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  1. #1
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    Bicycling Vocabulary in Advocacy and Education

    I actually get paid to get more people on bikes and in my time doing so, I've noticed a massive jumble of intermixed terms that give multiple impressions to different people. I'd like to know if/how your definitions of the following words differ from my own:

    Bicycle: (According to the State of California) A bicycle is a device upon which any person may ride, propelled exclusively by human power through a belt, chain, or gears, and having one or more wheels. This, thus, includes unicycles, tricycles, surreys, etc.

    Bicycling: The activity of riding bicycle. Regular trips too/from employment is referred to as "Bicycle Commuting"

    Biking: (See "Bicycling")

    Bicyclist: One who rides a bike. May also imply certain legal/safety views and/or preferences.

    Mountain Biker: One who rides a mountain bike (typically off paved paths).

    Biker: One who rides a motorcycle.

    Cycling: The competitive sport of bicycle riding that implies the use of higher performance equipment and clothing than does regular bicycling. (Better explanation by chasm54 below)
    Last edited by eepok; 05-20-12 at 02:38 PM.

  2. #2
    Senior Member kalliergo's Avatar
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    "Cycling" does not, in any general or historical sense I'm aware of, imply racing or competition.

    Cycling is the usual term, in the English-speaking world, for riding a bicycle. "Bicycling" is peculiarly American.

    Bicycling = cycling = riding a bike.
    "What if we fail to stop the erosion of cities by automobiles?. . . In that case, we Americans will hardly need to ponder a mystery that has troubled men for millennia: What is the purpose of life? For us, the answer will be clear, established and for all practical purposes indisputable: The purpose of life is to produce and consume automobiles."

    ~Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities

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    Quote Originally Posted by kalliergo View Post
    "Cycling" does not, in any general or historical sense I'm aware of, imply racing or competition.

    Cycling is the usual term, in the English-speaking world, for riding a bicycle. "Bicycling" is peculiarly American.

    Bicycling = cycling = riding a bike.
    Would competitive riders amidst a race double take if they were referred to as "bike riding" or "bicycling"?

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    Senior Member kalliergo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by eepok View Post
    Would competitive riders amidst a race double take if they were referred to as "bike riding" or "bicycling"?
    No, probably not, assuming American competitors. It would create a certain dissonance for many other English-speaking racers.

    But I have never, before your definitions above, encountered "cyclist" as a term denoting specifically competitive riders. I've been a serious cyclist (never a competitor) and avid follower of competitive cycling, for more than 50 years.
    "What if we fail to stop the erosion of cities by automobiles?. . . In that case, we Americans will hardly need to ponder a mystery that has troubled men for millennia: What is the purpose of life? For us, the answer will be clear, established and for all practical purposes indisputable: The purpose of life is to produce and consume automobiles."

    ~Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities

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    Quote Originally Posted by kalliergo View Post
    But I have never, before your definitions above, encountered "cyclist" as a term denoting specifically competitive riders. I've been a serious cyclist (never a competitor) and avid follower of competitive cycling, for more than 50 years.
    Understandable. Do you often speak with people who don't bike? (The origin of my connotation-based definitions.)

    Come to think about it, I may even do a simple experiment with attendees of my bike education sessions. You know, try to quantify the pattern of vocabulary I've been noticing.

    Note to self: stop thinking about work. It's the weekend! Oh damn these blurry lines between career and hobby!

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    Quote Originally Posted by eepok View Post
    Understandable. Do you often speak with people who don't bike? (The origin of my connotation-based definitions.)

    Come to think about it, I may even do a simple experiment with attendees of my bike education sessions. You know, try to quantify the pattern of vocabulary I've been noticing.

    Note to self: stop thinking about work. It's the weekend! Oh damn these blurry lines between career and hobby!
    The world over, cycling means the act of riding a bicycle. Americans got themselves mixed up in the years when no Americans considered bicycle riding and therefore took "cycling" to mean the act of riding a motor cycle. Therefore, those who wished to refer to the act of riding a bicycle took to using the world bicycling. Now that Americans again know that bicycles exist, we can go back to using the historically correct word of cycling. Oh yes, I am the author of Effective Cycling.

