Wednesday, July 02, 2008

What Will They Think of Next?

This is a close up of the crankset on my "Nukeproof" mountain bike. It is attached to a square taper titanium bottom bracket that spins freely now thanks to the new high end cartridge bearings I replaced just the other day.

It is nothing but bits and pieces of metal grouped together in such a way that when power is applied, the bike moves forward. A simple idea of physics and engineering practically applied and every one of us takes it for granted. We do not appreciate the thousands of years it took Man to come up with this simple machine. We do not appreciate just how much distance this machine and others like it put between us and the rest of the natural world. We just take it all for granted. A birthright, an inherited privilege, something to be expected.

Busily the gadget gurus hunker over draft boards, CAD programs, and virtual slip-sticks spitting out everyday ever more complicated and intricate machines for us to take for granted. Without a clue of how they work, we use and abuse them and then toss them away.

I don't hear the words "What will they think of next" as often as I did when I was younger. We used to be awed and impressed on a regular basis. Now it seems we expect our technology to be constantly developing new trinkets to make our lives easier to deal with. Evolving technology has become just another yawner for the majority of us who use it.

I am an admitted retro-grouch. I love old things. Old machines, old books, old furniture, and old ideas. I would say it was a normal part of my aging character, but I was fascinated with "old" when I was just old enough to appreciate the difference between old and new. Maybe this is why I like bicycles so much.

In my mind a bicycle represents the pinnacle of Man's efforts to master the planet. Prior to the bike, technology seemed to only move forward in awkward fits and starts. Long periods of non-movement punctuated with moments of inspiration. The development of the bicycle brought pressure on all aspects of manufacturing at the time to step up and be creative.

If a human was going to successfully power themselves from one place to another and not take longer than it took to walk, industry had to come with a new approach to make it happen. Lighter materials, ingenious designs, and parts that could turn reliably on light weight axles had to be found. The thinking prior to bikes was, "If we want it to be dependable, we need to build it big." Bikes turned this idea on it's ear. And the movement away from massive cumbersome hand machines had begun.

From the bicycle industry, the automobile industry was started. From the bicycle industry, the aerospace industry was started. The non-stop growth in technology of the 20th century owes much to the humble bike. The bicycle opened the floodgates. Every aspect of technology kicked it up a notch. And now 100 plus years later, we are talking with grandma from Dick Tracy telephones attached to our ears while she uses the StairMaster down to the Y in her DuPont created work out suit made from oil.

So the next time you consider the bicycle, consider where you would be without it.

Post Script - I originally wrote this post back in late May. Instead of posting though, I submitted it to a bike magazine for publication. I wanted to to see if I could actually get something in print that did not come off my printer.

"Dirt Rag" did indeed print it. On the last page of issue 136 which came out a week ago or so. The section is called "Last Chance for Gas". They give average or below average biking schmoes like me a chance to see something we wrote in a national magazine. To say I was honored would be an understatement.


Demeur said...

I remember having a Schwinn. No gears, coaster brakes and built to outlive me. Only wish I had kept it.

Gary ("Old Dude") said...

Don't be afraid of change----(never let em see ya sweat anyway)---of course old is comfortable, its worn its accepted, while new is challenging, and scary---but hey, something to be said for ,"new and improved"---cept for when used in conjuction with soaps or food products.

Dawn Fortune said...

congratulations on the publishing credit! Nice job.

I too, appreciate the old things. Technology is cool and all, but in the event of an electro-magnetic pulse, everything from your basic microwave oven to the national defense system would be rendered useless. I prefer technology that can be manually overridden in case of an emergency(or nuclear disaster). I have a digital camera, but I'll hang on to my old Canon AE-1 for a while longer.

There was much to love about the 73 Plymouth Valiant (my first car). It had the old slant six engine that let me get to everything I needed. The oil filter was within reach, air filter was in a sensible place, the spark plugs could be found and removed without taking anything else apart or breaking my knuckles, the alternator was where I could find it, and even the extra belt to run the air conditioner was of a sane length and design. Nothing called "serpentine"; no microchips, no fancy sensors. A simple motor, nearly indestructible, and ideal for a new driver to learn on.

God but I wish I still had that car. Nice post.