Bicycles are versatile machines, capable of being used for everything from shopping, to touring, to professional racing.
However, whilst a bicycle may unite the different disciplines, the needs of riders are usually very, very different.
The right tool…
To the untrained eye a bicycle is just a bicycle, but look deeper and there may well be differences between bicycles built for different disciplines. However, there’s nothing to say you can’t commute on a high-end road or mountain bike. It isn’t always the right tool for the job, but there’s flexibility built in.
However, it’s the needs of the rider where the great chasm can be found. Let’s take the professional racers, such as you would see at the Tour de France or Paris-Roubaix. The riders will do anywhere between 150Km and 250Km in a given day, often several days on the trot.
In between stages they will be expected to rest up, eat a carefully balanced diet, have a massage and be fit and ready to start the next stage the following day.
Whilst there may be some amateur and semi-professional riders who may ride to work on the days they are not racing, the professional ones probably don’t. Their exposure to traffic, buses, bad roads, darkness, dog walkers & joggers is probably fairly minimal. They also have their bikes fixed for them and punctures are repaired by people in a car following closely behind.
Those of us who are not racing on the other hand, do have to look after our own bikes; sort out our own nutrition; probably also need to do shopping on the way home; do our own laundry and all the other mundane tasks we take for granted out in the real world. Then again, not many of us are doing 150Km commutes every day, so it is understandable that there are differences.
It’s sometimes difficult to tell apart those who are riding for sport, from those who are riding to work from a long way away. The clothes will often be the same, but there may well be luggage attached. Then again, they could also be touring…
For most people living in the inner-city of Cardiff –Pontcanna, Roath etc there should be little need to tool up; to wear lycra or a helmet. We should be able to ride around in our normal clothes, do our shopping and go to work.
Sadly, the people who are not riding don’t really care. We’re still one gelatinous blob; the Borg; we’re all ‘just cyclists‘ –something we explored more thoroughly in our post about just who are we campaigning for?
We’re an out-group, people the press and other reactionaries are quite happy to drag through the mud over the actions of a few bad eggs; to blame for our own demise; to draft ill-conceived and disproportionate laws in an effort to clamp down on.
We should remember that we are probably perceived as a threat to big business. Planned obsolescence, subscriptions and major unplanned expenses are things that generally pass us by, unlike motoring which represents the mother of all cash-cows.
The lines between politics, big business and the press are very difficult to see, if they exist at all. Politicians are in the hands of big business; big business owns the press. Even the bike industry seems transfixed on the sport side of things, probably because that is where the money is.
However, for those of us actually riding, we need to be mindful that our sphere of expertise is often far more limited than we think it is and that as utility cyclists our knowledge of professional racing may be limited by our lack of experience.
Equally, professional riders would be wise to steer clear of discussing matters of utility cycling without first wading through the data; the academic journals; the public health information whilst spending a few seasons getting from A to B. Otherwise, we risk giving the press yet more rope to hang us with at a time when we still need to beg for the crumbs from the table to build safe cycling infrastructure.