Thursday, January 24, 2013

Reasons to Ride a Bike

Now that Ann Arbor is gripped in real winter weather again, it's interesting to see how many people are still cycling.

Back on September 8, 2011, Intelligence Squared posted their "Cycling Festival" podcast that went into the many reasons why people start (and continue) cycling. (You might not really appreciate the "high-falutin'" argumentation of the lead presenter, though.) I felt it a perfect fit to where my mind is currently: thinking about what I would have done if I didn't start riding my bike:
Two wheels, a frame, and two pedals. Nothing could be simpler than a bicycle. People start cycling for practical reasons or for fun but before they know it, it's become a passion, an obsession, a career, an instrument of self-torture.

It's an antiquated mode of transport, and yet hundreds of thousands take it up every year in Britain. Clean, green and cheap, it can turn your journey from A to B into a flight of inspiration, give you a sense of speed, grace and limitless potential, and add a frisson of danger to your otherwise humdrum existence.

Intelligence² are bringing together the most articulate amateurs and professionals from the world of cycling to celebrate the endeavour and endurance, the risk and reward of this extraordinary partnership between man and machine.

Taking part will be:

Bella Bathurst, author of "The Bicycle Book", who will introduce us to the diverse and unpredictable world of the bicycle with stories from the past and quirky anecdotes from her more recent observations.

Vin Cox, record holder for circumnavigating the globe by bike, will argue that the bicycle is the fastest and slowest form of transport you'll ever need.

Geoff Dyer, novelist and keen amateur cyclist, will discuss how photography can capture the romantic allure of two-wheeled bliss – and nowhere is that bliss more ecstatically displayed than at the Burning Man festival in Nevada.

Patrick Field, founder of the London School of Cycling who’ll be proposing a city cycling manifesto for the 21st century.

Graeme Obree, Scottish cyclist who twice broke the world hour record on a home-made bicycle who'll be talking about design and innovation.

Will Self, writer and keen amateur cyclist who’ll expand on his love of the bicycle’s purity and simplicity.

I really like the advice that Patrick Field gives, especially starting around 29 minutes, basically stating that there is no "correct" way to go about bicycling. Looking at all the rusting bikes that appear abandoned in the winter snows around campus, this lesson from Patrick Field is important to bear in mind:
If you treat a modern, aviation-grade bike, designed primarily for Americans to ride about in the sunshine, like the bike your great-grandfather rode to the mine, it will fail. Feed a racehorse on thistles, and it doesn't turn into a donkey. It dies. It's not a moral question. Nobody goes to heaven for having a clean bike, but the people who invented and perfected the derailleur would be with anyone starting a journey on a dirty bike. You don't have to use a machine exactly as its users intended, but you do need to understand what it was designed for.
In short: don't treat your bike like crap, based on the ideas of what you grew up thinking a bike to be.

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