to gentrify neighborhoods is “more perception than reality.” Unfortunately we’ve got a reputation for being, in the words of a commenter at the San Fransisco Chronicle, “cocky, self-righteous riders… [who] believe that [we] are untouchable.” Pile on a little Tea Party-esque fear–encouraging cycling “threatens our personal freedoms!”–and you can see why we’ve got a long way to go.

P.S. If anyone’s looking for a good name for a female biker gang, feel free to use my fingers’ favorite typo (that’s what she said?) while writing this article: “Cyclits.”

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Laura is a tiny girl who wishes she were a superhero. She likes talking to her grandma on the phone and making things with her hands. Strengths include an impressive knowledge of Harry Potter, the ability to apply sociology to everything under the sun, and a knack for haggling for groceries in Spanish. Weaknesses: Chick-fil-a, her triceps, girls in glasses, and the subjunctive mood. Follow the vagabond adventures of Laura and her bike on twitter [@laurrrrita].

Laura has written 308 articles for us.


  1. I thought the article’s most interesting [and saddest] insight was that
    “bike infrastructure gets concentrated in tony areas. Look at a map of a city’s bike lanes and bike-share stations and you’ll have a perfect guide to the “good” neighborhoods.”

    No wonder stereotypes exist – it’s a structural problem with this society. grrr

    • totally! in philadelphia the bike lanes run RIGHT through the ritzy area even though just as many bikers live in the rest of the city. i’m still waiting for this [http://www.bikecontrail.com/] to catch on because it would create a real [temporary] map of bikers in the city.

  2. true story: I once got a warning (like, instead of a $20 ticket) for biking through a red light because I thought bikes could go when the walk signal turned on.

    Also, when I’m on my bike, I hate everyone. Cars, pedestrians, everyone but ESPECIALLY other bikers. sorry guys.

    • In my (limited) bike experience, I’ve noticed that traffic rules apply equally to cyclists and motorist. It’s also important to note, at least in the state of California, that biking under the influence can get you a DUI, whereas skateboarding under the influence just gets you fine for being ‘drunk in public’ (unless you piss the police officer off and get arrested).

    • I’m pretty sure cyclists are supposed to follow traffic laws like cars do. At least, that’s what I was taught in school.

      • It varies from city to city. In New York we’re technically required to follow traffic laws, but it’s not very realistic. Allowing cyclists to get ahead of traffic (i.e. become visible) is a great way to make sure that EVERYONE’S safe.

      • Like cars and motorcycles have different laws (in some states), cycling does too. You should always check with the city you live in to make sure…. and pedestrians they have rules, and they need to not stop in the bike lane to update their facebook status or tweet! (oh I’m standing in the bike lane on my phone, look here comes a biker… ouch.)

  3. OMG Cyclits. Best.

    I’ve definitely hung around self-righteous bikers in Brooklyn and sort of find the fixie holier-than-thou thing annoying cause it’s kinda bad for your knees, guys! But also hot, cause girls who ride fearlessly and with confidence are wicked sexy. And honestly, when you risk getting doored on every street and literally get screamed at by pedestrians and people in cars even when you are following the rules of the road it’s hard not to get kinda aggressive.

    If NYC actually gets their Bike Share program up and running I think that will change this conversation entirely.

    Anyway, FYGB Tumblr – http://fuckyeahgirlsandbikes.tumblr.com/

    • I think I read an article about the on-going war between cyclists vs. everyone else in Brooklyn. About how there were bike lanes then it was decided to remove them until people repainted them at night like the bicycle-crusading Guy Fawkes! Yeah,I think they were fixie-lovers.

      And the whole car-door-space deal…. yeah, motorists think like motorists. They don’t consider that riding too close to parked cars can equal maiming or death when someone blabbering on their phone opens their door without looking and you go over it or get pushed into traffic. It’s why I try to do most of my bicycling through neighborhood or less busy streets. There’s something positively infuriating to be in the right yet have others berate you for it!:) P.S. Thanks for the Tumblr link! Girls on bikes are HOT.

