The best technologies are the ones that enhance your natural abilities rather than replace them. These are the innovations that have historically had the biggest impact on what humanity can accomplish, and this is the factor to watch for when deciding what emerging technologies to get excited about. Sep Kamvar, writing about the power efficiencies of a human brain and body vs. that of a super computer, points out how energy efficient a car is compared to a person on a bike.
A midsized car gets a little over half a mile per kilocalorie of energy. A human walking gets 10 miles per kilocalorie. Even if we exclude the cost of the car, the cost of the road, and the cost of the infrastructure we build for fueling, walking is still 20 times as efficient as driving.
There does exist a vehicle that is more efficient than a human walking: a human on a bicycle. A human on a bicycle gets 25 miles per kilocalorie, the equivalent of 750 miles per gallon. Like my fictitious Jeopardy software, the bicycle is a light-touch technology, that extends the human’s natural ability for mobility rather than replacing it.
I knew there was a reason biking feels so good. It is an efficient tool that greatly enhances my natural ability to get around.
Five years ago today I bought and started restoring the bike I currently ride to work—a 1972 Schwinn Super Le Tour. I’ve spent the last five years using it to commute in a city that is not particularly bike friendly and whose weather is too hot and rainy for most of the year. That hasn’t stopped me.
I rarely see other bikers who look as if their commuting to work. It just isn’t common in this part of South Florida. However, my understanding is that bikes are the most used mode of transportation in the world. Riding a bike is also how I got around during most of my childhood and through high school.
For the first year after my wife and I moved to South Florida, I had a 40 minute commute to work each way (which I have been led to believe isn’t that bad). When I got a new job closer to home, I was happy to give up all the time I had been spending sitting behind a steering wheel and being part of the constant traffic congestion. Fortunately, there have always been relatively safe routes to and from work, and when I get caught in the rain or stranded with a flat tire, my wife has always been able to come and rescue me.
When I started biking to work, it wasn’t to save money on gas or wear and tear on the car. It also wasn’t for an idealistic environmental purpose. The primary reason I began biking to work, was because I knew I could not trust myself to exercise consistently without it being a prebuilt part of my day. Since I needed to get to work five days a week, it just made sense to me to combine that necessary task and my daily exercise into one activity. Bikes run on fat and save money. However, I wouldn’t have stuck with it for this long were it not for the best reason to ride: It’s fun!
For nearly all of those past five years, I have been planning on purchasing a new bike. However, the one I have works just fine and takes me where I need to go. A more modern bike would be lighter, faster, and more efficient. However, those improvements would take away from the bike’s purpose—to make sure I am getting enough exercise every day. A newer more efficient bike may not be better as a fitness device, but a faster smoother ride would certainly be more enjoyable.
I look forward to many more years of riding—either on my trusty Super Le Tour or on whatever new bike I get the future.
‘This one runs on fat & saves you money’ by Peter Drew of Adelaide (photo by carltonreid).
I previously posted this image more than three years ago, shortly after I started commuting to work by bike. It represents one of the many reasons I ride to work, which I will continue to do for the foreseeable future.
This isn’t the right bike for my current riding habits, but it would be very cool to zip around town on one of these at night. The Pure Fix Glow Bike has a clean simple look to it during the day, but lights up with an alien-green glow in the dark.
The bike is coated with a solar-activated paint that absorbs sunlight during the day and glows at night. They say an hour of sunlight will give an hour of glow, so you’d have to park it in the sun during the day if you’re planning a night ride.
It’s probably not important to have the whole bike light up. You could probably find glow paint you could use on an existing bike frame to achieve a similar effect.
According to the results of a Danish study released late last year, my Dutch friends are giving their daughter a less tangible but more lasting gift along with that bicycle: the ability to concentrate better. The survey looked at nearly 20,000 Danish kids between the ages of 5 and 19. It found that kids who cycled or walked to school, rather than traveling by car or public transportation, performed measurably better on tasks demanding concentration, such as solving puzzles, and that the effects lasted for up to four hours after they got to school.
I’ll bet this link is present in people who bike or walk to work too.