The other day I was riding my bike on a flat stretch of road near my apartment. During that ride, I was blown away by the efficiency of my bike, at least relative to modern means of transportation. I mean, a bike that is half decent should weigh less than 20 pounds. Imagine that, 20 pounds of steel, or aluminum, or graphite, or whatever else your bike is made of, is all you need to create a vehicle which is capable of propelling you vast distances. Contrast that to the standard automobile. Here’s something made of a couple tons of steel. It does the exact same thing as the bike does, although much faster, but the resource drain needed to manufacture a car and run it is astronomical relative to the bike.
Sometimes I wonder whether technological advances are really for the best. For example, before the passenger car was developed, most people got around on their feet, or on horseback. If the car had never been invented, the bicycle would probably have evolved into one of the most popular means of transportation in the world. Bikes can be produced cheaply, which means that they are within reach of pretty much anyone anywhere in the world, and they don’t require fuel to run. In all respects, the bicycle seems like the ideal means of transporting a passenger.
This isn’t to say that automobiles don’t have their purposes. Obviously, while a bike is great for transporting you across town, it isn’t very great at transporting a load of potatoes, or heavy machinery. However, it does strike me as a bit wasteful to see a person requiring a machine made from 2 tons of steel and fuelled by gallons of gasoline in order to cross town, particularly when they could have done the same thing on a bicycle in perhaps not more than twice the time.
That’s why I bike pretty much everywhere. I am lucky in that I live fairly centrally, which certainly makes it easier to bike everywhere. But even if I didn’t live centrally, I think I’d still prefer to bike. Something about the experience makes it a lot of fun. You can’t really get stuck in traffic on a bike; there’s always a way around the traffic, although you do need to be on your guard when navigating the streets to make sure you don’t collide with a distracted driver.
There’s also the awesome health benefits of riding a bike. Why bother with an expensive gym membership when you can get an awesome workout for free, and commute to work or back home at the same time? I feel that bicycles are also an obvious solution to the problem of air pollution and climate change.
So, what will it take for bicycles to become more common in the western world? I feel that it has a lot to do with the public’s perception of the bicycle. As I was growing up, all of my friends loved the idea of owning their own car. Cars meant freedom. Girls love boys with cars, and boys wanted to be boys with cars. That mentality is still with us today, and as we entered adulthood, most of the guys I knew were focused on getting a “sweet ride”.
Unfortunately, bikes just don’t have the same cachet in Western society, at least not yet. People riding bicycles are often portrayed in the media as being losers, wimpy, or poor, as juxtaposed to the cool dude driving his fancy car. Alternatively, people riding bicycles are portrayed in the media as being snobs covered in spandex.
I can’t help but think that this characterization is very intentional move by capitalist-fueled media. If everyone thinks they need a car to be successful, or at least avoid ridicule, then they tend to leave their inexpensive bike in the garage and lease an expensive car that requires expensive fuel to keep it going. Anything to keep the world economy trucking along, right? 😉