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The Practical Side of Cycling

By Rich Haubert

Frequently non-cyclists don't realize how practical bicycles are. They've been taught all their lives that progress means replacing human labor with machines. America's car culture is supposed to be the pinnacle of all societies, so when motorists see people on bikes, they tend to assume they're children; or if adults, they must either be weird or unable to afford a car. Many can't imagine themselves using bikes in place of their autos - to do so would a giant step backward in evolution, they think. j0100406.wmf (7596 bytes)

But cycling to work really is plausible for most people. It's not hard, and it's something you can really be proud of. I've heard lots of excuses, but in most cases people just need to open their minds to new ways of doing things. Even in those rare cases where commuting is not feasible, one can try practical cycling by running errands.

I have fond memories of grocery shopping by bike. I've carried anything from live tropical fish to large packages of meat. I've picked up milk on the way home from work lots of times. I remember buying pop, back when the cheapest way to buy it was in eight-packs of glass bottles. We used to strap those on our rear racks - high enough the weight really affected the handling! Ah, those were the days….

Perhaps the easiest way to try practical cycling is by riding to the library, video store, or any other short trip not requiring a lot of cargo. I carry stuff in panniers - bags that hook on to my rack - but just the rack and a bungee cord will often suffice. Backpacks also work, but they can get hot and heavy.

Typically I ride in street clothes on such trips, saving the comfort and efficiency of bike clothes (shorts and shoes are the important ones) for longer trips, like commuting to work. Some cyclists aren't comfortable in public places wearing bike clothes, but others have become accustomed to it.

Any bicycle will do, but an efficient one will be more fun. I well remember the first time I rode a nice bike, which I came to call a "real" bike in my snobbier moments. It was like rediscovering cycling - what a difference it made! If your bike needs work, fixing and modifying a bicycle is rewarding work. Bicycles are wonderfully simple to work on, requiring only a few special tools. Using fat, knobby tires on pavement will waste energy and make cycling less fun, but changing them to high pressure road tires is easy.

It's fun to see how often you can replace the car with your bike, and you're getting in shape and saving money while doing it. It also gives you a lot more clout when you tell your kids to get some exercise, or to conserve resources after their 30 minute showers. You owe it to yourself to give practical cycling a try - few activities are more rewarding.

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