I chipped in my 2 cents about fuel prices a few days ago, and I would like to expand on that a bit today with a discussion more specifically about bicycles. I've been getting around almost exclusively by bike since 2004. I started out motivated by environmental and geopolitical values and a basic understanding of the implications of our limited energy supply. But now I just think the bicycle lifestyle is a better way to live. Bicycles have been a force for good in my life, causing me to slow down, inspiring me to be more local, and along the way I got healthier (mentally and physically). I take tremendous comfort in the idea of being able to move independently around the city or out into the countryside under my own power. I do make use of buses and the train, and I tend to walk between 3 and 7 miles most days, but nothing gives me the freedom, ease, and speed of mobility that I get from my bicycle. I'm not anti-car, but driving, to me, resembles an unpleasant, somewhat frightening chore, and I only do it as a last resort, usually after much procrastinating (writing this post is actually an example of this procrastination). And if you believe as I do that the future of cars and energy is at best uncertain, then it makes sense to figure out a transportation modality that doesn't have so much dependency on the system as we know it.
I have immersed myself in bicycles - riding them, selling them, servicing them, reading/thinking about them - continuously for 7 years, and I have developed some opinions that I think may be of value for bicycle transportationalists, both experienced and novice. Since I have spent much time thinking about an uncertain future, and how bicycles play into it, I also have a few specific ideas on what is, and is not, desirable on a bicycle for long-term future transportation.
First of all, I wholeheartedly reject the notion that the Dutch, the Danish, the Chinese, or the 1950s French/English somehow have a monopoly on the wisdom of transportational cycling. The bikes that were developed and ridden in these places tend to be products of a specific time and geography and culture that, in my opinion, is not 100% transferable to Jim Thill's bicycle priorities in 2011 Minneapolis. This is not to say that these other bike cultures didn't give us some good ideas, just that they aren't the last word. For example, internal gear hubs, a hallmark of the oft-romanticized Dutch city bikes, for all their potential advantages, continually fall short of (hyper-inflated) expectations and have a number of significant downsides. Again, I'm not saying you shouldn't use an IGH, just that there is no free lunch. If you are buying a bicycle from me, I will be happy to discuss the trade-offs with you at length.
Here is my daily rider:
If a utilitarian fixed-gear is not your style, I have just one bicycle to suggest: The Surly Long Haul Trucker with 26" wheels and the stock part-spec, more or less (with flexibility to suit individual desires, quirks, and fetishes, of course). This bike has all the attributes I want - relatively affordable, sturdy, high quality parts that are commonplace AND easy to service or replace, and it is made specifically to carry your shit, whether we're talking camping gear through the Tetons, veggies from the farmer's market, or ammo to your apocalyptic zombie-proof bunker. In the past I have suggested that cyclists concerned about an uncertain future should buy TWO of these bikes, one in the appropriate size, and one in a smaller size for old age to account for possible skeletal shrinkage (keep that one in the box for easy storage). Having two identical bikes builds in redundancy in parts. The drivetrain parts of the LHT are interchangeable, for better or worse, with parts from many old mountain bikes and most of the cheap bikes sold at Wal-Mart. In a pinch, parts from a Wal-Mart bike that somebody else threw away may keep your LHT going down the road! And what the heck, if you do buy two, the unused one may actually be a stable investment, with a better rate of appreciation than a money market account, and more tangible utility than, say, jewelry.