The Larger Tribe

Let’s see, we have the lycra/roady tribe, the urban/fixie tribe, the commuter/utility/cargo tribe, the mountain/downhiller tribe, the recumbent/velomobile/trike tribe, the ultra-endurance/randonneur tribe, the cycle chic/vélo-couture tribe, the electric assist tribe, the friction shift tribe, the twist shift tribe, the platform pedal tribe, the clipless pedal tribe, the people-who-only-ride-cheap-bikes tribe, the people-who-only-ride-expensive-bikes tribe, and on, and on. Oh yeah, and let’s not forget the two biggies: the pro-helmet tribe, and the anti-helmet tribe.

Divisions among divisions are by no means unique to bicycling, you see them in almost every walk of life.

Divisions among divisions are by no means unique to bicycling, you see them in almost every walk of life. Music, art, sports, politics, religion, you name it; if we can set ourselves apart and exclude others by setting some arbitrary and obscure boundary, by gosh, we’re going to do it. Since this phenomenon is so widespread, I suppose it must be some normal part of the human psyche, but I have to think it’s counter-productive in many situations.

The above classifications focus on differences, instead of looking at what we bicyclists all have in common. If we flip this way of thinking on its head, it’s not difficult to see how much we all share, both technically and, more importantly, in our over-arching goals as devotees of human powered transport.

So what are some of the commonalities shared by bicyclists from different tribes? We all make our way either partially or fully under human power. We all face the same challenges on the road with regard to automobiles, infrastructure, weather, and terrain. We all love our machines, regardless of what kind they are and how they’re used. We’d all like to see more bicycles and fewer automobiles on our roads. We’d all like to see more bicycle-specific infrastructure. And, whether or not we consider ourselves environmentalists, most of us realize we can’t continue to pollute the planet and consume natural resources at the same rate we have for the past 100 years.

Seeing how much we have in common, I’d like to suggest that we spend a little less time defending our personal tribes and a little more time thinking about ourselves as part of the larger group of all bicyclists. There’s no need to sub-divide and criticize — we have common interests and common concerns! Oil is going to run out. The environment is in a shambles. Bicycles and bicyclists of all sorts can be a part of the solution. We can work together to spread the word about health, conservation, the environment, and yes, even fun. Criticizing one another for our equipment choices does nothing but divide us and distract us from the more important issues we all want to tackle.

25 Responses to “The Larger Tribe”

  • Bryan @ Renaissance Bicycles says:

    Amen, Alan. Right on target as usual.

  • todd says:

    i either am or have been a member of 7 of your 15 example tribes. nice try recruiting me into your health, conservation, environment, and fun tribe.

  • Jeff says:

    I just realized I have become a member of the ” Set On My Lazy Butt and Read Your Blog Tribe”.

  • Lovely Bicycle! says:

    From a psychological point of view, the categorising and dividing are the naturally occurring extensions of the same cognitive processes that make thought itself possible. They also function to create and preserve one’s concept of self. The tendency to categorise and to recognise patterns is a very core part of human mentality, and when it extends into the social world, it can have unfortunate side-effects such as prejudice and stereotyping. But we cannot truly get rid of the categorising tendencies; we can only rechannel them to focus on different kinds of categories. So for example, we can only focus on all the things cyclists have in common by thinking of it as a “cyclists vs non-cyclists” dichotomy. There needs to be an outgroup to compare against.

    I am not so sure that I need or even want to think of cyclists as one tribe; I sort of enjoy the diversity and the ideological discrepancies on different issues. To me, the differences between us show that cycling can be integrated into one’s lifestyle without converting all the persons who cycle into one specific type of mentality.

  • Paul says:

    I see people on bikes as “Cyclists” – I always have and always will…..

    Great blog by the way :)

  • Alan says:

    @Lovely Bicycle – All I’m really saying is that it’s a shame we bicyclists do so much infighting over trivial issues. Civil discourse is one thing, but it’s the quickness and meanness with which I often see people attack one another that gets sooo old. I suppose this isn’t unique to bicyclists and it’s probably the anonymity of the internet that encourages this behavior.