  4. I very nearly began biking in SF. I even took classes through SF Bike Coalition to learn the road rules and safety. Never did though as A) I live on a very steep hill, and while it would be fun going down, it would suck going up and B) I know so many people who say it’s not a matter of IF you get hit by a car, it’s WHEN.

    That aside, I kinda do agree with the article. While I considered biking due to being poor and needing to get around town, I have met quite a few cyclists that have rubbed me the wrong way /:

    • Re: being hit by cars . . . well, it’s happened to me and to most everyday cyclists I know to *some* degree, but it kind of hasn’t been that bad? That sounds possibly crazy, but, yep, I’ve been sideswiped and such before, and the most that’s happened has been a few bruises, some road rash, or a limp for a day or so. — people get hurt worse playing sports on a regular basis. Being doored has actually generally been more painful (though, again, nothing serious). You stay hyperaware and WEAR A HELMET (not yelling, just cannot express the degree of gratitude I have towards my own helmet) and you can stay safe from most garden-variety poor driving behavior I think. And anyone can be fucked up by a blatantly crazy/drunk driving situation, regardless of their mode of transport.

      This sort of thing — “While I considered biking due to being poor and needing to get around town, I have met quite a few cyclists that have rubbed me the wrong way” — is so funny to me, the way that people who ride bikes aren’t just people who ride bikes, they’re automatically this whole other thing. Whereas almost nobody points to “drivers” as a class that you can make judgments about. Like, literally nobody has ever, I think, said “I was considering learning to drive, but then I met a few drivers and they were jerks.”

  5. I’m half-Spanish, living here and in Spain for several years each before returning this Fall with plans to use my hybrid bike and public tranist just like I did in Madrid. I’ll tell ya, I was quite shocked about how backwards and down right ignorant/hostile Americans are to cyclists (and any transportation that’s lacking four wheels). My first week back in my Midwestern city I was riding in the right lane safely when a car drove by pretending to hit me then some jerk shouted at me to get my ass on the sidewalk, which is of course illegal to do over the age of 12 in my state.

    I’m not wealthy, just a bicycle enthusiast, who wants to save money and incoporate exercise in my daily routine. I love how easy it was to get around in Europe without a car. But it seems many Americans view bicycles as a toy and a hobby whereas Europeans see it as viable transportation. And yes, I know there are cyclists who are ignorant or dismissive of bike laws so I make sure I stop at all red lights and follow the rules to let people know that not all of us are like that!

    I believe bicycle infrastructure would increase everyday cycling because it makes us safer and a legitmate, acceptable trabsportation option. Safety is huge. Many people tell me they would bike more if they felt the streets were safer, which I can attest are quite anti-bicycle. But it’s a battle. Americans aren’t just car lovers, we’re car-addicted, and cars represent status so it will be difficult to convince people bike more. And if you consider are worsening health and enviromental concerns, wouldn’t be a bad idea.

  6. My bike is my main form of transportation, and I’ve just gotten confident enough to bike on the street instead of the sidewalk after three years of regularly biking in my city. I never really wanted to before because A) I simply do not go fast enough and B) the drivers around here hate bicyclists and are bad enough about pedestrians. I also don’t hang around other bikers, so I’ve never encountered a lot of smugness. I bike because I have to, not necessarily because I want to or I think it’s better or something.

    Actually, given the choice, I would rather have a car simply because I live in a city in the south in the middle of the mountains, so it is both sprawling and exceedingly hilly and makes biking to the store a two mile long exercise that involves several steep hills and two dangerous intersections.

  7. So, I lived in the Twin Cities and biked in St. Paul. Which was a pretty decent place to bike and the bikers were not so obnoxious, but across the river in Minneapolis…the usual. The majority are fixie riding hipsters who don’t wear helmets and sail through red lights.

    But that being said, and I never thought I’d say this–Chicago bikers are worse.


