Cycling is a Sport too… and that’s OK

henry family panda 2

I periodically see fellow bloggers denigrating the “lycra crowd” with the basic idea that recreational cycling (at least if it involves wearing special clothes) is the antithesis of utilitarian cycling and just plain old bad. But why? Cycling is just plain wonderful, whether riding the bakfiets across town to bring the kids to school, or riding up a mountain with friends. All work and no play makes a dull boy! There has to be a place in the world for objects and activities without productive function. Otherwise there would be no art, sports, play, hobbies or fun… and that world would suck.

And many activities (productive or otherwise) are enhanced by donning specific gear. The doctor pulls on scrubs for surgery, the construction worker wears tough trousers with gear loops, knee pads and steel toed boots, and the fireman stays warm but not crispy in his Nomex coat and helmet. If you’re going to spend the day in the saddle you’ll probably be most comfortable in cycling clothes. Whether you’ll look good in them or not is another story.

Henry Pascal Amstel

I’m also perplexed by why people believe it’s impossible to be both a cyclist for transportation AND and cyclist for fun. I ride a no-nonsense utility bike every day to get around the city, and then (weather, work and family permitting) I get on one of my lovely sporty bikes and ride for a few hours. For much of my life that meant riding fast: training and competing in races. With the addition of Pascal our recreational cycling has generally become a family activity. Today we took maximal advantage of a Sunday with perfect cycling weather: We were out for 6 hours, though one doesn’t ride very fast while holding a sleeping baby in one arm, nor cover much distance with multiple cafe stops.

Anyhow, just ride your bike. Certainly do it for transportation, but don’t let the hair-shirt idealists stop you from going nowhere useful on your bike… in the tightest lycra sausage suit if you wish.

10 Responses to “Cycling is a Sport too… and that’s OK”

  1. 2whls3spds Says:

    Nothing wrong with cycling as a sport, but there is a problem when it is presented as the only form of “real” cycling, as it appears in the US. I spent many years racing, and touring and just riding my bike around. I have actually had a shop refuse to work on one of my bikes because it was “obsolete”. Obviously I have since taken my patronage elsewhere.


  2. todd Says:

    uh-oh, the anti-anti-lycra backlash! just remember you are immersed in a culture where biking for utility/transportation is so utterly normal that it needs no defense, whether rational or reactionary in the case of anti-lycra sentiment. absolutely, riding above a certain intensity level in certain weather or terrain calls for specialized clothing. but in many places in the US, if you don’t suit up for even a 5 mile commute, clipless pedals and all, you are dismissed as poor, obstinate, eccentric, or ignorant.

  3. Rob Says:

    It is a really difficult issue; ‘cycling’ culture is so set here in the UK that it is probably the biggest obstacle to the growth of bike usage. Lycra for me and the majority of average people (which means car users) means a cyclist, lycra clad with mirrors on his glasses often showing the world his posing pouch. Put that in the mix with governments insistence that they want to get Britain ‘cycling’ and you instantly have a barrier to increased bike usage.

    As you say Henry, lycra is a garment that makes a recreational ride more comfortable, it has its place, what it should not be is a uniform for extreme ideals or a symbol of a way of life.
    You display the sensible face of lycra wearing, unfortunately not everyone in lycra has your balanced view of life or your very shapely legs!!

  4. henry Says:

    I completely agree with you guys that a large number of people who consider themselves “cyclists” are only a barrier to popularizing cycling or transportation and the bike industry in most of the world basically nurtures and supports the sport only attitude on many levels.

    But condemning recreational cycling is like throwing the baby out with the bath water. Utilitarian and recreational cycling can coexist in the same way that farmers drive their tractors and combines, moms drive minivans, police drive squad cars and NASCAR drivers use stock cars.

  5. seb Says:

    Mark Sanders in Taipei did a great presentation exactly about that. You should check it out in case you missed it

  6. Dave Says:

    Yeah, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with recreational cycling, or with wearing clothing that is practical for said recreation.

    I mainly think it’s funny here in the US that you see so many people who suit up head to toe in lycra+helmet+helmet cover+special shoes for their 3-4 mile commute to work every day. (And then of course ride as hard as they can and get all sweaty, therefore justifying the need for separate clothes for cycling, for showers at work, etc.)

    I agree with todd that those folks often view normally-clothed people as novices or novelties.

  7. patrick Says:

    Speaking of the baby (but not the bathwater), Pascal looks sharp in those sunnies. Anastasia won’t let me get sunglasses anywhere near her face without batting them away.

  8. henry Says:

    It took a lot of practice to get Pascal to accept the sunglasses. First he batted them away, then figured out to immediately pull them down. But somewhere along the line he stopped objecting.

    I never said there aren’t a huge number of wankers on bikes. In fact, after 30 years in the cycling world I maintain my opinion that most forms of cycling attract, on average, amongst the nerdiest, least social people of any sport/pastime/activity. Further, the way “cyclists” divide themselves up into the most minute categories is a constant source of humor. Of course the bike industry encourages this, since more categories equals more bikes… at least as long as cycling remains purely recreational.

  9. Rob Says:

    I guess cycling is like any other group and it attracts allsorts of folk. It is often the more extreme that turn up to the meetings and that is where rather than talking about the political ramavications of Lycra we should pull up our denim/tweed trousers and attend the meetings that are so damned tedious and such an apparent waste of time that no one but the extreme (or the dedicated) ever bother to turn up. rather than show our faces on flickr looking sexy and cycling a city bike, perhaps we should take the sensible clothing into the meeting room, cycle on mass, slowly and sweat free to our local council meeting and make them supply a second page to the attendence roster. I know that Bristol needs more bike users in the meetings….we need dedicated cyclists too, they perform a vital role, but they are just undernumbered…..we need to redress the balance for their sake as much as ours (for ours read..a society where bike usage is prevelant and considered a normal, modern and sensible mode of transport).

    Lets support our lycra collegues wherever possible at meetings and rides, and whilst doing so present a more realistic view of bike users. I might even wear some bib shorts under my jeans to help the lycra-ists feel subconsiously more comfortable…
    viva la velorution..

  10. Anon of Florida Says:

    In the recent Bike Miami event (which was commingled with the local Koninginnedag) the mayor in the induction of the day’s festivities, who was in a normal shorts and a shirt, was being egged on by a co-organizer to wear spandex, and challenged him to wear such eventually, and this banter was met with a flat, unenthusiastic response from the crowd.

    For now, the promotion of cycling in the States needs to throw out the spandex baby so as to achieve mass appeal.

    To calk this in automotive terms, the populace believes earnestly that in order to drive, one needs an Indy500 stock car with a jumpsuit to match. The appropriate strategy would be to spread the idea of using a more practical getup, even if it means demonizing for the time being the jumpsuit and race car. A nostalgic counterreaction would buoy recreational use in a more moderate, more appropriate role.

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