The bicycle, as seen as a tool of superb efficiency

In his book "Energy and Equity," Ivan Illich writes: "Man on a bicycle can go three or four times faster than the pedestrian, but uses five times less energy in the process. He carries one gram of this weight over a kilometer of flat road at an expense of only 0.15 calorie.

"Equipped with this tool, man outstrips the efficiency of not only all machines, but all animals as well."

Properly maintained, a bicycle should well outlive its owner.

Requiring no gasoline, it is an excellent survival tool that can provide transportation even when fuel becomes scarce or exorbitant in cost, or both.

Bicycles have proved effective in the aftermath of natural crises for transporting food, equipment, and tools. They can carry large loads -- up to 200 pounds and more if properly balanced.

One explorer, Wiegand Horst Lichtenfels, went 47,500 miles around the world on a fully packed bicycle that weighed 300 pounds. The three-year trip took him through 42 countries.

An unloaded bike traveling briskly at about 20 miles an hour could make it from Los Angeles to San Diego in six hours, although most cyclists would be hard put to maintain such a pace.

It would take less than a week to get from Los Angeles to San Francisco.

This is no small accomplishment, considering that before the arrival of the automobile such a trip might have taken even longer.

When pedaling such distances, cyclists should aim for self-sufficiency so far as possible. Also, they should familiarize themselves with bicycle upkeep and makeshift repairs.

In fact, it is a big advantage to know how to repair and maintain a bike correctly. Two good books on the subject are "Glenn's Complete Bicycle Manual," a quite expensive photo-illustrated manual, and "Richard's Bicycle Book," which easily fits into a pack. Both are available at bicycle shops and many bookstores.

Everything on your bike should be kept in proper adjustment, since a well-maintained vehicle not only will last longer, but be a whole lot safer and more reliable to boot.

Properly adjusted brakes, for example, are crucial to the safety of bike riding. See "Richard's Bicycle Book" for details on brake adjustment.

Check the tire pressure regularly. Lower tire pressure than recommended will make a bike much harder to ride. Check the tire sidewall for the proper pressure. Bike racers use high-pressure tires, since this type has less of its surface on the road and, as a result, rolling resistance is reduced.

The tire-valve stem should also be checked regularly to make sure it is perpendicular to the rim. A misaligned valve stem may be cut by the valve hole in the rim, and then the tube is worthless. So far there is no effective way to repair a tube with a broken or cracked stem.

The stem will go out of alignment when you ride on underinflated tires or put the tube into the tire incorrectly.

A good tire pump is essential to your biking self-sufficiency. Two superior brands are Zephal and silca.

The chain should be regularly cleaned and oiled. Friction gradually wears down any piece of machinery, and lubrication is the best way to minimize it.

Before oiling, clean the chain by soaking it in kerosene and then scrubbing with an old toothbrush. If the chain is not cleaned, the abrasive dirt will accelerate the wear on the chain, chain wheel, and rear sprocket. Thus, it is not a good habit to spray the entire chain with oil, because this practice only attracts dirt.

The best way to oil the chain is to place an individual drop of oil-based lubricant on each roller and then wipe, repeating often for top maintenance.

Another important point, assuming you have a 10-speed bike, is to make sure the derailleur is positioned directly under the sprocket in which the bike is engaged. Otherwise, you'll put too much strain on the gears. The pivot points on the derailleur should be lubed.

Watch for frays or kinks on the cable and housing, as they reduce efficiency. Damaged cables should be replaced.

All bearings (pedals, crank, headset, and hub) should be periodically checked , adjusted, and properly lubed, if necessary.If the bearings run dry of lubrication, it's very likely that the bearing assembly will be ruined.

The quick-release type of hub makes all wheel and tire work easy, although it also makes tire theft a simple matter, too.

A basic tool kit can usually be devised from your own experience and needs.At some shops you can get combination tools which incorporate three tools in one, such as pliers, screwdriver, and crescent wrench. There are other, similar combination tools that help reduce the total weight.

A compact tool kit, which can be bought at any bike store, usually contains a screwdriver, crescent wrench, spoke wrench for truing wheels, tube kit with repair kit and tire irons, and a container of lubricant.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.