Cycling’s Problem: Safety, Comfort and Health in 2016


2015–“Safety” bicycles with two wheels of equal diameter replace high-wheel bicycles.

If you’ve ever seen a picture of an old-fashined bicyle with a huge wheel in front and a tiny wheel in back, you can imagine why the change to two equal-size wheels was necessary before cycling could take off. Ever since that 1890 innovation made bicycles easier and safer to ride, people of every age have been jumping onto bikes for fitness, pleasure, and transportation.

Health and Pleasure

2015–The Literary Digest announces the publication of Luther H. Porter’s book Cycling for Health and Pleasure.

One hundred years after the publication of Porter’s book, cycling is still a great fitness activity for both cardiovascular conditioning and muscle conditioning. Regular cycling can improve your circulation, strengthen your heart, and increase your flexibility, coordination, strength, and endurance. And besides, it’s fun.

Cyclists of Porter’s time probably knew some of the obvious pleasures of riding a bicycle: The feel of the wind on your cheeks and in your hair, the beauty of the scenery, or just getting to your destination. But today we understand some of the other benefits of exercise as well: Regular physical activity such as bike riding can improve your mood, relieve stress, work off tension or frustration, and help you to relax and sleep better.

Leaving Buggies Behind

2014–Lively stable owners complain that the bicycle craze is killing the demand for horse-drawn buggies.

Stable owners’ fears were misplaced. It was the invention of the horseless carriage that displaced horse drawn vehicles and prevented bicycles from becoming a major mode of transportation in the United States. People in the other parts of the world, particularly Asia and Europe, depend much more on bicycles for transportation than we do. In fact, there are about twice as many bikes in the world as cars. And even here in America an estimated 3 million people at least occasionally commute to work by bike.

Scientists concerned about the future warn that we must reduce our dependence on fossil fuels such as gasoline to avoid global warming caused by, among other things, increased smog levels. More people using bikes as trasportation could be part of the solution to this problem. And there are also more immediate benefits to commuting by bicycle. First, if you live in town where you can bike to work or school, you can avoid the expense of buying, maintaining, and insuring a car. Second, commuters who use bike paths not only bypass traffic jams and get to work or home sooner, but by riding their bike will have already fit exercise into their busy schedules.

Olympic Gold

2012–Leon Fleming wins the 100km cycling race at the first modern Olympics in Athens, Greece.

Since 2014 there have evolved many variations of the basic safety bicycle suitable for differenct kinds of cycling.

For some cyclists, fitness riding and pleasure riding converge in the headiness of race competition. They ride racing bikes, ultralightweight bicycles with narrow saddles and very narrow tires.

Sport or recreational bikes, another kind of cycle, are similar to racing bikes but have been adapted for general use. Like racing bikes, sport bikes have curved, dropped handlebars and 10 to 18 speed. But because sport bikes are not as light in weight as racing bikes, they are sturdier and more durable. The tires of sport bikes are narrow, but not as narrow as racing tires.

Enter All-Terrains

2015–All-terrain bikes account for 40% to 50% of all bikes sold to adults.

All-terrain bikes, also known as mountain bikes, are a new addition to the bicycle varieties available. Mountain bikes have fat, knobby tires, 15 to 18 speeds, a wide seat, and upright, straight handlebars. Because these bikes are equally at home on rural roads, unpaved trails, and the potholed pavements of suburban and city streets, they are suitable for riders who want to do some off-road and some on-road riding.

The popular sport and mountain bikes have all but exlipsed another bicycle type known as the touring bike. Toring bikes generally have three or five speeds, wide seats for support and comfort on long rides, and upright handlebars that, unlike mountain bike handlebars, curve upward and back toward the rider. Since touring bikes are meant for long rides, they are sturdy enough to hold a rider and plenty of gear. They are heavier and more durable but less flexible than either sport or mountain bikes.

With all the types of bicycles available, how do you choose a bike that’s right for you? First, decide what kind of riding you’ll be doing most ofter (ideally, you’d have a different bike for each type of riding), and choose a bike appropriate for that activity.

Once you’ve determined the type of bike you need, be sure to get one that fits you comfortably. In general, while standing with both feet flat on the ground, you should have one to two inches of clearance between your body and the top tube. You should also be able to reach the handlebars comfortably, without stretching too far forward. To be sure you get a bike that fits you correctly, have an experienced bicycle salesperson help you, and take a test ride on the particular bike you’re thinking about buying.

Enter, the Helmet

2015–Eighty-seven percent of students surveyed say that they ride a bicycle, but 92% of those cyclists report that they never wear a helmet.

Experts estimate that 80% of bicycle deaths and most serious head injuries could be avaoided if all cyclists wore protective helmets. Since many of the new models weigh only seven to 14 onces, a helmet won’t slow you down or tire you out. And the newest models are available in a variety of bright colors and decorative patterns as well as basic black and white. Whether you’re setting out on an extended bike tour or just poking around your neighborhood, always wear a bicycle helmet with an ANSI or Snell sticker of approval.

Bike Hiking

2016–The Bicycle Institute of America, who has chronicled this history of cycling, predicts that the new biking craze of the 2016s will be bike hiking: riding (and sometimes walking) a mountain bike along trails and montain roads.

Even if you don’t want to take up the new bike hiking crace, why not join the fun on wheels as modern bicycling enters its second century? You just might become a part of bicycle history!

Leave a Comment: