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Kaid Benfield’s Blog

Hi, I’m Kaid, proud to be an 'avid cyclist'

Kaid Benfield

Posted March 26, 2010 in Health and the Environment, Living Sustainably, Moving Beyond Oil

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  avid cyclists exit the Dalecarlia tunnel on the Capital Crescent Trail (by. M.V. Jantzen, creative commons license)

Amazingly, there are some well-meaning transportation advocates who would like the phrase “avid cyclist” banned from the lexicon.  Their argument goes something like, “this phrase marginalizes all who bicycle and causes people in policy positions to discount cycling as a ‘normal,’ utilitarian activity.”

Huh?  The notion was first raised by Michael Druker, whose thoughtful work on “the fundamental attribution error” I cited quite recently in another post.  Here’s part of what he says:

“As if it wasn’t enough that we scare people away from cycling with our exclusively car-oriented infrastructure and even a socially constructed fear of cycling, we also do it by marginalizing cycling as something done only by the kind of people who cycle. Make a mental count of how often you’ve seen news reports or commentary refer to “avid cyclists” [note by KB: almost never], and the number of times you might have used this term yourself [lots].

“Banish ‘avid cyclist’ from your vocabulary. Self-marginalizing language like this is why we can’t have nice infrastructure.”

(I’m tempted to go into a rant about how no one uses the subjunctive mood anymore, but I’ll save that for another day.) 

the bike I'm riding this week (by: me)Soon others picked up on Druker’s admonition, including Mikael on Copenhagenize.com, Brad Aaron on Streetsblog, and my fellow urbanist and cyberfriend Dave Reid.  I saw tweets and retweets.

Self-marginalizing language like this is why we can’t have nice infrastructure.  Oh, please.  The sentiment is absolutely right – we should take care to avoid marginalizing cyclists, especially those who ride for utility – but that doesn’t mean we shouldn't accurately describe someone as an avid cyclist.

Take me, for instance – I’m taking this week off (So why am I still writing the blog, you may wonder?  Good question.) and riding my bike - indoors if necessary when it’s wet outside - nine straight days.  I’m striving for 40ish-mile, fast-paced rides every other day, with 20ish-mile slower rides in between, when I also lift weights.  I’ve taken seven cycling vacations, five in France (sigh).  At my peak fitness which, sadly, is probably a thing of the past, I could hang with cat-4 racers, if not with the likes of Amanda.  Am I not an “avid cyclist”?  How about Geoff, down the hall from me, who commutes to work by bike in 20-degree weather and takes 60-mile training rides on the weekends?  Or my friends Bob and Barbara who, as far as I can tell, ride every day pretty much for the hell of it and have never once taken a vacation without their bikes.  Bob even rides a fixie, so he gets maximum challenge out of each mile.

So I say:  Don’t try to tell me not to use a perfectly good phrase that accurately describes me and many of my friends.  Don’t ban the phrase, just use it properly, and I’ll stay on your side.  (And read up on the subjunctive, while you’re at it.)

Thursday was a recovery day, so I took a 20-mile ride that was mostly on trails.  The route took me into Georgetown with the Potomac on one side and the C&O Canal on the other, then back through the woods into Bethesda, going right by Bethesda Row, our area’s best suburban retrofit, and through lovely neighborhoods, just about all of them walkable and compatible with smart growth, and then back home.

  the Capital Crescent Trail (by: Kevin H., creative commons license)  the peloton makes its way up Chain Bridge Road (by: Rudi Riet, creative commons license)

The longest stretch was on the Capital Crescent Trail (photos at top of post and just above left), slightly downhill into Georgetown and slightly uphill to Bethesda.  If I had stayed with the trail instead of veering off to return home on suburban and city streets, I would have come to where the new Purple Line transit link will begin, and run alongside an extension of the trail from Bethesda to Prince George’s County.

Wednesday was more ambitious, taking me over the rolling hills to a route that is popular among avid cyclists (!) for training, mostly flat with few stoplights until you come to the monster climb up to Falls Road (locals know it well), after which I went down to the lovely Great Falls Park (only long enough to turn around and tackle the climb back to Falls Road) and then over the rollers to Potomac Village.  On the way back, the monster turned into our area’s sweetest descent, but I did go up another killer (Chain Bridge Road, above right, for the locals) near the end to earn my lunch.

If you’re a rider, avid or not, it’s now officially spring.  Get on your bike and go somewhere!

Kaid Benfield writes (almost) daily about community, development, and the environment.  For more posts, see his blog's home page. 

 

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Comments

Dave ReidMar 26 2010 09:13 AM

Ok, you're an avid rider Kaid:) 20 miles is your off day ride? Boy I've got a lot of work to do to get in good riding shape.

Steve DavisMar 26 2010 10:54 AM

Ha, fair enough Kaid. You are DEFINITELY an avid cyclist.

Me? I'm just a guy going places, usually on a bike. 2 miles to work, mostly downhill. Though I do the 50 states ride every year in the fall, but mostly just because I love to see so many parts of the city in one day. And the 64 miles kills me dead. :)

We're all on the bikes; transportation bikers, commuters, grocery-getters and avid cyclists. So we should always remember we have more in common than we do different.

I'm all for making biking look normal, but I'm totally supportive of "avid" cycling too. Mostly I'm jealous that you're in better shape than I.

BrendaMar 26 2010 11:31 AM

Brilliant idea....never thought about doing my own little cycling camp at home. Get the spring-thaw muscle torture done with early as a way to quicken the path to ride enjoyment...I like it.

Kaid @ NRDCMar 26 2010 12:07 PM

Steve: exactly. But, unfortunately, this year I'm learning that I'm *not* in shape as much as I wish. :(

Brenda: it definitely helps. Been at it for about 15 years now.

Dave: bring your bike to DC, we'll have a blast.

DanielMar 27 2010 11:44 AM

I've always defined "avid cyclist" by the use of spandex, more so than than the actual miles traveled.

Richard MasonerMar 30 2010 10:42 AM

I'm an avid cyclist because, this week, I'm biking to work in the rain. One of my co-workers last night told me I'm "hard core" for doing this. These are not labels I've assigned to myself, but one that others have assigned to me

Druker is hardly the "first" to bring this up. Mikael at Copenhagenize has been tut-tutting American cycling advocates for years to dump the term, for example, and I'm sure a little digging will turn up similar exhortations from the 70s bike boom.

The usual counter-argument is that, even in the United States, we have avid motoring enthusiasts. I'm told you can even find magazines, websites, and even enthusiast clubs that are all about cars!
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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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