I write these things at a certain time on a certain day and that certain time this week was threatened by an old friend who wanted to go on a bike ride during my blog writing hours. I know I mustn’t give in to temptation or my work will suffer. It might not get done.
But he is a good friend.
And I do like my bike.
I notice it leaning against the stair rail. It’s a marvel of human ingenuity.
First, you need to invent the wheel.
Wings, fins, webbed feet, and lenses are found in nature. People noticed them and fabricated imitations.
Wheels are not found in nature—unless you count logs, certain stones, or a dung beetle’s prized turd ball, which rolls like a wheel. It’s not likely a caveman saw that and thought “wheel.” The turd ball evoked possibilities, but “wheel” wasn’t one.
The first wheel was fabricated about 6,000 years ago. It was around for millennia before someone thought to affix an axle so two wheels could roll in the same direction. And thus, the cart.
Millennia went by.
And then in 1817 a certain Baron Karl von Drais paired two wheels, front and back, and connected them with a wooden frame, ridiculed as “the dandy horse.” Soon after came pedals, chains, gears, pneumatic tires, aluminum, and the Tour de France.
In the late 19th century bicycling clubs formed in Europe and America. Those elite clubs lobbied for smooth, paved roads. Later, automobiles would hog those roads built for bikes.
The bicycle is the most efficient human-powered means of transportation. There are twice as many bikes as cars.
But it’s more than a marvelous machine.
Experiments done in Uganda, Tanzania, and Sri Lanka show that a bicycle increases a poor family’s household income as much as 35%.
For women, the “noiseless steed” brought liberation and bloomers. Susan B. Anthony called it the “freedom machine.”
“I think the bike has done more to emancipate woman than any one thing in the world,” she said. “I rejoice every time I see a woman ride by. It gives her a feeling of self-reliance and independence. The moment she takes her seat, away she goes, the picture of untrammeled womanhood.”
A bike goes on forever. Friends don’t.
Work can be postponed. Living can’t.
I said yes to my friend.
I took my seat. Away I went. Untrammeled.
Thank you for that insight. The bicycle has been a big factor in my life, but I never gave much thought to its origins.
I too love my bike—together we go places, though these days not so far or fast. But it never occurred to me how much we owe to dung beetles and their tiny little turd balls for the wheels upon which we ride.
Thank you for the history & perspective Randy. I LOVE my bike, & it always transports me back in time to all my childhood journeys on bikes, with my brother, friends or on my own! And now I travel to the park, or to a friend, or just enjoying the breeze in my hair… liberating & joyful…
Yep… bike love shared????
What a graceful antique bicycle pictured in your weekly. Never could figure why they made a male and female bike. My sister and I had many adventures in the Pennsylvania hills when we were girls.You’ve enlightened me on beetle bowels.
Wear a helmet!! My former preacher said that from the pulpit.No one “came forward” to chastise him.When I see kids wearing helmets now, I make it a point to
say it’s a really cool helmet, and its always a good idea to wear
one. I think that at some point Donald J. Frump forgot to wear his.
A bicycle changed everything for me as a child. It meant instant freedom. After decades of BMX bikes, and later a Trail bike, I purchased my first road bike this Spring. Completely different than anything I’ve ever ridden, but that feeling of freedom never changes. Thanks for sharing!
Love it Randy, thank you! So glad you gave the beautiful bicycle her deserved due! Yes, a marvel indeed. I am so thankful to be able to pedal, most especially now, but any time, indoors or out, feel the wind against my skin, the warmth of the sun, the brush of briar and bramble in hair and on knees as I glide by, seamlessly at one with nature. Delighted to learn about origins! Good old Baron von Drais and all the other notables involved in bringing us the modern bicycle!
As a kid I was rarely without my bike. As an adult, I have been on again/ off again. Lately I have been on again. I do wish that WV would do more to return their roads to their rightful owners – perhaps we need car lanes along side the bike roads.
I am so glad that you saw fit to recognize the work of the lowly dung beetle. Incidentally, they were exported to Australia to save humans from the hoards of biting flies that developed on the manure of the non-native livestock brought there by Europeans. Australian dung beetles did not know what to do with marsupial poop. Bicycles are neat, too.