    @Todd – So was I successful in my “recruitment” efforts? ;-) Seriously though, promoting “health, conservation, environment, and fun” to attract non-bicyclists into the “big tribe of bicyclists” is a lot different that ripping someone a new one over their equipment choices or riding style, something I see all too often (not so much here, but on other, less aggressively moderated forums).

    @Paul – Thanks! :-)

    Have a nice holiday, all!

  • Rob Mackenzie says:

    Amen… “If you can’t say something nice…don’t say anything at all.”

  • Jen says:

    I recently picked up a Gary Fisher brochure and the quote on the front said, “Anybody who rides a bike is a friend of mine”. Brilliant!

  • Lovely Bicycle! says:

    Alan, I agree of course about the infighting. Hostile arguing and putting down each other’s points of view is no fun. But as long as that doesn’t happen, I enjoy the differences between the bike-gangs.

    A little while ago, my husband had a (friendly) argument with an acquaintance regarding restoring vintage bicycles (my husband is for it; the acquaintance is against). It amazed me to hear about it, because I had not even imagined that this could be a point of contention among cyclists, with such strong views on both sides. We will never run out of issues on which to differ!

  • Alan says:

    @Jen – I like that!

    @Lovely Bicycle – We’re on the same page; I too enjoy diversity. I’m probably just a little weary and edgy after recently moderating a few not-so-pleasant tussles here on EcoVelo while simultaneously being over-tired from working gobs of overtime the past two weeks… LOL.

    Take care! :-)

  • Alexis says:

    I love that there are so many people riding bikes, so many reasons for riding bikes… but I will always lol at roadies. I can’t help myself. (I saw a couple in MATCHING spandex outfits in the middle of downtown the other day… I mean, come on.)

  • Molnar says:

    If Lovely Bicycle!’s husband’s acquaintance is against restoring vintage bicycles, then he’s obviously a psychotic moron. Oh, …, wait, …, never mind.

  • Marc Tamo says:

    Great post Alan! I couldn’t agree more with all you’ve said. Calm the hate and let the wheels rotate…or some jive like that. Whatever – this former hater has even thought about riding a recumbent after seeing some nice photos on the site and I now have much more respect for them. Oh and folding bikes…don’t get me started on how much I love those now. Thanks for providing a forum for cyclists of all kinds to drool over bikes and even possibly spark the exploration of other types of cycling…and for turning my bike dork nob up to 11.

    Marc (helmet wearer – lover of bicycles)

  • Paul Johnson says:

    it is an interesting study between cyclists…and motorcyclists. I ride both. Almost EVERY motorcyclist gives a shout out on a drive by…wave, two on the ground, what ever. Cyclists…well, not so much. Lucky to get a nod in my neck of the woods…
    We are all the same tribe!

  • DeltaTrike says:

    Thank you for this post Alan. I am new to the cycling bolgs and I have been amazed and dissappointed by the vindictiveness of the some members of the various tribes toward one another. It is an easy thing to post hateful remarks because you remain faceless. A somewhat frequent poster to this blog with a penchant towards name calling is an example. There are stories of respect however. I’ll take one example from the Lycra/Roady tribe. This guy was Mr. Cyclist in a LAB Traffic 101 class. Seeing him in his decked out splendor on the road aspect of the course, well he was (looked like) the sterotype of the so called arrogant racer. Turns out he was a very nice guy willing to help a newbie understand so many aspects of the sport of cycling. His tastes ran toward being the fastest he could be. I actually just want to ride in comfort. He was just doing his thing and loving it. I am not sure he did and will ever understand my type of cycling or that of any other, but he was respectful and I appreciated it. Thanks again for bring us back to being respectful of our differences.

  • EdL says:

    As someone who sort of lives in between the tribes – mostly a roadie (full spandex kit on weekends, like to go fast), but also a Clyde with more love of distance than pure speed and with no desire to race, and that also spends almost as much time, or more, on a flat bar commuter in shorts and sandals – I am often mystified by the tribal turf wars. I ride bicycles because I like to ride. I commute to work by bicycle because I like to ride. I do centuries because I like to ride. I grab the bike for a quick trip to the grocery store or as A to B transport on a night out because it’s convenient and I like to ride.

