Cyclist tribes

Living and working in central London, you quickly learn that the fastest way around town is to cycle.

My extensive research into this activity has shown there are a number of different cycling tribes. Of course, I have split them into the two groups that are most appropriate to me: 1) slower than me and 2) faster than me. You can probably tell what sort of a cyclist I am by my attitude to the two groups.

1. Slower than me:

  • Wicker shopping basket. Doesn't matter what the rest of the bike looks like, or the biker, I will always try to get ahead of these. The extra scary ones are the women in flowing dresses who might be university professors.
  • Boris Bikes. When there's a tube strike, Avoid At All Costs. These people probably haven't been on a bike since they were in school, and it shows.
  • Hoody (always a male) on a BMX-style bike with the seat far too low, riding in too low a gear, with baggy jeans that show their... well... everything. Never have lights on their bikes. Always has a satchel / record bag for maximum inappropriately-dressed-for-cycling points. These buggers are a pain because they never obey traffic lights and will join the road from the pavement on either side, cutting you up in the process. Getting past them is easy, keeping them behind you is much harder.
  • Not wearing a helmet. Probably not a serious cyclist, so probably easy to overtake. A similar category to the hoody, doesn't obey traffic laws and enormously unpredictable. Otherwise known as an organ donor.
  • Wearing a skirt. Of course, this doesn't apply to me. In the same category: jeans, sandals, high-heeled shoes (not all at once).

2. Faster than me:

  • Cleats. If you have cleats on the bike I'm going to let you go first from the lights. You'll be fast and possibly suicidal when weaving through traffic.
  • Lycra, especially on a guy. Even if they're not faster than me, they will always overtake, and always pull in front of me at lights. It's an ego thing. Something about those tight shorts possibly.
  • Panniers. Generally, but not always, a “proper” cyclist, even if they're on a rubbish bike. These guys have experience.

One to watch: businessman in a suit on a Brompton. You can't trust these guys, they can be deceptively fast. It's always embarrassing to be overtaken by them. How do they not sweat into their Armani?

Who does that leave?

Well, my lot: helmet, high vis jacket, shorts (knee-length with pockets). Usually obeys the lights, quick enough, some unpredictability when over-/under-taking. Most of these guys will weave to some extent, but not suicidally. My tribe is probably one of the biggest, and it leads to lots of subtle negotiation at traffic lights - sizing each other up - checking the bike, the kit, the shoes - to decide whether or not to pull ahead or drop back.

But I mess with people's heads in summer by occasionally wearing a short skirt (with shorts underneath, I'm not out to cause accidents) and wedge sandals, and cycling at 20mph.

I hate to conform to expectations.


  • Trisha Gee

    Trisha is a software engineer, Java Champion and author. Trisha has developed Java applications for finance, manufacturing and non-profit organisations, and she's a lead developer advocate at Gradle.