Utility vs. Sport

Because I bike everywhere and that is odd to many people, I get a lot of odd questions.

Giving Perspective

Explaining the difference between utility cyclist and sport cyclist has gotten old. So I’ve just started playing dumb and asking them if they do this when they drive:

Giving Perspective

Just for the fun of making them explain the difference between a utility motorist and a race car driver.

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41 Responses to “Utility vs. Sport”

  • Chris

    You should do what works for you.

    What works for my commute is bike specific clothing so that’s what I will wear.

    • Dai

      Agreed. I wear cycling gear for my bike commute because that’s what’s most comfortable to me.

    • Jon Webb

      Yeah, but that’s a hilly ride over ten miles w/shower facilities at the other end. A ride of a few miles, to the grocery store, is another thing.

  • Glenn

    Why do we let the the term “cyclist” be such a stigma? I know I hate it. Still, “pedestrian” seems acceptable. Maybe because people in cars aren’t typically referred to as “motorists”?

    • Jon Webb

      People call them “drivers” but that applies to anyone operating a vehicle, including a bicycle. “Motorist” is what I’ve been using. Takes some retraining. “Avid motorist” is one I’d like to use someday, if I ever meet someone who really likes their commute in a car.

    • Hermann Weissflog

      Ten miles with a bike is nothing but a nice opportunity to have some refreshing air and take a look at the neighborhoods. It’s a trip between 30 to 50 minutes for a typical cyclist.

      Everything depends on multiple variables: amount of clothes, weather, length of the trip, and speed. If you have a long trip ahead, you can pick up some lighter clothes, unless the weather is chilly, in which case warming up while cycling is just a welcomed effect. Still, there’s never need to use (those extremely uncomfortable, ugly, and plastic) special bike gear. A standard merino wool (which is the material of choice for the high-end bike wear) jumper is a fabulous garment and an excellent choice for any cycling trip – and I’ve spent some weeks on my bike trips. If you need a jacket or a coat, you can take it off while it gets too warm.

      Sweat is not a problem if you take care of you hygiene and keep your clothes clean. Wool clothes are also perfect in this manner because it takes a very long time to make them smelly – unlike plastic bike wear which usually smells appalling after just one day of cycling.

      And if you’re not made of sugar, you can ride the bike in almost any weather from heavy rain to snowstorm. Who cares if you’re a little wet – or soaked. At least it is refreshing. A couple of inches of snow gives that nice extra challenge.

      Layering, wise material choices, and some persistence is all you need to stop using a personal car in a (reasonably sized) city. Taxi, public transit, and delivery services probably become cheaper in the long run – not taking in account that you get free exercise during your trips and stop wasting time on commuting and fixing your car.

    • @Jon There are indeed people who refer to themselves as avid motorists. They read Car & Driver Magazine, file lawsuits against cities that install red light cameras, complain incessantly about people who “dangerously” drive at the speed limit, write letters to the editor explaining how their scofflaw behavior is safe because they’re all “above average” drivers. You can find a bunch of them at websites like Motorists.org.

    • twk

      How about “mechanized pedestrian” in stead of cyclist?

  • Love it. I used to drive race cars that I built, now I build bicycles ;) I only had one thing that carried over from the race car to my street car and that was the restraints. Race cars have real restraints that hold your body in the seat and don’t let it move around. By comparison your standard OEM seatbelts are about as effective as relying on corduroy pants to keep you in your seat. To wit I have friends that have walked away from hitting a concrete wall at 100 MPH without any airbags, the “walk away” speed designed for street cars to meet is 35 MPH with at least 2 airbags deployed per front seat occupant (face saver and knee saver).

  • James

    Great cartoon, thanks!

  • John lavery

    Glenn is right. There is nothing wrong with using the word ‘cyclist’ for one who rides a bike. It is the correct term just as ‘motorist’ is for someone who drives a car. If a motorist also races cars etc. then the term used for that is ‘Motorsport’. Similarly the term used for cyclists who race etc. should logically be ‘cyclesport’. Otherwise I agree with your approach 100%!

  • morlamweb

    Thanks for sharing this post. I’ve gotten many of these questions myself especially as the weather gets colder (though I’ve never been asked about skirts). My own cycling gear has evolved lately from gym shorts & shirt & old sneakers to, well, everyday clothes. I don’t change when I get to the office anymore which saves me at least 10 minutes a day. I just put on my regular dress shoes (slip-ons so no fear of laces getting caught in the chain) and wear long pants and a sweater. What I wear on the bike is what I wear in the office (except for the ankle straps, wrist straps, and gloves). My secret to not sweating up a storm is two-fold: going heavy on the deodorant before the ride, and biking slower than I used to. If I pedal at a moderate pace in a mid-range gear, then I don’t sweat nearly as much as I would if I were pushing hard in top gear.

  • somervillebikes

    The problem with comparing “utility” cycling versus “sport” cycling is that they’re not always necessarily mutually exclusive with regard to their requirmenets; a long distance commute begins to feel uncomfortable with regular clothing. As others have mentioned, if cycling gear is what it takes to be comfortable during a commute or other “utility” endeavor, so be it. Personally, I’m lucky that my commute is only 2.5 miles and I can wear my work clothing; if my commute were over 10 miles I absolutely would wear cycling-specific clothing and change at my destination.

