Dear Dr. Boli: With the cost of gasoline eating into my monthly budget, I was thinking of giving up my automobile and commuting by bicycle. Do you have any suggestions? —Sincerely, A Woman Who Drives a Gigantic SUV.
Dear Madam: In his younger days—back when he was a gay whippersnapper of seventy or eighty—Dr. Boli had a fine velocipede of which he was inordinately proud. By straddling the thing and moving his feet in an exaggerated walking motion, Dr. Boli was able to attain speeds faster than he could have attained with his feet unaided. On a warm spring day, he would join the other beaux of the town on their dandyhorses, competing to see who could win the most admiring glances from the ladies, whom one would affect to ignore.
But time marched on, and progress lurched forward, and soon the velocipede gave way to a high-wheeled ordinary. For a number of years, Dr. Boli cut a dashing figure on his 48-inch Columbia, which seemed the apex of mechanical perfection after the simple velocipede.
It took a good deal of dash and devil-may-care daring to ride a wheel like that, and at the age of 100 or so Dr. Boli was beginning to approach middle age. When the safety bicycle was introduced, Dr. Boli recognized its advantages over the ordinary, and immediately ordered one for himself.
When he was 119 years old (but he remembers it as if it were yesterday), Dr. Boli was informed of a newly invented hub which contained a clever arrangement of planetary gears in a compact cylinder, allowing the rider to change the ratio of motion of pedals to motion of wheels, thus giving the machine three “speeds.” By means of this simple and virtually indestructible device, climbing hills was rendered much easier, and much greater speeds could be attained on flat stretches. Dr. Boli immediately obtained a bicycle so fitted.
After that, as far as Dr. Boli could see, all progress ceased. Dr. Boli has seen bicycles with ten, eighteen, or twenty-four speeds, but he regards them as gimmicks, not fit for a gentleman to ride. They are fiddly things, always needing adjustments, and really useful only in bicycle races. For people who like to play with bicycles, they may provide hours of entertainment; but for people who rely on the bicycle for daily transportation, they are not practical.
Dr. Boli has often remarked that Americans are not serious about bicycles. If, he says, it is necessary to wear special clothing to ride a bicycle, then riding a bicycle is not a serious means of transportation: it is a game, or a sport. Dr. Boli expects to be the same man on the bicycle that he is off it.
What, then, does Dr. Boli require in what he would call a serious bicycle?
First, it must keep its rider moderately upright. Bicycle racers keep their backs parallel to the ground, and they reach fantastic speeds that way. But they are not such fools as to hold their races on city streets in city traffic; or, if they are, Dr. Boli does not wish to hear about it. To navigate in traffic, one must be able to see the traffic, and for that reason the upright posture is essential. The upright posture is also much more comfortable for long rides, and certainly health and comfort are important considerations for anyone who intends to use a bicycle as a serious means of transportation, especially as one enters one’s third century, when the joints are not quite as supple as they were in the first two centuries.
Second, the bicycle must keep its rider presentable. That means it must have fenders and at least a chainguard, if not a full case for the chain. What, Dr. Boli asks, is the point of arriving at one’s destination at all if one is to be covered with mud, with one’s trousers in tatters? One could just as well have stayed at home and had the servants fling mud as they usually do.
Third, Dr. Boli expects to be able to rely on his bicycle. Fiddly derailleurs and complicated chain paths are fine for tinkerers who enjoy taking things apart and putting them back together, but Dr. Boli desires nothing more than to start from Point A with a reasonable expectation of arriving at Point B. If the bicycle stays put together for the rest of eternity, that will be fine with him. For these reasons, therefore, Dr. Boli prefers a bicycle with all its gears inside the hub, where nothing is likely to put them out of order.
If all these requirements are met, then Dr. Boli is content to endure the sneers of people who mistakenly believe that they are serious about bicycles.
By now you should have a fairly good idea of what Dr. Boli would advise you to look for in a bicycle. But Dr. Boli does have one other suggestion for you. Instead of going only halfway and giving up the automobile, why not go all the way and give up commuting? Dr. Boli did that about a century and a half ago, and he has not regretted it.