    • Watching other bikers on the U of M campus makes me feel like I should just have 9-1-1 on hold.

      (I’m the one with a helmet, functional brakes, two reflectors, and proper head and taillights)

    • I have yet to get a fixie, I wear a helmet, and have lights…. But I look both ways and roll through the red.
      There needs to be an article about taxi drivers respecting bikers (in chicago). I fantasize about how I should carry a crowbar on my bike. Whenever a taxi cuts me off, is driving in the bike lane, or almost hits me, I’m going to ride past and knock out their windows.

    • I live/work in Minneapolis and bike to work every day. I don’t have a fixie and do wear a helmet, so I’ll just say in response to your comment that boring stereotypes are boring. Then again, I am going to the NE to Uptown route and back, so maybe that’s more prevalent around the U. There are a lot of dbag bikers in the city, but if you aren’t assertive you either get hit or you don’t get anywhere. And there are even more dbag drivers.

      Also I encourage everyone to come bike (and also live) in Minneapolis because it has amazing infrastructure for biking that’s only getting better as well as a totally fucking awesome bike share program. Also Minneapolis is super gay and awesome in general.

  8. I’m kinda torn on the issue of bikes. I have a fixie (yeah, I know :-/) and love it dearly. But, there’s also no denying that there is bike snobbery against cars. I don’t currently use a bike to commute because I’m stuck in the suburbs – about 30 minutes outside the city. But, when I do drive into the city for work, there are cyclists who cut in front of cars and run red lights and don’t use hand signals to indicate turns.

    On the other hand, I do think there should be more bicycle lanes to make everyone safer. You go to places like Copenhagen and Amsterdam and the convenience and abundance of biking lanes is unreal. But, in the US a student cyclist at my undergrad got hit by a car and broke her leg because of a car’s sharp right hand turn and the absence of a bike lane on a narrow 2 lane road.

    I’m probably moving to DC in the fall but considering they drive like maniacs and on-street car parking make bike lanes unfeasible for certain routes, I’m not sure I’d feel comfortable commuting to classes and internships even though it would be convenient.

    • I hate when bikers and cars don’t signal. Chicago had a lot of bike lanes, but some idiots still drive in them.

  9. As someone who rides nearly every day in NYC, my two main complaints are 1. cyclists who ride on the wrong side of the street and 2. cars parked in the bike lanes. However I’ve found I feel safer riding in NYC than when I lived in a smaller city because the traffic is usually slower (riding to the front of the line of 10-12 cars waiting for the light to change gives me such pleasure!) and drivers don’t speed up for yellow lights like they do in suburban areas– they actually stop (most of the time).

    • Oh my GOD in Philly those are my 2 main complaints too. Bikers riding in the wrong direction on my side of the street AT me feels so much more dangerous than riding next to a car. They’re also the ones that are usually eating a muffin or talking on their phone at the same time too. It makes me angry because no wonder people hate bikers sometimes. I’ve totally seen so many bike security cop guys up at school do it too, like REALLY?

      • The bike cops in Chicago are some of the most consistently terrible cyclists I’ve seen here. And every dumb maneuver they pull, they ride side-by-side so it’s twice the annoyance. Not true of all of them, surely, but it is very funny how police driving habits are police driving habits, in a cruiser or not.

  10. I’m afraid of bicycles. I crashed bad on mine once (took a gravelly corner too fast) and the bike lanes around here are mostly in islands around affluent communities or, if they aren’t, quite narrow and in disrepair. Also I always feel like people are either laughing at me or trying to hit me.

    Bicyclists, is there anything I should be doing to make your life easier? I do try to be respectful but I just don’t KNOW. I slow down around them (my car is too quiet, they can’t hear me!) and I try to leave them room. I don’t open my door in front of them, either–I guess that’s a common occurrence?

      • Ooooh, yeah. Read that entry, and every Calvin & Hobbes strip, and identified painfully with all of them.