    • MarkC

      The bicycle’s forte is under 10 miles IMO – where it has advantages over the car (in fair weather)

  • Used to drive. Now I ride. Sometimes I walk. Bikeyface . . . you have the right perspective.

  • Jym

    • That driver helmet makes a lot of sense, given their head injury rate.

    Most of my jeans have gussets for ease of pedaling, but they don’t really stand out. The overall effect is that I’m wearing normal-looking (i.e. boring) clothes. As for “cyclist”/”ride a bike” nomenclature, I usually just go with “biker,” which makes for a curious juxtaposition with my boring clothes.

  • Wow can I relate! Especially riding an e-bike. Riding one 10 miles is like riding a traditional bike 3 miles, really noticeable where the sweat thing is concerned. I notice we see less of the racing uniforms in Portland than most other cities. I think our culture is much like the Bikeyface culture. “Ride to fit your own lifestyle.”

  • Brilliant point, brilliant analogy, brilliant illustration. Out of the park on this one.

  • MT Cyclist

    Shhh! Don’t tell anybody, but when it’s real cold out, I wear my wool leg warmers underneath my regular work pants when I cycle to work. I can easily remove them at work, they’re not as constricting as longjohns.

  • MarkC

    My word, where to start?
    In the 5 years I’ve been riding, I’ve never worn cycling clothing. I’m the first to admit it has its uses depending on speed, distance and terrain, but I’m comfortable in pretty much what I would walk or drive in, in most cases.
    Here in the UK, the central government and local authorities have promoted cycling for a number of years, increasing cyclepaths and giving financial incentives, but it seems that many people perceive it as a sport and leisure activity…and not really a substitute for the car for short journeys. I suspect one of the things putting them off are the sport oriented bikes (Dutch/utility type bikes are rare and difficult to find) that need you to dress up to ride without ruining your clothes…

  • Pete

    interesting, that in English there’s such a big difference between using a bicycle for everyday life or for sportive purposes. and even more interesting, that you have to explain yourself!
    e.g. I don’t think that there’s a meaningful translation of “bicycle commuter” in German..you just “ride a bicycle” or “go by bike” in Austria, no matter what purpose ;)

  • Steve O

    Hooray! Love it; thank you.
    I’m both. Sometimes I put on bike gear and ride fast and get sweaty. Other times I hop on my 3-speed with the basket and go to the coffee shop. That’s the beauty of the bike; it’s so versatile.
    I have ridden 10 miles in a suit before, however. I just go slower.

    I like to tell people that if you use a bike to go places, you are just essentially a “fast pedestrian.” That’s pretty much the European philosophy; it just allows you to go to places you can walk to faster–or to places that are a little too far to walk in the same time.

  • Charlene

    I LOVE it! As a girly girl who wears a lot of dresses and skirts and rides her bike to work in Seattle 3.4 miles each way every day – and all around town to get around, I am asked each and every one of those questions pretty much on a weekly basis. And answer the same way (except the pastry and chocolate shop) I have to explain over and over to people that the reason I CAN wear heels is because I’m on a bicycle (I could never WALK in those high heeled shoes – for god sakes!) You are brilliant -couldn’t have been demonstrated better.

  • Richard

    I’m 48 and have riding a bike since I learned it as a child. Kids bike in normal clothes. Why should adult dress in special clothes?

    If you sweat you riding to fast. Take it easy and enjoy the ride! The first 5 km nothing happens at all. Then you start feel warm, thats all. I can bike 40 km for 2 hours without start to sweat. Just bike easy. It’s like walking. Do you sweat when you walk?

    Bike like me – without helmet and a big smile!

    Richard / Sweden

    • Whilst I agree strongly with the overall point of the post, I don’t agree with the implied criticism in your comment. To avoid sweating, I would have to ride pretty much at walking pace, which is 4mph. At that speed, even without traffic lights, it would take me 3 hours to get to work and the same to get home again. That would be very silly.

  • Rich

    If you think that is bad, try explaining why you use an ebike. Oh, I just went to p-ville and back on mine in 37 degrees, for dinner with my gf’s family. Mainstream is boring.

  • VocusDwabe

    Part of the trouble is that English isn’t very subtle when it comes to the nuances of the activity. With us it’s just “cycling”, whereas other tongues differentiate sport and utility cycling by having distinct verbs for them: wielrennen/fietsen in Dutch and faire du vélo/faire de la bicyclette in French. Both activities are performed on sort of pedal-driven tubular metal frame thing with two wheels; but that’s as far as the resemblance goes.

    As one poster above points out, a lot of the confusion stems from the fact that pseudo-sport bikes have become the norm in the States and in Britain over the past thirty years, and good old-fashioned utility – a.k.a. “Dutch” – bikes with mudguards, carriers, propstands, chainguards etc. are hard to find. Try riding a faux-mountain bike to work everyday and you’ll simply have to dress up in all the kit: waterproofs top to bottom ‘cos it doesn’t have mudguards, and a rucksack on your back ‘cos it doesn’t have a carrier. So in summer you’ll arrive at work smelling like a dead badger, and will need to shower or get funny looks all day from your colleagues.

    I’m not a cyclist, for chrissake; I’m an elderly gentleman who gets around by bicycle. Does having a vacuum cleaner make me a vacuum-cleanerist? Cycling is nothing but mechanically assisted walking.

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