The Dynamics of Cyclist Culture (by Alexandre Molteni) May 29, 2017 15:30
The Dynamics of Cyclist Culture
From an outsider's perspective, a majority of the interpersonal groups that surround all of us in everyday life seem inaccessible or exclusive, and that exclusiveness can only be nullified by becoming more informed about that group. Dealing with more specific groups within this community, one of the most prominent groups are the cyclists. Comprised of a wide variety of people and having their own cultural norms, the dynamics of their culture may appear as a mystery to those who are not well informed. By taking a closer look into this culture in both a national, local, historic, and modern context these elusive dynamics such as their history, their community norms, and their messages. The group characteristics of this culture can be brought into the light and analyzed to accurately represent what cyclist culture is. In addition to how they interact with the rest of society, and what potentially endangers these individuals while they partake in this groups activities.
The origins of cycling culture within our community can be traced back several years. It began with the increasing popularity of the trade in addition to competitive events that draw in local and international participation, leading to the growth of the group exponentially over time. The start of formal race cycling within the US can be traced back to 1890, a period where the sport gained increased popularity and became geared to a more competitive crowd. In both the US as well as overseas, the sport progressively gained more and more support, and to some extent in some countries it dominates the popular culture. Nationally, cycling did not become an official olympic sport until “1896, and the U.S. took its first medal when John Henry Lake finished third in the sprint at the 1900 Paris Games.”(USA Cycling) More local in terms of history for Arizona would be the El Tour De Tucson, which began in 1983 and has continued to host annually up to present day, drawing cyclists in from all over the world.
Overall composition of the group has been distributed to all dynamics, being male or female, young or old, casual or competitive. Because of this the composition does not typically divide unless members wish to deviate and form a subgroup of only female or only young casual cyclists. For anyone, the starting age for cycling can range from incredibly young to significantly older, as age is not a determinant of skill within the group. However, the stereotype within, and outside of the cycling community is that the majority of members appear to be 40 years old, male, and white. Although this occurs often within this community, the reasons for why this occurs does not involve intentional exclusion of other individuals who do not fit into this profile. Some of the explanations given to me by my father who just so happens to be a white, 49 year old, male cyclist involve dynamics completely unrelated to race or gender. These explanations described the situation as coincidence, as the age aspect of the cyclist community was explained through the fact that the individuals involved in cycling are older, but have been active for most of their lives prior to currently, and with age other exercises get more difficult on the body, cycling ends up being a safer alternative for these individuals.
Additionally, the explanation for why cyclists are seen in groups of white males involves the same explanation as the composition of golf, older retired individuals usually are well acquainted and spend free time doing a recreational activity in a group, in areas such as Tucson, with a much larger population of what would be considered “snowbirds” explains to an extent why the composition is so large and prominent. More ethnographic research from Anthony Rees and his co-authors reflects the idea that members of cycling groups traditionally ride frequently with the same group and the repeated act of doing this has shown benefits to the health of the oldest members of the group in terms of increased social interaction. Other than this, there was no other conclusive evidence even within the cycling community that could explain other reasons for why this trend has occurred other than what was previously stated.
Typically financial dynamics for this group involve members who have the ability to set aside funds to purchase a competitive-type quality bike for more competitive or intense rides. Casual riders are able to participate with basic quality bikes, however the limitations of this gear typically prevents their entry into rides with cyclists who have had that competition experience and are using $12,000 dollar bikes. With this in mind, there is no intentional exclusion or forced membership within this group, rather it is the fact that members will not accommodate people who cannot keep up with their speed, regardless of gear quality. If a member is able to keep up with others while using less expensive gear, more than likely it would be viewed as more impressive rather than a misconduct.
Similarly, if a stranger were to attempt to join a cyclist group, and was only using basic workout clothing and a standard bike instead of advanced cycling gear, as long as they do not hinder the group they would be more than welcome. Overall, what has been described by individuals within the group, reflects already conducted research in the sense that there are so many variations within the cycling community, there are few barriers present limiting one from accessing one or many different groups in any area, the only limit is what an individual's body can handle in terms of intensity.
