People who don't like bicyclists portray us as filthy parasites on the shining body of their magnificent, motorized society. They depict us as insufferable snots who refuse to understand the realities of the modern sedentary lifestyle, as in this comic from Pearls Before Swine.
Unfortunately for cycling's public image, our numbers include cycling chauvinists and destructive outlaws. Enough riders use the road as if they owned it, as arrogantly and uncooperatively as the worst motorists, to feed the stereotype that we are all that way. Because they do it without an armored shell, powered by their own muscle, these cyclists believe they deserve to make their own rules. Then when any one of us protests motorist misbehavior and oppression, these bad examples are flung in our faces.
The parallels to any minority group are striking, because of the homogenization of our image when viewed by outsiders and the difficulties of managing our own internal diversity. It's made more difficult by the fact that activists have to be passionate people to speak out in the first place. Their strong feelings can convey an intensity that repels as many people as it inspires.
Cycling hits people in multiple sensitive areas. How do they feel about exercise? Their weight? Their shiny, expensive motor vehicles they may have enslaved themselves to buy? The economy? Society? What constitutes "the good life?" You make people feel guilty about their choices, then they feel resentful. How dare you question their assumptions or the paths they feel they had to take? Get out of my face, you sweaty freak! My Suburban could crush you like a bug!
Professional mockers smell blood in the water and swarm around the people everyone loves to hate: those idiots on bikes clotting up the flow of traffic on roads they don't even pay for!"
While a minority of cyclists may manage to evade the taxation dragnet and therefore contribute nothing to infrastructure, they are probably living in abandoned buildings and eating from garbage cans. Many of the rest of us actually own and use motor vehicles and contribute to the public coffers in numerous other ways. On top of that, every cyclist represents one more precious parking space that the motoring public so desperately needs. The dedicated motoring public should be doing everything possible to encourage bike riding on plentiful safe routes so the die-hard motorists have more room to express themselves on uncrowded expressways and convenient places to dock the barge on arrival. That's the message we need to keep selling.