Sunday, April 24, 2005

Linguistics and Riding Bicycles

Why "Cycler's Life?" I'm convinced that language matters a lot more than we realize, and bicycling (see, had to choose something) is not immune. I am a person who enjoys riding bicycles. I don't ride to train, to be fit, to race, or because I'm too poor and/or too far from the bus stop to get around any other way.

When people used to ask me what I do for fun, I used to say "I bike." The next question was always "Do you race?" To say "No" to most people means the same thing as "No, I don't currently race because I'm too slow/can't afford a nice enough bike, but as soon as I'm fast enough/have the right bike I'll be out there, man!" Since that's a long way from what my "No" actually meant, I decided I needed a better setup line.

If "I bike" means "I aspire to be Lance Armstrong" to most people, then I needed to adapt my language. "I bicycle" sounds a little more laid back, but I think that just makes people think you're even slower and have a longer way to go live out your dream of racing. I decided that maybe it was using those active verbs that was causing the problem, making people think of movement, speed, racing.

"I'm a biker" is clearly out in America, too much confusion there. "I'm a bicyclist" comes across sounding either very snooty or very dorky depending on your general appearance. "I'm a cyclist" cuts a syllable off the snoot scale, but something about that ending, -ist, just sounds class-ist. It doesn't invite further conversation. It doesn't sound like something you could do if you don't already do it--like being a physic-ist or a pharmac-ist. Maybe that's why there aren't long-haul truck-ists or weld-ists. But, the cycling I do is doable by anybody, and that's my point.

So, I've settled on a term I co-opted from Rivendell Bicycle Works. It never seems to make people think of racing. It seems to imply that I'm quirky but in a fun way. More important, it seems to make people think it's something they could do too, maybe just get a little quirkier first. Most important, it prompts the question, "Oh, where do you ride?" And, that's a question I have an answer to. That's the purpose of this blog-thing. I'll tell you where I ride, why I ride, and talk about things in a friendly way that occur to me on my rides. I am a cycler.


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