Who’s Elitist?

The safest and most efficient method of operating a bicycle is driving on the same roads, following the same rules and enjoying the same rights as the drivers of other vehicles.  This is sometimes called Vehicular Cycling [1].

Some people who call themselves “Bicycle Advocates” [2] often try to disparage these best practices by calling us “elitist”.

We have the interesting situation where the elite are not elitist and the elitists are not elite.

There seems to be a consensus that only a small minority of cyclists ride according to the best cycling practices.  Some estimate this minority at five percent.  Since these cyclists are so few and their knowledge level is much higher than the average we may call them elite.

However, if you talk to “elite” cyclists, they will tell you that almost anyone can learn to cycle as they do.  The most difficult thing is getting over the miseducation and superstition that affects most people in our society — and it is difficult to get people to accept the idea that there really is something to learn about bicycle operation.  Elite cyclists are quite willing to share their knowledge.

In other words, though they may be elite, these knowledgeable cyclists are certainly not elitist.

Now, on the other hand, we have the typical bicycle advocate who does not know how to ride in the vehicular style [3], and is unwilling to even try to learn.  These people are not elite.  However, they feel that the skills required for vehicular cycling are beyond the ability of the average person [4].  That is an elitist attitude.

Thus we have the interesting situation where the elite are not elitist and the elitists are not elite.


[1] See Wikipedia article on Vehicular cycling [2] “Bicycle advocates” are people who champion the bicycle for some other cause, such as “getting people out of cars”, “livable cities”, fighting obesity, etc.  We have no problem with these causes per-se but we think their “ends justify the means” approach is unethical when they treat cyclists as pawns to be sacrificed for the cause. [3] There are a few “bicycle advocates” who really do know how to ride properly (and they ride this way themselves because they know it’s safer).  However, they believe that the average person cannot be taught what they know.  These people are both elite and elitist. [4] This claim of elitism presented by bicycle advocates does not concern the best and safest way to cycle; they show little interest in the welfare of cyclists.  Instead it is presented as part of their other agendas (as mentioned in note 2 above).  The public believes that bikeways make it safe to ride the way they learned as children, and that cycling on busy roads without bikeways is dangerous and requires an elite level of skill.  Bicycle advocates fear that if people realize that safe cycling requires a bit of learning it will create an impediment to getting more “butts on bikes”.

For an interesting essay on why people denigrate elite things for political ends, see Best Is the New Worst

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