        My first bicycling experience involved a dead rosebush and my face. It’s all been downhill from there, often literally.

    • I guess just drive predictably, as you’d want cyclists to ride predictably? Use turn signals (I swear I see far more drivers take turns without signaling than those who signal), of course, which I’m sure you do already. Make sure there are no cyclists coming up on your right if you’re turning right (and if there are, wait for them to pull past you before turning). Basically, be aware (and give three feet clearance when passing), but there’s really nothing special you have to do that you wouldn’t around other kinds of traffic — the challenge is just being aware that bicycles might be around, but once you’ve got that you’re probably in the clear.

      • Good to know! Yeah, I do keep an eye out, and I always, always signal, so hopefully I haven’t been much cause for distress in any cyclists! Just wasn’t sure, as I haven’t really experienced that perspective much.

        I assume you’re a cyclist? Be safe, and good luck out on the road.

  11. The bikers in Chicago are so bad that the police set up a sting this summer to crackdown on their lawbreaking ways. It was really more of a raise awareness about the law when you’re cycling thing, but still! They are terrible.

    Having said that, I live in the suburbs and out here it’s not too bad. The area has a lot of bike paths and even bridges just for pedestrians and cyclists at a few spots along the river. The problem tends to be when cyclists try to use the crosswalks instead of being in the proper lanes, blowing red lights occasionally, and that one asshole who refuses to use the bike path RIGHT NEXT to road which is two lanes and no passing.

    There should be better awareness of bike safety and rules of the road not just for cyclists but for drivers. I don’t recall learning anything about it in drivers ed.

    • Chicago has a lot of info on bike riding and safety in the city (with youtube videos). Some bike shops hold free class, some are women and trans specific. The city of chicago will even send you free bike route maps, people just need to learn how to utilize their resources

  12. I’m a recreational cyclist who drives the Taco to work from Montrose to downtown every day because I don’t want to die in Houston traffic. However, I ride 80-100 miles every weekend. It is so awesome that there are more and more cyclists in Lance’s home state – Houston actually has a massive racing cycling community! Maybe one day I’ll feel safe enough to ride the road warrior to work!

    I gotta tell you though – best way to tell the idiots from the folks who know the road? A helmet. 9x out of 10 the idiot I see running a red light and almost causing an accident has nothing between her or his noggin and the hot steamy Houston asphalt. Good job, dumbass. Wear a helmet!!! Fight douchebaggery!

    Also – cyclits. Hahahaha :)

    • I feel you in Houston. I just moved here this summer and I am still getting used to the traffic. I do ride my bike, because I am in the medical center and I have already had a few scary encounters. I might fall under “asshole biker” because I assert my rights and take up a whole lane just because I am afraid of people not seeing me if I stick to one side of the road. There are no bike lanes, and the sidewalk is one of the worst places for a biker in my opinion.

      • I once ate shit right next to the Rice running trail on Main in front of a car at a stoplight when I was first getting used to my clips. One of the runners started laughing at me (in his defense it was kind of a comical fall and I was fine).

        Good for you for being in a lane – because riding on the sidewalk is illegal in Houston (and most other cities)! I think being assertive and being reckless are two different things. As long as you’re following the same rules as you would in a car (including signaling turns!), you’re good!

  13. Unfortunately we’ve got a reputation for being, in the words of a commenter at the San Fransisco Chronicle, “cocky, self-righteous riders… [who] believe that [we] are untouchable.”

    It is not that different here in the Netherlands and we have more bikes than inhabitants….

    Cyclits for the win!

  14. It’s expected for bicyclists to bend the traffic laws, but they don’t have to be complete dicks about it. If I’m walking and I have the right of way don’t just continue full speed at me like I’m in your way. If it says walk for me, slow down if it looks like you might hit me of go around.

  15. I was riding in the bike lane in Santa Monica and a guy opened his car door into me. I hit the ground, got a little banged up, and the front brakes on the bike got messed up. I was just lucky I didn’t fall into moving traffic. Scary thought!

