Monday, February 21, 2011

Get a Bike! (Part 2)

(Another excerpt from Richard Ballantine's "Richards Bicycle Book" Chapter 1 following on from Part 1)


All right, you say. So it takes less time than the subway. But I've got to work for a livign and the subway is easier, takes less out of me. You expect me to get up in the morning and crack off 10 miles? Finish a day of hard work and do another 10? I'd never make it.

Get this. Even a moderate amount of exercise makes life easier. It gives your body tone and bounce which makes daily work and chores a breeze. Simply put, this is because exercise increases your range of possible effort, putting daily activities towards the centre rather than the peak of your abilities. So as you go through your day you are just cruising. It's something like the difference between a 25- and 100- power automobile engine. At 60 mph the 25 horse is working hard but the 100 is just loafing. It is iportant to realise that you can get this increased bounce, verve and good feeling with relatively little time and effort. Bicycling will make your work and day easier, not harder.

Are you familiar with "cleaning out" a motor vehicle? Cars today often operate in stop and go traffic for long periods of time. The engine becomes clogged with carbon and other residue. The car stumbles and staggers, it works harder that it needs to, and gas consumption goes up. The best thing for any such car is to be taken out on a highway and run fast, for at higher speeds the engine cleans itself out. Your body is a machine with exactly similar characteristics, and you will literally become more fagged out and tired just sitting still that if you run around the block a few times.

According to Eugene Sloane in his Complete Book of Bicycling, if you get in some sort of regular exercise you can expect:
  • to live for up to five years longer;
  • think better (more blood to the brain - and if you think this is crazy go out and run around for a while and then think it through again);
  • sleep better, and in general be more relaxed;
  • be stronger and more resistant to injury;
  • reduce the incidence of degenerative vascular diseases responsible for or associated with heart attacks, strokes and high blood pressure.
As cardiovascular problems account for over 50% of all deaths in the U.S. of A. each year this last point is worth some elaboration. The basic deal with the cardiovascular system is movement, the flow of blood through your heart, veins, arteries and so forth. The heart normally pumps about 5 quarts per minute, and during exercise up to 30 quarts per minute. If this flow is sluggish and slow, the system clogs up. In arteriosclerosis, for example, the walls of the system become hardened and calcified. This decreases the bore of the arteries and veins, resulting in a diminished capacity to carry blood. The heart must therefore pump harder and higher blood pressure results. High blood pressure is a cause of stroke or rupture of brain blood vessels. Arteriosclerosis happens to everybody, but extent is governed by the rate of flow of the blood. Exercise stimulates the blood flow, and does not permit calcification to recur as rapidly.

Artherosclerosis is a related malady. This is when fatty substances are deposited on the lining of blood vessels. Clots in the blood may be formed as a result, and these can jam up the system at critical points such as the brain or heart, causing stroke or heart attack. Again, exercise by stimulating the blood flow helps prevent fatty deposits.

So, the main benefits of regular exercise are first, that it will help keep your blood circulatory system cleaned out; secondly, the heart muscle, like any other, responds to exercise by becoming larger and more efficient, so that each heartbeat delivers more oxygen to the body; and thirdly, lung-filling capacity is restored or enlarged. In short, you can do more, and recover more quickly from doing it.

Bicycling in particular is a complete exercise. Not only are the legs, the body's largerst accessory blood pumping mechanism, used extensively, but also arm, shoulder, back, adominal, and diaphragmatic muscles. At the same time there is enough flexibility so that muscle groups can be worked individually, and of course pace can be set to suit the rider.

A word about weight control. Bicycling or other exercise will help yoru body's tone and figure. But for the weight loss eat less food. A brisk ride does not enitle you to apple pie and ice cream. Regular cycling burns off about 300 calories per hour and hill climbing or racing about 600 per hour. Your body uses up about 150 calories per hour anyhow, and so in the case of regular cycling this means a burn off of an extra 150 calories per hour. At 3600 calories per pound, it would take 24 hours of riding to lose this amount. It's much simple to just eat less. Curiously enough, cycling may help you do this. Regular exercise can change the metabolic balance of the body and restore natural automatic appetite control so that you eat no more that you actually need.


