On ‘I am a Cyclist Myself, but’

By: Purwanto Setiads, co-founder of Lestari Negeriku consultancy who volunteers at B2W Indonesia

In recent days, when reality as well as the mind are relentlessly occupied by an obsession with motorized vehicles, there is too much hostility towards people on bicycles. This antagonistic gesture, be it visible or undisguised, or expressed quietly, generalizes bicycle users, that is all of them are jerks.

However, of all the bicycle users haters, there is one who raises concerns, or, more appropriately, gets us offended: those who could be called (or claim themselves as) keen cyclists or avid cyclists aka enthusiastic cyclists, if not fanatics. They usually say, “I am a cyclist myself, but…bla, bla, bla.”

That is what exactly sprang up as a response to the criticism put forward by B2W Indonesia with regard to the dropping from Jakarta’s budget plan money allocation to build more bike lanes, as reported in the media.

How do we know they have enthusiasm or display fanaticism? Honestly, I’ve never dealt face to face with one of them. They–men, women, old, young–could be doing daily bicycling and have been on it for years; they could also be pedaling only on…social media. But without doubt they have one thing in common: they hate, at least they don’t support, people/community groups who fight for special infrastructure in the streets dedicated to bicycle users.

”I am a cyclist too, but I don’t need bike lanes.”

”I am a cyclist too, but bike lanes are worsening traffic.”

Indeed, it is with such sentence patterns they usually begin their opinions. And also normally they carry on with lengthy explanations on how bicycle users regularly break the law, as if all bicycle users did it, and why we need no bike lanes construction.

Keen/avid cyclists who are against bike lanes? It may sound weird. But thats exactly what happened. Those words, keen/avid and cyclist, just deny each other. Whereas, in reality, I know there are many people on bikes–I could be one of them because I use my bike on a daily basis–who can be categorized as keen/avid cyclists in its truest meaning without the need to declare as such . And they have no pretensions whatsoever.

That is how it’s going, unfortunately. And there is more. Besides those who probably only appear in bicycle-related events or forums, there are people who ride their bikes a lot but subscribe to vehicular cycling “philosophy” taught vigorously by John Forester in the early 1970s, that is you pretend to be a car when riding your bike. Oftentimes they enforce their “clothes sizes” upon others–specifically you don’t need exclusive lanes to ride a bike. On the effort of those who want the construction of bike lanes to protect the safety of people on bikes, Forester refers to them in his book, Effective Cycling, as advocating “cyclist inferiority”.

There is no other word except selfishness to put a label on such a view. And this selfishness has made them unable to see that there are many people who actually eager to bicycling but too afraid of their safety on the streets; that they need proper infrastructure in order to have guts to do it–so that the number of people on bikes increases; so that traffic congestion, air pollution/emissions, as well as deaths of crashes on the streets decrease, considering if the city’s government seriously want to make a truly liveable environment.

That being the case, do not be fooled next time around whenever in a discussion on bike lanes as well as bicycle users’ manners, you are confronted by someone who says, “I am a cyclist myself, but….” He or she does it only under the delusion that it boosts his or her authority to openly be anti-bike lanes.

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