Ode to a Bicycle
By Steven Robert Allen
The bicycle might well be the most perfect invention of all time. Quicker than walking, healthier and better for the environment than driving a car, more versatile than riding a train or bus, bicycling is an ideal mode of transportation. Best of all, riding a bike is fun. It gives your body a workout when you're heading uphill. Even better, it gives your mind a cheap thrill when you're rolling down.
Bicycling has other noble virtues as well. Bikes are easy to maintain. Some are designed to roll over relatively rough terrain. And a bike is easy to throw into the back of a pickup, or onto the front of a SunTran bus. Some models even collapse to the size of a suitcase so you can carry them on the bus.
The first known sketch of a bicycle-like vehicle occurred in Leonardo da Vinci's Codex Atlanticus. In other notebooks, Da Vinci sketched ball bearings and chain-and-cog drive systems, both of which would later play an important role in the bicycle's evolution. Yet the first two-wheeled, self-powered vehicle wasn't created until 1817. The Laufmaschine (running machine) didn't have pedals or brakes, and the seat and the spoked tires were made entirely of wood. (Must have been rough on the butt!)
The technology of the bicycle improved quickly, though, and it had an enormous and largely unacknowledged influence on industrial processes throughout the economies of the Western world. Alloys and inflatable tires, for example, which were first developed for the bicycle, later became crucial for the automobile.
The basic concept of the bicycle, though, is still very practical, and pretty damn cool, too. If we wanted a symbol for the way our society should be—clean, healthy, inexpensive, built to last—you could do a lot worse than the humble bicycle. In this issue of the Alibi, we prepare to kick off a long, hot summer with a smoochy love letter to our adorable two-wheeled friend.
Long may you ride.
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