Potato, Po-tah-to. Cyclist, Cycler.

You might have noticed that we like the term cycler. We’re not dogmatic about it (or much else, come to that), but we do like that word’s ability to draw attention. Cycler isn’t a term that’s in wide use, and so it’s a little unusual, a little jarring to read. That little pause, that wait, what? moment, has the power to prompt a reader to ponder what we mean and why we didn’t just say cyclist like everyone else.

Language is important.

We very deliberately encourage you to ride a Regular Damn Bike, but would never presume to tell you to ride a “real” bike. Regular is whatever you want it to be. It’s comfortable and familiar. You have your regular routine. Maybe you’re a regular at your local watering hole or bookstore or neighborhood pickup game. There’s no right way to do regular. It’s what fits you.

And so we use cycler, because it still has a little breathing room around it. It hasn’t been quite so nailed down as some other terms seem to have become. We all have a little space to embody its meaning however we like.

But here’s the interesting question: you may cycle, but do you consider yourself to be a cycler?

I passed a man the other day, wearing blue jeans and work boots, riding against traffic on the wrong side of the road, his chain squeak audible from across the road. Is he any more or less a cycler than you or I? More importantly, does he even think about his own identity in terms of how he gets around?

Stand on a busy street corner at rush hour, and pick ten random drivers. Do you imagine that they know each other, think alike, vote alike, because they’ve chosen the same mode of transportation?

Motorist, driver, cyclist, cycler… These things can seem trivial. We’ve all borne unfortunate witness to histrionic barroom (or comments section!) arguments over the minutiae of semantics or principle. In my experience, no minds are ever changed in this fashion, but more than a few feathers get ruffled. Seems like a pain in the ass, and a waste of time.

These things can seem trivial, but these things also matter. If the man in the blue jeans doesn’t consider himself a cyclist, any outreach directed at cyclists is going to pass him by—and we who are trying to build a more connected community of people who cycle will have failed in our job.

Our terms can unite us or divide us… or they can simply be what words are: necessarily incomplete and sometimes woefully inadequate, but a pretty darn efficient way to communicate nevertheless. After all, we’d never actually get much said if every time we talked about bikes each sentence had to account for all the nuance and exception of every possible incarnation of any person on a bicycle, would we?

Language is important. And we should keep analyzing and refining how we use ours. But, lest we commit the same grave error that an angry person behind the wheel of a car commits when he honks his horn and declares that all cyclists are lawbreaking, no-gas-tax-paying, red-light-running scofflaws, let’s not lose sight of what’s at the heart of all these words: people, on bikes, simply moving about.

 

Leave a Reply