Friday, November 15, 2013

Why Ride?

I've biked on and off all my life. Sometimes I biked daily for a few months, other times I neglected the poor beast for long stretches of time. I started seriously bike commuting and doing frequent recreational rides after a bout with intense back pain (sciatica) about 7 years ago.

At about the same time, I also became interested in other forms of human-powered vehicles. Perhaps it was some unfulfilled desire to stand out from the crowd ... to be weird. Perhaps it was is fascination with the various mechanical solutions to the problem of turning human movement into forward motion. More likely it was just mental "doodling" ... keeping my mind from more useful activities.

Anyway, there are certain rewards common to all the human-powered vehicles I've tried or looked at. Chief among these are:

1) Health

Pretty much any kind of human-powered vehicle is powered by a human ... you. And that means exercise. Depending on the type of vehicle, you may be using different muscle groups, but you're pretty much guaranteed to be doing some work to get around, especially climbing hills, etc.

You may be using other muscles just to maintain balance, may be fighting wind resistance, and may be using more or less agility, coordination, etc. to keep going safely. It's all good. In addition, you're getting fresh (presumably) air, sunshine, and all that other good stuff.

Finally, this kind of exercise is a great way to reduce stress, and that may have the biggest health benefit of all.

2) Environment

As a rider, you're part of the "green" revolution. You're not burning fossil fuels. You're not adding noise to the environment, and you're reducing the demand for automobile facilities like roads, parking garages, etc.

3) Cost

It's possible to spend $10,000 on a bike, but you're going to get a really outstanding bike for that price. More common among cyclists are bikes in the $500 to $1500 range. That still gets you an excellent piece of equipment, and one that requires no gasoline.

Repairs and maintenance are also substantially cheaper than for cars. In fact, you can easily learn to do much of the routine work yourself, which both saves you money and gives you the satisfaction of knowing you can keep yourself mobile.

There are other, more expensive options. You can get a fully enclosed velomobile for $5,000 or more. But these are luxuries.

4) Speed

It's not true for everyone, but for me at least, I can bike to my office about as quickly as I can drive there. If I bike to the subway station and take the train, it's much faster than driving or taking the bus to that same station and taking that same train.

If your commute is largely urban, there's a good chance you can save yourself time by going under your own steam.

5) Serenity

It's hard to describe the feeling you get moving along on your own power, enjoying the scenery, hailing other cyclists, and controlling the situation. Of course, it's not all candy. You may have to contend with traffic, tight schedules, hills, bad roadways, reckless joggers and just plain terrible weather. It takes a while to find the right route, the right equipment and accessories and, above all, the right state of mind.

But once you do, you can overcome all these difficulties, and still feel a harmonious sense of well being. There's nothing like it.


Bill Costa said...

As a child I loved my bikes. The love affair first went awry while in college (early 70's) when my parents gave ma a 10 speed Raleigh racing bike. Unfortunately it was a RACING bike not a touring bike, so it had skittish handling and racing gearing. It also didn't help that the French made derailleurs were junk. At some point I got it into my mind that I wanted a recumbent. A local bike shop went out of business and and I picked up two aluminum recumbents that sold for over $1,000 each (1980s money) at auction for about $200 each. But long story short, I just never felt safe riding any bike on the roads available to me here in rural New England. I'm still interested in getting a good road bike, but only for use on rail trails and similar venues.

However we do have some lovely lakes where I live, so as soon as I have a new garage (and thus a place to store it) I'm definitely getting one of these...

This past summer I was in Michigan and got to tour the factory. These are very well crafted vehicles using top grade components.

Thanks for adding "Velomobile" to my vocabulary.

Unknown said...

Thanks, Bill. Those pedal boats look like fun.

I've never ridden a velomobile, but I fantasize about it when the New England winters hit!

Unknown said...

By the way, do you still have either of those 'bents?