(For radio stations: Bill's public radio work can be licensed via PRX).
Please watch out if you live in my neighborhood. After twenty years of driving to work I've rediscovered my bicycle. Now I zoom into work in four minutes and thirty seconds, yelling the whole way at anyone who walks in my bike lane.
The bicycle, although invented 5000 years after the wheel, was the first effective human-propelled vehicle. A human being on a bike is the most efficient way to move a weight around. A human just walking on the ground takes about as much energy, per pound, as a horse; but give that person a bike and they'll use one-fifth of the energy to move that same pound. On this basis it makes them more efficient than even a jet.
The secret is the bike's ingenious design. It takes maximum advantage of the strengths of the human body. A bike uses the most powerful muscles - the thighs - and it uses them in just the right motion. There is nothing more natural than the smooth rotary action of the feet. And on the bike they rotate at an ideal seventy revolutions per minute. The result: A single turn of the pedals advances the bike sixteen feet or so making it extremely easy to get from here to there.
The bike truly revolutionized our world. It accelerated the proliferation of machines in our lives. It did this by creating a huge demand for mass-produced precision parts, the average bike uses about 1,000 individual pieces. This brought forth new methods to produce metal parts. For example, bicycles needed bearings to make their wheels spin. This created a whole industry, so that by the turn of the 20th century bearings were available for all sort of machines.
Also, the bicycle directed our minds toward the possibilities of independent long distance travel. Once this possibility appeared in our minds, the bike led conceptually to the car, and all sorts of other motorized vehicles.
But to me, none of these are more wonderful than the bike. It demands few energy resources, contributes little to pollution, and makes a positive contribution to health. It can be regarded as the most benevolent of machines - as long as you stay out of my bike lane.
Copyright 2001 William S. Hammack Enterprises