However a hierarchy does exists within all cyclist communities in terms of which members are in which riding groups with a specific amount of intensity. For example, At the highest level of cycling, which would be extremely competitive, the most important quality is skill, although gear helps, it is secondary at the top of the hierarchy and individuals at this level revolve their entire lives around cycling. Below this level would be individuals with adequate gear but an elevated level of skill, they enjoy training and prioritize cycling to an extent, but have other focuses in their lives. Following this would be individuals with no skill, but high quality gear that allows them to perform adequately, not competitively. These individuals would appear rarely within more competitive events and they traditionally have money to spare. And the bottom of the hierarchy would be individuals with basic gear and no skill, this would be people who use cycling as a mode of transportation rather than a sport.
In a more modern context the cycling community has expanded in ways that reflect the use of technology at a greater rate in order to improve their experience. A much more recent development within the community when it comes to cycling is the viewpoint on specific gear. Ranging from a carbon or ceramic frame for the bike, to reinforced tires, there is a definite contrast in the materials used and preferred in today's cycling, and according to some competitive members of the community, the gear can make incredible differences in performance. As a result of this a micro-community dealing with cycling products and merchandise can be identified. In coherence with modern customization, specialized bikes and clothing now floods cycling markets to an extent that businesses are able to operate solely from the purchases made by the cycling community, if they are able to provide the gear desired at their bike shop.
Locally what modern cycling entails from an outsider's point of view is interaction through traditional social media networks, in addition to specifically geared networks such as Strava. Strava is an app that can record cycling activity through a Garmin device, that posts each individual's bike ride and allows friends to comment. Although this behavior applies to both competitive and casual cyclists, this online cyclist community imitates the same qualities of a traditional online community, with individual lingo and achievements set up to distinctly set apart the group from others behaviors. The invention of devices such as smart phones, gps, as well as stationary bikes has allowed cyclists to remain plugged into the rest of the world even in the midst of riding. Presenting both benefits and newfound potential dangers while incorporating this new material. The integration of these new technologies has allowed cycling to improve in performance and entertainment quality, however the use of this tech in the public also presents a potential danger when lack of attention ensues from smartphones or music devices used by cyclists. As the cultural dynamics of cycling advance more and more with modern innovation, the characteristics of the culture are also constantly changing and innovating to keep up with the times and overall society.
In terms of practices performed by these groups, the variations are limitless depending on location and composition of the subgroups involved in rides or cycling events. Some groups that are not competitive only meet up once every week on Saturday or Sunday, for example within tucson this would be the saturday shootout group that is comprised of multiple different groups at different times, these would be people who are in the group for the fun of cycling. Other more experienced riders at a younger age ride 6 days a week with variations in intensity as some days would be actual training, while others might be rest days or casual rides. Some individuals decide to only do cycling at home on a stationary bike, while others train in massive groups constantly to prepare for large competitive races. Overall there are multitudes of variations within the amounts of groups and the behaviors they perform, however each is able to interchange with another due to the close knit structure of the group in all forms.
Terminology throughout these groups is incredibly diverse and has variations across the race cycling community, mountain bike community, and cycling communities in other countries as well. Some terminology would be words such as peloton: the main riders in a road race, breakaway: a group that pulls away from the peloton in an attempt to get ahead. K.O.M: king of the mountain is a term used within the app Strava to describe who has the best cycling time and performance within a certain registered cycling area. The term “Saturday Shootout” refers to a specific Saturday ride within Tucson that is ridden by a multitude of cyclists both casual and competitive and the trail has areas to get on or off, allowing individuals to do what they feel is necessary. The term drafting refers to “riding behind the slipstream of another rider.”(Rees, Gibbons, Dixon) Other terminology that would be difficult to understand if not a part of this group would be some terms used by European riders present in the US. Beyond this, conversations within this group are almost always treated as friendly everyday conversations with close friends. Individuals always keep in touch with current events such as school or professional cycling progress for those who have been away from the local groups in an extended period. The applications of this style of communication extend across the country, making it easy for individuals who leave one cycling community to join a completely new one.
