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patterns of ink

How fruitless to be ever thinking yet never embrace a thought... to have the power to believe and believe it's all for naught. I, too, have reckoned time and truth (content to wonder if not think) in metaphors and meaning and endless patterns of ink. Perhaps a few may find their way to the world where others live, sharing not just thoughts I've gathered but those I wish to give. Tom Kapanka

Saturday, May 09, 2009

The Wind in Your Face

I just came in from a bike ride cut short by rain. Yesterday was a beautiful day that had "bike ride" written all over it, but it was also a very busy day at school ("Grandparents Day") that left no time or energy to peddle off toward the setting sun. Then today came rain, and though I did begin to ride in it, I suddenly remembered I had four tomato plants to put in, and what better time to press them into the narrow garden plot beside the house than in a gentle rain? Maybe after writing a while, the skies will clear, and I'll roll down the driveway to disappear with the wind in my face.

Did you know that the bicycle is the number one mode of personal transportation around the world? Let me rephrase that (since you can't ride a bike around the world).... Around the globe, the bicycle is the most commonly used mode of personal transportation. The popular use of bikes on every continent is even more remarkable when you consider the fact that until the 1890s, bike-like contraptions were considered impractical oddities for the rich.
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Considering that all the parts needed for a "bike" were in use for centuries--wheels, gears, nuts and bolts, it amazing that the history and evolution of the bike is so recent. It is said that Leonardo DaVinci's students made sketches of bicycles in the 1490s, but the concept never left paper until the 1820s when German Baron Karl von Drais (who had never seen DaVinci's sketches) pieced together this impractical "velocipede," which means "fast feet." It worked very much like the Flintstones' car, but it is considered the forerunner to the modern bicycle. The "pede" part ("foot") of velocipede prompted the word peddle (once they were added to the bike). (Notice the seat was made of leather like a saddle. Leather bike seats are still called "saddles" to this day.)
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Through the 19th Century, a few other inventive people began tinkering with the basic "bike" idea, and eventually "cranks" were added that made self-propulsion possible. Still it took a century to weed out a lot of bad ideas.
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Take the penny-farthing bike, for instance, so named because the difference in the size of the two wheels. This bike was difficult to mount and even harder to "dismount" because by the time the rider had the speed to balance, the fixed peddles kept turning, making it difficult to stop safely. Riding downhill was very dangerous. The rider's head was nearly nine feet above the ground. It is no wonder that until the early 20th century most onlookers scoffed at people attempting to ride bikes.

This model was closer to the ground but still had no brakes and kept the pedal cranking at all times. Like the penny-farthing, the rider had to slow down by resisting the spinning peddles with the strength of his legs.
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Two things led to the first true bicycle craze in the 1890s: First, improved roads (bikes were more dependent on good roads than the automobiles which began appearing around this same time). Second was the invention of "chain driven rear wheel" bikes. Strange to think that in the 70 years that followed the simple velocipede (first photo), its most obvious mechanical change was the use of a chain for "rear wheel" drive, which allowed "coasting" without the peddles moving. This new bike craze lasted through the turn of the century until the 1920s when the photo on left was taken.

It was that same bike craze that prompted Orville and Wilber Wright to jump into the bicycle business and eventually open their now famous Wright's Cycle Shop (which can be seen at Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan).
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With the profits from their bike business, they funded their experiments in aviation, and they used the same chains from their bike designs for many of the "chain drive" functions on their first self-propelled airplane on December 17, 1903. (That is another story, but it's worth a quick peek.)



Next time you get in an airplane, remember that it all started with a bike and the thrill of feeling the wind in your face. But my purpose in providing this glimpse of bicycle history actually ties into our ongoing story. When Dave and I rode our bikes to Metro beach in the summer of 1970, we were in the first wave of the Bike Boom of the 1970s.

Long after the bicycle craze that launched the Wright brothers' career and changed the world of transportation. Long after the development of air travel, and the automobile, and the Great Depression, and World War II, and the Eisenhower 50's. (In fact, President Eisenhower was born during the first bicycle craze and died just as the second bike boom began.) Long after all that, came the bike craze of the 1970s, which was prompted by two developments: first, there was fear of a fuel shortage and high gas prices (if you can call 34 cents a gallon high), bikes were seen as a money-saving mode of transportation; second, and probably the biggest factor, was the development of the "derailleur" system (once found only on racing bikes). It was this invention that made peddling easy and efficient in various conditions. It was the derailleur that put five gears on the rear wheel and two gears on the peddle crank, thus launching the ten speed.

Dave and I bought our first ten-speeds the summer before we dug the well. Dave has literally owned dozens of ever-improved bikes in the forty years since. I have purchased only four. That first one was from J.C. Penney. True it was a ten-speed, but it was not a good bike. I bought it because the Schwinn Continental that I wanted was in such demand that there was a one-year waiting period. I later endured that waiting period, sold that 10-speed to a friend, and bought this blue Continental in 1971 (which I still enjoy riding). I bought a "mountain bike" in the '90s, which is fine for off-road trails. And then last year bought a nice 24-speed hybrid (for road and trail), which is what I was on this morning when the rain began.

In the time it took to plant some tomatoes and write this, the clouds have passed, the sun is shining. I gotta go... Gotta go feel that wind in my face.
2050
Coming Soon: Unsettled Chapter 24, which touches on one of the unintended consequences of human mobility.

5 Comments:

Blogger the walking man said...

...And in looking at the "penny-farthing" bike (which has to be one of those things built, just because it can be) there is reason to be ever grateful for advances in the technology of transportation.

Funny how things change though...while I have vague memories of bicycles my son had I remember more every skateboard and his hours of street time riding the thing all about.

10/5/09 4:58 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Mark,
We had skateboards, too. Nothing fancy. Just small ones from the toy department of E.J.Korvettes. Skateboards later became much more sophisticated. We still see guys "longboarding" (really big skateboards) along the boardwalk in Grand Haven. I also know of some college students who longboard the streets of Chicago. Having fought the bumper-to-bumper there, I think they may be on to something.

10/5/09 6:29 AM  
Blogger heiresschild said...

hi Tom, gee, that's something i haven't done in eons--bike riding, and it is a very popular means/mode of transportation for many. the buses even have racks on the front for bikes for people who want to ride the bus part of the way. i think that is so neat. biking, whether it's outside or inside pedaling is definitely good exercise. it's something to watch the 'evolution' of bikes, skateboards, scooters, etc.

10/5/09 10:54 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

HC,
I thought we'd lost you along the way. So good to hear from you again. Happy Mother's Day!

10/5/09 5:44 PM  
Blogger Nancy said...

I hoped you enjoy "The Wind in Your Face" events and that you are blessed with that opportunity often.

15/5/09 4:36 PM  

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