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Bicycle, How Do I Love Thee?

Updated on December 14, 2009

Let me count the ways!

I’ve always loved the bicycle it seems. I don’t know when I haven’t. How could one not?

But, to see “it”, cycling, done correctly, to see its true proficiency and efficiency being mastered by a true virtuoso of the sport, is truly a wondrous work of art. To see a maestro who has been fitted to the perfect frame, sitting on his saddle at the proper height, extending the legs perfectly, and being able to maximize the extension of the legs allowing ideal revolutions with a slight bend in the knee, is sheer delight. To see this wizard on the handle-bars at the correct extension, in unison with the correct size of stem, stretching the body out until there is the slight bend in the elbows, is art in itself. It is to see a master, be it man or woman, playing the components, the derailleurs, gears, the brakes, and wheels as though he or she were a musician all his or her life and the instrument is nothing less than the Stradivarius.

To see this done correctly with all proper tools of shorts with a pad to protect the bottom, a jersey with pockets to carry extra food or goods for the ride, a tool bag with spare tube and patch kit under the seat, pump or another inflating device, and even the proper shoes, is a beautiful sight of efficiency. It is a quiet, yet beautiful figure of independence and self sufficiency.

Almost every dimension of the lightweight bicycle is proportioned to the body of the rider. The size of the frame is a function of the height of the cyclist (nearly one third of it) and the width of the handle-bars should be determined by the width of the shoulders. The cyclist’s weight is distributed between the saddle and the handle-bars, with the back at the correct angle for delivering power through the whole length of the thigh, using only the strongest muscles. This position also helps to spread the shocks from a bumpy road, distributes the weight more evenly over the front and rear wheels, and holds the rib cage in a relaxed position for full and deep breathing. The toe clips or modern pedals of today bind the rider’s feet to the cranks so there is not an ounce of lost force as his legs pull upwards and thrust downwards in a smooth rotary motion in which each leg is aided by the thrust of the other on the opposite crank.

Wind and hills account for most resistance that will incur, which can be overcome with different gears and better physical conditioning. Even so, the air resistance, even on a calm day, cools and allows more exercising.

I indeed love the appearance, economics, and the feel of riding on two wheels. I love propelling myself through different terrains and vistas, with different flora and fauna, smells and majestic views.

This brings you closer and more in contact with the Earth, the real world, but enabling one to go further and faster than pedestrian travel is possible, and yet one is not in the enclosed compartment such as a car. A cyclist is not viewing the world as through a television or movie screen.

The cyclist is in the scene. The rider is part of the scene with the air, wind, rain, smells and all. The cyclist is not just watching the scenery.

The sense of presence is overwhelming, invigorating, and intoxicating.

That concrete whizzing by just five inches or less below your foot is the real thing. It’s the stuff you walk on. It is right there, so blurred you can’t focus on it yet you could put your foot down and touch it any time. The whole thing, the entire experience, is never removed from your immediate consciousness.

The benefit which the cyclist gains in health and strength is enormous. The ergometer, a static cycling machine, is widely used in medical research as an indicator of physical capacity and efficiency because it exercises the heart, the lungs, and major muscles of the thighs and back.

To take such physical effort to its furthest extreme, professional cycle racing is the most demanding endurance sport in the world. Some races today may be thousands of miles in a little more than a week. The Tour De France is three weeks and thousands of miles.

More important than winning races is to ride for enjoyment- to make it pleasure. Sometimes, as it is in so many other areas of life, we make our work fun, and our fun work. So it is with riding a bike.

Choose your riding routes to be pretty and interesting with low automobile traffic. Try to ride in harmony with the auto.

Carry water and food for longer rides.

Know that you belong. Know that you’re the most economical form of transportation in the world today, as well as the cleanest.

If you commuted to work 6,000 miles over a period of years, which is not unusual for a lot of people, the total savings in time could not be counted, hundreds of gallons of gasoline, to the atmosphere about 2,000,000 liters of oxygen, 1,300,000 liters of carbon dioxide, and 300,000 liters of carbon monoxide.

These gas volumes derive from modest mileage. Compounded for a city, the amounts are more disturbing, and at continental levels, alarming.

To compare the energy expenditures of cyclist and automobile, the car uses only 20% of the combustible energy in moving forward: 4% goes to essentials such as transmission, dynamo, fan, and water pump; but over 75% is lost in heat- 40% through the exhaust and most of the remaining 35% conduction and convection through the radiator.

The cyclist’s expenditure of energy in terms of car’s use of gas is equivalent of 1500 miles to the gallon and puts him even more on the side of the angels. Thanks to the trapping of inspired particulate debris by the mucous sheet covering his bronchial epithelium, the cyclist leaves the air cleaner than he finds it.

The automobiles offer a lot of conveniences to us, such as protecting us from the elements, transporting the handicapped, heavy and numerous objects, dating, and mating.

As I use automobiles very often, I maintain a certain amount of reverence when criticizing.

The aim of the modern car manufacturer is to provide fashion which often makes last year’s model obsolete. The car provides comfort- a home away from home, a tiny comfortable room with arm chairs, thick carpets, stereo, tape player, CD player, DVD player, navigational systems, and ashtrays. They provide conditions allowing drivers to feel secure and isolated, quite often not realizing they’re driving thousands of pounds of lethal weapon more powerful than themselves, hundreds of times over.

Drivers do things in cars they would scrupulously avoid in other public places- devour food, put on make-up, cursing, swearing, and picking noses.

Too often needless chances are taken. Too often drivers resent driving slowly behind bicycles when only a hundred years or so ago, fast transportation was a horse, or the bicycle.

And yes, I love the bicycle. The lightweight bicycle is so efficient as a means of transmitting muscle energy that it is difficult for a fit rider, on level ground, to raise his pulse much above 120 beats a minute.

On a good day, when the road is right and you’re feeling strong, the stiff and yet responsive frame feels like an inseparable part of your legs and shoulders as you power through a corner or over a hill. Your lungs breathe in whole mountains, streams, trees, flowers, animals as you fly. And you do fly, across the countryside, high on air, motion, emotion, soul, and the purest of machines.

Oh Bicycle, how do I love thee? I can’t count the ways. If we both should perish tomorrow, I love you for giving me life as God gives life. I love you Bicycle for this unique animation.

You take me around the world. You take me through the cold, heat, fog, hills, streams, through the smog laced streets with potholes, and over the highest mountains, and beside beautiful seas. You heal my mind and soul.

You take me away and take my breath away!

Bicycle, you are my mistress!

     “When I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the human race.” H.G. Wells

     “Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of a bike ride.” John F. Kennedy

     “Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel…the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood.” Susan B. Anthony

“When man invented the bicycle he reached the peak of his attainments. Here was a machine of precision and balance for the convenience of man. And (unlike subsequent inventions for man’s convenience) the more he used it, the fitter his body became. Here, for once, was a product of man’s brain that was entirely beneficial to those who used it, and of no harm or irritation to others. Progress should have stopped when man invented the bicycle.” Elizabeth West

     “Picture its bare-bones beauty. The delicate balance of power and elegance you use to make it fly. The tires singing on pavement, chain purring on the sprockets, the seamless pace-line hurtling you and your friends home at 25 mph. Beats there a heart so hard that it can’t love a road bike?” Scott Martin

     “Next to a leisurely walk I enjoy a spin on my tandem bicycle. It is splendid to feel the wind blowing in my face and the springy motion of my iron steed. The rapid rush through the air gives me a delicious sense of strength and buoyancy, and the exercise makes my pulse dance and my heart sing.” Helen Keller


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