“Is bike a simple machine?”
Circles and triangles, rubber and metal, pulleys and levers
Once in a while, I check search terms that bring people to Mellow Velo. Strangely, searches for “attractive woman cyclist,” or some variation thereof, regularly top the list. They probably click on my site by accident, and I apologize belatedly (or in advance) for the disappointment. If they were expecting Liz Hatch, well, I can only dream of having her power output numbers.
Last week, I got a hit from someone who typed in, “Is bike a simple machine?” I imagine he/she was trying to answer a high school physics homework question, but there is a philosophical depth to the query.
The bicycle is fundamentally unchanged in design, function and legend since its inception in the 1800s. The collection of geometric shapes make up a sleek, sexy tribute to physics, from the basic cooperation of simple forces to complex understandings of torque, power and aerodynamics. Wastes of space and energy are minimized on a machine that could be built in a backyard with basic metal skills and a general understanding of load bearing, or it could be purchased for upwards of $10,000 and custom-designed by companies who invest millions in bicycle research and development. It is a testament to human ingenuity and proof that – on rare occasions – people can indeed create something perfect.
The bicycle also has the ability to be a great equalizer, despite what advertising copy tells you. Most of us have encountered the rider who shows up on an old bike, wearing technologically dis-advantaged gear and who proceeds to wreck everyone with his or her tremendous strength and skill.
Those are rare, lone wolves because the bicycle is also a testament to humanity’s love of accessorizing. More than low riders, we have figured out how to colorize, personalize, customize and over-engineer accessories from saddles to stems to the straps on platform pedals. But strip it all away and the bicycle maintains the perfect functions of transport and fun. It is the simplest of machines, transferring human power into speed and distance.
No matter how the bicycle companies bow, bend and paint their frames, bikes are a series of tubes and triangles, wheels and pulleys, metal and rubber. Bicycles are and always will be bicycles.