Addressing some of the rules within this community, the majority deals with proper conduct for current members, as for outsiders interacting with the group there are not specific rules for addressing members or subjects that would lead to conflict between the two. The rules within the community are for the most part unspoken and involve the behavior of an individual in regards to the good of the group. Some common publicly known rules would be politeness, or not intentionally partaking in behavior that could lead to an accident or crash, in addition to being kind and courteous.
There are more specific types of rules that change with the scenario the cyclists are in. In a competitive race it is viewed incredibly rude to use individuals to your advantage without putting in adequate effort, such as allowing the person in front of you to take all of the oncoming wind in a race, and then taking first place at the last second once they are tired. Behavior such as this can cause great conflict between participating members, and in cases I have seen myself with my father, this behavior can end any contact between the members following the breaking of that unspoken rule. When it comes to road cycling, there are vast components within each ride that involve several rules both verbal and nonverbal. Some of these rules would be working together in order to advance further ahead into the race, breaking away in this fashion is done to push out of the peloton. In that scenario flicking your elbow forward is a signal to those behind to push in front of you, failure to do so can cause conflict as this signal can be casual or more extreme based on the ride. In most cases conflict is either resolved through discussion or results in the ending of communication between those involved.
Other unspoken rules would be pointing out danger ahead of people in order to prevent a massive crash, again failure to do this does cause anger amongst the other riders. Additionally, taking credit when it is not deserved, such as cheating by logging hours on a competitive app subgroup while using your car instead of your bike is another type of rule. More interpersonally, discouraging a newer rider, or one that has not been at peak performance in a while also is discouraged and can cause a disconnect from the perpetrator within the group. In addition, using performance enhancing drugs is another unspoken rule that if broken, it is generally frowned upon with some exceptions, and this rule is broken at all levels of cycling.
Individuals within the group reiterate that there are positives and negatives to the sporting group, being more heavily weighted in the positive aspect. The benefits of being in a cycling group are focused on aspects of working hard and pushing each other to be better, in addition to working together for a common goal such as within a race, by designating one person to win for the whole team. As well as the opportunity to experience areas that not many people have access to outside of this group. Some of the negatives that have been described involve the intensity of the sport, in combination with one person's mistakes or ego getting in the way of the whole groups benefit, doing this in the middle of a race causes massive arguments that persist.
The sport in general appears to be and has been described as a source of positive reinforcement, emotion, and social well being for members who are a part of it. The dynamics of this group in general have an intricate foundation described by my friend Nik that is based on “suffering” together, and as a result bonds are formed between teammates or ride members that extend well into typical life situations. The appearance and structure of the group as a whole does not possess any potential issues other than what would normally occur outside of the group in regular society, and as a result it is not from within the group that problems occur, rather it is others that put this group at risk. The largest issue that faces this group, is the same topic that they prioritize, safety. The group is always in charge of what goes on between its members, however the unpredictability of drivers on the road is what is causing a movement within and outside this community to increase safety for cyclists on the road.
Within this group, the variations in conversation and rhetoric that occur are numerous, however the majority of focus within this deals with topics of self improvement, motivation, potential situations that may occur, as well as how members of this group incorporate their cycling into everyday life. As previously discussed, conversations and rhetoric between cyclists for the most part is no different than a discussion between two friends, with the addition of different lingo depending on whether or not the topic is dealing with casual or professional cycling. Casual cyclists more often than not fit into the category of discussing everyday norms, or discussions about work and family outside of the practice of cycling. While more competitive cyclists focus on conversation that emphasizes the drive to be better, or frustrations that occur in the middle of a ride, be it a person they ride with, or lack of consistency with training.
Aside from lifestyle discussion, there are much more serious topics that occur within all aspects of cycling, these would be topics treated as important if they occurred in any other community as well. Discussion and rhetoric surrounding injury, major disputes, or death within the community are topics that come up occasionally and they are portrayed in a much more serious fashion. Rhetoric that would be considered more nonchalant would be recruitment discussion, gear comparisons, or reflecting on the exercise that just occurred.
