bclark's picture

What is a "Recreational Cyclist"

Many times over the years, I've heard people use the term 'recreational cyclist', in particular when speaking of pathways, i.e. 'pathways are primarily for recreation'.  Even in the debate about Shaganappi Trail, the question was asked (in some form), 'are we building for commuter cyclists or recreational cyclists?', implying that there is a different standard for servicing recreation vs. commuter cycling.

This has always had me wondering.  When people use the term 'recreational cyclist', especially people making decisions (i.e. Parks Department staff, transportation planners, elected officials), what exactly are they describing?  More importantly, what level of design/function for cycling facilities are they thinking is necessary to meet the needs of the type of cyclist they just mentioned?

I've always had the impression that, when the term 'recreational cyclist' is used in conversation, the person using it is thinking of someone who's just out for a leisure (and slow) ride, not caring if they have to slow down because there's a group walking four-abreast on a pathway, not worried about stopping while a dog walker leashes their dog that's just been running back and forth across the pathway or not caring if they have to dismount to walk across a roadway.  

Should this characterization/differentiation be used?  There are a lot of people who cycle for recreation and there is a whole spectrum of meaning to 'recreational cycling'.  Some people move at leisure pace with no real destination in mind, while many others want to be able to move a bit faster and may even be going 'somewhere'.   With that in mind, regardless of whether someone is cycling for recreation, for a slow ride or fast, or for the specific purpose of getting somewhere, i.e. communting/transportation, they are 'travelling' and have the same mobility needs in terms of being able to travel safely and efficiently.  

What does the term 'recreational cyclist' mean to you?  Should the building for 'recreational cyclists' be a reason to build sub-standard 'cycling facilities'?  Have you ever heard of roadways being built for 'transportation drivers' vs. 'recreational drivers'?  How about sidewalks, have you ever heard the term 'recreational pedestrian' used instead of 'transportation pedestrian'?


RichieRich's picture

Recreational versus enthusiast versus squid

BClark you've certainly outdone yourself on great postings the last few days, and this one is no exception.

Despite being a former racer (over 10yrs ago), I don't "race" on the paths. Back in "the day" I've certainly been known to be "fast", but not fastest, but no longer. But does speed of travel correlate with a category of user, any more so than a jogger, walker, stroller, blader, or boot camp? All are choosing to use the MUP for a form of recreation and hence said MUP should be appropriately designed.

I would suppose some may refer to me as an enthusiast... but really even when I am commuting back and forth for work it is a form of recreation.  I don't *have* to ride, I *choose* to ride.  Just because I may be on a fast bike, or a slow bike, or anything in between does the duty of care, of due diligence, of purposeful/safe/best practices have to be changed or compromised whether the intended user fits into any of these categories?

Realistically however, the use of my bike as a form of transportation to get to/from work (ie objective based) puts me into another category, that of "utilitarian". 

So I can't help but come to the conclusion that unless you are a "professional cyclist" that earns money cycling, then I would suggest most everyone on a bicycle is a recreational cyclist and as such MUPS and other MUP infrastructure needs to be built for the 99.99% rec users versus the 0.01% pro.

As always, trust Portland to come up with a study discussing these ideas and concepts!  http://web.pdx.edu/~jdill/Types_of_Cyclists_PSUWorkingPaper.pdf

A Google search yields 40k+ hits on this question too. https://www.google.ca/?gws_rd=ssl#q=definition+of+%22recreational+cyclis...

Lastly from the Urban Dictionary: squid  :  A spandex-covered recreational cyclist. Possibly a cross-over from motor-cyclists.  However, in cyclist terminology, this is a recreational cyclist generally wearing lots of spandex, lycra, or just all-around racing gear as well as a multi-thousand dollar bike. Most often middle-aged. Generally they are happy logging only a few hundred miles per year on said bike. They are generally OVERLY defensive cyclists and chastise younger cyclists who choose more aggressive traffic behaviors to remain safe such as retaining road space in order to not be pushed off the road by motorists.


Crivak's picture


The difference between someone cycling for a recreational activity and one using it for commuting? 

That's pretty clean cut to me. A recreational activity is done in spare time, as available, when the conditions are nicest. So these would be folks who only use their bikes every once in a while, probably during warm summer months, and only when their work hours allow it. On the flip side, a utility or commuting activity is done every day in order to get to a work destination, rain or shine or snow. It is not "in their spare time."

