Usage of "Bike" and "Cycle" as verbs


I’d like to know the difference between the usage of “bike” and “cycle” as verbs in American English. I was nonplussed when some college friends couldn’t understand the sentence “I cycle to work.” One finally corrected me, saying, “Oh, you mean you bike to work.”

In that case, why is my college bicycling club called a “cycling club”? Is there anyone who can shed any light on this? Thanks.

I googled the sentence “I cycle to work” with more than 17000 results, for “I bike to work” it gave just over 7000 results.

Hi Shu,

Even in deepest UK ‘bike to work’ sounds al lright. Don’t forget that both in the USA and the UK it is the same language - English!


So why can’t Americans understand simple English like this sentence? And let’s not even get into the business of ordering a glass of water…

I don’t think I’ve ever heard ‘cycle’ used as a verb meaning to ride a bicycle. I have heard ‘cycle’ as a verb, but only with other definitions of cycle (periods of time, rotation of events, etc.).

I frequently hear ‘cycling’ (regarding bicycles) being used as an adjective or gerund, but not as a verb.

That doesn’t mean it isn’t used, I just don’t think it’s used widely. Maybe some regions of the US where bicycling is more popular, it’s used, but around here everybody says ‘bike to ___’.

Also, while bicycling as a means of transportation (rather than just a recreational hobby) is slowly growing here in the US, I’d wager that the first image that comes to most American’s mind when you say ‘cycle’, isn’t a bicycle, but rather a motorcycle.

Motorcycling is deeply rooted in the American psyche, almost as American as baseball and apple pie. Bicycling, if not associated with a child’s toy, is still somewhat largely associated with health freaks or tree-huggers.

This perception might be changing, but I’d venture it’s still the norm.

Whereas a ‘bike’ can be either a bicycle or a motorcycle, depending on context, a ‘cycle’ is pretty much just a motorcycle.

So, to me, if you say you ‘cycle’ to work, I think motorcycle. And nobody ‘cycles’ a motorbike, you ‘ride’ them. So now I’ve got to figure out that although you’re saying ‘cycle’, you really mean ‘bike’, and it fact you’re not cruising to work on your Hawg, but pumping on some puny Schwinn. Further more, you’re dinking around using 3rd rate definitions of a verb found as the final possible definition listed that a native speaker finds unnatural.

So, while you’re technically ‘correct’, I’ve got to translate what you’re trying to say, and whitewash it over with a helpful,natural collocation that is actually used by the masses and not just the effeminate elite or twinkle toed do-gooders, or academic 2nd language acquisitions trying to mix and match separate and unnatural collocations as if they’ve equal meaning.