What Kind of Bike Rider Are You? Conformist, Momentumist or Recklist?

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Mikael Colville-Andersen, founder of the Copenhagenize Design Co, isn’t a cyclist. He’s a guy with a bike, like so many other people in Copenhagen. A guy who simply uses a bike as transportation, a way to get around town. He belongs to the school of analysis epitomized by Yogi Berra: "You can observe a lot by just watching," and now teaches other cities how to fill their streets with bike users.


They said the iPhone 7 was great in low light. Sorry, Mikael/CC BY 2.0

He was speaking in Toronto recently, and described how he asked a politician what he imagined the proportion of people on bikes were who ignored red lights and traffic rules. He said the usual answer was “I dunno, maybe 30 percent.” But when he studied it, he found that the number was far lower.

bicycle users

© Copenhagenize

Now of course he studied it in Copenhagen, where there actually is infrastructure designed for bicycling. And when I was last there I was completely shocked to see people stopped at a red light at a “T” intersection with no pedestrians crossing. While I was there only one cyclist whizzed by around us while everyone else patiently waited, and I immediately thought “jerk” and remembered that, because of course, that is who we remember.


That is the type of cyclist Mikael calls a Recklist, and there are actually

1% of observed users. The original wild urban poster child for the “bad” cyclist: riding through red lights and turning left like a car. In contrast with the legal method of riding straight through an intersection, turning 90 degrees and halting at the light before continuing in the new direction.


toronto stop sign

Typical Toronto stop sign/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0 There are many more of what he calls “Momentumists”-

6% of observed users. They follow their desire to keep a steady flow and make adjustments accordingly, including turning right on red or carefully riding through a pedestrian crossing.

-or where I live, going through stop signs. This is not on Mikael’s radar, but stop signs are everywhere in Toronto where I live. The stop sign was invented to regulate right-of-way, but in Toronto they are used as a method of speed control for cars.
But stopping on a bike is hard. You have to give up all that momentum, get off the seat, and then build that momentum up again. It's physics. That’s why Momentumist is such a good name. I live in a city full of Momentumists who do the logical thing: go through stop signs designed to slow down cars without consideration of bicycle riders.


The conformist

The Conformist/Promo image In Copenhagen, there are a lot of conformists, without guns:

—93% of observed users. They follow the rules. Generally very precisely. They stick to the paths laid down in front of them and follow the traffic signals and road markings how they were intended to be used. Even if the rules governing cyclists were mainly car-centric in origin.

That’s because they actually have paths and traffic signals and road markings that are designed for bike users. I suspect that law-abiding North American bike users would be conformists under the same circumstances.

Palmerstion Avenue

Lloyd Alter/ Palmerston Avenue, Toronto, with stop signs every 266 feet to slow down cars/CC BY 2.0

I am a Momentumist and get angry at Recklists going through red lights when everyone else is stopped. I want to be a Conformist, but it’s almost impossible with a stop sign every 266 feet like it is on some streets. There will always be Recklists, but with good design, rather than tickets, cities can reduce the number of Momentumists. People don't want to break the law, but it is really hard not to when a city, and its rules, are all designed for cars.

What kind of rider are you?