Cycling to work – why people hate cyclists, part 4


The final post examining the four most common reasons for people hating cyclists. The usual reasons being given as:

Wearing lycra
And so we come to the most contentious allegation of all, that of wearing Lycra.

People in other countries don’t wear Lycra to cycle to work. Dutch people just put on a pair of cycle clips and wobble off to their jobs with no fuss. Chinese and Indian workers cycle in their millions without a scrap of Lycra between them. We in the UK (and North Americans too, I believe) seem to think that cycling to work is an aggressive sporting activity that demands a superhero costume and comprehensive decontamination facilities afterwards. This is cock, actually.

Lycra seems to be a big issue for the cyclist-hater. Is there a correlation between unpopular behaviour and the wearing of cycling shorts? The rise in the numbers of people cycling has led many novices onto the roads, and as with everything the novice will tend to over-prepare. The n00b is also likely to unwittingly commit offences against both common sense and the rule of the road. So perhaps the all-the-gear-and-no-idea factor leads to a slight correlation between Lycra and accidental loutishness. But the worst-behaved cyclists are cycle couriers (IMHO, and sorry to any couriers reading) and they wouldn’t be seen dead in Lycra (not nearly grungy enough).

Most cyclists are men and the Lycra-wearers seem to be an even more male-dominated sub-group. Buns of steel or not, I personally don’t want a display of masculine gluteal achievement in my face of a morning. Far fewer women cyclists wear overt Lycra, perhaps (and I generalise wildly) due to greater self-awareness and more emphasis on the control of their body image. I think it would be wrong to restrict the wearing of Lycra to women below a certain Body Mass Index, so let’s not wear it at all, people.

I believe, without much solid evidence, that the euphonious epithet Lycra Lout is really to blame. Some Associated Press journalist came up with a pejorative tag to brand all their pro-motorist, pro-old-lady stories and it has stuck because it is catchy. Lycra is a perfectly innocent DuPont brand name*. Wearing it to cycle to work is dumb but not really a Bad Thing.

People who disparage Lycra: escape from the bondage of alliteration!

 * Yes, I know that division was sold to Koch in 2004. “Lycra has gone to Koch” would be a good slogan in my book.

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16 Responses to “Cycling to work – why people hate cyclists, part 4”


  1. 1 Kim February 7, 2010 at 18:53

    Lycra is a total fashion faux pas, all cycle commuters should note the way the Danes do it! ;-)

  2. 2 weeman taylor July 17, 2008 at 11:17

    hi mate this is weeman right here and i was just thinking that would you hate the world if there was know cars or things like that. by the way my real name is not weeman it’s zac and i am from america and i come from washington dc but right now writing this im in new york and its really good. so u know me i want to know you. see you later mate talk soon i hope couse i am really looking forward to it.

  3. 3 Dominic Sayers June 11, 2008 at 13:22

    p.s. If JP is reading this, I realise I could have used a semicolon in the final sentence of the third paragraph. Always a shame to miss the opportunity for a correctly-used semicolon.

  4. 4 Dominic Sayers June 11, 2008 at 13:19

    Hi Jamie, thanks again for the contribution.

    When I used to cycle before I had my children I used to get very angry about the sort of things you talk about – it was frustration at the injustice of being the victim whether you are right or wrong.

    Now I feel a lot less emotional about cycling. Don’t know whether it’s old age, or being a father, or what. If I have unnecessarily inconvenienced a motorist I am happy to apologise, if he is upbraiding me for no reason then I just hear the sound of ducks quacking.

    I place myself in danger as little as possible. When it is unavoidable I make myself as visible as possible whatever the consequence to motorists’ journey times.

