Saturday, August 11, 2012

A bicycle: the most ecologically friendly mode of transportation

A bicycle, the greenest transportation, deserves attention as a means of commuting and as a source of recreation. Just think, ride to work, take a bicycle vacation, or ride to the grocery store using only the fuel you eat and producing only physiologic emissions (aka gas) expected whether you ride a bicycle or not.

Two weeks ago, I participated in a leisurely bicycle tour halfway around Chautauqua Lake via the Stow Ferry, while the majority of the 70 cyclists completed the 42-mile circuit of the lake. I realized this opportunity for moderate exercise, beautiful vistas and conversation with fellow cyclists can be experienced by everyone.

Bicycling is the most efficient method for rapid, sustained motor-less motion. Humans can generate one-quarter horsepower travelling 20 mph on a bicycle. The modern bicycle with multiple gears allows one to exert the same effort riding uphill as on the level road without exhaustion. Eighty-five percent of the effort to move a bicycle is to push through the air, called drag. Air does cause resistance; recall the effort to walk into a stiff breeze. Bicycles surrounded by a sleek streamlined shell creating a bullet-like shape decrease drag, allowing easier pedaling. On such a bicycle, sustained speeds of 25 mph and 65 mph for short distances can be achieved.

Bicycle road racers intentionally ride immediately behind the rider in front of them to take advantage of spreading the air stream by the rider in front of them. Air passes around the leading bicyclist, creating a partial vacuum behind. Air rushes in to fill the vacuum sucking in the bicyclist behind, similar to the rush of air created behind a passing truck. Less effort is required to pedal, when one is in this position, which is called drafting. The faster and more experienced cyclists riding with local groups practice drafting, while riding in a "pace line." Drafting is a unique experience, I am told, but, serious, painful injuries can occur falling if one contacts the rear tire of the cyclist in front of them.

The first bicycle, created 200 years ago, called a "hobby horse," had two wheels connected by a wooden frame, but it moved by pushing off with one's feet. In 1868 a huge front wheel with pedals called the "ordinary" became popular. By 1879, front wheel pedals were replaced by chain driven power to the rear wheel. This configuration remained unchanged for 100 years until the multiple-gear system became popular 50 years ago. Today bicycles are designed for road races, triathlons, pleasure touring, off-road biking (mountain) and recumbent travel.

Commuter bicycling will become more common, especially in cities to avoid waiting in traffic, paying high auto-parking fees and subway fares. This past spring while a student in London, my son-in-law, Matt, rode a Barclay Bank sponsored commuter bicycle to and from class for one British pound (or $1.60) each way.

Bus travel was 1.35 British pounds each way, plus a slow trip. The "tube" (subway) cost 2 pounds each way, plus a mile walk to class. Washington, D.C., as noted in the June 2012 National Geographic magazine, since 2011 has provided commuter bicycles at a cost less than parking or subway fees.

Bicycling Magazine in their book "The Noblest Invention," states "every kid dreams of riding a bicycle" and "a first bicycle is like a first kiss, a best friend, or a favorite dog." My first bicycle, with 24-inch wheels and coaster brakes, accompanied me to forbidden territory as a 10-year-old. On a fateful summer evening, my friend, Dougie, and I crossed Main Street in my hometown against my parents' orders. As I cruised down a school driveway turning onto a busy street, I was knocked off my bicycle by a car. Fortunately, I was only scraped up, frightened, and my bicycle minimally dented. My friend kept his promise; my parents would never learn what happened and where.

Bicycle enthusiasts may ride to escape, to exercise, for exhilaration, for efficient transportation and for competition. Today, I invite you to find and enjoy a bicycle.
By Robert M. Ungerer , The Post-Journal

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