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Bicycling for Fitness and Commuting

June 3, 2018

The Bicycle, although appearing simple in form and function, actually has a mysterious origin and is nearly impossible to attribute its invention to a single person.  However, it is claimed that in 1817 a civil servant from Germany named Baron Karl von Drais invented the Draisienne or “Dandy Horse” which had two wheels in tandem, no pedals, leather covered tires, and a wooden beam for a frame.  When it was introduced to Paris it acquired the name velocipede until 1869 when the word bicycle was eventually used.

The phenomena of the bicycle is the human’s ability to power oneself to a remarkable speed without the use of any external motors or engines other than the energy from the human itself.  A “remarkable speed” may be thought as one that is five times faster than walking (25 mph versus 5  mph) but while expending only one-third the energy, which means bicycling is very efficient.  But a reasonably fit cyclist can reach 45 mph and speed records on bicycles have shown this only to be the starting point.  In 2013, Tom Donhou, a bicycle builder from Hackney, London went 80 mph on a bike utilizing a front sprocket of 104 teeth (known as a “chainring”), and the highest speed officially recorded was 89.95 mph set in 2016 by Todd Reichert.


.. it was discovered that cycling posed an inexpensive means of transportation, as well as good physical exercise, ..

Bicycle used by Tom Donhou of London to Achieve 80 mph.

Soon after the bicycle was invented, it was discovered that cycling posed an inexpensive means of transportation, as well as good physical exercise, and that the bicycle has potential for commuting.  As a means of commuting, bicycling offers potential health, economic, and quality-of-life benefits.  Bicycles are used for commuting worldwide but especially common in places such as the Netherlands.  It is sometimes combined with public transportation where you will see accommodations on trains, buses, and subways for bike commuters to stow or carry their bikes while riding the train or subway.



Commuting by Bicycle

However helpful the bicycle is at allowing us to commute or travel, there are others who yearn to take up cycling primarily for the sport or benefit of exercise.  Cycling has been unanimously qualified as an activity supporting aerobic and anaerobic exercise.  The outdoor environment and scenic pathways typical of bicycle outings offers something different to occupy the mind (versus the gym treadmill monitor, for instance) and as a result, much ground is covered while time flies by and the amount of calories burned doubles.  The popularity of cycling has caused more than one billion bicycles around the world.  The heart, blood vessels, and lungs all get a workout and you will breathe deeper improving your overall fitness level.  Along with increased cardiovascular fitness, you will experience increased muscle strength and flexibility, improved joint mobility, decreased stress levels, reduced body fat and excess weight, and reduced depression and increase memory.  Research has shown that cycling reduces colon and breast cancer risk, and lowers the risk of Type-2 Diabetes.  It may even help you sleep better.

The first bicycle race was in 1868 at Parc de Saint-Cloud, Paris over a course of 1,200 meters.  It was won by Englishman James Moore who rode a wooden bicycle with iron tires.  This early bicycle is now on display at a museum in Ely, Cambridgeshire, England.

The sport of cycling has acquired many forms including Road Cycling, Track Cycling, Cyclo-Cross, Mountain Biking, BMX, and Cycle Speedway.  Road bicycle racing involves both individual and team competitions and range from one-day road races to multi-stage events over several weeks such as the Tour de France and the set of similar events that make up the Grand Tour such as the Giro d'Italia and the Vuelta a Espana.  Stage-races over a few days include the Tour de Suisse and Tour of California, and one-day classics are the Tour of Flanders and Milan–San Remo.  The longest one-day road race sanctioned by USA Cycling is Lotoja which covers 206 miles from Logan, Utah to Jackson, Wyoming.  Criteriums are races based on circuits typically less than a mile in length and sometimes run for a set time (60 min, 90 min, etc.) rather than a specific distance.

The Sport of Road Bicycle Racing

The introduction of the Mountain Bike in the 1970s broke the pattern of the once popular road bike (those bikes with the “skinny tires”).  Mountain Bikes, or MTBs, are designed specifically for off-road use on mountain trails, fire roads, or other unpaved surfaces incorporating full-front suspension, knobby tires, durable wheels, powerful brakes, straight handlebars, and lower gear ratios for climbing steep grades.  Mountain biking became popular in Northern California and the first mass produced mountain bike was by the company Specialized, founded in 1974.  The concept of the mountain bike was partly borrowed to help the road bike take on off-road terrain, and thus resulted in the Hybrid Bike.  Hybrid bikes are sometimes considered Urban Commuters since they can handle the urban hazards of deep potholes, drainage grates, and jumps off city curbs and have a reasonably quick response with solid and predictable handling.

Mountain Biking

Whichever form of bicycling one chooses, there is always the concern of the environment in which the bicycle will be used in.  Road cyclists will always need to be alert to safety and of traffic conditions since they will be following the same rules of the road as motorists.  Just about every form of cycling uses a type of helmet with some donning body-armour (extreme mountain biking).  The environmental conditions in desert-cactus regions can involve a hazard known as Puncturevine (tribulus terrestris), an invasive weedy plant which bear fruit drying into nutlets with hard thorns that puncture bicycle tires in an instant.  Special tire preparation is required to overcome puncturevine (also known as “Goat Head Thorns”).

There are over one hundred cycling advocacy organizations in the United States whose primary mission is to lobby for improved cycling conditions at the local, state, and federal level.  Leading these is California with nearly 20 bicycle coalitions throughout the state, followed by Pennsylvania (12), Colorado (7), and Ohio (7).  The remaining 85 coalitions are distributed among forty other states.  Nationwide, organizations include the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy which advocates the conversion of abandoned rail lines into multi-use paths.  USA Cycling is the national governing body for bicycle racing in the United States and covers all disciplines of road, track, mountain bike, cyclo-cross, and bicycle motocross (BMX).

.. which means bicycling is very efficient.