Both of these camps will have slow or fast riders, confident or unconfident, so I don't think that's a valid attribute for comparison. One group will use facilities more often and need them to be more reliable / predictable (commuters) and one group will use it less often but APPRECIATE it being predictable yet still having the adaptability to work around if it's not (recreational riders, dismounting to cross, etc). I think there are people in both groups who might not be aware of the rules applying to bikes too, but that it's more likely to apply to recreational riders more than commuters [ie: commuters generally understand they are considered vehicles].


Regarding the Shaganappi Trail question "Are we building for rec or commuter?" I think the question is like asking if they were building Shaganappi for cars or semis. They have the same function and safety needs, but there will probably be less semis than cars more often (maybe). It should work for both. The real question I think they're asking is, "are we pairing bikes with cars or with pedestrians?" and that's kind of a worrying thought, because I think the concensus is that everyone feels safest when they have their own route. Pairing a bike with cars insinuates an unblockaded bike lane where cars turn into or interfere with the bike lane; pairing a bike with pedestrians insinuates a MUP where bikes interfere with pedestrians and vice versa on speed limits. 

I'm not that confident on the roads because I can't always guarantee that I'm going to be able to do 30kmh minimum, but I hate crosswalks A LOT MORE than I hate roads (that sounds a bit silly to say since a car will have to pass me at 20kmh or 40kmh, but I find 30 is around the subconscious barrier before motorists start exhibiting annoyance). I have started buying cat food at varsity across from Shaganappi versus where I used to buy it in Ranchlands because navigating 53rd street and Varsity drive makes A LOT more sense to me than trying to navigate Nosehill across Crowchild. This was after an experience where I wound up dismounting and walking all along nosehill from Silver Springs Blvd up to Ranchlands Blvd because I was suddenly on a sidewalk. 

A lot of confusion stems from worldy uses of cycling infrastructure terms, I think. IE, I think we tend to look too much at countries who have statistically failed (America) yet misunderstand why things work in countries who are thriving (Scandanavia) -- the terms "MUP" and "cycle track" first and foremost. MUP insinuates pedestrians, shared spaces, even if what they mean is a separated MUP split in two with an area for bikes and peds. This causes trouble when they reintegrate together, like at crosswalks, or MUPs turn into sidewalks. Yet when we look at Scandanavian routes a lot look very similar to MUPs. 

The difference is they are not MUPs, but cycle routes. More like cycle tracks, but still removed from the cars, unlike many north american cycle tracks that reintegrate with the roads. 

I'm just rambling at this point so I'll stop my thinking out loud. Here's an interesting video on the dutch progression I was watching an hour or so ago. 



edit;  This video is pretty relevant to this discussion too, I think. Maybe an emphasis should be put on connecting existing bike routes and less on placing extra "infrastructure" willy nilly that connects to random places? Roads, sidewalks, crosswalks, whatever it is that isn't bikes. IE, where does shaganappi connect to other bike routes? How?


edit; I need to stop watching these! Sorry! Last one - thought it was interesting they completely repaved the roads and that the simple lanes were done with coloured asphalt, not paint: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eaE4KOZzQOg

gp4000's picture

The distinction is artificial

I think because the idea of cycling as transportation (in Calgary/NAmerica) is 'new'. As bclark notes, we don't make a similar meaningful distinction for pedestrians or for other vehicles regarding the facilities (pathways and roadways) used. Crivak's distinction/definitions are useful but are broad enough to cover both 'types' of cycling. That is, what is true for cycling as transportation (predictability, expectations, etc) also is true for cycling as recreation but not necessarily the converse. The problem for planners is that, as RichieRich states, cycling is perceived as recreational generally. So how to 'accommodate' it as transportation? Do away with the distinction and build to a standard that adequately services 'high end' users:  daily commuters. Basically the same standard used for roadways and sidewalks. Built with the expectation that they will be used daily and with high volume. If roadways were built based only on traffic volume, as is the case for cycling infrastructure, it seems, then 90% of suburbia wouldn't be serviced with roadways, except for arterial routes,'Recreational' users also will enjoy the benefits of well considered and well built facilities, just as 'recreational' drivers and pedestrians enjoy the benefits of good roadways and sidewa;lks.