    It is really pretty much that simple – I ride because I like to ride – and frankly I am open to anything that gives me more time to ride, makes integrating riding into my daily schedule easier or gives me new or alternative ways, places and bikes to ride.

    I wish I lived closer to good places to mountain bike because it looks like mountain guys are having a lot of fun. I wish I had space in the basement for a fixie because it looks like the hipsters zipping around cars downtown are having a lot of fun, I wish I had the time to take a couple weeks (or months) off and load up a sweet touring frame and take a ramble around the countryside because the touring and bike camping guys look like they are having a lot of fun. Heck, I might even be willing to try out a bent – the guys on bents always seem very cheerful out on the trail, and it looks like they have at least modified the beard requirement. ;)

    We ride because we like to ride. Perhaps that is the only thing we can expect any of us to agree on, but it seems like that one should be easy. The rest is just details.

  • donald stewart says:

    Rob you should have attributed that quote. I believe it was Bambi’s mother.;)

  • Alan says:

    Funny, I thought it was MY mother… :-)

  • donald stewart says:

    alan I wasn’t sure we really needed this one but clearly we did and it was good to see the positive responses.

  • Kenney says:

    I guess I’m part of the when-will-you-ever-love-me “newbie” tribe, with “you” referring to cyclists of all other tribes. I’m 24, and up until about two months ago when I bought my first bike, I hadn’t been on one since I was 13.

    The negative experience, to my surprise, began at the bike shop. I did my research beforehand, but explained to the sales clerks/mechanics that even though I had specific bikes in mind, that I was a newbie, and would appreciate any and every piece of advice and guidance they could give me.

    As I went on a test ride of the first bike, I quickly realized that I had no idea how to operate the gears, much less which gear ratio was ideal for uphill, riding fast, and leisurely riding. Minutes later when I got back to the shop and asked one of the employees to teach me all about the gears, I swear the look on his face made it seem as if I just asked if I could borrow his girlfriend for the night.

    I fully expected my new life as a bicyclist to begin with some trouble in trying to navigate all the different cliques, but I found it completely counter-intuitive that this trouble would begin at the bike shop! Before taking the plunge into bicycling, I imagined bike shops in my mind as some sort of church, where all were welcome, and rivalries and animosities were best left at the door.

    Once on the road, it became clear that much of the bad energy was emanating from the roadies and the hipsters. The hipsters here in Washington, DC are the most prevalent, and typically ride one of two bikes: a classic, beat-up (but generally still attractive) road bike, or a sleek new single-speed Bianchi. Imagine their disgust when I ride around on my hybrid commuter bike (I love my Jamis Coda!). I’m like the guy in the new Honda Civic with leather seats, among a crowd of vintage Chevy Caprices (the classic roadies) and Ferraris (the Bianchis).

    I have, however, found one particular segment of the population that just adores me, especially since I can often be seen on my bike completely decked out in a fine suit, tie and leather dress shoes: the i-dont-care-how-many-times-i’ve-flashed-people skirt wearing rider. These girls tend to be on cruisers, but there are just as many on road and hybrid bikes. I can tell they dig the fact that I dress nicely to go to work on a bike, but am not so fussy that I’m concerned about scratching my italian shoes or wrinkling and sweating in my suit.

  • Alan says:

    “The negative experience, to my surprise, began at the bike shop.”

    Aw, dangit Kenney, I’m sorry to hear that. The best thing you can do is vote with your dollars and find a better shop. If you can let us know where you live, we might be able to recommend a shop that will take better care of you and make you feel more welcome.


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  • Doug R. says:

    It is true, we all should get along, however, I must state that “Wtihout diversity we are no better than the insects”! There used to be a television commercial that used various dogs in acts of destruction etc. The theme was: “I gotta be me”!

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