Turning The Loss Of Cycling Ability Into A Gain

Elderly People Riding In A Bicycle Powered Rickshaw

Photo Credit: Cykling uden alder

Life starts with almost unlimited and unknown potential. A newborn is a mystery in that he or she might be anyone, might do anything and might even make a difference in the world we live in.

But, the farther along life progresses, the smaller the amount of potential gets. And, in fact, after middle age, losses begin to accrue.

Among those losses, is the loss of the physical traits one needs to ride a bicycle. Vision, hearing, muscle strength, balance and reflexes all decline with age.

By age 70, most cyclists give up cycling for fear of crashing, and being unable to recover from a crash. Injuries heal much more slowly in the elderly.

Perhaps due to the fact that cyclists are more observant, due to the need to be aware of everything in their surroundings, one cyclist noticed a need among fellow cyclist — or more accurately, former cyclists.

One such cyclist, Ole Kassow of Denmark, noticed an elderly man who was a former cyclist and felt sorry that the man had had to give up bicycling. He thought the older man would like to get back on a bike, but he wasn’t sure how he could go about making this happen.

In 2012, he decided to start a movement called Cycling Without Age. Its purpose was to help the elderly get back on bikes.

In order to overcome the physical challenges this posed, he decided to make this happen through the use of rickshaws. After renting a rickshaw, he started offering rides to residents of nearby nursing homes.

According to the organization’s website, Kassow took the following steps:

“He then got in touch with a civil society consultant, Dorthe Pedersen, at the municipality of Copenhagen, who was intrigued by the idea and together they bought the first 5 rickshaws and launched Cycling Without Age, which has now spread to all corners of Denmark and Norway.

Volunteers sign up for bike rides with the elderly through a simple booking system as often or as rarely as they want to. It’s all driven by the volunteers’ own motivation. At present (December 2014) more than 40 municipalities in Denmark offer Cycling Without Age from well over 150 rickshaws – and the numbers are still growing. More than 600 volunteers ensure that the elderly get out of their nursing homes, out on the bikes to enjoy the fresh air and the community around them. They give them the right to wind in their hair.

We are working on spreading the movement to other countries, and as soon they are onboard, they will be listed here, for volunteers to sign up. Stay tuned.”

Who, other than a cyclist, would not only value and consider the physical activity needs of the elderly, but would also look for ways to meet those needs? And, who else would set up an organization designed to meet those needs?

Sometimes it seems as if cyclists, who have a bad reputation in countries like the U.S., are actually more compassionate and community-minded than their motor vehicle driving counterparts. They appear to care more about others, and even seem to value individuals who tend to lose value in modern societies where youth is prized above all.

Of course, the Cycling Without Age movement started in Denmark where the culture is decidedly different from American culture. Perhaps they respect the elderly more than we do here. And consider their needs to be of importance.

In the U.S., elderly people often live in poverty. Some go hungry, others go without needed medication. We discard our elderly as “useless” since they can no longer produce the things Americans value. This is what a purely materialistic view gets us. When someone is no longer able to work and drive profits, they are forgotten.

With an aging population, the U.S. will be forced to rethink its position on the elderly and their role in society. A society is only as good as the way it treats it most vulnerable members. Among the most vulnerable are the elderly, children and the disabled.

We can either take the position that only those who play a role in driving profits have value, or we can take the position that every member of a society has value and that it is the responsibility of the able bodied and the young to look out for those who are weaker than they are.

Age should not hinder one’s ability to enjoy things like the feel of wind in one’s hair or the sense of motion through space. Age should not mean loss of movement. It should not condemn one to a sedentary existence.

If younger people take an interest in the elderly and their situation, they can help to fill a need. By doing so, they gain things themselves.

Pedaling a rickshaw for the benefit of an elderly passenger provides exercise which improves their health. And interacting with the elderly can give them a glimpse into a world which existed before they were born. Hearing about the experiences of the elders can give younger people a sense of continuity — a sense of where they came from and what transpired before the present.

It will be interesting to see whether the Cycling Without Age movement is even tried in the U.S. It requires an acceptance of slow cycling, since rickshaws would be moving much more slowly than the average bicycle. This would necessitate patience on the part of cyclists, walkers and inline skaters, even if the rickshaws were confined to bike paths. Bike paths are shared, and including slower moving vehicles would require cooperation.

Cooperation is in short supply in the U.S. But maybe cyclists can start a new trend by considering the needs of others, and by valuing cooperation among all people to meet those needs.

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Pedestrians Are Not A Uniform Group

Walk Signal

Road planners tend to look at road design, efficiency, and cost first. Road users themselves, are something of an afterthought, if thought of at all.

The problem with this approach is that it omits the most important thing of all, the needs of the road users. For some road users, this omission is a mere inconvenience. For others, it can mean the difference between life and death.

In recent years, we have come to call those whose lives are most at risk on the roads “vulnerable road users.” Although this term is descriptive, it doesn’t come close to explaining what it is intended to convey. And, it leaves out important groups of individuals, who don’t exactly use the roads, but rather interface with them for the purpose of traveling from one destination to the next.

The group in question is pedestrians. Pedestrians are only “road users” in a loose sense of the word. Most of the time, they are walking on a sidewalk, away from the vehicles traveling on the road. Occasionally, they are either forced or choose to walk in the roadway, at which point they are sharing the road, but only to a small degree. But, the majority of the time, they only interact with other road users when crossing a street.

As most pedestrians know, crossing a major street can be treacherous. Even with the advent of crosswalk signals, there is no guarantee that crossing a street will be safe.

To complicate matters, some pedestrians have more trouble crossing the street than others. Take the elderly, for instance. In recent years, doctors and other health experts have been advising senior citizens to walk more for their health. Those who are in decent health and who want to maintain their health take this advice to heart. Therefore, we are now seeing larger numbers of elderly pedestrians walking along major roads.

