The cycleur – the art of spontaneity & observation

Cyclist and coffeeDerailleur. Velodrome. Bidon. Echelon. Peloton. Rouleur. Maillot jaune. We cyclists like to think of ourselves as honorary Frenchmen and women at the best of times. So why not expand your vocabulaire with Le Cycliste Humaine and meet Le Cycleur?

The cycleur

What, you say, is this? Picture the scene. You climb on your bike and go for a spin with no goal in mind, no segment to hunt, no heart rate monitor, no Lyrca, no chamois cream. You simply point your front wheel whichever way the wind blows and explore your local streets. Traffic lights are a blessing. You pull over to the kerb to enjoy the sights, sounds and smells. You are an observer not a traveller. You have no place to go, only places to see. This then is the cycleur. A flâneur on wheels.

What the heck is a flâneur?

Sounds like flannel, only a bit more continental. It breaks down like this:

Flâneur
Noun /flaˈnəː,French flanœʀ/
1. Somebody who saunters around observing society

Dating back to the 16th or 17th century, this is old school vocabulary. So old, the Oxford English Dictionary definition still denotes a flâneur to be “a man who saunters”. Women who saunter around are presumably lost. Tut tut. The origin of such interpretations dates back to Baudelaire’s days, for it was the French poet who characterised the flâneur as “a gentleman stroller of city streets”.

Over at dictionary.com, the definition of a flâneur is accusatory at best: idler; dawdler; loafer. Hmm. So, following in the footsteps of many a young researcher, let’s turn to that familiar fountain of all knowledge: Wikipedia:

“Flâneur, from the French noun flâneur, means “stroller”, “lounger”, “saunterer”, or “loafer”. Flânerie refers to the act of strolling, with all of its accompanying associations.”

How to be a cycleur

Lycra lout you say?

Lycra lout you say?

That brings us to the cycleur. A rolling flâneur, a stroller on pedals. The cycleur. More French? I know. We already have randonneur (they who seek great distances), grimpeur (they who seek great height), puncheur (those with power), rouleur (those who ride all day) and the straveur (they who seek segments). Sorry, I’ll get my er, veste thermique, I mean coat.

Let’s observe the observer. It goes without saying the cycleur is not one for Strava. Ideally, the cycleur takes to the city streets riding an upright bike. The more upright, the better the view. Tucking down low into the drops is not an activity the cycleur favours.

Rarely breaking double digits on their speedometer, these gentlemen and women of the streets know not of sweat, Lyrca or road rage. Cadence is monitored but it is the turning of city life they watch, not the legs. A max heartbeat is set just above resting rate should they observe a scene that makes them happy to be alive.

A cycleur dresses for comfort not for speed, nor to impress. The hand signals of the cycleur are so graceful they belong in ballets. Cycleurs do not ingest gels, such things are for smoothing eyebrows in a bid to remain dapper at all times.

Cycling in the city

Taking the new SealSkinz dress for a spin

Taking the new SealSkinz dress for a spin

Seen mostly in towns and cities, the cycleur is nothing without other people, for it is they who set the scene for the ride and not mother nature. Cycleurs document city life, instinct their GPS, they weave and meander slowly through the streets, a new river blown by the wind, they follow the path of least resistance.

“For the flâneur, it is an immense joy to set up house amid the ebb and flow. To be away from home, yet to feel everywhere at home; to see the world, to be at the centre of the world, yet to remain hidden from the world.”
Charles Baudelaire

The city is no longer something to be feared, only admired. The cycleur obeys the strict order of the roads. Pedestrians. Cyclists. Car drivers. In that order. Serenity surrounds the dear cycleur. After you mademoiselle, you sir, in your taxi carriage, please continue with your U-turn for I am in no hurry and you have a trade to ply. The only race is the one for civility.

The cycleur may appear to be going nowhere, to be doing nothing and yet you couldn’t be more wrong. They are not idle. They do not loaf. For they are composing the moving photograph, developing a snapshot of city life that exists only in their mind for the briefest of moments. They do not gawk, they do not stare. They admire. Their eyes dance to the music of the scene before them, detached yet intoxicated, their senses are overrun by the magnificent minutiae of the metropolis.

“Flâneurs are opening their eyes and ears to the scene around them. They are not treating the street as an obstacle course to be negotiated; they are opening themselves up to it.”
Alain de Botton

What about the bikeur?

Please don't look at me

Please don’t look at me

The cycleur’s distant cousin, the bikeur does not go to town to see but to be seen. They too ride upright bikes and lately, single speeds. It’s a myth that they ride fixies, for you can’t coast on a fixed gear and the pedalling may distract you from the rider’s hair.

To the bikeur, the bike is a vehicle for their vanity. Unlike the cycleur they ride not to turn their head but to turn heads. Look at me, they scream from deep beneath their polished veneer. They stare straight ahead for they are too damn cool to acknowledge your admiration even though without it they would wither and die.

They dress to impress no matter how uncomfortable. Everything is branded, expensive and exclusive. The clothing, the wheels, the brake pads, the seat, the bar tape, the dust caps. Whereas the cycleur hopes to merge with the crowd, this is not true of the bikeur, for they are above it, they exist to stand out.

Just ride

It's not about the bike

It’s not about the bike

This then is my ode to the cycleur and cycling for the sake of it. What are you waiting for? Unstrap that heart rate monitor, leave the GPS at home, roll up that trouser leg and get out there. And don’t forget your jaunty hat.

Images courtesy of 1) Derek Berwin/Fox Photos/Getty Images 2) Unknown 3) The excellent Downtown in the city 4) Unknown 5) Unknown

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11 thoughts on “The cycleur – the art of spontaneity & observation

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