Crivak's picture

Yes - true. I also think its

Yes - true. I also think its worth noting that even though I said recreational bike riders have the ability to "adapt" around lower standard infrastructure yet appreciate high quality infrastructure, that they would be encouraged to do the activity more on higher quality, safer and more appropriate infrastructure. If there was none, or it was confusing, or constantly in conflict or misunderstood, they would be discouraged from using it and the activity in general. Same holds true for everybody of course, but I think moreso for people who are just doing it for a few hours or so every now and then. 

critninja's picture

Where are the references to "Utility Cyclists"?

Great post, Brent!

I think the previuos posters have so far done a good job of parsing(sp?) out the differences/or not between recreational and enthusiast cyclists and I am not sure I can add much.

However, throughout pretty much every discussion I've read, heard, and partaken in, the concept of "utility cyclists" or "neighbourhood cycling" seems lost in the conversation. There is almost ZERO discussion about these people that cycle.

While I understand this segment may be of more interest to me than some (since my shop focuses on these cyclists) I still feel like a huge opportunity is being missed to include these folks into discussions about pathways, bikeways, and important connections.


SpeedyJ's picture

And furthermore

To add to Critninja's point, I'd like to add lees advantaged users to the list - kids, seniors and other marginalized riders. If new infrastructure, maintenence and upgrades don't consider utility cyclists, children, seniors and less confident riders then they have failed.


I know that our family NEEDS better protected infrastructure. As an example: this summer my 4yr old will be going to summer camp at the YMCA in Eau Claire, we live in Cliff Bungalow, about 2500 metres away, this is a totally doable distance for her in a reasonable amount of time. However, if I were to ride down 5th street (the most direct route) I'd probably be arrested for child endangerment, and they probably be right to do so since a 4 yr old is no match for Calgary commuter traffic.


The safest route for us would be to hop on the recreational bike path (it's certainly not a utility bike route), a distance of a little over 7kms. This is a distance that cannot be covered in a reasonable amount of time, nor could she manage it twice a day (there and back). As a result, I have little doubt that we'll end up driving her most, if not every day because that is the safe and practical thing to do. The Macleod trail cycle track would have helped a bit, but you most of you know, Sean Chu thought that it would be a problem for people like me that have to drive into downtown.

critninja's picture

July 1

The cycletrack should open by then giving you a pretty direct shot into Eau Claire, you lucky devil! :)

SpeedyJ's picture


I actually forgot that 5th St was being built, I guess I'm just so accustomed to expecting the worst. We still neet o get to 17th Ave, but that's doable. I cant wait for Cycle tracks from elbow to 17th, that will pass right by my house and join us up with with everything.



gp4000's picture

'Utility' cyclist?

What would be a good definition for this? My immediate thought would be a cyclist travelling short distances with several stops. In which case I would assume you're asking for the same type of infrastructure and facilities available to a long distance point A to point B 'commuter' but in a neighbourhood friendly context?

RichieRich's picture

Utility details

In the link above, 2nd post, there are additional discussions around the Utility-based cyclist.  It's quite a long tedius read that, admittedly, I only skimmed through.  That said it was rather interesting that they created and discussed this "fringe" group which, arguably, is perhaps neither "recreational" nor "commuter" but yet encompasses a much greater percentage of users than given credit for.  Of course much of this is semantics and deviates from the true discuss around what is a recreational cyclist and do the deserve a reasonable standard of infrastructure and design considerations.

SpeedyJ's picture


...Just means that you're getting stuff done. It just so happens that a bicycle is the tool that you're using to get stuff done.

In the city, people rarely go out for a relaxing, recreational drive - they go shopping, drop the kids off, go to work, go to the climbing gym, visit friends, go out for coffee. The car just happens to be the default tool for a lot of people. With the right infrastructure the default tool could be the bicycle.

Most folks use the easiest, fastest means available to them, since this city was designed with cars in mind it's only natural that cars have turned out to be the easiest, fastest way to go (....and yes, I know there are exceptions). If the city was built differently, bicycles could (and I'd argue should) be the easiest and fastest way to get around.

Crivak's picture

getting stuff

Would you consider a trip to the ice cream store on a bike as utility or recreational?

SpeedyJ's picture

Sorta doesn't matter

But if you need to make a distinction, I'd ask you if you'd like to take a direct route or a meandering route? Are you going for ice cream and a bike ride, or are you just going for ice cream.