Unfortunately, just as the seniors have put on their walking shoes to attain better health, we have seen an increase in the number of elderly pedestrians being struck by cars.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration has written a document entitled “Designing Sidewalks and Trails for Access.” This document outlines best practices for determining how much time should be allowed for crossing streets. With respect to elderly pedestrians they wrote:

“People’s decision and reaction times before they start walking, as well as their walking pace, vary depending on several factors. Older pedestrians and pedestrians with vision or cognitive impairments may all require longer starting times to verify that cars have stopped. They may also have slower reaction times and slower walking speeds. Both powered and manual wheelchair users on level or downhill slopes may travel faster than other pedestrians. But on uphill slopes, manual wheelchair users have slower travel speeds. At intersections without accessible information to indicate the onset and direction of the WALK interval, people with vision impairments require longer starting times to verify that their pedestrian interval has started and it is appropriate to cross safely. Additional information about accessible pedestrian signals can be found in Chapter 6.

The MUTCD standard identifies a “normal” walking speed as 1.22 m/s (4 ft/s). However, research indicates that the majority of pedestrians walk at a speed that is slower than this and that 15 percent of pedestrians walk at speeds less than 1.065 m/s (3.5 ft/s) (Kell and Fullerton, 1982). The latter group includes a large proportion of people with ambulatory impairments and older adults. As the population ages, the number of pedestrians traveling at slower walking speeds is increasing. Therefore, it is recommended that the calculation of all crossing times be based on a walking speed of no more than 1.065 m/s (3.5 ft/s). The City of San Francisco calculates pedestrian crossing times based on a walking speed of 855 mm/s (2.8 ft/s).

In the past, transportation manuals have recommended longer crossing times at intersections with high volumes of older adults or people with mobility impairments. However, every intersection will be used by a variety of pedestrians including some individuals who walk slowly and others who walk quickly. Therefore, adjusting crossing times based on 1.065 m/s (3.5 ft/s) should be considered at all intersections. Longer pedestrian signal cycles are strongly recommended at crossings that are unusually long or difficult to negotiate. Longer signal cycles are also recommended for crossings, such as those that provide access to a rehabilitation or senior center, where a higher proportion of the potential users may have a slower walking speed. Engineers are also encouraged to consider recent advancements in technology that can detect pedestrians in the crosswalk and extend the pedestrian interval as needed. Note that accessible pedestrian signals may be necessary since pedestrians who are blind may not know how the signals cycle.”

As they point out, the U.S. population is aging so the number of slower walkers is increasing. However, very little emphasis has been placed on addressing the problems this entails.

Existing crosswalks are timed for the average pedestrian, someone who is reasonably young and able bodied. Even young people can attest to the fact that some walk signs require the pedestrian to start as soon as the sign illuminates and to walk briskly to make it to the other side of the road before the no walk signal is illuminated. There is simply not enough time for an elderly or disabled person to make it across the road while the walk sign is lit.

Factor in aggressive drivers who begin turning while pedestrians are stepping into the road and the poorer reflexes and judgment of elderly people and you have a recipe for disaster. This is true in other parts of the world as well as the U.S., for example in Canada and Australia.

As cyclists, we are aware of how vulnerable road users can be. We are no match for motor vehicles at the time of impact. The same is true of pedestrians.

The plight of the elderly pedestrians is another sign that we must use a broader view in designing roads. Roads are not just for cars anymore. They are part of a larger picture, a picture of an active lifestyle and citizens’ desire to be more mobile, even in urban environments. Bicycles and pedestrians, which were once outsiders in the transportation scene, are becoming more central to the rules of our roads. How we plan and maintain our roads will have to be adjusted to meet these differences. But, the first step is recognition of these new problems, and acceptance of the need to look for solutions.

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As Bicycles Get Smarter Will Bikers Get Dumber?

Hubway Bike With Harvard Logo

In recent years, there has been a lot of talk about intelligent bicycles. What is meant by “intelligent” is never clearly defined, but it implies that the bicycle has the ability to do something beyond rolling along on two tires.

Such a bike was released, not long ago, in The Netherlands.

“The Netherlands launched its first-ever intelligent bicycle, fitted with an array of electronic devices to help bring down the high accident rate among elderly cyclists in the bicycle-mad country. Developed for the government by the Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research (TNO), the intelligent bicycle prototype runs on electricity, and sports a forward-looking radar mounted below the handlebars and a camera in the rear mudguard.”

This bike’s forward and rear detection devices are linked via an onboard computer. To make the warning system work, the seat and handlebars have been fitted with vibration devices which alert the rider to danger. Very cleverly, the saddle vibration is associated with vehicles approaching from the rear and the handlebar vibration is associated with obstacles in front of the bicycle.

There is, apparently, a tablet and an app associated with this system which enhances the functionality of the safety mechanisms. It uses the same technology already available in onboard automobile systems.

According to the Dutch Environment and Infrastructure Minister Melanie Schultz van Haegen, “More and more elderly people are using a bicycle, not only for short distances, but also for longer distances. This type of bicycle is truly needed in the Netherlands because it will help us down bring the number of elderly people who are injured every year and allow them to continue enjoy cycling.”

A large majority of the injuries and cycling deaths seen in the Netherlands occur among the elderly. While this is not surprising, it does go against the grain of what we have been told about how safe cycling is in the Netherlands.

Granted, it would have to be safer than riding a bike in the U.S., no matter what your age. But, certainly age makes all physical activity more difficult. This would not change just because the person in question had ridden a bike for many years.

We all slow down as we get older. Muscle mass is lost, balance is disturbed, reflexes diminish and vision and hearing decline. No amount of experience can entirely make up for such changes.

Just as with everything else, aids can be developed to help those who are in some way impaired. This allows people to continue doing things independently that they might otherwise have to give up. An intelligent bicycle is one example.

From the description of the bike, which will be commercially available within the next two years, it sounds like a way to make up for abilities often lost through aging. The bike has a motor. It senses things in its environment so that the rider won’t have to rely on his or her own senses. In essence, it provides power and an additional “eye” to look out for the safety of the rider.

Not only would this be good for elderly cyclists, but it would be good for anyone with a disability or anyone who is afraid of riding in traffic. A bike of this type wouldn’t be sufficient in cases where a car was approaching at high speed. The vibrating warning wouldn’t give the cyclist enough time to react. However, in a bike lane, warnings of this type might be adequate.

