Every now and then you hear about how cyclists are a bunch of elitist snobs, which I find laughable because I can't find it difficult to think of anything less likely to induce elitism or snobbery in me than riding a bike.

But then you hear garbage like this:

"The cyclists will tell you there's a difference between a cyclist and someone who's just riding a bike," says city spokeswoman Nannette Rodriguez. "They're responsible; they got their equipment; they know what they're doing. Then you got people who just get on a bike to go to the supermarket and just cross the street wherever."

Oh really? I'd have thought there's no difference whatsoever, as the definition of "cyclist" is "a person who rides or travels by bicycle, motorcycle, etc.". In other words a cyclist is "someone who's just riding a bike", and to try to have it any other way sounds a lot like snobbery to my ears.

But apart from the fact that it's pretty easy to find a counter-example (where a "real cyclist" who "got their equipment" clearly isn't responsible and/or doesn't know what they're doing), this is a very short step from victim-blaming. Lo and behold, the same article continues:

Many drivers feel that bicyclists don't follow the rules of the road predictably enough.

"In certain cities, where they're very bike-friendly, you often see bikers asserting themselves maybe more than they should," says John Bowman, a spokesman for the National Motorists Association, a drivers' rights advocacy group. " Bicyclists need to look out for cars because they're most vulnerable," Bowman says. "In any type of conflict between a car and a bike, the car always wins."
[emphasis added]

What. The. Hell?

Let me try that "because they're the most vulnerable" logic out in a few other contexts and see how acceptable it sounds:

  • "Kids in Indonesia need to look out for tobacco companies because they're the most vulnerable"
  • "Victims of workplace bullying need to look out for bullies because they're the most vulnerable"
  • "Altar boys need to look out for pedophile priests because they're the most vulnerable"

Maybe I'm going over the top a bit here, but you see my point: it's pure victim-blaming.

Of course cyclists should take care to keep themselves safe on the road, but there should be a larger onus on drivers to look after more vulnerable road users because drivers are the dominant threat.

Remember Ian Walker's research on overtaking, which showed in part that "there were 23% more vehicles coming within 1m of the bicycle when a helmet was being worn". As I recall, Dr Walker argued that this could be because in the UK drivers may tend to use the presence of a helmet as a rough proxy for the cyclist's competence, and there is an assumption that 'expert' riders are better able to look after themselves. I don't think this is a desirable situation, but allowing cyclists to be factionalised into "real cyclists" and "someone who's just riding a bike" (or any other pointless subdivisions) only helps to reinforce this.