According to most cyclists however, the rhetoric that occurs most commonly within their community involves either progress, rivalry, or gear. In most competitive sports, rivalry occurs frequently, between teammates and opponents, and a byproduct of that would be conversation. After either a long or difficult ride, or a more intense competitive event, a majority of the conversation that occurs following these situations reportedly involves positive reinforcement such as “nice ride or, thanks for your wheel”(Molteni). Which means assisting another cyclist by limiting wind resistance. In conducting these conversations, the terminology in almost all cases reflects positivity, similarly to connecting within any other sports team, including positive reinforcement in a majority of conversations the overall experience of cycling ultimately appears to be focused on enjoyment and convincing individuals to do their best and continuously do so with the groups they are a part of.
Additional rhetoric would be geared towards advisory behavior between cyclists in the initial stages of having a new member on group rides. This would consist of telling a member to not stay behind a particular individual because of how fast they are able to ride. Or vice-versa if a rider has incredible skill and can lead the group the longest it is recommended to stay behind that person. Within instances such as this, exclusion is able to occur within this community in the aspect of group rides. There are several race-only based groups within Tucson that exclude other riders if they are approached due to the importance of training with only people they are on the same team with.
The overall major message of the group in any scenario or type of cycling is non-stop positive reinforcement. Individuals in all communities have no desire to be blatantly negative or exclusive towards other members of the group. In that retrospect the rules they reinforce on a daily basis is what prevents that type of rhetoric from gaining traction within their community. Positive reinforcement is summed up as daily friendly rivalry or banter between members of group rides, aside from this there are no major messages or expansion goals within the rhetoric of cycling communities. There is no need to, as the positive environment they convey draws in members itself. Minor messages within the group would involve rhetoric geared towards the individual in regards to wanting to improve or wanting better quality equipment, in a way that wishes to improve the overall experience for all members of the community. The discussion that occurs during these activities results almost always before or after a ride and its constant reiteration is a way to establish a cycle within the community that focuses on encouraging members to maintain this pattern and lifestyle.
Negative rhetoric within cycling groups would involve an individual that more often than not allows their ego to dominate the conversations they conduct. Almost the entirety of the cyclist community opposes negative rhetoric within their community or negative ideas directed towards a potential recruited member. It is taboo to discourage an individual, or to purposefully target someone based on poor performance, with the exception of teammates in serious races. The resulting effects of this type of conversation would be elimination of the responsible member from the group, and because of this that type of discussion does not occur, but it is most definitely frowned upon. The emphasis on how positive of a focus the environment appears within the U.S is brought out when comparing it to the environment within Europe, dealing with how cyclists view each other there. One inhabitant of the UK describes his comparison with the perspective of European cycling as “Members of London's cycling "community" despise one another, almost as much as they disdain visitors on Boris Bikes.”(Shriver) What this perspective of rhetoric may indicate is that the positivity found within U.S cycling is for the most part exclusive.
In terms of overall analysis of the rhetoric of this group, its structure appears to be set up in a way that does not require any immediate alterations as it is positive content. The constant positivity within the group in addition to the benefits obtained from exercise creates a clear reasoning as to why the popularity of the sport in general has increased drastically over the years with little to no recruitment outside of competitive or fundraising focused teams. With this in mind, resulting negative rhetoric within this group that does not involve cycling more than likely is focused on a particular individual who is either bringing in outside negativity into the group, or in general if there was a particularly difficult ride, the extent of negative discussion appears to still try conveying a sense of positivity, such as “that kicked my butt, we will just need to train harder next time.”(Molteni) The majority of rhetoric and discussion within this community is portrayed the same in terms of positivity, with the exception of each micro group or division of cycling having slightly different conversations regarding area, intensity, and composition depending if they are casual or competitive.
When addressing public concerns put forth by the group, the most prominent concern is safety on the road. As cycling culture has expanded, so has that of motorist culture and the two pose dangers for one another. Although several areas have adapted and created specific lanes for cycling, there are also several areas that do not, and under the rules of the road, a cyclist is to be treated the same as a motorized vehicle, because of this cycling becomes dangerous within those unmarked areas. Whether it be road rage, lack of visibility, or lack of attention, cyclists sharing the road with motorized vehicles are in the constant presence of danger as an oncoming collision can devastate a rider. And a majority of news stories regarding cyclists on the roads deal with death as a result of collisions with cars on the road. Because of this, safety is a topic of great advocation among cyclists requesting that designated lanes be provided to as many roads as possible to prevent further casualty.