So, what does it mean for cycling now that bicycles are getting smarter? The bicycles are definitely taking some of the burden of riding safely away from the rider. The bike is making decisions for the rider, although one would hope that the rider would consider the validity of the bicycle’s input.

What would happen if a lot of these bikes were on the road? Would cyclists become wholly dependent on them? Would they use the bikes as an excuse to ride recklessly — assuming they were not elderly riders — and then blame the bike if they crashed?

Who would be responsible if the rider did hit something and crash? The bicycle? The manufacturer? Or the rider?

In an ideal world, the rider would be expected to use his judgment about the bicycle’s recommendations. Still, as with many other technological advances, when a machine can do something a human once did, the human becomes more stupid and reliant on the machine.

This goes along with the dumbing down of society. Before the advent of technology, people were forced to be self-sufficient. Now most people are dependent on a variety of machines to do things for them. Without the machines, they are lost.

In the short run, intelligent bicycles shouldn’t be too much of a problem. Their cost will keep their numbers low.

But, as with all things, once they become mass produced, the prices will fall and more riders will want to take advantage of the bicycle safety factors available through such bicycles. How cyclists will be encouraged to remain vigilant is unclear.

Safety has always been a major priority for cyclists. They have had to be smart to survive, uninjured. Hopefully, smart bikes will not make them dumb and complacent. Otherwise, they will end up crashing more than they would if they relied on their own senses and their own judgment.

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Bicycle Bandits Should Avoid Motor Vehicles

Cyclists Riding Between Busses

Surprisingly, the use of a bicycle as a getaway vehicle is on the rise. This is probably because robbers can’t flee quickly enough on foot, and a motor vehicle would be too easy to identify.

A bicycle provides the best of both worlds: it moves faster than anyone could run and it is difficult to identify. A well masked robber could jump onto a waiting bicycle and make it out of the sight of witnesses in a matter of minutes.

And, of course, bicycles can be ridden across grassy areas and onto walkways and sidewalks. A motor vehicle would not be able to follow the thief.

One recent high profile case in New York featured “a flurry of armed robberies in Westchester and Putnam counties.” Banks, gas stations and convenience stores were all struck.

According to an article on this topic, “Several of the highest profile cases were closed by arrests in Rye, Eastchester and in Dutchess County, where the so-called ‘bicycle bandit’ confessed Thursday to 15 robberies in four counties. Those armed robberies included seven gas stations and stores in Peekskill, Ossining, Mount Kisco, Scarsdale and Eastchester in Westchester County as well as Deli Land in Kent, Putnam County.”

The robber used a BB gun for a weapon and fled on a black BMX bicycle. He wasn’t however caught on the bicycle, as one might expect. The arrest was described as follows:

“He was pulled over in a red Ford pickup by a state trooper for a malfunctioning tail light. The trooper found a black BMX bike in the pickup’s bed and a black BB gun inside. In each robbery, the suspect covered his face with a black scarf and wore gloves with a black ‘X’ on the back.”

While in the process of committing these crimes, the suspect was draped in black clothing. A scarf covered his face and gloves with a black “x” covered his hands. Even his bicycle was black.

Not only was he well disguised, but a black bicycle is generally the most difficult to distinguish. Bikes with fancy paint jobs stand out and are often distinct from other bikes, even those of the same brand.

So, this thief did a great job of making himself unidentifiable as he was in the process of committing this string of robberies. Given the trouble he went to to make himself nondescript, one would think he would never get caught.

What gave him away? A malfunctioning tail light on his pickup truck. In other words, not maintaining his motor vehicle, which is always a high maintenance item, gave him away.

And safety items on a motor vehicle often draw the attention of police who will pull over and ticket anyone whose vehicle is deemed a hazard.

Had it not been for this truck, the suspect might still be robbing local businesses, fleeing on a bicycle to his heart’s content. A bicycle does not have to be maintained to any particular standard. And, police ignore bicycles unless the rider is violating the traffic laws, in which case he or she might get pulled over.

Stories like this should not encourage anyone to use a bicycle as a getaway vehicle. However, they do make it clear that there are many ways in which a bicycle is superior to a car.

Versatility, low maintenance and the fact that a bicycle can be ridden in plain view of many people, even off of the roads, and the rider still blends into the background and does not draw the kind of attention a motor vehicle does. A bicycle, as a quiet, unobtrusive vehicle makes for a more peaceful society, unburdened by the noise and smell of running motors. Let’s just hope that people use bicycles to do good, and don’t tarnish their reputation by using them to get away with crime.

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With The Advent Of Motorized Vehicles Came The Concept Of Traveling Out Of The Way

FedEx Package Tracking Results

One thing about riding a bicycle is that most cyclists try to find the most direct route to their destination. The shorter the route, the easier it will be physically, barring the existence of steep hills, for them to get there.

Regular bike riders learn how to conserve energy. They want to have enough energy to get to their destination, do whatever they were planning to do once they arrived, and to have enough energy in reserve to make it home.

Doing this requires planning. Sometimes it involves scoping out new, more efficient routes.

But, even when old routes are used, planning is still necessary. Novice cyclists often find this out the hard way, by failing to plan for something an experienced cyclist would have assumed to be the case.

Whenever physical energy is expended, one must consider one’s limits. Once an assessment has been made, it is necessary to pace oneself in whatever way is possible in order to achieve the desired goal. This is what travel was like up until the invention of vehicles which carried their occupants from one place to another.

First, there were floating objects, probably simple rafts which allowed our ancestors to travel on water. This type of travel was the easiest to accomplish.

Observation would tell one that certain materials could float. And trial and error would demonstrate that some materials could float even under the weight of a human. And so the idea of a boat was borne.

Then, of course, came the advent of the wheel. It opened the door for additional forms of travel.

Wagons which could be pulled by animals reduced the amount of physical effort required for humans to travel. Later, motors were invented.

Motors allowed us to invent cars and trains. Eventually, by combining knowledge of motors and certain principles of physics the airplane was invented, thereby making travel faster. Air travel allowed humans to cover great distances in a relatively short period of time.

