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What is a cyclist and… are you one?

Do you really have to be a card-carrying British Cycling member as Sir Bradley Wiggins implies, or will simply riding a bike do

Comments by Sir Bradley Wiggins have raised the question of what it takes to be a 'cyclist' is riding a bike enough to qualify you as a cyclist or is more required - like a British Cycling membership card?

> Wiggins: London cyclists need to stick to the law

According to Oxford Dictionaries, a “cyclist” is “a person who rides a bicycle.” But the country’s most famous cyclist appears to suggest an even narrower definition – perhaps even implying that he or she must also be a member of British Cycling.

Cyclists in high-vis (CC licensed image by garryknight)

He said that people on bikes who commit offences such as riding through a red light “are termed under the phrase ‘cyclist’ but they’re not cyclists as such, they are not membership holders of British Cycling.”

The ins-and-outs apart of the wider points Wiggins was making – and his words have attracted plenty of comment here and elsewhere – he does raise an interesting philosophical point; what is a “cyclist”?

Is it enough simply to use pedal power to get around, or do you need to have certain competences, to be a member of some organisation before you can truly call yourself one?

Cyclists probably breaking the speed limit in Richmond Park (CC licensed by adambowie:Flickr)

Or does the act of thinking of yourself as a cyclist - metaphorically affixing that six letter label - to the inside of your head automatically confer 'cyclist' status?

It’s the kind of thing you might see in forum postings, or in below-the-line comments to news articles on websites such as this one that report on cyclists breaking the law whether traffic-related, or some other type of offence.

Cyclists at traffic lights (©Toby Jacobs)

You don’t have to wait too long for someone to point out that the person in the article wasn’t actually a “cyclist” but just someone who happened to be on a bike.

Many will point out that it’s wrong an entire class of people get tarred with the same brush due to the actions of a few – the “all cyclists jump red lights” mentality some motorists hold, for example.

But the fact remains that to most non-riders, people on bikes are a pretty homogenous bunch, and “cyclists” is what they call them; no-one ever seems to suggest that a motorist committing a string of offences shouldn’t be called a “driver.”

So, are you a cyclist? And how would you define what it takes to be one – someone on two wheels (or a unicycle, or a trike), or does it take something else and if so, what? Let us know in the comments below.

Simon has been news editor at since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.

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