Friday, February 18, 2011

Get A Bike! (Part 1)

In this post I'm putting in an extract from Richard's Bicycle Book by Richard Ballantine "1975 Revised Edition" which I picked up from the book swap at a Coolangatta hostel late last month.

I sat reading this chapter on the beach front at Coolie early on a Sunday morning while a steady stream of cyclists rode past on the wide shared path.

I was thinking all it takes to get people exercising in the warm sunshine is a comparitively small bit of concrete that goes from A to B.

Not free vouchers, not offers of free beer, not tax concessions... just a bit of concrete.

You don't even need to advertise anything. Just lay the concrete - build it, and they will come.

Given the benefits of an active, cycling community (for recreation, fitness, utility, transport, commuting, spending time with your friends and family) that have been documented over and over again, you'd think this would just be such a standard way to spend tax payers money in Australia.

But it isn't. So many roads, too many to count, linking residential areas to shops and workplaces don't come with accompanying bike paths (or footpaths) or even bike lanes or shoulders.

In these many, many places of Australia, to walk or ride from A to B is to be an outlaw, an outsider, strange, fearless, stupid, crazy, and most of all to be an obstacle on the road for a motorist.

How did the humble bicycle (or pedestrian) become an outcast? You're potentially saving your fellow citizens a bit of congestion, a bit of pollution, a bit of health costs, but instead you are relegated to the category of "nuisance", "pest", and an amusing hypocritical label by your motorists as a "danger to drivers and pedestrians".

Anyway, as an avid cyclist its hard to not get all fanatical and ranty about how good cycling is (which, incidently, gives you another label something like 'raving mad')... reading this chapter of this book felt good that the big picture that you're part of simply by riding a bike, is real... that you're not just high on bicycle-induced endorphins... because someone has written it all down concisely and published it in a book written before you were born. (Conveniently ignoring all the books written by the insane).

The extract is Book 1 Chapter 1 and the chapter is titled "Get a Bike!"

(extract follows)

There is a bicycle boom throughout the world. Here it is like the 1849 California gold rush. In 1971 sales were 8.9 million, double the number sold in 1960; in 1972 the figure hit 13.9 million; and in 1973 it jumped to 15.8 million. The total number of bikes in use in the United States is nearing 100 million! In the Netherlands 75 percent of teh population own bicycles. In Japen the government is energetically promoting bicycles, with 30 million in use. No figures are available, but newsfilms from China show clearly that it is literally a country on bicycle wheels.

The typical pre-World War II American bike was sturdy but cumbersome. Equipped with a single pedal operated coaster brake and one low, slow gear, these "balloon tire bombers" hit the scales at 60 to 75 pounds [27 - 34 kilograms]. Used primarily by youngsters not old enough to drive, they were workhorse machiens tough enough to withstand jolting rides over curbs and through fields, frequent nights out in the rain, and a general high level of abuse. Fond nostalgia permeates memories of these bikes, but for the most part only people who had no other alternative used them.

After World War II returning G.I.'s brought home samples of a new kind of bike with a thinner frame and wheels, dual hand-operated caliper brakes, and 3-speed gears. Dubbed an "English racer" because of its startling better performance, this is actually the "tourist" bike, the common European machine for local use to and from work, shopping, mail delivery, police work, and the like. Light weight (45 pounds [20 kg]) and geared for both flats and hills, the tourist bike is much easier to ride. A hit with the younger set as improved basic transportation, it provided the foundation for bicycling as an adult recreation in the U.S. of A. In the late '50s and early '60s stored devoted mainly to the sale and rental of bicycles developed steadily. Americans began spending more of their increased free time on afternoon rides in the countryside or parks. Bikes appeared in force on university campuses, and hardier souls began using them as all around transportation.

In the 1960s came the 10- and 15-speed racing-touring bikes. If the tourist bike is much better than the balloon tire bomber, the racing bike is incomparably so. Weighing about 22 pounds, they move much faster and more easily that other types of bikes. The first models came from Europe, where bike races are more important than baseball is here, and short supply made them very expensive. But adults have the economic clout to buy what they want, and while in 1965-66 only 20% of the bikes sold were adult machines, they now account for 65% of the marker. High sales volume has lowered prices, so that a serviceable tourist model is about $40, whihc better quality machines up to $90. Ten- and 15-speed models run at about $60 for cheapie, $120 for a good quality bike, and $250 and more for a really high quality machine.

A list of all the vastly expanded applications and uses for light-weight bikes would be dull. But the main advantages are:


With even moderate use a bike will pay for itself. Suppose you use a bike instead of public transportation or a car to get to work and back. Figure public transportation at $1.00 a day. Say it rains once a week and you live in the Northeast with a 8 month bike season. That's 4 days x 4 weeks x 8 months x $1 or $128 which buys a very nice bike. In sunnier climes with an 11 month season ring up $220. On a 20 mile round trip @ .12 a mile a car is into a $2.40 a day, or $300 to $500 a year. Many bikes sold today are guaranteed parts and labor for three years and will last a great deal longer.

Getting to and from work is just one application. Bikes a just dandy for visiting friends, light shopping, nipping down to the movies and the like. You save money every time. Besides easing many of your chores and tasks, bikes are worthwhile in and of themselves, so that a bike easily "pays for itself" in rides taken just for fun and pleasure.


Speed. In heavy traffic you can expect to average 10 mph [16 km/h], and in lighter traffic 15 mph [24 km/h]. I regularly ride two and a half miles [4 km] to midtown Manhattan from my apartment on the lower east side in 15 minutes, usually less. The bus takes at least 30-40 minutes, the subway about 25-35. When I first got into bikes it used to be my delight to race subway-travelling friends from 120th street to Greenwich Village - about 6 to 7 miles - and beat them. There hav been bike versus bus, subway, and/or sports car contests in many cities, and in each case I know about the bike has always won.

One reason a bike is so fast is that it can wiggle through the traffic jams that now typify American cities and towns. Another is the fact that a bike is door-to-door. Use of public transportation involves walking to the local stop, waiting around for the bus or train, possibly a transfer with another wait, and then a walk from the final stop to your destination. Cars have to be parked. On a bike you simply step out the door and take off. No waiting, no parking problems.

The bike's capabilities make it a real freedom machine. Your lunch hour: tired of the same company cafeteria slop or local hash joint? Getting to a new and interesting restaurant a mile or so away is a matter of minutes. Lots of errands to do? A bike can nip from one place to another much faster that you can hoof it, and has a car beat all hollow in traffic and for parking. What might ordinarily take an hour is only 15 minutes on the bike. And if there is a lot to lug around, it is the bike and not you that does the work. Last minute decision to catch a film? Boom! Ten minutes and you're there before the subway even got going. If, like me, you are at all nocturnal, a bike is a tremedous advantage. Subways and buses tend to become elusive or disappear altogether as the wee hours approach. There is also a powerful contrast between a journey on a grubby, dirty, and noisy (to the ponit where your hearing acuity is measurably and permanantly diminished) subway or bus where you run a definite risk of being mugged or raped, and a graceful, rhythmic ride in which you glide through calm and silent streets or through the stillness of a country night under the moon and stars.

Read Get a Bike! Part 2

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