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Bicycles

The bicycle….   
Bicycles: in my estimation, the most elegant transport humans have devised and used. Feet, legs and dynamic balance are nearly miraculous, but they’re a given, we didn’t have to think those up. Bicycles, on the other hand….clean, efficient, small, simple.

One of the big motivators for this blog is my ongoing internal debate about my favorite mode of transport. See, I really enjoy sporty driving – I’ve taught performance driving, driven in all kinds of competitions both on and off road, restored and enjoyed sports cars – but on the other hand really don’t like the idea of being dependent on the car. Not to mention my deep belief, despite my own personal enjoyment of motorized vehicles, that the automobile (along with income taxes, the Interstate Highway System, and television) has been one of the un-doers of the values of individuality and self-reliance that I think Jefferson was thinking about a couple hundred years ago. I have this love/hate relationship with cars….

For dependable daily transport, a bicycle makes much more sense than a private car, as long as one can figure out how to move about on a bicycle on roads and through neighborhoods that don’t pose a high level of personal hazard.  I’ve been commuting by bicycle for the past 10.5 years and don’t know how I’d do without.  There are days when I have to drive (one day a week I have to traverse a couple major arteries and a ghetto to get to work, and my self-preservation instinct is high enough that I always make that commute in my car), and I won’t bicycle on ice and salt due to the unpredictable tire adhesion in those situations.  But otherwise it’s a year-round piece of rolling functional art. 

When I first started my present job (in a part of the country that gets snow and ice in the winter, hot muggy summer weather), people seemed wierded out that I would commute in the cold or in the heat or in the rain.  The same people who pay a lot of money to go skiing in the winter, go boating in the summer (or play tennis or play golf), and pay the health club to go swimming.   So who’s the lunatic? 

Why don’t more people use bicycles for basic transport? The obvious answer is that our infrastructure in America is not set up for it, and culturally it’s become a foreign idea. But those are excuses. The Dutch figured this out. When they motorized, bicycle use went down, congestion/polution/traffic deaths went up. The Dutch gov’t went on a campaign to reverse this. Dedicated bike lanes, protected parking, etc… and both trends reversed; bike use up, traffic deaths down. Not to mention the congestion relief….can you imagine Amsterdam if all those bicycles were replaced by cars? I can, it would look like Manhattan. Yikes!
In our “democracy” our “leaders” are only going to do what they think will get them re-elected. I’m old enough to realize that most Americans would rather be fat and coddled and sit in traffic at >$4/gallon than to be in the open air getting exercise while they move about. Much to my own disappointment, I don’t see any real movement in this country to do what the Dutch did…..

Later, more on my idea of the Ideal Commuter Bicycle.  I’m glad to see that in the last 8 years the mainstream purveyors of bicycles (Trek, Schwinn, Cannondale, Jamis, Raleigh, etc. etc. etc. ) have all started offering more practical bikes for users.   Maybe as gas costs rise and the highways get increasingly congested (and more people become less willing to view fatness as inevitable or even a sign of prosperity or strength) these new offerings will entice more people out of their cars and onto bicycles.

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