Biking is an activity and transportation mode that cuts across race, class, and gender lines. But spend much time talking about bicycles, the infrastructure they require, and their place in the community, and you’ll quickly find out that a lot of people hold very a specific idea of what a ‘biker’ is, and that fixed image blinds them to the great diversity of people who ride bikes regularly.
The irony is that different people have very different ideas of who bikers really are, but if you combine all of those different stereotypes then you get something like an accurate picture of the different reasons and conditions that lead different people to ride bikes. Here is a short list of different types of bike, the stereotypes associated with them, and—to make them more relatable to those who don’t bike—their closest car-analog.
Any day of the year, you can find dozens of used mountain bikes on craigslist, offer up, and facebook marketplace for less than $25. If what you need is a machine that makes it a little easier to get around town for cheap, this is the obvious option.
Buying a used bike from craigslist is a lot like buying a used car from craigslist. You can’t be picky, you can’t be so upset that it needs a little work to get running or that the front bumper is held on with duct tape, but it does the job.
Bikes built for comfort and adaptability, these are sort of like America’s answer to the opa bikes that are so popular in Amsterdam. Couples ride them together in Onondaga Lake Park, office workers pedal in dress pants and skirts.
Think of the hybrid bike like a Toyota Corolla—a good basic option that works for most people.
Bike messengers popularized fixed-gear bikes by using them to weave through gridlocked traffic in big cities in the 1980s. No coasting and no hand breaks means that riders can exercise minute control over their speed, acceleration, and stopping, but it takes a lot of skill and strength to master.
It’s like people who drive cars with manual transmission and can use it to weave through highway traffic at 75 mph.
These bikes are built to jump in the air and then land hard, which makes them good both for popping wheelies and for rolling over curbs, rough pavement, and potholes. People ride them to get around cities and to have fun doing it.
They’re kind of like the souped up street rods in The Fast and the Furious—flashy, fun to show off, and a source of community for the people who ride them.
The people who ride these bikes zip along well-paved streets in packs, each one of them decked out in spandex like they’re on the Tour de Onondaga. The bikes are like something from science fiction—carbon fiber molded into incredible shapes and so light that you can lift it onto a car rack with one hand.
They’re the bike version of a Ferrari. That thing is for going fast, it’s not for getting anywhere specific. And you can be damn sure that it’s not coming out of the garage while there’s salt on the roads.
Different people ride different kinds of bikes for different reasons. There’s no one image of what a real biker is just as there’s no one image of what a car driver is—there are just people who ride bikes. It’s a more complicated picture than imagining that all bikers are Lance Armstrong impersonators or tattooed vegetarians, but it’s also makes biking more normalized because it’s just something that anybody could choose to do without seeming deviant. When more people can learn to see the act of biking like that, we’ll be in a good position to make our transportation system work better for all these different people who use it.