Our country is literally drowning in pollutants and many of them come from transportation machinery. In the cities the internal combustion engine is a prime offender, contributing not only up to 85% of all air pollution, but of an especially noxious quality. The effluents from gasoline engines hang in the air and chemically interact with other substances and sunlight to form even deadlier poisons. Living in a major city is the same thing as smoking two packs of cigarettes a day.

All city transportation contributes to pollution. Subways run on electricity generated in plants fired by fossil fuels or deadly atomic reactors. But as anyone who has been lucky enough to live through a taxicab strike or vehicle ban knows, cars and buses are the real problem. I shall never forget a winter about 3 or 4 years ago when a friend and I came driving into New York City late at night after a vacation in Canada. To my amazement, the air was perfectly clear. The lights of the city shone like jewels and each building was clear and distinct. From the west bank of the Hudson river I could for the first (and perhaps only) time in my life see Manhattan and the Bronx in perfect detail from beginning to end, and even beyond to Brooklyn and her bridges. As we crossed teh George Washington Bridge the air was clean and fresh, and the city, usually an object of horror and revulsion, was astoundingly beautiful and iridescent. The explanation was simple: enough snow had fallen to effectively eliminate vehicle traffic for a couple of days. No vehicles, no crap in the air. A better world.

Arguments against motorized transport are usually dismissed as idealistic and impractical on the grounds that the time-saving characteristics of such vehicles is essential. The fact is that even pedestrians are easily able to drone past motor traffic, and of course bicycles can do even better. A savign in physical effort is realised, but few of us are healthy enough to (a) need this, or (b) dismiss inhaling the poisons (equivalent to two packs of cigarettes a day) which necessarily accompany the internal combustion engine.

Walking, roller skating, or riding a bicycle is an efficient use of energy and reduces wastage. Utilising a 300 horsepower, 5000 pound behemoth to move a single 150 pound person a few miles is like using an atomic bomb to kill a canary. The U.S. of A. is unique in its ability to consume and waste. In fact, we utilize something like 60% of the world's resources for the benefit of about 7% of her poplulation. For example, we import fish meal from South American countries where people are starving, to feed to our beef herds, and then wonder why people down there don't like us. Using a bicycle is a starting antidote to the horrors of U.S. of A. consumerism.

Which brings us to the most positive series of reasons for trying to use bicycles at every opportunity. Basically, this is that it will enhance your life, bringing to it an increase in quality of experience which will find its reflection in everything you do.

Well! you have to expect that I would believe bicycling is a good idea, but how do I get off expressing the notion that bicycling is philosophically and morally sound? Because it is something that you do, not something that is done to you. Need I chronicle the oft-cited concept of increasing alienation in American life? The mechanisation of work and daily activities, the hardships our industrialised society places in the way of loving and fulfilling relationships and family life, the tremendous difficulties individuals experience trying to influence political and economic decisions which affect them and others?

Of course there will always be people who say they like things they way they are. They find the subway really interesting, or insist on driving a chrome bomb and rattling everybody's windows. But the fact is that subways are crowded, dirty, impersonal, and noisy, and nearly all cars are ego-structured worthless tin crap junk (with bikes the more you pay the less you get).

The most important effect of mechanical contraptions is that they defeat consciousness. Consciousness, self-awareness, and development are the prerequisites for a life worth living. Now look at what happens to you on a bicycle. It's immediate and direct. You pedal. You make decisions. You experience the tang of the air and the surge of power as you bite into the road. You're vitalised. As you hum along you fully and gloriously experience the day, the sunshine, the clouds, the breezes. You're alive! You are going someplace, and it is you who is doing it. Awareness increases, and each day becomes a little more important to you. With increased awareness you see and notice more, and this further reinforces awareness.

Each time you insert you into a situation, each time you experience, you fight against alienation and impersonality, you build conciousness and identity. You try to understand things in the ways that are important to you. And these qualities carry over into everything you do.

An increased value on one's own life is the first step in social conscience and politics. Because to you life is dear and important and fun, you are much more easily able to understand why this is also true for a Vietnamese, a black, or a Tobago islander. Believe it. The salvation of the world is the development of personality and identity for everybody in it. Much work, many lifetimes. But a good start for you is Get a bicycle!

(That was the second of two extracts from Richard's Bicycle Book 1975 edition.)