    I’ve always been super paranoid about riding by parked cars and try to go slow/remain vigilant, but sometimes people don’t pay attention to their surroundings and there is nothing you can do. This is why I don’t like riding in cities. Ladies…be careful on your bikes!

  16. I live in NYC and while I love riding my bike I’ve admittedly hesitated a few times because I have had so many problems with other cyclists. Seriously, they can be such assholes. A few weeks back I watched some douche run a red light, come super close to an old guy who was crossing the street, then have the nerve to turn around and shout expletives at the guy he almost hit. Everyone around looked shocked.

    And the bike lane thing is an issue. I think they’re trying to add more, but half the time there’s cars parked in it or its all potholes and construction.

  17. I’ve always wanted to ride a bike for my main mode of transportation, but I’ve always been too broke to buy one or I lived in Wyoming (seriously, fuck that place). Now that those aren’t issues anymore, I’m not physically capable of bike riding anymore! Dammit!

  18. I’m afraid that one day I’ll accidently hit a cyclist and then go to jail/seriously injure someone. Cyclists do NOT help my naturally paranoid nature when driving.

  19. In timely news, I saw a story out of Portland today about a cyclist who almost got hit by a tri-met bus because the cyclist ran a stop sign. Only reason that idiot is alive is because the bus driver was able to react quickly enough to hit the brakes. And the cyclist’s actions caused several of the bus riders to be injured.

  20. I feel everyone on the paranoia re: parked cars. The scary thing is you can easily get killed that way if you’re going at a decent speed.

    I honestly have a love hate relationship with bikes. When I’m in my car, I am annoyed with bikes that take up the entire lane (I’m usually in a car because I’m late haha). I am scared of hitting them when they “move to the front of traffic to get visible” – I mean hello, my blind spot is big enough to obscure a car, what do you think is gonna happen to you if you’re zipping up right along my flank?

    When I’m on my bike, I try to be respectful but I am run off the road, passed dangerously, and in many cases screamed at for no apparent reason (“Get a license!!!” “Get off the street!” “Ride in the right lane!!!” 1. I have one 2. That’s illegal you dumb fuck 3. I’m turning LEFT YOU MORON). By the time I get to work, I want to throw Molotav cocktails at every motorized vehicle within a three mile radius. My friends who ride more aggressively tend to feel a little more relaxed, and actually are honestly probably safer for it.

    The only solution: http://boldnherbaceous.files.wordpress.com/2011/01/ottawa-090625-bike-lane-montreal-banner.jpg

  21. Dear Boston Area Cyclists,

    The red light applies to both of us. If you run a red light into oncoming traffic, don’t act offended when you nearly get hit. I will probably honk at you because I FUCKING HATE CYCLISTS WHO DISOBEY THE TRAFFIC LAWS. I have to do a ton of special things, including driving at 10mph in a 35 zone because I cannot safely pass you to preserve your life and health, so at least act like you care about those things too, mmkay.


    P.S. When you have to buzz stopped cyclists to run the red light, you are an extra-mega-turbo-douche.

  22. Pingback: I Wanna Ride My Bicycle | WorldonBike.org

  23. One particular species of cyclist gets my blood to boil over: the Lance Armstrong Wannabe. With or without Spandex and unobtainium bike, they are bent on breaking the sound barrier. Like a bike racer, they wobble and take more room on a street, making it more hazardous for anyone too close. I almost got into an accident because of one of these idiots. Dude, you can cover your whole body with testoserone patches and shoot up all the HGH you want, but you’re never going to hit freeway speed, let alone Mach 1.

    In itself, the bicycle has a big problem. It’s too fast for the sidewalk but also too slow, fragile, and vulnerable for the street. That fact blocks people from riding them unless:

    you can’t afford even the bus
    you can’t drive (any reason)
    too far to walk
    you actually enjoy getting scared to death
    you are so hopped up on testoserone you may as well be a crack head(see above)

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