...as long as you do so sensibly...

I've cycled regularly since I was a child, with only a few gaps here and there. I most recently retrieved my bike from a short spell in a cupboard nine months ago; I'd moved house and doubled my mimumum commuting distance making cycling significantly quicker than walking. It's perhaps because of this - I now feel I have to cycle rather than walk or I'm wasting valuable time - that I've started paying more attention to cycling and cycling-related things. As a result I've only recently become fully aware of the amount of cycling culture I feel I was better not knowing about; I wasn't aware of all the snobberies exhibited or the attempts at (or pretences to) tribalism. Other cyclists not only talk to each other, but talk to each other about each other behind each others' backs, sometimes giggling or sneering or tutting. I hadn't previously been aware of many of the criteria by which cyclists could be assessed, nor the amount of cliques, nor the parameters required for their membership.

* * *

Evolutionarily, we're a fairly social species. Without a great deal of co-operation and communication we wouldn't be where we are today; we might still be on the planet but we'd be hiding in caves and up trees rather than strutting about wearing iPods and tweeting about how late our trains are. Unfortunately, the societies we formed tended (until relatively recently, when we developed agriculture) to be relatively limited in size. Though not strictly-defined there's a sort of upper limit to the amount of people most of us can know well, or feel comfortable living amongst. In ancient times a group which grew too large (either for its resources or its components' social capabilities) would split naturally into more manageable chunks. Different groupings would not be isolated; there would be some members belonging to more than one group, particularly different but closely-sited groups or those with greater common ancestry, but whilst members of our species have clubbed together to live more efficiently we've also clubbed together to club more effectively when clubbing other nearby groupings, either to steal their resources or stop them from pinching ours. Being (mostly) civilised and capable of abstract cogitation we're now capable of preventing or mitigating some of the more unpleasant responses to basic biological imperatives, but we still have a tendency to form subgroups within larger groups.

I'm not a particularly sociable example of humankind and don't really view cycling as a social activity. Once at school we were offered a range of alternatives to the usual enforced weekly afternoon of team-game-playing. One option was a bike ride round the villages and mild hills to the north of school-town, on which I went, this being something I did anyway. A couple of years later I once met up with a colleague for a short weekend trundle around some other villages on the flatter land a little to the south of school-town. I don't recall any other non-family leisure-time cycling-in-company events since me, my sister, our next-door-neighbours and our friends roamed the village and nearby woods on bicycles when we were small children; I've certainly never gone socially cycling since moving up to Edinburgh over sixteen years ago except for the single Critical Mass I attended with a flatmate in 1995 or 1996. Not partaking in cycling as a group activity has protected me from the assumption of membership of any particular grouping, leaving me free to observe others independently; for me, cycling has persisted in being just whatever it happens to be at the time I'm doing it, whether it was doing a paper round, cycling to and from school, cycling to and from work or popping for a random trundle via the supermarket. My categorisation of every other cycle user largely reflects the manner in which they impinge upon me (if they do) or how they allow themselves to be perceived.


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