Bicycles & Cyclists, Advocates & Activists

There are a few loosely knit groups of people promoting the use of bicycles. They’re often grouped together, despite that they may sometimes work at cross purposes.

I’ve made some distinctions for myself.

Bicycle advocates vs cyclist advocates:

Bicycle advocates promote the use of bicycles. They may include environmentalists, health advocates, bicycle manufacturers and retailers, and those looking to cut down on congestion on our roads, etc. They want “butts on bikes”. Bicycle advocates usually take the position that bicycles are superior to motor vehicles, for some very good reasons I agree with.

Cycling advocates are those advocating for the rights of cyclists to be recognized, such as being accorded equal status on the roads as per the laws. Thus cyclist advocates take the position that cyclists are equal to motorists, and have the same kinds of rights and responsibilities.

I’m both of these things, to a point, but lean far more toward the second.

Bicycle advocates want to see everybody on a bike. It’s a most noble goal that I believe would make this world a better place. Unfortunately skill level is not a major consideration. Ironically, given they consider bikes to be superior to cars, they take the “bike inferior” position when it comes to safety. Rather than insisting cyclists learn skills allowing them to ride safely in traffic, they take the “get out of the way of cars” approach (“fear the rear”), with paths and bike lanes.

These often make cycling more dangerous, giving a false sense of security to cyclists without basic skills, and may lead them to believe they don’t need to develop those skills. So I love the goals (more people on bikes, safer cycling), and I love the paths, but I think the message and execution need to be tuned up, or the paths don’t accomplish the goals.

The overwhelming majority of bike-car collisions occur due to cyclist error while crossing traffic, either turning, or while crossing at an intersection. Bike paths and lanes create more of these intersections, while encouraging people to ride without having the skills to properly recognize & negotiate the hazards to use them. It’s rare that paths & lanes get you all the way to where you’re going, so the unskilled cyclist ends up on the road, or worse, on the sidewalk, which is the most dangerous place to ride of all.

Cycling advocates insist cyclists belong on the roads. Cyclists fare best when they act and are treated as drivers of vehicles. Cyclist education and skills training is the key. We sorely need driver training for cyclists. Cyclists shouldn’t be afraid of traffic, they need to be traffic.

I love riding on the bike paths! I wish there were more. I’m not against bike paths or lanes in principle (unless used as an excuse to deny me my right to the road), but we need to understand they are not the panacea they are made out to be, and they don’t make cycling safer. The only proven way to cut down on cycling accidents and collisions is cyclist training. It should be at least as common as swim lessons.

I know this goes against the grain for many cyclists (and people who ride bikes, to differentiate), but I’d support mandatory training, testing, and licensing for bikes and motor vehicles.

And then there’s the advocate vs activist distinction. Too often, cycling activists (critical mass) end up increasing the problem they profess to want to eliminate. They intentionally break the laws, blocking traffic instead of being traffic, and are confrontational instead of cooperative. This creates animosity when what’s needed is cooperation.

It should be obvious when we’re looking to share something that giving the other party the finger isn’t going to encourage them to share. But no. This isn’t cyclist advocacy, it’s not even a parade or celebration, it’s selfish behaviour that makes things worse for all of us.

Respect is a two-way street.

I find it embarrassing, and it increases risks involved with vehicular cycling.

2 Responses

  1. I love this website, the information is great and I have bookmarked it in my favorites. This is a well organized and informative website. Great Job!

  2. I’m glad you found it helpful. Thanks for your kind words – very nice to hear. I guess I’d best do some more posts soon.

    In the meantime, I have a local favourite cycling blog of my own I highly recommend. Keith Hallgren is the most knowledgeable cyclist I know, and a real strong volunteer and contributor to the local cycling scene.

    Check out http://ravingbikefiend.com/ , and I hope you enjoy it.

    Thanks again – Jim

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