Recreational riding is analogous to taking a Sunday drive.

pinkrobe's picture

Recreational Cycling Infrastructure

If the City was asking me about recreational cycling infrastructure that I'd enjoy, I'd want to see the following:

  • 100km loop route with no road crossings [overpasses are acceptable]
  • Suitable grades and turns for an average speed of 30km/h
  • Completely segregated from motor vehicles and pedestrians
  • Extended climbs/descents [1km +] along with rolling grades
  • Minimum 12' wide
  • Bi-directional travel permitted
  • Mileage markers every 500m
  • Extensive landscaping along both sides of the route to block wind
  • Free wi-fi
  • Human-scale lighting along the entire route
  • public toilets every 20km, open and accessible 24/7/365, with water faucets/fountains
  • snow removal withn 72 hours, no salt/sand/pickle

I'd use that several times per month, all year round.  To me, it's ideal for a recreational cyclist.  The existing MUP is in no way adequate for my recreational needs...

SpeedyJ's picture


It doesn't check all the boxes (out and back, not winter maintained...), but the Chestermere path is pretty good....when it's not under construction.

SpeedyJ's picture


It doesn't really check any of those boxes does it? Oh well, at least there are very few pedestrians and no cars. I'll take what I can.

Namasteve's picture

And the canal ticks both the

And the canal ticks both the washroom and water fountain boxes!

Seriously, I do enjoy this path but it is experiencing some serious tree-root issues in places.

pinkrobe's picture


Chestermere?  They have a sweet skills park, but I can't imagine riding along that canal path unless I'm fleeing the City for SK.

Kidding aside, my idea of PAVED* recreational cycling is a quiet, tree-lined back road through rolling hills.  You can get that sort of experience on Vancouver Island or out in Ont/Que, but it's bloody rare here.  I agree with others that making Calgary a great place for utility/commuting cycling is the way to meet many more people's needs.

*Unpaved recreational cycling in Calgary is a different kettle of fish altogether

SpeedyJ's picture


I'm from rolling Ontario farm country, so I know what you mean. I've basically given up on road riding here. I don't find riding Springbank, hwy 8, TCH, hwy 22, etc very relaxing. If I'm going to drive my bike out of the city for better options I'd rather just go mountain biking then battle the headwinds.


That said, Chestermere is a 60km ride I can do from my front door without encountering many vehicles, once I'm past Glenmore I can put headphones on and enjoy the ride. It may be less then perfect (road crossing, tree roots, contruction....), but it is safe and accessable. It's an efficient use of 2 hours, which would barely get me to the edge of town and back if I headed west from DT.

mike runs's picture

Total hijack

Sorry for the total hijack, but I know the kind of route you're talking about.  I suggest either Horse Creek / Grand Valley areas to the NW or Road to Nepal to the S of the city for those kinds of rides.  They're both quiet, rolling, and as tree-lined as this bald prairie gets.

mikewarren's picture


The only real distinction I can think of is that "recreational" cyclists that I know are all heading *out* of town (e.g. Bearspaw or Bragg Creek) whereas "commputer" cyclist are heading somewhere *in* town (and typically that's downtown).

Of course, this is obviously a very artificial distinction -- I could "recreationally" cycle to Village Ice Cream, but "commuter" cycle to near there because I happen to be going to work and take nearly the same route.

But, I think Brent has the right point: who cares what *I* think, we want to know what Parks or TransDep think this means.

I believe their infrastructure building decisions make it clear that they believe "recreational" cyclists are basically "fast pedestrians" -- completely happy to ride on sidewalks, dismount a dozen times to travel 4 blocks (e.g. Charleswood Drive) and other such stupidity.

I do think one disctintion might be worthwhile: on a "recreational" ride, I will actively take longer and/or hillier routes if they're nicer or to get some more climbing in. Conversely, on a "commuter" ride I'm likely to want the absolutely shortest (time-wise) route available. Not a hard-and-fast rule, of course! ...on a nice day, I might take the "scenic" route home from work, but I guess I'd count that as "recreational"? Similarly, at the end of a long ride out of the City, I'll probably take the absolutely shortest route home when I get back into the city...

