This made me think, and I realized that I have ridden bicycles ever since I can remember, and probably now take them for granted. I Started with a balloon tired, single speed, typically heavy version, which took me to school and back, and let me ride with my friends until it was eclipsed by a car (although the bike still hangs in my basement). I then left bicycles until after college and the Air Force, but rediscovered them when a friend and I spent a few months touring Europe on duplicates of a bicycle that had done well in the Tour de France the year before. After I became use to riding a bicycle again, to say nothing of ten speeds, very light weight, an initially painful seat, dropped handlebars, and an entirely new bodily position, I fell madly in love it (it hangs in my older son’s garage). I have ridden bicycles consistently ever since, and am now dependent on them for getting around the local area, riding in the hills for exercise, and especially getting around the Stanford campus. And I must admit I find it satisfying to ride past automobiles that are fighting their way through local traffic.
Without bicycles, Stanford would not work nearly as well. The campus is large and continues to expand, administrative offices are far apart, dormitories are far from classrooms, and although classrooms are far apart, the University still clings to ten minute class breaks. Although retired, I maintain an office on campus and still attend various meetings and functions. Walking everywhere might be good for me, but life is short. Bicycle traffic on campus is heavy and seems disorganized and perhaps hazardous to those not riding, but actually is surprisingly free of accidents and fun to be part of. The bicycles cover the spectrum from high performance to low and expensive to junk, and from single speed to many.
This photo is me on my present bicycle returning home from my office (a short trip). I realize I am not wearing a helmet, which is stupid and dangerous, but unfortunately I take many short trips while on campus, am not used to wearing a hat, and therefore tend to lose helmets and generally spend too much time putting them on and taking them off. I wear them when riding longer distances fast on roads full of cars, and endure the censure (especially from grand children and my wife) of not wearing one all of the time. The only person I have ever known who wore his helmet all of the time (including while lecturing and in meetings) is a Nobel Laureate.
The ideal campus bicycle is rugged, performs well, and shows enough wear not to be considered worth stealing. Mine qualifies. It needs to be a bit more beat up, but will get there. It is a mountain bike, even though I do not ride it in mountains, but it has the advantages of outstanding brakes (very important), does not mind jumping curbs (convenient), and is highly maneuverable. It has more gears than I need, but that was part of the package. I bought it new for a very reasonable price because it was painted green, and apparently the dealer had difficulty selling it, because green was not cool that year.
And I agree with my friend. Granted that they vary over many parameters, bicycles in general are an outstanding product. Traffic and air pollution were much more reasonable in Beijing before cars began replacing bicycles. And people probably got more exercise and reached their destinations more quickly.