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45000 Bicycles In A2 Can't Be Wrong

45000 Bicycles In A2 Can't Be Wrong image 45000 Bicycles In A2 Can't Be Wrong image
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45000 Bicycles In A2 Can’t Be Wrong

Eventually it gets to place where you can’t stand it anymore: short, quick errands evolve into lengthy, ritualistic hunts for scarce parking places; time and moods are wasted in neurotic traffic jams both on the street and in the gas station; you come to the stiff realization that the most exercise you get is turning your head to the rear-view mirror. Ann Arbor is not the driver’s paradise – frustrating one-way streets and timed lights, many other unconscious drivers, and the exorbitant cost of auto maintenance are sufficient impetus to influence many rational people to turn in their keys and take to bicycles by the thousands. It makes a lot of sense. 45,000 bicycles can’t be wrong.

Ann Arbor is the perfect size, as every place is within reasonable biking distance, including some fine pastoral rides (like Delhi Park and Saline). Any point within town can be reached from any other one in about half an hour of good pedaling. While not exactly flat, A2 certainly doesn’t contain any insurmountable or even exhausting hills; in fact, it has just enough to keep it interesting. It’s farcical to see so many fancy 10-speeds in such a flat place, as many derailleurs have yet into their lowest gears. When riding a bike, you get a sensitive awareness of the grades of each slant in town, and a little forethought in route planning can often get the hills on your (down)side.

A bike means increased freedom as main thoroughfares are high tension auto traffic. Residential side streets offer much more relaxed and more direct routes. It’s a lot more pleasant to check out the fine old houses on quiet side streets than to fight exhaust traffic lights and inept drivers that inhabit busy streets. The variety of routes to a single location are limitless once side streets are considered.

Bicycling is perhaps the easiest, least strenuous way to exercise and it is certainly the most constructive use of the physical body and simple engineering. Bikes are incredibly efficient extensions – tools which use slightly more energy than walking and increase one’s speed about 7 times. The movement is rhythmic, variable, and natural, which makes the overall effect relaxing, mellowing.

But bike riding, like any other part of the real world, is not a complete breeze, the life danger one risks from being exposed to both hostile and ignorant people in large metal machines. It’s unfortunate that so many auto drivers can’t remember what it’s like to ride a bike. Their lack of consideration (both malicious and ignorant) put a cramp in the intrinsic enjoyment of biking. It’s very healthy to fear such a threatening presence. A bike takes up 1/16 the space of an auto. Squeeze bike-horns and loud screams aren’t effective against 180 horsepower.


Fortunately, the voters of A2 wisely passed an $800,000 bond proposal last spring, for specially constructed bike paths. Almost half of the money will be spent this year, and bike paths will be completed some time this summer along:

- Washtenaw, from Brockman to S. University and two-way bike path on the east side of Washtenaw.

- Packard, 3 ½ miles, from U.S.23 to Main Street.

- Fuller Road, from Huron High to Glacier Way, including a tie-in with the University’s North Campus access paths.

- Huron Parkway, from Washtenaw to Plymouth along existing pedestrian paths.

- Seventh Street, completion of the existing partial path will run from Miller to Stadium, up and down many hills.

- Miller, from Seventh to Maple, especially on sidewalk and part in specially marked lanes in the street.

It’s a system basically designed to help bike riders travelling to school, work, or the shops. The Parks and Recreation Department has come up with a separate plan for construction of another series of bikepaths financed out of its own budget. They call it the Greenways System, which is a plan to connect all the park-type areas in the city with a system of bicycle pedestrian paths. A bike path to Geddes Pond is planned for completion this summer, with Argo Pond, Wurster Park and Riverside Park also mentioned. Between the two systems we should wind up with a well-diversified, far-reaching system of bike paths.


Another evil lurking spectre over the bliss of biking is the heartless rip-off. Every bike in this town has a mark upon it-even those rusty junkers. New bikes are lucky to make it to the broken-in stage. No bike is safe, but certainly some wise precautions can be taken and do help. Even the heaviest gauge chain is vulnerable to bolt cutters. Three-quarter inch airplane cable seems to be about the safest, but without a good lock even that is no protection. The best, realistic, paranoiac action is to keep a hand on your bike at all times. There are several effective commercial lock and cable combinations. The Citadel is an indestructible $21.95 cable lock which has remained victorious through onslaught by bolt-, shear-, and cable-cutters, hacksaws, files, prybars, hammers and acid. Clark’s favorite, the Kryptonite, is a $17 lock and bracket style of unique elements. The Gara/lok is a $20 cable and pickproof lock that insures the bike for $100 against theft when the lock is used correctly.

Always be conscious of how you lock your bike. Lock directly to some large permanent stationary object, like a fence or sign post, bike rack or tree. Parking meters don’t count, as a light bike can be lifted right over them. Try to involve as much of your bike as possible in the cable entanglement-that’s both wheels and the frame. It’s a slow walk home with a bike that’s missing a wheel. It’s much safer to leave your bike in well trafficked, campus-downtown sections than in quiet, deserted residential sections.


