Do you feel like you’re not a “real” cyclist? You’re not alone.
Impostor syndrome is when you doubt your skills, talents, or accomplishments and fear being exposed as a "fraud.” And it’s a big problem in the cycling community. We recently asked in a tweet, “Do you ever feel like a biking imposter?” The response was overwhelming, and pretty cathartic to read. People shared stories of being too intimidated to attend bike-focused events, feeling like imposters on every ride even though they bike daily for work and errands, or thinking they weren’t fast enough riders to be considered “real” cyclists.
Many cyclists feel imposter syndrome because of cyclist stereotypes. So if they don’t look or ride like Lance Armstrong, they think someone might give them a hard time or think they don’t belong in the saddle.
If you feel like an imposter
Keep in mind that many people feel the same way you do—even the people you might think look like veterans.
We’re happy you're here. We love seeing you out and about biking, scooting, and skating.
Don’t feel bad about not checking every box that another cyclist might check. Maybe you’re not a year-round cyclist. Maybe you don’t have fancy spandex. Maybe you like a leisurely pace, or a battery on your bike. Maybe you just really don’t care to ever be covered in bike grease. That doesn’t say anything about your worthiness in this community.
Volunteering within the biking community is a great way to get to know people and feel more connected. For example, places like Working Bikes always need volunteers to help load and unload trucks of bikes that get donated around the world. They also need volunteers to work on bikes. You can learn valuable maintenance knowledge and help folks who need bikes all at the same time! We guarantee you will feel like less of an imposter after you’re covered in bike grease for a day.
If winter biking is new to you, try not to feel self conscious. Take it slow, and feel things out. We’re happy you’re trying it out.
Tips for the biking community
If you want to make cyclists of all kinds feel comfortable and welcome in this big beautiful bicycle community, here are some do’s and don’ts to ensure your behavior isn’t perpetuating someone else’s imposter syndrome. At the end of the day, it’s just like you learned in kindergarten: if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say it at all. But in this case, sometimes going out of your way to be extra kind could make all the difference.
Work to foster a bike community that feels welcoming to all races, genders, and age groups.
Validate people who ride bikes, no matter how or why they ride them. Everyone has different reasons to ride, and one type of cyclist is not better than another.
Make a point to get to know cyclists from all over the city by following a wide range of organizations.
Introduce yourself and be friendly to newcomers at bike meet-ups or group rides.
Ask where people enjoy biking, and offer suggestions on where some of your favorite rides are.
Compliment other cyclists’ bikes, helmets, lights, whatever! A little bit of, “Hey, I love the color of your bike!” can go a long way.
Ask a new cyclist if they have any questions (about gear, rules of the road, tips and tricks to stay safe, the flat tire they’re trying to fix on the side of the road, etc.), and then answer them nicely.
In general, don’t gatekeep. This means, don’t hold people to a set of standards or rules in your head about what it means to be a “real cyclist.”
Don’t discount people who are at a different ability or comfort level than you. For example, if someone’s afraid to ride in traffic and you’re not, react with empathy.
Don’t body shame. Cyclists come in all shapes and sizes.
Don’t insult someone else’s bike/gear, including e-bikes, or any kind of bike that may not suit your needs. There are all kinds of cyclists, and therefore there are all kinds of bikes.
Be careful about doling out unsolicited advice (see also… no mansplaining!).
Don’t shoal. Shoaling is when you approach a red light and wedge your way to the front of a cyclist who was already stopped there. The assumption is you’ll be faster than that cyclist anyway, so you might as well get in front of them when it’s easy to. Even if your intentions are innocent, it can be annoying and insulting to the cyclist you’re shoaling. And it can be embarrassing for you if your assumption about your speed is wrong ;) (see also… manshoaling, male cyclists seemingly shoal female cyclists disproportionately to other male cyclists)
Tips for group rides
The more people who bike, the safer it is for all of us. More bike riders equal less cars. Group rides are a great way for newcomers to become acclimated to riding on the street and discover new routes and habits. If you’re in a position to organize group rides, try to go out of your way to make the rides welcoming to a wide variety of cyclists. Identify your rides as being beginner-friendly, and select someone to lead the ride with the intention of keeping a mellow pace. Before your ride begins, invite the riders to speak up if the pace is too fast for them, and check in periodically during the ride as well. Begin rides with quick introductions.
Once the ride starts, make sure everyone makes it through intersections safely. If the group starts to get too spread out, let the leader know so they can slow down. If a rider has a flat or other maintenance need, all riders should stop while the issue is addressed. It shows solidarity, takes the pressure off the cyclist whose bike is causing trouble, and offers an opportunity to chat and get to know one another.