Yet something unusual occurred along with the ability to travel long distances in a short time, namely, the act of traveling out of one’s way.

Traveling out of the way can be intentional or unintentional. Sometimes people travel off the beaten path for the purpose of sightseeing. They want to take in the scenery, or see someone or something which is out of the way. Often this is thought of as a detour.

Detours are circuitous routes which can be taken to avoid an obstacle or to travel to some place near a planned route. Without vehicles to lessen the physical burden of travel, detours would be a real hardship.

With vehicles, detours are little more than a nuisance, most commonly causing the traveler to lose time. Lost time is generally preferable to lost energy.

In modern times a new type of travel has led to even more interesting trips out of the way. The form of travel most likely to result in strange routes is systematic travel, usually undertaken for the delivery of a thing to a distant location.

This concept can be seen most clearly with a serviced called “package tracking.” Most people who shop online or via mail order catalogs will be familiar with package tracking.

Once a package is in the delivery system, it is scanned via a bar code as it travels from one location to the next. As each scan is made, the data is entered into a central database where it can be accessed from various locations.

Both the package’s sender and receiver can follow the package’s progress as it travels to its destination. What makes package tracking interesting is not the tracking part of the process, but the routes shipping companies have created to make moving large numbers of packages more efficient.

At times, these delivery routes, which are designed to systematically carry packages from one part of the country to another, are baffling. Take the tracking information shown at the top of this post, for instance.

A close inspection will reveal something very strange. Packages often travel great distances — in the name of efficiency — when the final destination is a fraction of the distance away.

In the example above, a package was shipped by overnight service from White River Junction, Vermont to Boston, Massachusetts. The driving distance between these two destinations is about 135 miles.

Most reasonable people would expect a package sent  from Vermont to Massachusetts to travel by motor vehicle, most likely by truck. The distance is not very far, and even in heavy traffic, it should not take more than a few hours to drive to Boston.

Certainly, the route would not be as direct as a private passenger vehicle would take. The shipping company must drive from one depot to another in order to move a package through the system.

The depot where a given package must be sent can be a fair distance from the recipient’s address, especially in rural areas where there would be fewer depots and they would probably be a greater distance apart.

Nonetheless, these shipping systems can have some strange consequences. In our example above, instead of having the package driven from Vermont to Massachusetts, it was driven to a depot in Londonderry, New Hampshire. This seems reasonable, since the depot is probably a sorting location.

It’s probably from this point that they process packages for shipping to different parts of the country. Therefore, it makes perfect sense that they would transport the package from Vermont to New Hampshire. Still, what happened next is nothing short of unbelievable.

The shipping company, which is this case was FedEx, routed the package to Memphis, Tennessee. Memphis, Tennessee is roughly 1,350 miles from New Hampshire, by car. This is ten times the distance required to drive from New Hampshire to Boston.

Although one would think this must have been a mistake, the last time I saw something this strange on my FedEx tracking information, I called to enquire about it. On that occasion, my package was sent from Woburn, MA — which is located approximately 11 miles north of Boston —  to Providence, Rhode Island.

Providence is about 50 miles from Boston. This meant that the package traveled 100 miles out of its way, round-trip.

Even though it arrived only a day later than anticipated, as a result of this circuitous route, I thought that FedEx had wasted a lot of fuel taking the package 100 miles round trip rather than sending it to a depot near Boston for delivery to my home.

They informed me that my package had taken a normal route and that it had not been misrouted, as I had suspected. Now, the example above is even more egregious.

What excuse could there be to send a package, addressed to Boston, Massachusetts to Memphis, Tennessee and then back to Boston? Was this the only way they could get the package to the East Boston sorting facility?

If my last conversation about this practice is any indication, FedEx sees nothing wrong with sending a package 2,700 miles out of the way in order to “efficiently” ship it from Vermont to Massachusetts.

Despite its journey to Tennessee, I am pleased to report that my package is on the truck scheduled for delivery today. FedEx said it would be delivered in one business day, and it was. I guess they think if they have a plane going to Tennessee anyway, they might as well put a Massachusetts package on the plane so that it can arrive in Boston along with the packages shipped from Tennessee.

Well, now that humans have invented motors and air travel, both of which take travelers out of their way, with no additional energy expended, I might add, what will they think of next?

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Humans Creating Divisions Among Themselves And Drawing Comparisons

North-South Cycling Divide

If there’s one thing humans like to do, it’s categorize people. Everything from race to religion, height, weight, age, gender, ethnicity, ability, talent and achievement — to name a few — are considered.

Once everyone is classified into at least one group, but more likely into multiple groups, the comparisons begin. Individuals who like to classify everyone in this manner are constantly looking for similarities and differences in those around them.

If two people are alike in any way, they are lumped into the same group, irrespective of whatever differences they may have. This creates a neat little world where every individual has lost their individuality to a group, making only one thing about them apparent.

After the classification takes place, the comparisons between the groups begin. Naturally, humans being the competitive creatures that they are, the first thing to be considered is which group is “better.”

“Better” is not only a relative term, it is subjective. Who or what is better depends upon the values of the person or persons doing the assessment.

Better also cannot be understood without also comprehending the concept of worse. While it is generally assumed that being deemed better is contingent upon a measure of superiority, in fact, it is often a question of being the lesser of two evils.

When one thing is considered to be worse, the contrasting item, by default, is rendered “better.” This is not the same as being superior. It is simply not as bad as the thing to which it is being compared.

This phenomenon can be seen in all facets of life, so it it no surprise to see it play a prominent role in the realm of bicycling. A good example of this appeared in an article recently published in the The Telegraph.

It is an article about whether and how the North-South divide in the UK affects cycling. Of course, if it weren’t for the Internet, the rest of us would not know there was a North-South divide. But, as was mentioned above, humans are always dividing themselves in some fashion and drawing comparisons based on those divisions.

As an American who only recently became aware of the North-South divide, I was forced to read up on it to understand the point of the article. Fortunately, the article’s author provided a useful link which I followed and thereby gained enlightenment.

Members of the Department of Geology at the University of Sheffield had the following to say:

“About the line

The country is best typified as being divided regionally between the north and the south. Ideas of a midlands region add more confusion than light.

