Friday, September 30, 2011

Ride to Freedom – Yesterday and Today

We have already written a few posts about how bicycles help increase mobility for western women in the late 19th and early 20th century, but the bicycles impact on mobility is much more substantial. Not to minimize the importance of the steel steed on the fairer-sex, but the fact is that it increased the mobility of many people in that time. Originally personal transportation choice was horse or horse and cart, and then as times changed options increased with the car, truck, and motorcycle.  The author, as someone who has owned all four of these options, can vouch for the fact that none of these are cheap to keep in running shape and all take an experienced hand and specialized tools to maintain.

Here lies the beauty of the bicycle in its many forms.  After its initial purchase, little money is required in its maintenance. Note I said required, not desired; upgrades for performance are completely different from feeding a horse, or filling up a car. We all know people (or are ‘them’ ourselves) who have had bicycles for years and do little more than ‘push the pedals’ and still ride them for years. Still for those who do desire to work on, or repair their bikes, the tools for most jobs are very basic. Lastly bicycles take up relatively little space to store. A great feature if you live in large cities, and small living spaces.

Roy Rogers on a Bike talking to Trigger

This has made the bicycle the primary mode of transportation for the poor, frugal, young and many others since its inception.  Advertisers and society have often linked it to young love in song, think Daisy Bell (aka Bicycle Built for Two), and photos. With the exception of bikes sold to athletes, the people in ads either are children or a couple in some stage of courtship. Even though the majority of the West seems to be happy to leave the bike in this realm, I am sure we have all viewed pictures of people in Asia and Africa carrying large loads of goods and people on their bike.  The simplicity of the bicycle still fits the role of primary transportation around the world.

Rover Ad, c. 1896 (later day makers of the Land Rover)
Man trying to pick up the ladies.

Schwinn Ad from the 1970's
Still a man picking up a lady... but who rides a road bike into the pool?

So much so that many worthwhile groups are working hard on placing bicycles in the hands of the poor and disadvantaged in both the United States and around the world. Groups like Bikes for the World, The Bamboo Bike Project, and Bikes for Africa use different methods of collecting, building and distributing bikes to people, but all are trying to increase the mobility of people everywhere.  Without getting into specifics about any individual program (Note: we are not affiliated with any of these groups) each shares the story about how the difference between getting food to the market, children to school, water into a home or doing without one of these basic necessities is often the availability of reliable transportation. This is not an attempt to beg money for any of these groups. Just an illustration of how it is important to view the bicycle as the life changing tool, not a toy or some sort of sporting good. Viva la  bicycle!

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