Hello, Bicycle: An Inspired Guide to the Two-Wheeled Life (2016)
If someone told you that there was one thing that you could do every single day that would make you healthier, help the environment, boost the economy, and maybe even make the world a better place, would you do it?
Well, good news! There is one thing you can do that accomplishes all of that: riding a bicycle.
THE MANY BENEFITS OF BICYCLES
Riding a bicycle may seem like just a small, unimportant act. How could pedaling once or twice a day make the world a better place? But while cycling is certainly a simple act—you are, after all, just pushing down one foot after the other—the benefits are limitless.
Bicycles make us smile, they keep us in good shape, and they help us make positive changes. Riding a bicycle is empowering, freeing, because you are dependent only on yourself. A bicycle gives you autonomy. The one thing needed to get you from point A to point B on a bicycle is you. You don’t need to buy a ticket; you don’t have to follow a timetable. You don’t need to go to the gas station to refuel; you don’t need to check the oil. You don’t need special gear or vocabulary or advanced technical knowledge. You need a bicycle and yourself. That’s all.
People who cycle regularly have been shown to be healthier and live longer, with better blood pressure and a lower likelihood of being overweight than their car-driving counterparts. Women who bike thirty minutes a day or more have a lower risk of breast cancer, and adolescents who bike are almost 50 percent less likely to be overweight as adults.
But the benefits of cycling aren’t just personal. When we ride, we inherently make our communities a better place to live.
More cyclists on the road—who might otherwise be driving a car or taking the bus—means reduced carbon emissions. For example, in the bike-friendly Danish capital of Copenhagen, bike traffic prevents 90,000 tons of CO2from being emitted annually. If in the United States each of us made just one four-mile round-trip by bicycle instead of by car each week, we would burn almost two billion fewer gallons of gas per year. And you know what else that accomplishes? It helps reduce economic dependence on foreign oil. Cycling is patriotic!
How often does something that makes us feel personally great also offer an extensive list of external benefits? Even those riding a bicycle for only selfish reasons are doing their part (even if they don’t realize it), benefiting the entire community around them.
Given all the benefits, what’s stopping us from riding?
Many of us learned to ride as children, yet somewhere in the journey into adulthood we lose the art of cycling. Pull up a memory of your first bicycle. Maybe it was red, maybe it was blue. Maybe it had streamers on the handlebars. Maybe it had those crazy colored spoke beads that made noise as the wheels turned. Whatever your first bicycle looked like, chances are you probably remember it clearly. That first bicycle is an inerasable vision forever etched into our memory. Remember learning how to ride that bicycle? Think back. You feel your father’s, your mother’s, your uncle’s, your older sister’s hand holding the back of the seat as they run beside you, making sure you don’t fall. At first, you’re timid. You pedal, reassured that someone is there to hold you. You get into a rhythm. You look to your side; whoever was holding you is gone. You are pedaling on your own. The exhilaration mounts. You are riding by yourself!
What Biking Won’t Do to You
GIVE YOU “BIKE FACE”
In the late nineteenth century, female cyclists were warned that riding could lead to “bicycle face,” a look of being exhausted and weary. In truth, if cycling gives you any kind of a face, it’s a face with a smile!
TURN YOU INTO A CYCLING GEEK
Well, unless of course you want to be one. You can make cycling a part of your everyday life and stay perfectly normal—although eventually your two-wheeled life will become your new normal, which in turn might turn you into a little bit of a cycling geek. But that’s not a bad thing.
FORCE YOU TO WEAR SPANDEX
You can ride in your everyday, normal clothes and feel good about it. No need to be intimidated because you don’t have the “right” clothes. Eventually, if you start doing long road rides or racing, you might want sportier attire that’s more comfortable for long stretches of cycling, but don’t let a lack of special clothing get between you and your bicycle.
That first bicycle, and the process of learning how to ride, sticks with us for as long as we live, because our first bicycle represents our first taste of true freedom. The bicycle is a door to many opportunities, particularly for a child. It’s a new, efficient mode of transportation, and one that you—and only you—are responsible for. Those first few pedal strokes without an adult holding on to the back of the bicycle to steady you are freeing. You are alive. You are in control. You can do anything.
Remember what it felt like to ride a bike as a child? It was fun. It was simple. If you wanted to hop on your bike, you didn’t spend too long thinking about it; you just did it. It was freeing. You could go where you wanted. You could explore. You went fast. Really fast. You probably scraped your knees in a few tumbles, but you didn’t care. You got back on the bicycle and did it all over again.
If we were once so in love with riding our bicycles, what is it that stops so many of us from doing it as we get older? Because we forget the bicycle’s simplicity. Unfortunately, the bicycle’s simplicity and pace are rarely accommodated in the design of urban and suburban sprawl. If there are bike lanes, there are few of them, and the built environment around us encourages four wheels and not two. But we also complicate the act of riding a bicycle, and in the face of those complications, many of us become intimidated.
25 Reasons Why You Should Ride a Bicycle
1. You will be healthier.
2. People will find you more attractive.
3. You can eat more and feel perfectly fine about it.
4. You’ll make new friends.
5. It’s budget friendly.
6. Your friends will admire your toned calves.
7. You don’t need a parking space.
8. You can fit exercise into your everyday routine without even thinking about it.
9. A beer tastes better after a bike ride.
10. So does coffee.
11. Paying for a bike tune-up is much less expensive than buying gas on a regular basis.
12. You spend more time outside—something your mother was always telling you to do.
13. People have more respect for you when you show up to a dinner party having transported a cake on a two-wheeled vehicle.
