“That was no lady — that was my wife!” goes the old joke. We think of it sometimes when we read yet another news report identifying an errant rider of a bicycle as a cyclist.
You know how it goes: Cyclist Robs Bank. Cyclist Charged With Indecent Exposure. Authorities Say Cyclist Killed While Turning Left in Front of Truck (Police continue investigation).
And why not? Labeling someone a cyclist is simply a shorthand reference point. It’s quick and easy. It fits in headlines better. No harm is intended.
But harm is conveyed. By indiscriminately labeling every human on a bike a “cyclist,” media (and police, whose reports often initiate the description) lump real cyclists with yahoos who haven’t a clue what they’re doing. By doing so, they provide an easy excuse for marginalizing, ridiculing, hurting. killing and even hating cyclists.
They also deprive conscientious cyclists, the class of rider deserving of the label, of the ability to be taken seriously. Laws protecting cyclists become harder to pass. Courts side with anyone, even drunk drivers, over cyclists.
It’s classic stereotyping, as with race, gender, religion, sexual preference. It’s even a way of profiling: When someone, especially a cop or a motorist, sees someone on a bike, he or she automatically assumes the rider is going to do something wrong, crazy or stupid.
Case in point: The recent death of a 68-year-old man on a bike in San Mateo CA. Nearly all news reports termed him a “cyclist,” but we noted one account with interest: “At the time he was hit, the man was wearing a dark blue jacket, dark green pants with a brown belt, and brown shoes.”
Not exactly riding gear, would you say?
And how about this article, where an 8-year-old boy is identified as a “cyclist”? The boy is nearly killed when his father’s attention wanders while the offspring rides into a crosswalk. The “cyclist’s” sin: He remained on his bike.
“The easiest and safest option would have been to direct the child to walk his bicycle across the intersection. This would have made the child a pedestrian and given him the right of way afforded by the crosswalk…”
So, to clarify: If you ride a bike in a crosswalk, you are a “cyclist” and can therefore be mowed down with impunity. If you walk your bike, you are a “pedestrian” and are afforded the full rights and protections thereof by the state.
One might argue that every rider of a bicycle is by the mere act itself a “cyclist.” We beg to differ:
It’s also clear that media conveniently omit the bicycle as an identifier in cases where it would have the dangerous side effect of promoting cycling’s cause. One can Google all one wants and never find, “Cyclist invents theory of relativity.” Or “Cyclist Elected President.” (Actually, in the case of avid mountain biker George Bush, we’ll take a pass.)
There are signs of progress:
“SUMTER, S.C. — Authorities say a 49-year-old man was killed when he was struck by a truck as he … was riding his bike southbound on the northbound shoulder of S.C. Highway 441.”
A true cyclist would not be riding against traffic on a highway shoulder.
And in this case, the individual of interest was a suspected felon on a bicycle, not a “cyclist”:
“The clerk at the Spinx store told deputies a man came to the store on a bicycle and loitered in the parking lot for some time …”
Perhaps it’s asking too much of the non-cycling world to identify only people acting responsibly while riding bikes as cyclists. Pending such enlightenment, and in an effort to expose and underline the imbalance, we will adopt a policy of referring to everyone who drives a vehicle as a “motorist.” To wit:
“Motorist cheats investors of $50 billion in history’s biggest Ponzi scheme”
“Motorist drives SUV into rock after wife attacks vehicle with golf club”
“Motorist denies soliciting undercover cop for sex in Minneapolis airport men’s room”
Kind of rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?