The line that separates the North from the South is fractal. The closer you look at it the more detail you see. It weaves between fields and houses. That such an exact line can be drawn is, of course, a fiction but it is also fair to say that moving from North to South is not that gradual an experience.

This is the line that separates upland from lowland Britain, the hills from the most fertile farmland, areas invaded by Vikings from those first colonised by Saxons. Numerous facts of life divide the North from the South – there is a missing year of life expectancy north of this line. Children south of the line are much more likely to attend Russell group universities for those that do go to University (and they often go to the North to study!), a house price cliff now runs along much of the line, and, on the voting map, the line still often separates red from blue.

In terms of life chances the only line within another European country that is comparable to the North-South divide is that which used to separate East and West Germany. This is found not just in terms of relative differences in wealth either side of the line, but most importantly in terms of health where some of the extremes of Europe are now found within this one divided island of Britain.”

To save my non-UK readers a bit of Googling, I will mention that the “Russell group universities” is a group of elite schools equivalent to the US’s Ivy League. So, we see that those who grow up in the South are likely to live a year longer and attend an elite college. Surprisingly, these elite colleges are in located in the North.

Thanks to the online cycling network Strava, the author of this article was able to evaluate data uploaded by millions of cyclists in the UK to compare those in the North with those in the South. A number of differences — which I must admit seemed fairly minor to me — were discovered.

“According to the statistics, an average recreational (non-commute) ride in the north lasts for 2hr 21mins and covers 24.61 miles, while an average ride in the south takes less time (2hr 17mins) but covers an extra 0.2 miles.

Cyclists in the south consequently travel 0.62mph faster than their northern counterparts.

However, any suggestion that the southerners have their wheels marginally in front in the battle of the regions is dispelled by the fact that, on average, rides in the north gain 398 metres in elevation – 119 metres more than in the south.”

As commenters on the article pointed out, differences besides elevation affected the speed at which the cyclists rode. For instance, in certain open areas it is quite windy and cyclists find themselves riding into a strong headwind. This would certainly slow one down and might cause one to choose to ride a shorter distance, having gotten more of a workout by riding into the wind.

This is one of the problems with Strava. Raw data is taken at face value and unless the user of the data attempts to dig into it further before drawing conclusions, the conclusions drawn can be way off the mark.

One interesting fact was that in London which is “known to be the most prolific commuting cycling area in the UK” had a very low number of recreational miles per rider compared with other areas. The author attributed this low number to the amount of time cyclists spent commuting.

Londoners also had the lowest average speed which was attributed to the amount of time they spent stuck in traffic. “Rides that started in London are also notable for spending a lot of time at a standstill. While the average elapsed time for these rides was 212mins, only 113mins were spent actually moving.”

If we need more evidence that there are too many motor vehicles on the roads, and globally we need more bike lanes, this is it. A cyclist should not spend half of his or her travel time at a standstill. As a small vehicle, a bicycle should be able to continue its journey with relatively few stops. Those stops should primarily be at traffic lights or stop signs.

Another interesting observation had nothing to do with the Strava data or the North-South divide. It was about the section of the website where The Telegraph published this article. A quick look at the bread crumb trail (the previous section links which appear horizontally at the top of a web page for the purpose of assisting with navigation) shows that this article was in the “Men’s” section of the site, specifically at: Home» Men» Active» Recreational Cycling.

Although it’s possible that men would be more interested in Strava statistics and how riders in the North and the South stack up, why wouldn’t “Recreational Cycling” appear under sports? Could this be another reason why women don’t feel welcome in the world of cycling?

Of note is the fact that one of the commenters, who left the most intelligent comment, by the way, identified herself as a woman (by using a female name).

Comment On North-South Cycling Divide

On her Disqus profile, there are other comments about cycling. Clearly, women are interested in cycling, and I suppose if they are regular readers of The Telegraph, they must peruse the Men’s section for cycling articles.

This is another example of how humans divide everything into categories. Cycling has traditionally been associated with males. Thus, it is placed where males would find it. And females, who are apparently supposed to be interested in family, relationships and fashion — if you peruse the “Women’s” section —  must venture out of the box they have been placed in to read about a subject which lies among their interests.

Perhaps cyclists could start a trend by seeing themselves as a single group of distinct individuals united by bicycle use. However, if we did this, it would mess up all of the data collection efforts which are so prevalent nowadays. On the other hand, it would do wonders to help protect cyclists’ privacy.

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When Is Being Seated Not Sitting?

Cyclist Dressed In Scrubs Seated On A Wall

As a photographer, I tend to see the world as an interesting and ever-changing collection of “interesting shots.” These shots do not include selfies. For while selfies can loosely be defined as photos, they do not reflect the photographer’s eye or how the photographer views something which is not presently seeing itself.

A good photographer can capture the world through a lens. But it’s important to remember that this lens is not on the camera, it is in the photographer’s brain. It is a way of seeing, not an impression recorded by a mechanical device.

So it was when I was walking in Boston’s Longwood Medical Area not too long ago. I spotted a young man seated on a wall, intently studying whatever was currently displayed on his phone, with his bicycle in front of him.

A helmet sat carelessly on his head with the buckle undone. On either side of him sat strangers; one was drinking, one was talking on her phone and the other held her phone in an outstretched hand gazing into the distance while waiting for the phone to spring to life.

This is what the Longwood Medical Area looks like on a clear day, on any day except one characterized by bitter cold temperatures. Such days bring with them a flurry of brisk walking. Hospital employees, researchers, patients and visitors scurry from one location to the next, often appearing to desperately engage in whatever activity brings them outdoors before the next crisis arises and recalls them to another location.

The young man was dressed in hospital scrubs. He was sitting near the Harvard Medical School and appeared to be the right age for a medical student. However, this could have been an illusion. He could just as easily have been a hospital employee or anyone who happened to own a set of hospital scrubs.

Location and context make things appear a certain way to us. Humans are always interpreting things around them, forming impressions and making decisions about what they are seeing. Good photographers do this well; outstanding photographers make us believe that they see, whether it is true or not.