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    Senior Member kalliergo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by eepok View Post
    Do you often speak with people who don't bike?
    Could that possibly be a serious question?
    "What if we fail to stop the erosion of cities by automobiles?. . . In that case, we Americans will hardly need to ponder a mystery that has troubled men for millennia: What is the purpose of life? For us, the answer will be clear, established and for all practical purposes indisputable: The purpose of life is to produce and consume automobiles."

    ~Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities

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    Travelling hopefully chasm54's Avatar
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    I don't think "cyclist" refers specifically to competitive riders, either. But I do think it implies a degree of seriousness. I have heard many people who ride bicycles say "I ride a bike but I'm not really a cyclist" much as someone who jogs for a half-hour every morning might demur at being described as a runner.
    There have been many days when I haven't felt like riding, but there has never been a day when I was sorry I rode.

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    Senior Member kalliergo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by John Forester View Post
    Oh yes, I am the author of Effective Cycling.
    Yes, you are. So, obviously, we'll have to disqualify you for conflict of interest, John.

    Mr. Forester is correct.
    "What if we fail to stop the erosion of cities by automobiles?. . . In that case, we Americans will hardly need to ponder a mystery that has troubled men for millennia: What is the purpose of life? For us, the answer will be clear, established and for all practical purposes indisputable: The purpose of life is to produce and consume automobiles."

    ~Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities

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    Quote Originally Posted by kalliergo View Post
    Could that possibly be a serious question?
    I didn't mean it sarcastically. I only mean to inquire as to whether your measurement of the general understanding of the word "cycling" comes from talking to people who don't know much about bikes. This being an advocacy forum but often dealing more with issues of legal and safety issues, I'm never sure who has the vocation/avocation of outreach to the bike-curious.

    You note that you've been cycling for many years (more than I've been alive). Forester (above) has also been cycling for a great deal of time... likely through the previous bike boom in America. I work with university undergraduates and young families and it seems that the vocabulary may have shifted in that time.

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    Quote Originally Posted by chasm54 View Post
    I don't think "cyclist" refers specifically to competitive riders, either. But I do think it implies a degree of seriousness. I have heard many people who ride bicycles say "I ride a bike but I'm not really a cyclist" much as someone who jogs for a half-hour every morning might demur at being described as a runner.
    Good point about the differentiation between competition and "seriousness". I accept your interpretation as better than my own.

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    Quote Originally Posted by John Forester View Post
    The world over, cycling means the act of riding a bicycle. Americans got themselves mixed up in the years when no Americans considered bicycle riding and therefore took "cycling" to mean the act of riding a motor cycle. Therefore, those who wished to refer to the act of riding a bicycle took to using the world bicycling. Now that Americans again know that bicycles exist, we can go back to using the historically correct word of cycling. Oh yes, I am the author of Effective Cycling.
    John, when you refer to competitive, sport, or "serious" (as suggested in this thread) cycling, do you prepend "cycling" with an appropriate term in the same way a professional racing driver may be differentiate his career in motor sports from his drive to pick up his children from school? Or is it all just "cycling" to you?

    Again, my questions are of genuine curiosity and are written to imply nothing more than what I've written.

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    Senior Member kalliergo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by eepok View Post
    I didn't mean it sarcastically. I only mean to inquire as to whether your measurement of the general understanding of the word "cycling" comes from talking to people who don't know much about bikes.
    It comes from overall life experience. Virtually everyone in America mostly speaks with people who know little about bikes.

    If "cycling" connotes competition for a particular demographic, it must certainly be for relative youngsters (in America) who first heard the term used in association with television coverage of bicycle racing, a very recent phenomenon.

    I would hope that you wouldn't promote that misunderstanding by formalizing or codifying it, but it isn't particularly important.
    "What if we fail to stop the erosion of cities by automobiles?. . . In that case, we Americans will hardly need to ponder a mystery that has troubled men for millennia: What is the purpose of life? For us, the answer will be clear, established and for all practical purposes indisputable: The purpose of life is to produce and consume automobiles."

