A generic photo of a cyclist riding along a bike path at sunset.
Photo Glenn Campbell

Mode share ... a cyclist at sunset. Photo: Glenn Campbell

What's your definition of "a cyclist"?

The dictionary explanation is easy, of course: "A person who rides a bicycle." But surely that's almost all of us, at some stage of life? Is there a minimum requirement, some kind of threshold?

If cycling is seen as a condition (some might consider it an affliction), it's certainly a broad-spectrum one. I know a few people who have entirely turned their backs on the "infernal" combustion engine, ferrying kids and groceries on cargo bikes and cheerfully working their social lives around any perceived logistical limitations. If you put your mind to it, even moving house by treadly is possible.

Then you have the dedicated utility and commuter cyclists, who prefer not to break a sweat as they ride in street clothes ... they're not in it to win it, a bicycle is just their preferred mode of moving.

Contrast them with the much-loved lycra brigade, buzzing in bunches through pre-dawn streets before work, then flogging themselves around national parks at the weekend, both on and off the road.

Of course, it's possible to be all three of the above. But what about the person who has a half-knackered, rusted "townie" stashed under the back porch, for occasional trips to the shops or the beach? The rug-haired teens refining their tricks in BMX parks and public spaces? Or the families who drive to a cycle-friendly area, unpack the bikes and go for a leisurely trundle with the kids? Even NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell, yet to prove himself a friend of the two-wheeled brigade, could at a stretch be called a regular cyclist.

Maybe it's simply a case of "if you identify as a cyclist, you're a cyclist"?

I started to consider myself a cyclist somewhere in the mid-noughties, when I bought a racer, started entering occasional events, and began to see riding as my primary form of recreation and fitness. But it was a two-year slippery slope, during which I wrecked one bike (too cheap, kept breaking) and got tired of the lumbering nature of a second bike, before I reached that point.

It's since become a passion, a preferred mode of holidaying and a filter through which I view much of my world.

At the same time, I know some people who baulk at the term. "I'm not a cyclist," someone once told me quite firmly. "I'm a person who rides a bike."

Indeed, the cycling tag too often becomes a pejorative. Some years ago, a New Zealand man whose wife had been killed by a car while cycling gave a moving speech in which he decried the animosity on the roads.

"I'm not a 'bloody cyclist'," he said. "I'm a father and a husband."

I am sure that anyone who has listened to a shock jock ranting or a politician sneering about cyclists knows what he's talking about.

The informal nature of participation and identity also means it's hard to create cohesive lobbying groups. For all the talk about the "militant cycling brigade", most members of Australia's broader bike community have little to do with advocacy organisations. Threats or cuts to infrastructure spending are at best met with small, sporadic protests – there is no membership list to use to rally the troops.

But ultimately, cycling's availability is its strength. Anyone can ride a bike, most have, and more and more are doing so. I'm regularly delighted when I see a colleague step into the lift bearing a bit of bike kit, and I find out that, without any tell-tale indication, no subtle signs or secret handshake, they've been a cyclist for years.

Or maybe they've just been riding a bike.

What's your definition of a cyclist? Is it a divisive label at times?

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