  5. 5 JamieLB June 10, 2008 at 23:03

    I realize that this thread is old, but I wanted to add my 2 cents worth. As an individual who just picked biking up to save the green; I mean the green in my wallet, I think that it is inevitable that individuals will hate the majority (Cyclists in general) for what the minority (the few cyclists who in almost a belligerent way show contempt for sharing the road). History shows that when one individual presented or provisioned inappropriate behavior in society the majority harvested ill will toward all those who were affiliated with that individual. This seems to be human nature. For all of the so called “Bike Rider” haters out there, when you act on your hate or allow your rage to fuel to action against the general population, you are more likely to severely hurt or kill indefinitely an innocent person (innocent to anything that you have accused the very few that ARE guilty). I don’t believe that there are many in this thread that are so called “Bike Haters” that would derive any type of satisfaction over severely injuring or even killing an innocent person just because they did not like them. I would hope that most people (in the U.S. especially) are past that. I am a work commuter and I ride in the bike lane, stop at every red light, every stop sign, and on occasion I will walk my bike across the pedestrian walk way to maintain my own safety and still, on a day to day basis I get an angry person honking, yelling out a few obscenities, and telling me to move or get off the road. Not sure what the “anger” is all about; it is almost like a post-traumatic syndrome response to previous events in said “Bike Rider” hater’s life. There are signs going up all over the U.S. with the accompanying bike lane that say share the road. I understand and totally agree that this is a “two-way” street figuratively speaking and that cyclists need to be just as courteous as the motorists, but I think that it is important to note that when a cyclist is not courteous he pays the price, sometimes with his/her own life. When a motorist is not courteous, (again) the cyclist pays the price, sometimes with his/her own life. The motorist in most situations on the road does not have much to lose, except maybe a few milliseconds of saved time because he/she could not make that right turn just a little sooner (which would be the same if a motor-vehicle was going straight and not turning and was in front of the vehicle that was trying to turn, so why not yell, scream, and honk at him/her). My point is to be aware of who you are getting angry at because most cyclists (bike riders) are pretty good at doing the best they can to keep pace and maintain traffic laws. My 12 yr old son was almost hit the other day while riding his bike well to the right of the bike lane when an angry person decided to come up behind him and yell “MOVE!” which startled him caused him to wobble and then swerve into the path of the car behind the one that had yelled at him. If you think that your anger is justified in a general way to display such behavior, realize that after the action you cannot choose the consequence. This person was arrested for reckless endangerment as there was a police officer sitting at the top of the street to witness this. If my son had been hit then the individual would have been charged with assault with a deadly weapon, because that is what a motor vehicle is when with anger it used to intimidate with the intent to injure a cyclist. To the individual in this thread who mentioned that it is all about law suits; if my son had been hit and killed due to reckless angry behavior as this person had exhibited, I would have sued harshly and attempted to take away as much as possible, because they would eventually recover from the temporary loss, but I would never get my son back. So, angry “bike rider” haters, at minimum have the decency to observe the cyclist who you are about to LASH out at, (not that lashing out at a bad cyclists is right) and make sure that you are not targeting a person who is just trying to make it in the world just like everyone else. Someone in a European article said this about the topic, “And remember, those are people, not cyclists. They have families, mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, brothers and sisters – so try not to kill us”

  6. 6 velochick May 20, 2008 at 09:25

    I like lycra.. I think people who don’t like lycra just feel bad about being fat and unfit! We show them up a bit.

    I love wearing shocking bright colours to wind them up in even further.

  7. 7 Dave M May 6, 2008 at 15:57

    If it became legal to treat red lights as a give way (as in America, where this is widespread for right turns at least) – would cyclists still be (as) badly behaved?

    I suppose it depends if you judge behaviour by the standards of motorised vehicle laws, or common sense.

  8. 8 Messenger of Doom May 2, 2008 at 19:33

    The worst behaved road users are cyclists in my opinion and experience.

  9. 9 Dave M April 30, 2008 at 13:12

    Andrew, the answer is in your question. You’re only going 7km so why bother with technical gear?

    When I first started riding I only had a short distance to do which I accomplished on a battered old mountain bike. I had similar experiences of riders with flashy bikes and gear overtaking me, and I felt strangely secure in my “underdog-ness”. Ha – I didn’t need skinny tires and drop handlebars just to get to work!

    Probably the reason people overtake you is because they are going faster (after all, that’s what coming up from behind, and passing, means!). If you go as fast as them, surely they’d never catch up and need to pass?

    PS. a short vexed spurt of speed when you get passed doesn’t count! ;-)

  10. 10 andrew April 27, 2008 at 06:34

    Thinking of starting a club “Cyclists against lycra” – I ride to work everyday of the week, often in warm weather and don’t feel the need to dress up like a super hero to travel my 7km. Problem is the skin-tight brigade always feel the need to overtake me even if they are going essentially the same pace as me, is this because of my trousers and shirt? Is there a rule of the peleton I’m missing? Are they embarrassed to not be the fastest on the cycle path? Anyway I forget my point save for the fact that I think they’re dumb.

  11. 11 Dave M April 18, 2008 at 16:12

    I guess I would always change at each end, whether I wore cycling shorts or not (unless I was only going a mile or two, and it wasn’t raining) – I appreciate that if you don’t, it is an extra time burden.