It didn’t matter who the young man was. He was just one of billions of people on this planet. But, unlike the others, most of whom I will never see, he caught my eye. I spotted him because of his bicycle.

It’s no wonder that an avid cyclist like myself would be attracted to a bicycle — or even distracted by it. The bicycle was nothing to write home about. In fact, most people would equate the configuration, sporting a steeply slanted top tube, with a “girls bike.” Perhaps it was actually intended as a girl’s bike.

Yet as many cyclists know, sometimes it’s easier to be able to step through a frame rather than having to climb over the top tube. And, if this guy was a medical person being able to mount and dismount his bicycle quickly might literally be a matter of life or death.

I took this analogy one step further as I imagined this guy’s life. I saw him as a cyclist regardless of what other, unknown things comprised his full identity.

He was seated — for the moment. Still the bicycle told another story. He was resting or waiting for someone who was not riding a bike. That is why he was stationary.

Sitting still was a temporary situation. Then it dawned on me: cyclists are the only group of people who sit while they are in motion, not just when they are at rest.

Such a thing occurred to me because I had just finished listening to a news report about the number of hours per day people in different countries spend sitting nowadays. For most of the developed world the number averaged around eight hours.

In rural places, where manual labor was more prevalent, that figure declined. Nonetheless it was staggering to consider how much of our modern lives are spent sitting.

Our ancestors were always on the move, especially in prehistoric times. To be sedentary meant one was easy prey. It could result in a conflict with a wild animal, which could easily result in death.

To avoid injury or death, our forefathers were in perpetual motion. As time passed, humans spent more time sitting.

Reading, writing, and discussing issues started this trend. Then came televisions, computers, video games and the Internet. Each of these activities required sitting. And, unlike walking, these activities can become addictive.

One becomes so absorbed in activities involving a screen that it becomes easy to lose track of the time. A challenge can be involved, as well. Most video gamers like to best their last score. This requires hours of practice and close concentration. It also helps to block out the outside world and immerse oneself in the world of the game.

Getting back to cyclists as the only humans who sit while in motion, it isn’t difficult to see this as a form of evolution. Humans started out as walkers. Walking was the only transportation option they had.

Invention brought us other forms of transportation, most of them requiring no effort on the part of the human, beyond steering the conveyance in the direction they wanted to go. Somewhere in between fell the bicycle.

It shared many things with walking in that the traveler moved by virtue of his or her own physical exertion. In other words, the vehicle did not move of its own accord; the rider powered it. Therefore, while sitting down, as sedentary people do, cyclists maintained a higher level of activity than their seated counterparts.

What this tells us is that being seated is not always equivalent to sitting.  In a chair, of course, being seated is always equivalent to sitting. In a motor vehicle, even though one is seated and moving, one is sitting. But, on a bicycle — and only a bicycle — one is seated while moving.

A bicyclist’s whole body is involved in movement as he sits astride the bike. The cyclist’s legs are pedaling, his body is adjusting its position to maintain balance; arms are used to pull up when climbing hills, to change gears and to signal turns; and the head is moved around to survey a cyclist’s surroundings. Thus, the cyclist is in perpetual motion while seated, making bicycling the most natural transportation form of all.

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Motorcycle And Bicycle Interactions

Rear View Of Motorcyclist At Intersection

Most discussions about bicycles on the roads revolve around their interactions with cars. Cars are the dominant and most abundant vehicles on the roads, and bicycles are the most vulnerable and least prevalent vehicles on the roads. So, naturally, given that the two are diametrically opposed, and must share the roads, the conversation revolves around this “David versus Goliath” battle.

Actually, it should never have been a battle. In modern times, most first world countries have come to value cooperation and peace over conflict and war. This is not to say that we have eradicated war. Far from it. War is as much a part of everyday life as it was several thousand years ago. The main difference is that first world countries don’t fight wars on their on territory. They fight in foreign lands in the name of some political issue.

While cooperation has come to be the ideal, it is generally not practiced. Just like the first world countries who fight in foreign lands, on principle and out of self-interest, motor vehicle drivers “fight” against invaders on their turf; these invaders are bicyclists.

Fair enough. All species practice self-preservation as an instinctive behavior. This includes protecting their turf. But, some species evolve to the point where they understand the benefits of cooperation. They deliberately allow “invaders” to coexist on their turf.

As far as bicycles go, they are not the first invaders who took exclusive road use away from cars. Motorcycles came first.

Motorcycles have been in use since the latter half of the 19th century. In the Western world, they have been used primarily for utility — as in military use — or for recreation. In other parts of the world, they have been and still are used as inexpensive transportation. So, their prevalence is higher in other countries than here in the U.S.

Still, motorcycles have been ridden on the roads since the early 20th century. Perhaps this became more commonplace from the 1960’s onward. Prior to that, cars were a symbol of the American dream and probably kept all but the young, who used motorcycles for the thrill of adventure, from riding them for transportation.

Even today, motorcycles vastly outnumber bicycles in most areas of the U.S. This is probably true in most parts of the world, with the exception of places like The Netherlands, where cycling is the norm.

Within the last few decades, increasing numbers of bicycles have wandered onto the roads. Most cyclist fear encounters with cars. Their sheer size can be intimidating. Whereas other motor vehicles, such as motorcycles are closer in size to bicycles. This reduces most cyclists’ fear of interacting with them. But should it?

A quick search on the subject shows that in most cases where a bicycle gets struck by a motorcycle, both riders are injured. Sometimes the injuries are extremely serious as in the case of a 13-year-old Cleveland boy who lost his leg when he was hit by a motorcycle. He was the lucky one. The motorcyclist died in the crash because he was hurled under an oncoming car.

Crashes of this type are not unique to the U.S. In Canada, a similar crashes have occurred, again resulting in both riders suffering serious injuries. Last summer an incident of this type was reported by CTV News.

“An investigation found a southbound Harley Davidson motorcycle collided with a bicycle, causing both riders to be ejected. The 61-year-old Pert East man on the motorcycle and the 26-year-old Stratford male on the bicycle both suffered major injuries and were transported to hospital.”

