Sunday, February 19, 2017

It's All About the Bike

Bicycles have a fascinating history. In the 1890s, the bicycle was the "thing". It sparked a massive increase in mobility. Companies were springing up all over to manufacture this revolutionary transportation device. Many athletic competitions were launched using the bicycle to showcase a human's speed. Even today, it remains the most efficient means for a person to propel themselves. It helped support women's suffrage movements. It also led to the adoption of good roads. Alas, the good roads and the speed ended up being commandeered by the automobile, allowing humans to travel faster, but at a much greater expense (to society, the environment, and people themselves.)

The bicycle also played a key role in industrialization and engineering. Ball bearings helped improve the efficiency of the rotating parts. Rubber tires and tubes helped allow for a smoother ride. The double-triangle frame supported weight efficiently. The spokes on the wheel provided a stronger, comfortable wheel. Chain drives and gears transferred power with minimal loss and allowed the wheels to be reduced in size. Assembly lines and large factories were developed to help meet the demand for bicycles. Most of the modern age owes its debt to the bicycle.

The bicycle also changed culture. The ease (and low cost) of travel enable people to live further away from crowded central cities. Sporting events also sprang up around the bicycle, with both long distance and sprint races having their following. Bicycle even led to its own downfall. Cars could exceed bike speeds. The manufacturing innovations could make cars faster and cheaper. The bike companies that survived often earned most of their revenue from non-bicycle lines. Bikes eventually were reduced to "toys" and not seen as serious transportation until they have had a renaissance today.

In It's All About the Bike, a serious cyclist goes about trying to build the best transportation bike. He travels the world to get the most durable, high quality components. These will not necessarily be the most expensive components. Carbon fiber dominates the world of bike racers. However, steel is still a much better choice for a "regular" bike. (It also has the benefit of being "moldable" and repairable.) A quality hand-built wheel will last longer than a machine built one. The "best" is sought out for each component, providing the author an opportunity to describe the evolution of the component as well as visit the artisans that are doing it best. In the end, he gets his bike, and we are enriched with a history and a knowledge that high quality workmanship still exists.

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