Chapter 3 Bicycling Today – Some Problems



Bicycling got rolling in the 19th century -- as adult transportation. Those early machines were expensive, costing as much as $125. Hey that’s about what a bicycle costs today! Can you name anything else that costs the same now as it did a hundred years ago.
Adjusted for inflation, that nineteenth-century price tag corresponds to several thousand of today's dollars. Only the elite -- doctors attorneys, merchants -- could afford them. Bicycles were definitely not for children.
Bicycling is gradually reclaiming its place as a practical form of adult transportation. You won't get agreement from some adults on that point. "What about all those cars?" they ask. "Isn't bicycling awfully dangerous?" 
Here, we encounter something of an irony. 

The adults who complain loudest about the dangers that can beset bicyclists are parents. Their concern seems to be for themselves since they typically don't ride bicycles -- not on behalf of their children, who do. 

Now, that's irregular.

Busing Issue

School buses are slow.
They wouldn't be so slow, of course, if they didn't have to stop all the time to pick up kids. If you've ever gotten behind school bus on your morning bicycle ride, you already know that you must slow down to a crawl. Better plan your trips when they're in the bus-yard.
Not only are they slow, but school buses don't usually take the most direct route to where they're going, wandering as they do all over town. It's probably frustrating for the kids. They must surely know they could make the trip faster on their own bicycles. 
And the waiting. Since the bus schedules vary considerably kids have to get to the bus stop in time for the earliest possible arrival of the bus. They wind up standing around on cold winter mornings for 20 minutes or so. Not too bad in the “sun belt” but in New England, that's cruel. On their bicycles, school kids would be exercising, at least, and thus keeping warm. 

Taking into account the waiting time, circuitous bus routing, starts and stops, a kid can take an hour to go just a couple or three miles. That's slow. 

Whatever their value as instruments of social reform, school buses are a crummy way to get to school -- noisy, smelly, and slow. No wonder some cities have mandated that well-marked bike routes "shall be constructed to within an eighth of a mile of every school child's residence." 

They don't even have school buses.


Double yellow lines are being painted down the middle of more and more roads throughout the nation. And along with them are periodic challenges to bicyclists.
Why the lines are put there -- so often on our narrowest roads -- is a bit of a mystery. The intention may be to keep motorists from steering around pot-holes into the path of opposing traffic. Whatever their purpose, the double lines make for some excitement whenever a stationwagon passes a biker.
Even when the way is clear, some line-fearing, wide-bodied stationwagon drivers just won't cross over to pull around. If you're on a bike, the trick is to lift your left thigh over the passing fender while ducking under that mailbox with your right shoulder. It's a matter of timing as much as balance. 
Happily, most drivers do know how to overtake bicyclists safely, although that usually means simply ignoring the double yellow line.
In the springtime, motorists commence driving around town with their windows rolled down. Thus freed from their horns, they take to calling out greetings to bicyclists. It's often hard to understand what they are trying to say.
Sometimes motorists just don't speak distinctly. A friendly, "Have a nice day!" can sound like "You're in my way!" Or, they may be driving too fast. so that, "It's a great morning to be out on the road!" gets shortened to ".. .outa the road!"
It would reduce misunderstandings if motorists would smile at bikers as they pass by. But that seldom happens. 
Strange. You'd think there'd be plenty to smile about from inside an automobile.
Many cities are getting synchronized traffic signals. Smoothing out the traffic flow is all well and good, and it'll surely save gasoline, too. But this new technology will inflict a penalty on bicyclists.
With unsynchronized signals, the bicycle gets about an even break. At whatever speed the Trans-Ams drag from light to light, bicyclists always have time to catch up. Motorists must sit and wait for the riders to catch their breath. Then the next green signal sets everybody off again, including the bicyclists, pedaling vigorously into the billowing fumes.
You just know, traffic officials around the country won't set those fancy new signals for bicycling speed -- no matter how much gasoline the nation's bikes might be saving.


There are two kinds of people: those who say there are two kinds of people and those who do not.
There are two kinds of bicyclists: those who have been frightened by an overtaking vehicle and those who are going to be.
On Being Passed
A vital skill for the bicyclist has to do with being passed. On wide roads with clearly marked bike-ways, being passed is a cinch. In hill-and-dale riding on the narrow roads of New England, being passed safely requires special technique.
  • First, you must make an assumption: No motorist will intentionally run into you. If you cannot make this assumption, then stay at home. You don't belong on a bike.
  • Second, make sure that all motorists see you -- particularly overtaking motorists. Wearing bright clothing helps But that's not all.
  • Third -- and this is the tough one -- ride in the road. About where the right wheels of cars roll. Generally it will be necessary for motorists to steer left in order to pass you. (You might want to review that first assumption again.)
NOTE:  Don't ride timidly along the shoulder among the broken bottles. This confuses the overtaking motorist. He or she has to make a decision: Is there or isn't there enough room to pass without driving into the opposing lane? Ride so tlat there isn't.
  • Fourth, give clear hand signals. Take complete control of the situation. Since you can see whether there is oncoming traffic, you make the motorist's decision. If there is an approaching vehicle, put out your arm. That car behind you will simply have to slow down. No big deal. Then when it's safe, a friendly wave of your hand in the forward direction, tells the overtaking motorist to pull on out and pass.
  • Fifth, ignore a honking horn -- unless accompanied by squealing brakes.



“Where does a 5,000 pound macho van drive?”
"Anywhere it wants.”
"Where do you ride a bicycle?”
“Anywhere else.”


The invisible enemy of the bicyclist is wind resistance. Even in still air, the bicyclist creates wind resistance, or drag. It is a force to be reckoned with.
A certain bicyclist is pedalling at 9 MPH on a calm day. There's a significant relative wind to overcome at that speed. (It is far more ornery, by the way, than the rolling friction of the wheels.) If he/she were to speed up to 18 MPH, the drag would increase -- but not just double. It would go up by a factor of four! Wind resistance varies as the square of the relative wind speed.
To overcome this increased force, the bicyclist must expend energy at a faster rate. That's called "power." But since power output is computed as the product of wind speed and drag, it goes up as the cube of speed. For 18 MPH, therefore, a bicyclist's output is eight times greater than for 9 MPH. 
Consider now the case of a bicyclist pedaling at 12 MPH with a head wind of 6 MPH. The drag is about the same as for 18 MPH in still air, and the corresponding power output would apply. 

If she/he turns around and rides in the opposite direction, again at 12 MPH, the relative wind would go down to 6 MPH, a factor of one-third. That results in a drag reduction of one-ninth and a power output one twenty-seventh as demanding as the up-wind value! 

Wind resistance, of course, also varies in direct proportion to frontal area, hence the drop-down handlebars and the bicyclist's forward crouch. 

One of the most civilized ways for two friendly people to travel is on a tandem bicycle. They can go faster, too. Assuming two equal riders and only one frontal area, there'd be twice the power -- but alas not twice the speed (due to the involvement of a darned cube-root-of-two in the calculation). Still, a tandem might operate at speeds 26% faster than those attainable with each rider on a separate bicycle. 

To overcome the invisible enemy and reach twice the speed, you'd need eight riders on one bike!


Few motorists really enjoy driving. Just look at their facial expressions.
You can often tell what motorists really enjoy by what they hang outside their vehicles. A ski rack is a dead give-away. Trailer hitches hint at boating pleasures. Then there are bumper stickers and license plate holders -- even the plates themselves can tell you what motorists would rather be doing.
It's gratifying to see bicycle racks more and more. Too bad, though, some people must endure an automobile trip just to get to a place where they can finally enjoy their bicycles.
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