Sunday, October 17, 2010

Bicycling -- commentary

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood made news last March when he announced a policy change which is supposed to bring "the end of favoring motorized transportation at the expense of nonmotorized." The new policy states, "Walking and biking should not be an afterthought in roadway design."

Bicycling may not be an afterthought in LaHood’s mind, but it will be forever in the minds of the public. However, I like the idea so I’ll help his fantasy along. After all, history has been known to take some weird twists.

Besides, bicycling is hard to beat for exercise and recreation; it is great for both the young and the old. If you haven’t been on a bicycle for years, you should try it again. The modern bicycle is not your father's bike. Index shifting, hydraulic suspension, lighter metals, quick release hubs, quick adjust seats, ergonomically designed seats and better braking make the modern bicycle a joy to ride. My 69-year-old brother bragged that he had recently ridden a 104 mile day on his bicycle. I don't compete with him for distance, but I do ride 12 miles twice a week as part of my workout regimen.

If you are new to bicycling, I would advise you to start at a bicycle store rather than a big box store. To begin with, how you are going to use the bike is much more important than price. Do you need a mountain bike, a road bike, a hybrid, or maybe a step through? A knowledgeable sales person can help you make those choices.

If all you intend to do is pedal around the neighborhood or the RV park where you are camped for the winter, then you can forget about gears and skinny tires. If all your riding is going to be on pavement and often involves a dozen miles or more, you'd better go for gears and skinny tires.

If you are going to get off the pavement some of the time, go with a mountain bike. If you need the skinny tires for pavement, but don't like those handle bars that stretch you out like a racer, then you need a hybrid which is a cross between a road and a mountain bike with flat handlebars, allowing you to ride in an upright position.

If you are going to do a lot of uphill downhill get one with lots of gears. Gears are a wonderful invention and most bicycles now have 21 of them. Don’t let that scare you; you never use them all. Just develop a pattern. Here’s mine: There are three sprockets on the pedal crank. Think of these as high range, medium range, and low range. Then there are seven sprockets on the rear wheel. These are gears one through seven. Seven is the high gear and one is the low gear.

When the riding is easy, you ride in high range, gear seven. As it becomes more difficult, drop down to gear six, then five.

Your next shift will be to mid-range. While in mid-range, as the riding becomes more difficult, you drop down to gear four, then three.

Your next shift will be low range, and as riding becomes even more difficult, you drop down to gear two and finally gear one. By this time you are going up a pretty steep hill. If you find yourself going slower than a walk, get off and push. Around Jonesboro, I rarely find myself in low range, gear one.

As the riding gets easier, you just reverse the process. In the higher gears, you can easily move across flat ground at 15 to 20 mph, and in lower gears, the hills are easy.

In Arkansas, you can comfortably ride several months out of the year, making a bicycle commute to work possible. Up to fifteen miles would be a reasonable commute. A few years ago, maybe 20, I did a long term teacher substitute in Big Flat and lived in Mountain View. I would park by car at Fifty Six and ride my bicycle the remaining twelve uphill, downhill Ozark miles to the school.

When I taught in Grubbs, I would park my car at Little Texas Missionary Church and ride the remaining eleven flat miles to the school. The beauty of it was that since I rode the bicycle to school, I had to ride it back and this gave me two good workouts a day.

If you want to commute by bicycle, you can buy a garment bag and brief case to attach to your carrier so you can freshen up when you get to work and have your files, etc. with you. It works, it’s good for you, and it will make LaHood happy, and someday, this fantasy might really come true.

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