Bikes: How Do They Work?

Americans: say what you will about us, but we're really good at using appliances. Sure, giving us credit is like giving an arsonist matches, we can't tell the difference between foreign languages and speaking in tongues, and we have an alarming propensity for shooting each-other, but there's not a feature-rich consumer good we can't master in short order. Home theaters? Talking refrigerators? Self-parking cars? We'll have it down pat before the bank even gets there to repossess it.

So then why do we have such a hard time riding bicycles? We now look at our pornography on computers more powerful than the ones that sent Apollo 11 to the moon, yet the typical adult is completely confounded by the humble bike. Give an American a supercomputer and he'll know exactly what to do (look at porn), but give him a bicycle and he'll either strap a couple of cameras to his head and try his best to die like Lucas Brunelle, or else he'll hide it in the garage like it's some kind of cursed monkey's paw.

Fortunately though, there are one or two people in America who know how to use a bicycle, and a reader tells me they've now made a helpful instructional video to share the secret of practical cycling with the rest of us:

This video is called "How To Bike In a Busy City," though presumably due to a limited budget they weren't able to film it in a busy city and instead opted for whatever sleepy town this is. Nevertheless, this doesn't make the advice contained therein any less useful. For example, obviously you should always ride on the sidewalk:

Also, you're going to need some stuff:

This is great advice, because every day thousands of cyclists leave home without remembering to take their hand signals with them. Yes, there's nothing more embarrassing than raising your arm to signal a turn or flip somebody off and then remembering you actually left your hands in your other pants. Also, it's vital that you always carry a map. Sure, you may know where you're going because, like most cyclists, you do most of your commuting in the town where you live, but with newspapers going the way of the rotary phone you never know when you're going to need a big piece of paper to wrap up that unexpected fish market find. And the lock goes without saying, since you don't want your bike getting stolen while you're browsing the local fish market.

Of course, there are also some optional items. Actually, there's only one, and it's the helmet:

Helmets? Optional!?! Egads! If you listen closely, you can hear the collective gasps of the "helment nazis" as they gulp for air like freshly-caught grouper. Interestingly though, the filmmakers left some important items off of both the mandatory and the optional list, such as:

--Patch kit
--A bicycle

No big deal though. As long as you have that map you'll be fine. The bike's only going to get you into trouble anyway, especially if you're American. Also, keep in mind that if you want to be accepted into the "bike culture," you're going to need a $350 backpack handmade in the Mission District, as well as at least 14 different combination 15mm wrench/bottle openers on your person at any given time. (Bonus points for having a lockring remover just in case you're suddenly inclined to remove the cog that's been on the bike since you bought it on eBay three years ago.)

The video also emphasizes the importance of proper bike maintenance. For example, you should always dust your saddle for fingerprints to make sure a saboteur has not booby-trapped your bicycle in the night:

You should also (as the person who forwarded me this video points out) smell your chain at regular intervals:

Contrary to popular belief, the first sign of chain failure is not skipping or squealing. Rather, it's the moment the chain suddenly and inexplicably begins to emit "the intoxicating smell of semen that the tubers emit--known to foodies as the truffle umami." Should this happen, remove the chain immediately, slather it with artisanal mayonnaise, and eat it lest you inadvertently install it on another bike. (Ideally you should pair the chain with a glass of fine vintage lube to avoid constipation.)

By the way, remember how the video said the helmet is optional? Well, now they want you to wear one all the time:

And make sure it's a good one--you know, the kind where the straps run down the middle of your face.

And with helmets now moving into the "mandatory" category, that leaves room for a new optional accessory:

As you no doubt noticed from the pictures above, the film's protagonist has enthusiastically opted "in."

So now you've got your map and your helmet, you've checked any fingerprints on your bicycle against law enforcement agency databases, you've combed your optional moustache, and you're ready to ride. But did you remember your hand signals? Of course you did. Just make sure that when you use them you come to a complete stop first:

Also, the film says you should make eye contact with drivers at intersections:

On the surface, making eye contact with drivers seems like a good idea. However, some years back, I took a class in order to learn how to ride a motorcycle. (I was actually raised by feral outlaw Jewish motorcyclists and knew how to ride almost from birth, but my upbringing was so traumatic that I blanked it all out had to learn how to ride all over again as part of my self-actualization therapy. You can read all about it in my forthcoming memoir, "Kosher Hogs.") One of the useful things I learned in that class (besides which lever is the clutch thingy and which lever is the brake thingy) is that just because you're looking into a driver's eyes, you should never assume they can see you. I'm sure we've all had the experience of someone turning right into us even as they look right at us--I know I have. For this reason, eye contact as a way of gauging safety is mostly meaningless. Plus, if you lay the eye contact on too thick, people might think you're an "extreme eye-screwer:"

extreme missed connection - m4w - 30 (f train, okcupid, wherever)
Date: 2011-12-13, 2:59PM EST
Reply to:

I been eye-screwing ladies for years, just tryin to get a missed connection out of it. On the train sidewalk, checkout line, bus, bike, crosswalk, you get the idea.

Now I'm lurking the halls of the intanet, I'm hooking up with cool people, but still no missed connections, what gives?

Anyways, I'm just gonna start wearing a dick pic tshirt and handing out business cards.

Hi ladies


What all this means is that if you rely too heavily on eye contact while cycling, one of two things is going to happen:

1) You're going to wind up splayed on someone's hood;


2) You're going to wind up splayed on some swinger's water bed because you eye-screwed them too hard while wearing that optional moustache.

Still, you can't go wrong keeping an eye out for pedestrians wearing boots that look like they were made out of fur from their own dog's puppies:

Or by reminding yourself constantly of how much money and time you're saving:

Interestingly, these numbers are true for absolutely everybody, even if you work at home and didn't even own a car in the first place. Just ask David Byrne:

("Even though I don't own a car, cycling saves me $1,825 a year in auto-related costs, because otherwise I'd spend it on maintaining the imaginary car I don't have.")

Still, you do only wind up saving -$3,070 if your commuting bike is a Beloved:

Though you will amortize that if you can keep it from getting stolen for a few years, and it may be worth it to you for all the eye-screwing you'll get in the meantime (assuming you go in for that sort of thing).

Speaking of Portland, the article that contained the aforementioned video also contained a bunch of "infographics" like this one:

I haven't done a formal study, but I'd wager that bicycle commuting is the most-infographed subject in the world. Here's an infograph that shows how much people love infographics about bike commuting:

("All You Advocates Tweet My Infographic")

In fact, I'd say there are almost as many infographics about bike commuting as there are local news segments about bike messengers:

Though amazing cockpits like this ChannelLock-and-cane combo, as seen by a reader in Las Vegas, are truly one of a kind:

Hand tools are the new bar end.

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