The motorcycle riders in these accidents are generally younger people. In this case, the rider was 61 years old. Riding a motorcycle requires a number of things, not the least of which is good reflexes. Perhaps, the risk of a crash goes up once one passes the age of 50, when reflexes decline significantly from what they were in one’s youth.

As it is,  according to statistics compiled by the United States Department of Transportation for passenger cars, there are 18.62 fatal crashes per 100,000 registered vehicles. For motorcycles, there are 75.19 per 100,000 registered vehicles – four times higher than for cars. “The same data shows that 1.56 fatalities occur per 100 million vehicle miles travelled for passenger cars, whereas for motorcycles the figure is 43.47 which is 28 times higher than for cars (37 times more deaths per mile travelled in 2007). Furthermore for motorcycles the accident rates have increased significantly since the end of the 1990s, while the rates have dropped for passenger cars.” [Wikipedia]

With respect to motorcycles versus bicycles, there are further issues to consider. If a bicycle and car collide, the driver of the car is unlikely to suffer injuries. The same cannot be said when a motorcycle and a bicycle collide. In these cases, the motorcycle rider will be injured most, if not all of the time.

This is another reason why bicyclists should obey the traffic laws. Failing to do so is not only a hazard to pedestrians and other cyclists, both of whom can get seriously hurt if struck by a bicycle, but it is also hazardous to motorcyclists.

Take, for example, an incident which happened recently in Honolulu, Hawaii. “A a 34-year-old man on a motorcycle suffered critical injuries when he struck a bicycle crossing an intersection against a red light. Neither man was wearing a helmet. Both men were thrown from their bikes. They were rushed to Queen’s Medical Center in critical condition.”

In this case, the bicyclist illegally ran the red light. Had he not done this, the motorcyclist would not have been critically injured.

Many cyclists do not understand what it is like to ride a motorcycle. Sudden, unexpected braking or maneuvers to avoid an obstacle can cause the motorcyclist to lose control of the motorcycle. This inevitably leads to a crash.

Sometimes a motorcyclist can walk away from a crash with relatively minor injures. But, this it not usually the case when the motorcycle hits something. Crashing with an object changes the trajectory of the motorcycle, and the rider is often thrown off of the motorcycle in this situation.

There are still holdouts in the bicycling community who advocate for separate rules for bicyclists. They do not want to follow the same rules as cars, particularly when it comes to stopping at red lights and stop signs.

If no other vehicles are around, such as in the middle of the night, there is no harm in a bicycle going through a stop sign. However, in traffic, the belief that a cyclist is only risking his or her own life by running a red light or a stop sign is fallacious. Sometimes, that cyclist is risking the life of a motorcyclist, who cannot react fast enough to the cyclist’s illegal actions.

We must remain cognizant of these things if bicycles are ever to become mainstream. Bicycles must fit into the landscape of the road, not refuse to comply on the grounds that a bicycle can’t harm anyone. Bicycles, ridden irresponsibly, can injure other road users. Therefore, we must advocate for riding bicycles as if they were motor vehicles with the same rights and responsibilities as car drivers have.

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Designing Affordable Bicycle Components For Transportation And Practicality

One Street's Bicycle Shift Lever

Photo Credit: One Street

In the U.S., bicycle components are often seen as luxury items. All sorts of fancy, high tech designs have been created in the name of precision and shaving weight off of the bike. None of these components are designed with durability or practicality in mind.

While this might not present a problem in a wealthy nation where the vast majority of bike riders are reasonably well off — at least in terms of having disposable income — it can prevent people from riding altogether in nations where bicycles are the main form of transportation due to poverty. Such individuals are in no position to spend a fortune to replace warn or broken bike components.

In response to the needs of these bike riders, at least on advocacy group has begun to design components made out of common materials which can be obtained anywhere in the world. This approach would allow people in remote areas of less developed countries to manufacture the components themselves. And, of course, since the design is simple and made out of inexpensive materials, the cost to produce and sell the components is a fraction of what components cost in other countries.

The first example of this idea was devised by an organization called One Street. The organization’s mission, according to their website, is: “Serving leaders of organizations working to increase bicycling, including pedestrian, transit, and social equity needs.”

Addressing social equity needs is where this bicycling advocacy organization differs from many others. As they seem to know, bicycle riding should not be reserved for those who are well off. Everyone should have access to this form of transportation. However, the cost of bicycles, while much lower than that of cars, is too high for members of lower socioeconomic groups.

To level the playing field, One Street’s Executive Director, Sue Knaup, “designed [a] shift lever in response to complaints from their bicycle programme partners around the world. These programs provide bicycles to people who ride daily, but can no longer find basic, durable bike parts, especially shift levers.”

On their website, the design is described as follows:

“Our Bike Shift Lever has only six parts – four are common items and two are cast out of scrap aluminum using the techniques outlined in our book, Backyard Aluminum Casting. This shifter works for either the front or rear derailleur and for all gear ranges. It also works for throttles and chokes on other sorts of machines such as yard equipment, small motorcycles, and boats. It is designed for easy production and repair by people who rely on their bicycles every day.”

This bike shift lever works with front and rear derailleurs through all gear ranges. It is also simple to manufacture using instructions found in a book sold by One Street via their online store.

Ms. Knaup was no stranger to metallurgy when she began the process of designing this shift lever. She was a former bike shop owner and welder and only needed to obtain information on casting. She did this by talking with metal casters and mold makers..

As Bike Biz put it in their article on this subject, “After working with local casters and reading around the subject, she built her first charcoal furnace using a flower pot and a hand pump. She has since upgraded to a brick furnace that uses a hair dryer for its air supply. With future license partners in mind, she captured every step in One Street’s new book, Backyard Aluminum Casting.”

The project was initially funded on Kickstarter, which has become a valuable tool for entrepreneurs and non-profits who don’t have other channels for obtaining funding to launch their ideas. All One Street needs now is license partners to help them produce the levers around the world.

It’s about time that someone took the lead in producing affordable bicycle components. Even though cycling is commonplace in many parts of the world, it is not sustainable in less developed countries.

