Constructing the cycling citizen: A critical analysis of policy imagery in Brisbane, Australia

Key takeaways:

  • Policy documents represent cyclists as white middle-aged men in lycra (MAMILs), which is an exclusionary image and representation of cyclists and cycling. The language, images, and representations used in cycling policy discourse impacts cycling modal share.


  • Policy characterizations of ‘the Cycling Citizen’ fall under the following four categories: speed and skill, virtue, class and conspicuous consumption, and (dis)orderly bodies.
  • Cycling policy documents and discourse conflate cyclists with MAMILs, despite policymakers’ rhetoric about increasing cycling for all.
  • Speed, skill, and athleticism are highly valued in low-cycling countries, like Australia and the UK, where cycling is usually characterized as a serious or specialist undertaking rather than a means of daily transport.
  • Fear of being slow and holding up traffic may deter women, who are make more care-related journeys. Child-care and elderly-care can cause women, more than men, to abandon cycling as a mode of transport.
  • Cycling policies focus on commuter and school cycling trips, while ignoring other cycling trips (i.e., care-related journeys, low-income shift workers, social activities, etc.).
  • Policy documents conflate cyclists with environmentalists, an identity that some may embrace while others reject.
  • In some contexts, cycling has been constructed as an elite activity marked by forms of conspicuous consumption associated with inner-city wealth and White masculinity. The bourgeoisie associations of cycling may make it seem like an exclusive, elite activity.
  • The status of cycle commuting as an athletic, serious, and bourgeoisie undertaking has implications for the whether people feel like they can cycle, especially if they do not conform to that appearance and aesthetic.
  • Representations of cyclists in policy documents only reflect people wearing casual attire (but not skirts or dresses) and lycra, as opposed to professional work-appropriate outfits. This associates cycling with exercise rather than daily travel and can suggest that it’s unprofessional, disorderly, or unhygienic.
  • In addition to exclusionary representations of cyclists (women, people of color, people of lower incomes, and people who aren’t thin are omitted), the rhetoric of policy documents suggests that those who don’t cycle choose not to. Policymakers and practitioners must consider how certain practices, identities, and cultures may be exclusionary, and how one’s identity and social positioning affects one’s modal choice.



  • The focus on MAMILs in cycling policy discourse and documents results in the prioritization of commuter and school cycling journeys. This means that other people who cycle for other purposes other than the typical 9-5 work commute (i.e., people who cycle to the grocery store, people who cycle to meet friends, delivery cyclists, etc.) are not accounted for.
  • In order to make cycling an accessible, feasible, and inclusive for everyone, representations of cycling and cyclists must be more diverse, instead of exclusively featuring and privileging the White MAMIL identity.



  • The authors reviewed policy documents in Brisbane, Australia and analyzed the text and images used to discuss and represent cyclists and cycling.


Osborne, N., Grant-Smith, D. (2017). Constructing the cycling citizen: A critical analysis of policy imagery in Brisbane, Australia. Journal of Transport Geography, 44. 

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