    ~Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities

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    Quote Originally Posted by kalliergo View Post
    It comes from overall life experience. Virtually everyone in America mostly speaks with people who know little about bikes.

    If "cycling" connotes competition for a particular demographic, it must certainly be for relative youngsters (in America) who first heard the term used in association with television coverage of bicycle racing, a very recent phenomenon.

    I would hope that you wouldn't promote that misunderstanding by formalizing or codifying it, but it isn't particularly important.
    I hear frequently, as chasm54 relates above, "I ride a bike, but I'm not a cyclist or anything." I hear it so much from the youngsters, in fact, that it may not be up to "codification" (mainly because there is no modern authority on bike vocabulary to knowledge) as much as it may be up to the evolution of language.

    I'm just trying to bridge that gap in my own mind.

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    Quote Originally Posted by eepok View Post
    John, when you refer to competitive, sport, or "serious" (as suggested in this thread) cycling, do you prepend "cycling" with an appropriate term in the same way a professional racing driver may be differentiate his career in motor sports from his drive to pick up his children from school? Or is it all just "cycling" to you?

    Again, my questions are of genuine curiosity and are written to imply nothing more than what I've written.
    There is racing cycling, which may be amateur racing cycling or professional racing cycling. And those can be road racing, or track racing, or off-road racing. And road racing may be time trialling or massed start. And even stage racing (not on the stage, but a series of day events with the total cumulative times counted.) There is touring cycling. There is commuting cycling. There is club cycling. There is utility cycling. For that matter there are different types of touring cycling: international self-supported touring cycling, international guided group touring cycling. And the same for touring inside one nation. And there is stunt cycling. And there is cycle racing done on a closed dirt path with humps and jumps. You see, cycling is the generic name for riding a bicycle, to which appropriate modifiers are attached to describe each type of cycling.
    Last edited by John Forester; 05-20-12 at 03:05 PM. Reason: closed the parentheses.

  16. #16
    Senior Member kalliergo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by eepok View Post
    I hear it so much from the youngsters, in fact, that it may not be up to "codification" (mainly because there is no modern authority on bike vocabulary to knowledge) as much as it may be up to the evolution of language.
    Well, since this seems important to you: Usage by members of a particular demographic may or may not indicate linguistic evolution. It depends upon whether or not such usage is eventually generally adopted.

    In this case, we don't know, yet, whether "cycling" will someday be generally understood to mean competitive cycling, but those language authorities we do have (the editors and publishers of dictionaries and similar references) have not, AFAIK, adopted that meaning.

    2cycle
    verb
    cy·cledcy·cling
    Definition of CYCLE

    intransitive verb

    1
    a : to pass through a cycle b : to recur in cycles

    2
    : to ride a cycle; specifically : bicycle

    (This from Merriam-Webster)
    Cycling, also called bicycling or biking, is the use of bicycles for transport, recreation, or for sport.[1] Persons engaged in cycling are cyclists[2] or bicyclists.[3] Apart from ordinary two-wheeled bicycles, cycling also includes riding unicycles, tricycles, quadracycles, and other similar human-powered vehicles (HPVs).

    (This from Wikipedia.)
    "What if we fail to stop the erosion of cities by automobiles?. . . In that case, we Americans will hardly need to ponder a mystery that has troubled men for millennia: What is the purpose of life? For us, the answer will be clear, established and for all practical purposes indisputable: The purpose of life is to produce and consume automobiles."

    ~Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities

  17. #17
    Half way there gmt13's Avatar
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    I imagine your sample size here will not be sufficient to resolve the definitions of your terms, and I suspect that there may be some bias.

    For what it's worth, I have never thought that the term cycling was limited to racing. I have always thought of it to be any sort of riding. I have always avoided labels, though, because they rarely capture the true essence of a person. I ride a bike: I ride to get to work, I ride for exercise, I ride for pleasure, I ride to offset my neighbor's carbon footprint, I ride so I can drink more beer. So what label should I use?

    -G

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