    I think we must agree to disagree on the reason people wear cycling shorts. I don’t think that distance really comes into it, except in the sense that the discomfort of normal clothes is easier to put up with the less time you are on the bike (just like wearing jeans in the pool!)

    Whatever it is, lycra definitely isn’t cool (I always feel slightly ridiculous if I think about it too much:)). On this we certainly agree!

  12. 12 Dominic Sayers April 18, 2008 at 14:52

    Hello Dave M and thanks for your thoughtful comments.

    I have ridden in cycle shorts, but not enough to know whether they were decent ones. It may be that they would improve my journey in some way but there is always the overhead of getting changed at the end of the journey, and then again when it’s time to go home.

    And assuming you don’t strut around your house in them, you also need to change when you get home. That’s a lot of changing for some additional comfort on the journey.

    I accept there is a percentage of lycra-wearers who do so because they do high mileage, or need speed, or some other valid reason. I don’t think it is 99% of them though. Mayvbe 5%. The others do it under the mistaken impression that it’s cool.

    I think there is a lot of truth in what you say about experienced and assertive riders and you are probably nearer the truth than my original post there.

  13. 13 Dave M April 18, 2008 at 11:23

    Perhaps the only disadvantage to cycling shorts is the fact that they offer ‘too much information’ depending on the wearer and the time of day – this I can agree with! ;-)

    When I started riding to work, I would not have been seen dead in shorts. Luckily, I eventually tried them and now the only time I would ride without is if I am going somewhere (pub, supermarket) where I can’t change at the other end. For any journey over a few miles, I’d almost prefer not to ride than riding in normal clothes!

    Although it’s true that people riding a couple of miles don’t “need” to wear lycra, you don’t “need” a saddle for short distances either, since it’s possible to ride standing on the pedals. Yet we don’t hear about over-equipped “saddle louts”.

    I have to ask whether you’ve ever actually ridden in a decent pair of bike shorts? Compared with trousers and clips, it’s like finding out you’ve been wearing your shoes on the wrong feet. (Perhaps a better analogy is someone who has been learning to swim in their jeans, being introduced to swimming shorts!)

    There is no comparison and this is the real reason why 99% of “lycra louts” wear the clothes they do, not some spurious threshold of mileage or temperature or average annual precipitation.

    The real lycra-hate correlation is not between all-the-gear-and-no-idea newbies and “accidental loutishness”. Surely it has more to do with the fact that an experienced, well equipped riders (aka lycra-wearers) are more likely to be moving fast and more likely to assert their legal rights on the road (i.e. taking the lane, forcing drivers to give way on roundabouts).

    For which I will make no apologies :)

  14. 14 Dominic Sayers March 11, 2008 at 19:16

    Thanks for the kind words, playswithbikes. I appreciate that for the genuinely enthusiastic high-mileage cyclist a certain amount of specialized clothing is necessary, and you are welcome to it. My point was simply that the vast majority of urban commuters don’t really need to break sweat for the bike to be a viable mode of transport. I am happy to leave the expensive duds to you :-)

  15. 15 Playswithbikes March 11, 2008 at 16:35

    I loved your articles excepting this last one.

    I commute daily in hilly Atlanta Georgia and also ride my road bike on weekends. I average about 5000 miles per year. This encompasses a temperature range between 38.3C and -8C with occasional soaking wet conditions.

    I challenge anyone to do without the specialized high visibility, moisture wicking, wind proofing, chamois equiped clothing that is especially designed for cycling in those conditions. Wind resisitance and fashion sense have nothing to do with my choice. It’s about survivability and practicality.

    As for decontamination facilities. I’m sure my coworkers appreciate the showers my employer provides to us cycle commuters even more than I do.

  16. 16 Stonehead February 1, 2008 at 13:01

    You forgot one. I’m abused a couple of times a week by drivers who tell me “the roads are mine because I pay road tax”, to paraphrase and deleting the numerous expletives.

    Mind you, they can’t complain about RLJing as there are no red lights out here in rural Aberdeenshire and they can’t complain about my riding on the pavement as there are none out here. There are very few pedestrians — and I’m on smile and hello terms with all of them.

    And I don’t wear lycra. In fact, when I was deliberately run down by white van man last year I was wearing almost no overtly “cyclist” clothing. I hasten to add that I was wearing clothing! Just not cyclist clothing.

    No, out here they hate cyclists because the roads belong to the drivers of motorised vehicles that pay road tax. (Mind you, with the number of untaxed cars and motorbikes on the roads these days, I don’t see why an untaxed cycle should be a problem!)


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