14. Cycling is a stress reliever and emotional booster that doesn’t require medication.
15. You’ll never have to sit in rush-hour traffic.
16. Bike storage can also look like a really fancy interior design element in your house or apartment.
17. Riding in the rain is actually awesome.
18. Getting muddy is too.
19. You don’t have to listen to boring talk radio during your commute.
20. Picnics are better by bicycle.
21. Bicycles are beautiful, even sexy.
22. Groceries look better in a bike basket.
23. Even five bikes still won’t take up as much space as a car.
24. You’ll have a new way to explore places when you travel.
25. You can name your bicycle and talk about it like it’s a person.
If it’s not the thought of riding in traffic that scares us, it may be the thought of going into a bicycle shop and not knowing what to ask for. Or it’s thinking that we don’t have the right clothes. Or we don’t have a bicycle at all, and how do we even begin looking for one?
There is no reason to be afraid or intimidated; just about anyone who can walk can ride. And the more people who ride, the easier it becomes for even more people to do it. If we want to build a society that’s more bike friendly, the best thing that we can do is to start cycling ourselves. Then we can get a friend cycling. And then another, and another.
This has already started to happen, and in many cities around the world, bike usage is growing, which benefits all of us.
THE HISTORY OF THE BICYCLE
This current rise in the popularity of the bicycle—infiltrating all parts of pop culture, marketing campaigns, window displays, and fashion—might seem like a modern phenomenon, but this isn’t cycling’s first heyday.
While there were different human-powered wheeled vehicles designed before it, the first iteration of the bicycle as we know it came along in the early 1800s when a German, Karl Drais, released his “running machine,” called the draisienne. This two-wheeled, steerable device was created as an alternative to transportation on horseback, garnering it the names “hobby horse” and “dandy horse.” There were no gears or pedals, and riders pushed the vehicle forward with their own two feet on the ground, similar to today’s balance bikes for children. A few years later, Denis Johnson of England designed a new and improved model, marketed to London aristocrats. It took London by storm. Tallyho!
In the 1860s, the velocipede was developed: a wooden contraption with two pedals attached to the front wheel and a fixed gear system, propelled like a tricycle. There is disagreement as to the original designer of the velocipede, but it was a Frenchman who made the first truly popular and commercialized design. A blacksmith who usually made carriage parts, Pierre Michaux, began making a version of the hobby horse with pedals in 1867, with the help of two wealthy Parisian brothers, Aimé and René Olivier. Another Frenchman, Pierre Lallement, is also credited with being one of the first to attach pedals to the front wheel, and in 1866 he filed the first bicycle patent with the U.S. patent office.
However, this velocipede was hard to ride, and in England it got the name “bone shaker” for its rough effects on the rider. In search of a ride that went faster, manufacturers began making the front wheel much larger, leading to the contraption known as the “penny-farthing” (also known as the “high wheeler”). Challenging to ride, penny-farthings didn’t last long, as riders and manufacturers sought out safer devices, but the allure of these vehicles has carried over into modern times, and those attracted to the thrill of these high-wheeled bicycles can still find them today.
An Englishman was the one to come up with the solution to the safety challenges of the high wheelers. In 1884, John Kemp Starley introduced his Rover safety bicycle, which was safe in comparison to the high wheelers of the time. Because of this design, Starley is widely considered the inventor of the modern bicycle.
Bike culture quickly spread across Europe and the United States, and toward the end of the nineteenth century cycling was all the rage. By one estimate, in 1897 two million bicycles were manufactured in the United States, about one bicycle for every thirty people at the time. Why were people embracing bicycles? Because they gave them freedom. This was the age of the horse and buggy, a method of transportation that was not within everyone’s budget. In this period, bicycles also became a critical part of the women’s suffrage movement, since bicycles were a vehicle to freedom and independence.
Today cycling is once again gaining momentum. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, from 2000 to 2012, the number of U.S. bicycle commuters increased by 60 percent. Americans spend $81 billion on biking annually; the industry that meets this demand is responsible for over 770,000 jobs. Rediscovering our love for bicycles is having a positive effect.
Important Dates in Bike History
1891 → Bike polo first appears in Ireland, a “polo on wheels” instead of horses.
1894 → The first bamboo bikes are manufactured.
1895 → Annie Londonberry becomes the first woman to cycle around the world, with the help of trains and ships—a trip that takes fifteen months.
1896 → Five track events and a road race are part of the first modern Olympic Games.
1896 → Susan B. Anthony declares that the bicycle “has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world.”
1897 → The 25th Infantry Buffalo Soldiers ride 1,900 miles from Missoula, Montana, to Saint Louis, Missouri.
1899 → Charles Murphy becomes the first man to ride a bike at sixty miles per hour.
1903 → The first Tour de France race is held.
1958 → The first ever bicycling World Championship for women is held in Reims, France.
1963 → Schwinn introduces the Stingray, its first banana seat bike.
1970s → In Marin County, California, a group of cyclists starts adapting vintage clunker bikes to ride downhill. Mountain biking is born.
1986 → Greg LeMond is the first American to win the Tour de France.
1993 → First bicycle messenger championships held in Berlin, Germany.
1996 → Mountain biking becomes an official Olympic sport.
2005 → Lance Armstrong wins his seventh consecutive Tour de France title, of which he is later stripped because of his use of performance-enhancing drugs.
2014 → The inaugural edition of La Course, a one-day women’s race held on the final day of the Tour de France (which is not open to women cyclists).