Like all other extensions, bikes command a personal preference, ranging from feather-weight racers to comfortable balloon tire Shermans-each has its purpose and pleasures. Before you lay down your hard-earned cash for a bike, spend some time figuring out what you want it for and what kind of bike cruising you would enjoy best. If you like leisurely, moderately paced, short-distance rides where you can relax and check out the scenery, investigate the 3-speeds or even coasters (there’s no more comfortable ride than on balloon tires). If long distances, varied terrain sound like your style, and you’re willing to accommodate the specialized riding position of specially designed 10-speeds, try out a racer. These faster, more precision-designed bikes really require a more considerable amount of maintenance and should be adjusted, cleaned and tuned regularly. But before you buy one, no matter which style you prefer, take a small amount of time to learn a little about bike mechanics.

For instance, the different kinds of hand brakes: center-pull brakes have a more even, responsive mechanism than side-pull brakes which have leverage from one side only, and are not quite as effective. Most center-pull brakes, even the inexpensive ones, work well, but only the more expensive side-pull brakes work really well. Learn a little about the different brands of derailleurs, if you’re buying a 10-speed. It seems to me that Shimano and Simples make the best inexpensive ones. You should decide also, between sew-up tires (sprint rims) or regularly tube gum walls (clincher rims). While sew-ups are much lighter and thinner, they tend to be more delicate when coming in contact with sharp or bumpy objects.

Remember that the frame is the most significant part of the bike and if you choose a bike with a well-built, reinforced frame, you can always make equipment changes to fit your desires. Speaking of fit, it makes a lot of difference if you have a bike with a frame that fits your body dimensions. If you’re looking at a used bike, you can figure out its size by measuring from the top of the seat post to the center of the crank. Also keep in mind how safely a bike is designed. Pointed angles and sharp levers are easy to impale yourself upon if you should have an accident. Try to pick a bike with recessed screws and levers and rounded angles. If you wind up with one of those fancy 10-speeds with toe-clips, be careful riding around town. Toe clips really help when climbing hills or on long stretches, but can cause ridiculous accidents if you are doing frequent, unexpected stops.

Bikes as machinery and engineering are made-up of simple principles and bike maintenance and repair is essentially a simple process. Especially with all of the excellent bike manuals now available, each having a different level of technical explanations. It is essential that one know how to fix a flat in the Pothole and Broken Glass Capital of the Midwest, and most of the other things you have to do to your bike are not any more complicated. Wheels, brakes, changers and pedals should all be checked and adjusted about once every other month. Bearings should be overhauled and greased about every 6 months. If you can possibly avoid it, keep bike out of the rain, and recheck the exposed parts if it should get wet or sandy.

Biking is an infectious passtime and it’s easy to find yourself thinking of extensions of its simple commuter role. After riding around town daily you start biking for play, and can take leisurely rides out Scio Church Road or Geddes Road, which brings to mind longer camping trips like down Route 1 along the Pacific Coast or through the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina. Most two-lane-blacktop roads in this country are pleasant rides, as they’re old roads that motorists have left for the expressways, and they travel through small quiet farm towns.

Bicycle racing is another obvious extension and both road and track bicycle races are becoming more popular in this country. Of course, there’s a national racing club, called the Amateur Bicycle League, who organize and participate in both local and big international races. They’re comprised of all the amateur racing clubs in the U.S. and both train beginners the skills, provide the experience, and organize the events. They also issue racing licenses in various classes, determined by age, sex, riding ability, and bike type. If you’d like more information, write them a note: National Office of the Amateur Bicycle League of America, Inc., P.O. Box 669, Wall Street Station, New York City, New York 10005.

Once you really get into biking, you see that the expansions and contractions of the basic principle are limitless. Tandems the symbol of the 1890’s, exceed solo bikes not only in seating capacity, but in stopping distance, riding difficulty, stress on components and price. Tricycles go one step more, and the big ones that are available now are still as slow, comfortable and sturdy as they were when we were kids. The English are getting into racing tricycles of 5, 10, 15 and 18 speeds. They’re used in endurance racing because riders can “sleep on them without falling off.”

Everybody loves a clown on a unicycle, a single-wheel, direct drive pedal vehicle, relegated to circus productions and the Ed Sullivan Show. In the name of expansions of contractions, Walter Nilsson rode his eight-foot tall unicycle from New York City to San Francisco in 117 days in 1934. He didn’t fall off once. There are people working on folding bicycles, and even collapsible bikes, of weird unimaginable designs. But the one that seems most logical once you’ve been a biker, has materialized in Cambridge. It’s called the BURD (Be-plane Ultralight Research Device) and is a tandem device with 62-feet bi-plane wings, on a 27-foot body. The pilots pedal and the sprockets connect by chain drive and gears to the rear wheels which turn a 240-RPM propeller at their backs. It’s a lot like the Wright Brothers’ first plane, and sure beats rush-hour traffic jams and expressway neurosis.

--Tasha Lebow