This is particularly sad because the use of a bicycle is actually much more meaningful for these people than for America citizens who ride bicycles for fitness and recreation. Bike riders in developing countries gain freedom from having an inexpensive reliable form of transportation.

Freedom to travel gives them access to necessities like education and employment opportunities. It broadens their horizons and helps them to improve their quality of life and that of their families.

It would not be a bad thing if this trend trickled down to more affluent areas of the world. Amid all of the glitz and glamor of first world countries with their iPhones, Xboxes and Land Rover-type motor vehicles, poverty exists. In fact, American citizens live in poverty and go hungry too much of the time.

“In 2013, 45.3 million [Americans] (14.5 percent) were in poverty [and] 49.1 million Americans lived in food insecure households, including 33.3 million adults and 15.8 million children.” Certainly those who cannot afford to eat also cannot afford to buy or maintain a bicycle  — or a car.

Lack of transportation, particularly for those who live in areas underserved by public transportation, makes it more difficult to climb out of poverty. Employment opportunities are limited by an inability to travel to work. So many of these people either stay in very low paying jobs or do not work at all because collecting welfare is preferable to working for wages that are as low or lower than what they would collect from public assistance programs. Perhaps some of them would be more motivated to improve their lot if they felt they could obtain better paying jobs.

Affordability and practicality are not terms we associate with bicycles. Sure, there are cheap bikes which can be purchased in big box stores. But they are cumbersome to ride. And when they break, parts are hard to come by. Many bike mechanics also refuse to work on these bikes because they are so poorly made.

Success for One Street’s bike lever would mean success for us all with respect to making bicycling more mainstream and accessible to a wider audience. We must not forget this during the holiday season where rampant buying is the norm and extravagant spending is encouraged, rather than frugality.

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Everyday People Thinking Up New Uses For Bicycles

No Hunting Sign

From even a cursory exploration of the subject, it would seem that there are a finite number of uses for a bicycle. Technically speaking, there are. But, just when it seemed as if we had exhausted all options, someone thought of a new use and had to inquire as to whether it was legal.

At first glance, it’s hard to imagine how any bicycle use could be “illegal.” Other than riding a bike on a sidewalk, which isn’t exactly “illegal,” even though it is prohibited, nothing else comes to mind. That is unless you are someone who does not fit the stereotype of a cyclist.

One such person, who actually bought a bicycle after he got this idea, came up with something novel; he wants to use a bicycle for hunting.

This interesting tidbit was found on The Modesto Bee’s website. Modesto is located in California.

They have a feature called “Wilson on Outdoors.” Wilson refers to “Carrie Wilson [who] is a marine environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.” She answers people’s questions in this column.

The bicycle question certainly must have gotten her attention, since the article says that she can’t answer everyone’s question, and some do not make the cut.

“Question: I will soon be taking off to the mountains to do some mountain quail and tree squirrel hunting. In past years, after I arrived at hunting camp, most of my hunting was done on foot so I couldn’t cover much ground in a day. Last year, I took my grandson with me to start teaching him a little about gun safety, hunting and camping in the wild. After walking for a while, he got tired and wanted to rest. We were walking along a logging road, and he told me he wished he had his bicycle with him. This got me to thinking that with a bike I could cover a lot more area, be basically silent, use no fossil fuel and get much-needed exercise. So, for my hunting trip this year, I purchased a mountain bicycle and got it geared up with saddle bags and a handlebar gun rack for my shotgun.”

He went on to ask a number of questions about California’s regulations about carrying a gun and whether this was permitted on a bicycle. He also wanted to know if he was allowed to shoot at the prey while stopped on his bike, as long as his feet were planted on the ground, or whether he had to dismount.

Obviously, even though he read the hunting laws and regulations, he could not find any information about this situation. Perhaps this is because most hunters do not ride bicycles, at least not while they are hunting.

This hunter sees a way to hunt and get exercise at the same time — not a bad idea. Hunting isn’t exactly a high energy sport, at least not the way it is done today.

As far as I know (having never gone hunting myself) hunters position themselves where they think they will come upon prey and when they spot an animal they shoot it with a gun. Such a process is a far cry from what our ancestors did.

In prehistoric times, humans chased down animals on foot. The animals were killed with spears, which clearly took a lot more effort than firing a gun.

I have fired a gun. Other than dealing with the gun kicking back at me after being fired, no physical effort was required. So, hunting with a gun does not appear to be much exercise.

Of course, some hunters do walk a fair distance to locate their prey. Covering such a distance is nothing in comparison to other outdoor endeavors, many of which are aerobic activities.

Hunters have to be quiet so as not to scare off the animals. Running would not be a good idea. One’s feet would be stomping loudly on the ground, a sure warning sign for an alert animal. And a good way to chase off the prey.

Although his questions appeared to be rather benign one in particular was unnerving. “Can I carry a holstered six-shot, black-powder pistol with five rounds capped on my bicycle, or do all the nipples have to be uncapped as in a motor vehicle?”

A loaded gun on a bicycle. Not a good idea, even if it is legal. Someone could dispossess you of your weapon and use it against you. Or you could fall off of your bike on difficult terrain and have the gun go off accidentally.

Wilson’s reply is informative. The most important part spells out the law with respect to bicycles.

“Shooting or taking game from a bicycle, whether on it or straddling it, is not specifically prohibited in California Fish and Game laws. However, section 374c of the Penal Code prohibits shooting a firearm from or upon a public road. A logging road is not a highway, but it may be a public road depending on multiple factors, including who owns and/or maintains the road. In any case, it is advisable to always be off any road before shooting, even if it is not expressly prohibited by law.”

While she does mention a few restriction, overall shooting wildlife from a bicycle is legal in California. Given the low probability of bicycle-hunting being mentioned in any state’s Fish and Game laws, the same probably holds true throughout the U.S.

Most cyclists are probably not hunters. However, if bicycles are even going to become mainstream in the U.S. we should not be averse to anyone adapting a bicycle for some use in their day to day life.

There is nothing wrong with hunting from a bicycle rather than hunting on foot. So, creative uses of bicycles should be encouraged, even if the use is something unusual and of little use to most bike riders.

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