What is a bicyclist?

Filed Under: Advocacy & Policy
Post By: jwilson
Posted On: May 19, 2013

What is a bicyclist?

Before we try to answer that seemingly simple question, let me provide a brief introduction.

It has been exactly one month since I came on board as NYBC’s new Executive Director.  One very busy month that seemed to fly by.  There’s plenty to keep you busy at the helm of a statewide bicycle organization.  Already I’ve traveled to many parts of the state…joining transportation and health officials at a summit in Rochester; meeting with local Complete Streets advocates in Plattsburgh; “visiting” mountain biking trails in Saratoga Springs; and interacting with thousands of bicyclists at Bike Expo NY in NYC (which included an electric bike ride in Chinatown – exciting stuff for this North Country native).

While all of this sounds glamorous and not much like “work” – rest assured I’ve also been glued to my keyboard and cell phone for more hours than is probably healthy becoming acquainted the responsibility of managing an awesome organization like NYBC.  There’s plenty of behind-the-scenes work that keeps our small staff and dedicated board members and volunteers very busy, I won’t bore you with the details.  But I will make this promise:  the central focus of everything we do will always be on providing a coherent, credible voice for the interests of ALL bicyclists in New York State.



Which brings me back to the question – what is a bicyclist?  Honestly I never asked myself that question before.  But then I had this exchange with a very nice woman at a recent event:

NYBCAre you a bicyclist?
Very Nice WomanNo, I just ride my bike to work every day.
NYBCWell then I think you’re a bicyclist!
Very Nice WomanWell I don’t wear lycra and ride really fast, and I don’t race or anything like that.
NYBC:  [Head Exploding]

Later in the day I had another shorter conversation with a man who told me “I’m not a bicyclist, I just ride bikes with my kids sometimes.”  Head explodes again.

This was a light-bulb moment the likes of which I’ve never experienced.  Here is a person who bikes to work every day – getting exercise, saving money, reducing congestion – who thinks she is not a bicyclist.  Here is another person who likes to bicycle with his children – introducing them to a healthy, lifelong activity – who thinks he is not a bicyclist.

I mulled over this experience during my long drive home across the state.  Why do these people not identify themselves as “bicyclists”?  What can NYBC do to change that?

On the drive I passed several groups of people road biking, some of them on bikes that cost more than my car.  But I also passed an older woman with a customized bike and trailer, hauling giant bags of bottles and cans to a redemption center.  I passed a man on a long-distance tour, his bike stacked with loaded paniers.  I passed a group of kids racing each other across a field in a town park and jumping over dirt mounds.  I stopped for a sandwich and passed someone’s cruiser bike parked outside of the deli.  When I finally made it home, I climbed on a mountain bike and rode onto the network of trails behind my house.

All of these people are bicyclists.  I’ll take it a step further and suggest that the moment one swings their leg over a bicycle and starts pedaling – whether for recreation, transportation, fitness, or fun – they become a bicyclist.

NYBC’s mission is to provide a voice for bicyclists in New York State.  We represent the interests of ALL bicyclists, whether you use a bicycle for daily transportation, ride on- or off-road, ride for recreation or take part in bike races, and we will continue to work every day to make New York a more bicycle-friendly state for YOU.

We’d love to hear your perspective on this question – what is a bicyclist?  Please share your thoughts in the comments section below or on our Facebook page.

– Josh Wilson