This distinction *might* be important when designing pathways (e.g. take a "nicer" route that's 10% longer?) but that is, IMO, waaaay too "advanced" for Parks or TransDep at the moment: they need to learn to build direct, high-speed, high-quality bike routes first.

One need only look at all the pedestrian overpasses in the NW to understand how stupid they are in this regard. If you take a route that uses each of them to get to Bearspaw, you'll climb the Nose Hill escarpment many times (instead of once). Signal Hill is another "good" example of this.

goforstars's picture

Build to flatten cycling infracture hierarchy

If we want to grow and encourage more cyclists to bike frequently several times per wk. within the city or choose it as a method of transportation, then dividing up the world in recreational vs. commuter vs. utility is no longer helpful now at this point in Calgary's history, when expanding and building a cycling network with useful interconnected and safer routes for cyclists.

The very fact that over the years the bike parkway routes  have been touted and mentioned as cycling routes for the bike commuters points to the fallacy of defining the world of recreational vs. commuter vs. utility cyclists.

Equal levels of cycling safety for cycling infrastructure design and cycling skills education, should be considered for all types of cyclists because of diverse ages, physical capabilities, etc.

All of us WILL become "slow" cyclists near latter phase of life, but we probably would proudly proclaim utility cycling not recreational cycling. Right? :)

By the way, I am recovering from a head injury (it was another cyclist colliding into me)....so I will be a slower cyclist for awhile:  Then does that make me a recreational cyclist?  I am a  long time cyclist, commuter, etc.





bclark's picture

Mike Made an Interesting Comment...

...that recreational cyclists seem to be thought of as fast moving pedestrians.  I think that, no matter what type of cyclist you consider yourself as, be it recreational, commuter, utilitarian, time trialist, downhill hucker or some other, your mobility needs will be similar to that of all other cyclists when riding on roads or pathways.  I believe this is also consistent with what you stated.  

Too many times I find that when I'm on a ride that mixes pathways and roads, I'm forced to constantly face situations that place me in a pedestrian context (or maybe what some people might consider a 'recrational cyclist' context).  For example, a pathway intersects a road and I find that I'm facing a crosswalk.  I want to ride onto the road, but should I do so directly via the crosswalk?  Alternatively, should I cross one portion of the crosswalk and then remount?  I find this particularly challenging when riding with my kids because I often find myself saying something along the lines of, 'this is what you should do, but this is what we are going to do because its...safer...more efficient...easier...etc'.  That's why I generally find that I prefer riding quieter residential streets (the ones in the grid-street areas of the City, not the newer suburbs where every manner of vehicle is funnelled onto a heirarchy of collector, local arterial, arterial, etc. streets), bike lanes or cycle tracks.  If they are well designed (and I'm definitely not saying they all are), they've taken into account things like turn movements at intersections, who has right-of-way at cross streets, etc.  

Don't get me wrong, I'm happy we have such an extensive pathway network and there's many areas where I enjoy riding them (Bow River...though it's kind of congested, Nose Creek, etc.), but as soon as they start to mix with roads, the problems start to begin (ignoring all the other factors like sight lines, poorly designed corners, bad drainage, etc. that can happen anywhere).

mike runs's picture

Dividing the bike community?

is that so much of the publishing I've seen lately on bike advocacy topics has been quite derisive towards lycra-clad weenies.  Along the lines of "why does anyone want to ride anywhere fast". 

I don't wear tweed, have a moustache, or want to ride my bike with fenders at 15 kph while instagramming. 

I like to think there's room for everyone on the bicycle bandwagon, but some of us want to ride fast on skinny tires.  I'm very troubled by questions seemingly designed to divide the bike community. 

goforstars's picture

It's not useful for cyclists

It's not useful for cyclists to judge other cyclists just on the basis of their cycling speed or on bike clothing.

What may/will be problem  in Calgary is if some cycling infrastructure routes/segments, can handle volume growth of cyclists which can affect speed, safety, etc.

When I cycled in Copenhagen for several days in 2010, I was on their major separated  bike lanes daily, in the midst of other commuting and utility cyclists.  They ride a good brisk pace..despite their sit-up bikes, dresses, slightly wider tires, etc. ALOT less skinny tire bikes.   Believe me, it's not the same watching Copenhagen videoclips here in Canada vs. actually cycling with a crowd of impatient commuting Danes without lycra attire.