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A Bicycle Built for You

I drive a vehicle that gets the equivalent of a thousand miles to the gallon and runs on a transmission invented by Leonardo Da Vinci. It has no gas tank and emits no greenhouse gases or other pollutants. Its evolutionary roots stretch back to strange machines of the early 19th century designed to increase the efficiency of walking. My energy efficient vehicle is a bicycle.

Iíve been using a bicycle for getting around Albany for over 30 years. I use it mainly for commuting to work and for short local trips around town, particularly in auto-congested areas like Lark Street, Washington Park and the Center Square neighborhood. While weather conditions, passenger accommodations, the size of goods carried and distance all affect my biking choices there still remains a lot of trips that Iím able to make with two wheels. Iíd prefer to think of my car as my backup form of transportation.

What I particularly like about getting around by bike is the freedom it gives me to stop and check things out along the way. It also makes it easier to get off the road. With the wonder of spring blooms all about these days, I can easily stop to sniff the temporal scents of the season often without having to get off my bike. I have ridden down to Washington Park on a few occasions lately with no parking problems, and wandered the trails and closed roads checking out the views and smells of the latest spring flowerings.

Bicycles make a lot of sense these days as gasoline prices rapidly rise above $2 a gallon, greenhouse gases induce climate change, air pollution eats away at the lungs of millions, obesity thickens the national body and wars are waged over the control of oil. The bicycle may just become a technological savior for humans as the 21st century proceeds.

The recent race between a bicycle, car and bus from downtown Albany to Stuyvesant Plaza showed the relative speed of cycling, especially in heavily congested rush hour traffic. While most media covered the relative times of the contestants, few dwelt on the broader-ranging issues connecting oil dependence, health and transportation. Mark Gaffneyís pedaling prowess involved a lot more than getting the best time of the day.

Every mile ridden on a bike instead of in a car reduces the demand for oil. Oil is a non-renewable resource and its supply is quickly running dry. Itís been estimated that the food-energy equivalent of one gallon of gas can fuel a cyclist for a thousand miles. Ironically, U.S. auto manufacturers are helping to spur car sales in China, a country where the bicycle has its greatest following. This is resulting in a growing demand for gasoline in China as cars displace bikes, facilitating the draining away of world oil reserves at an even quicker pace than previously predicted.

With the growing scarcity of oil in the world, there are two things that can be easily predicted: 1) the cost of gasoline will continue to rise, and so will 2) the likelihood of international conflicts over available reserves. The extreme addiction of this country to an oil-fueled economy that requires more and more barrels of crude has made access to world oil reserves a national security issue. Every mile ridden on a bike instead of in a car may help reduce the prospects for future wars.

Every mile ridden on a bike instead of in a car cuts greenhouse-gas emissions. The earth is warming. The more we ride bikes, the less carbon dioxide and other gases heating up the planet are released into the atmosphere. Itís been estimated that for every thousand miles traveled using a bicycle instead of a car, over 600 pounds of carbon dioxide is kept out of the atmosphere. Every mile ridden on a bike helps reduce global warming.

Traffic congestion compounds inefficient energy use and pollution production. As the number of vehicles grows at a faster rate than the roads to carry them, traffic jams will continue to grow, burning away fuel at a slow crawl. The more bikes on the road, the more cars kept off the road.

Cycling is a simple source of exercise that is good for your health. While there are injury risks attached to bicycling, there are great health benefits for those trying to shake loose from the sedentary dangers of American culture. With the growing problem of obesity in this country, the more bike riding the better. In addition to being a good means to burn calories, research has shown biking is particularly beneficial for the heart, lungs and legs. The more miles we put on bicycles the better our health. Such good health habits may ultimately translate into lower health costs.

So, the race to Stuyvesant Plaza was a little more complex than just who got there first. While the car came in a close second, it probably caused far more environmental damage than the bike or bus along the way. Though the car was faster than the bus, the bus gave rides to dozens of people, keeping far more cars off the road than the bike and probably consuming far less fuel per rider than the car that beat it.

Well, it just so happens that May is National Bike Month. Itís a good time to get your bike out and figure how best to include it in your transportation options. There is a lot of work to be done in the Capital Region to make the roadways more bike-friendly, but donít let that keep you from riding. To find out more about biking in the area and what you can do to make the roads more bicycle-friendly in your community, contact the NY Bicycling Coalition at 436-0889. You can also check out their great Web site and its useful links at

So, what are you waiting for? Get biking!

óTom Nattell

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