Archive for February, 2009

Parallel Lives: Bikes and Cars

Posted in Auto Articles, cycling with tags , , , on February 18, 2009 by consortiumoffools

Cyclists and drivers do not need to be enemies. It is true that both piss each other off on a regular basis. Bicyclists disobey red lights, ride side-by-side in the street and think the road was designed solely for them. Car drivers disobey red lights, drive way too fast and think the road was designed solely for them. These differences are really similarities.

Each operator considers himself the most important person on the road. I know I do. When I’m driving, pedestrians and cyclists annoy me. When I bike, cars become individual icons of death at every intersection.

Bicycles and automobiles can live amongst each other, if only each demographic understood that both sports are similar.

Bikes and cars share many parallels. Both can be raced, taken off-road, modified, spent too much money on, and enjoyed. Beading a tire is the same principal in both. Both can be used for commuting to work. Both are fun forms of transportation. In each sport, racing technology trickles down to consumers.  The front fork on a mountain bike resembles the shocks found on cars. Both carry the same duties of absorbing impact from the surface of the earth.

My favorite parallel is the specialization of bikes and cars. Each can be built for specific purposes. But the trouble starts when a machine takes on too many responsibilities.

In both worlds, a mixture of specialized features equals a ride that attempts to be everything to everyone, and successfully useless at any individual task. Take for instance a hybrid bicycle like the Giant Expedition. It’s too heavy to go as fast as a road bike. It has no suspension, so it cannot be taken into the mountains and keep the rider comfortable. It has racks and lights, so it’s almost a commuter bike, but again, too heavy and sloppy.

The car counterpart of the hybrid bicycle is the small SUV. A small SUV, like the Ford Escape, was designed for multiple purposes. It has four doors, a rear cargo area, more ground clearance than a car, and an optional all-wheel drive system. It looks like it could go on some mountain trails, until you take a peek at the suspension components. The rear independent suspension, allows each rear wheel to move in separate vertical directions from the other one. This sounds like it would be good for off-roading, but it is not. It is weaker and provides less ground clearance. The four doors are great for a family, but not as practical for a single person. Sure he can truck around his buddies, but so can a van. The Escape is also not as fast and agile as a smaller car.

Both of these sound like a great buy: “One machine for all of my needs? Awesome.” But the reality is that while they each perform basic tasks well enough, as soon as you encounter a specific situation, the machine becomes worthless. In these examples, the off-roading aspect is their the greatest shortcoming. A Specialized Stumpjumper and a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon are the step above. Each was designed specifically for off-road applications. Huge shocks, fully suspended and burly; these two will get the job done. But ride them on the street and you immediately see the need for a road-only bike or car.

The best of both worlds is a garage full of equipment designed for specific purposes. A mountain bike for the mountains, a track bike for the velodromes, and a road bike for the roads. You’d also need a Jeep for the mountains, a turbo AWD Legacy for the track, and a Ford Focus for the streets. Damn, this is getting expensive. Now we see the shortcoming of specialization.