Friday, June 18, 2010
Speaking for myself, yes I do want to save the word cyclist. I want to cut the straps and let all the baggage fall off, but I want to keep the word. A cyclist can vote BQ, Conservative, Liberal , NDP, or Rhinoceros. A cyclist can obey all the laws with great care, or can proceed through the world making up his or her own laws. A cyclist can believe in capitalism, anarcho-syndicalism, or any other economic system; in representative democracy or absolute monarchy. A cyclist can love the planet, hate it, or believe it doesn't matter because the world will end next Tuesday. Only one thing makes a cyclist: the use of human-powered, wheeled transportation. Anyone who has used a bike reasonably recently can call themselves a cyclist.
The word "cyclist" describes those of us who ride bicycles with an elegance and brevity that the words "people who happen to ride bicycles" will never achieve; but I have two more basic reasons for not wanting to give up the word.
This brings me to my second point. Some years ago, on a visit to the ancient seaport of Marseilles, I encountered a young street tough who asked me for money. When I had none to give him, he snarled "Juif". What should I have told him? The truth? Je ne suis pas un Juif would hardly have sounded dignified. In the end, I had no good (verbal) answer for him and just treated his comment as a stink in the air, not worth acknowledging. The point for us: when someone attacks us, it may seem to make sense to separate ourselves from the kind of people we think our accusers must really dislike. But that kind of denial preserves neither our dignity nor our rights. If we propose to drop the word cyclist as a way to distance ourselves from those dirty lawbreaking anarchists, we might as well forget it and preserve our dignity.Maybe I see myself as better than cyclists who ride badly, arrogantly or confrontationally; maybe I don't. But to many of our opponents, just riding a bike makes me just the same as all the cyclists they criticize. Maybe we need to debunk their stereotypes, but we sure shouldn't surrender to them.