Advocating for this issue originates primarily from those who are directly involved, as well as family and close friends of involved individuals. From personal experience in addition to what was described by interviews I conducted, almost every cyclist knows someone who has been hit by a car while riding, be it themselves or friends. Although this issue can be mitigated by advocating for expansion of cycling lanes in areas that do not have designated spots, a majority of drivers ignore the lanes entirely. Described to me by an interviewee, she frequently tries to ride on the northwest side as “Sabino barely has any cycling lanes.”Precautions that are put into place by cyclists as a way to avoid the potential dangers of the road involve practices of riding in extremely large groups, the use of extensive padding, and avoiding certain routes that are more susceptible to or connected to roads that are used by cars.
In cases of incredibly large events such as the El Tour de Tucson, or El Tour de Mesa, in order to mitigate danger for the racers involved, the events are sanctioned to block off sections of the road and parking areas in order to keep those who are racing at minimal danger. More specifically, my father’s tactics to avoid danger while cycling in any area would be to “not listen to music, be twice as careful during sunrise and sunset, and wearing gear that stands out”(Molteni). He also stated that some riders adopt the practice of using mirrors to see behind them. In total, there is a multitude of practices that the cycling community adopts in an attempt to increase their safety on the road, and despite their best efforts, deaths resulting from collisions with vehicles on the road still occur frequently enough to prompt greater action. Cyclists also take action within their community on a political level, stressing the concerns to their representatives that more bike lanes are needed in order to improve safety on the road, in addition to laws that outlaw the use of cellphones while driving.
Within the U.S current policies are being put into place modeling the “Vision Zero” policies that currently exist in Sweden. These policies would be focused on “separating traffic flow on high speed roads.”(Cushing) By doing this, as well as limiting high amounts of traffic near intersections, the hope is to limit the potential of serious injuries for cyclists. Overall, what research has shown is that “On-street collisions are more often fatal.”(Cushing) As a result of this fact, a majority of action to reduce cycling casualties has been focused on major roads and high speed, high traffic intersections. However this does not address the issue of injury on less busy roads that occurs as a result of lack of attention on motorists part. Traditionally, as any other family member would, if an individual is killed by a crash on the side of the road, there are markers that display where the event occurred, as the entire cycling community can be interchanged in a way that is family like, these areas are maintained and put up by cyclists who knew the rider or family of the deceased.
Other issues dealing with safety for this group would be that there is an existing negative stigma that some drivers have when observing cyclists on the road, this paired with the volatile effects of road rage is simply another potential danger cyclists face from uncooperative motorists. A more personally responsible source of danger for cyclists in Arizona would be the lack of a law forcing cyclists to wear helmets, the same lack of a law that allows motorcyclists to drive without helmets. The overwhelming majority of cyclists traditionally wear protective gear to limit the dangers of the road, however there are some individuals within this community that do not wear helmets out of either lack of convenience or some other personal belief, and ultimately this puts those individuals at greater risk than most.
One of the newer issues developing within the Women’s cycling community, is the controversy of individuals who identify as transgender. The situation involves biologically male transgender individuals competing within the women's division in competitive races and achieving the podium with little effort involved. The previous winner of last years El Tour de Tucson in the women's division was a biological male. And a majority of women within this subgroup are outraged about this issue and have taken steps in order to advocate their discontent with the current system, however it is unclear as to how quickly this issue will be resolved as well as how reforming competitive racing for this issue would even occur.
As with any other group, the dynamics of cycling culture more often than not remains a mystery to people who are not involved with the group in some way or form. The result of researching and interviewing various cyclists within the local community has revealed that as a subcommunity, cyclists are part of a group that benefits a majority of the individuals who are members with consistent care and positive reinforcement. Outside of a few irregularities within the community, it becomes obvious that the greatest risk to them is the motorist community that dominates both the Tucson culture, in addition to global culture in general. Although some action has been taken to improve overall safety of cyclists, several steps will become necessary to achieve a standard that allows this community to thrive without the need to worry about external dangers from other communities that comprise the majority of human culture.