This post, by TreeHugger contributor Warren McLaren, is part of series about trading in your car for a bike for trips that are two miles or less in distance. It originally appeared on our sibling site, TreeHugger. The series is sponsored by the Clif 2-Mile Challenge.
A human being can travel three times as fast on a bike, as they can walking, for the same expenditure of energy, making bicycles the "most energy-efficient means of transport generally available." Human scale. That's one of the absolute marvels of the bicycle.
I think this is what it is that draws us to the bicycle. It is of a size we can relate to directly. We are taller and wider than it, not vice versa. We can heft it's weight in our own hands. When did you last lift up a horse, car or helicopter? If we are feeling jaunty and brisk, so too will be our progress on a bicycle. Whereas a languid disposition results in a more relaxed cycling pace. The bicycle reflects our human condition.
vitruvian man leonardo da vinci image
Leonardo Da Vinci's classic illustration of human scale, via Jancology.com
A little considered benefit of the bicycle's human scale is its relative simplicity. It's skeletal form is blatantly transparent, hiding little.
And in this inherent simplicity a massive bonus. If things go wrong with a basic bicycle, the problem tends to be obvious and in most instances easily remedied. A few plain tools, coupled with a modicum of know-how and you're off and rolling again.
An evening's course is sufficient to give most riders enough technical knowledge to keep their bicycle happily on the road. Spend, say, 15 hours and you'll be in possession of enough nous to tackle the likes of straightening wheels and overhauling a gear cluster. A friend went the full hog and undertook a full time course over several weeks, which trained her as a bicycle mechanic. So she could ride solo through Africa and Russia for six months, knowing she could maintain her trusty steel steed no matter what ailed it.
But whatever your level of mechanical knowledge of bicycles, it only need be a fraction of that required to keep a motorbike, car, bus, train, etc, in going order. For after-all you are the engine and if you're sufficiently in tune enough to walk, chances are that same engine is capable enough of powering a bicycle.
Therein lies the hidden beauty of a bicycle's human scale. In many instances, should your bike suddenly fail on your two mile or three kilometre journey, you can simply continue along on foot. Riding a bike is basically leveraged walking anyhow. The distance was not beyond a hearty walk in the first place, its just that riding a bike was faster means of self-propelling you there. If you have snapped a chain or torn a derailleur, or such like you can still wheel the bike along with your groceries perched in the basket or panniers. Try pushing a car or even motor scooter two miles.
Next time you are purchasing a bike you could even consider a carbon belt drive and/or sealed hub gearing to yet further limit your need for either Zen or the art of bicycle maintenance.
Sure, it must be acknowledged that cycling is not perfect. There'll always be rain, headwinds, dogs, potholes, stormwater grates, opening car doors, and the like, to contend with. But on a scale of best-to-worse transport options, a bicycle is as close to best as humans have so far been able conjure up. A position held for over 100 years.
So go ride. Live history, make history.