TLC For the Old Bike

This morning when I got on my bike, I could feel it was happy about the tune-up it received at Bicycles Bill’s over the weekend. Actually it was more than a tune-up, since several parts had to be replaced due to nine-years of wear–the rear wheel, a break arm, the rear derailleur. Now I don’t have to worry whether my breaks will work quickly enough when that person taking on his cell phone steps in front of me, or whether my chain will pop off when I shift going up hill. I’m pretty hard on this old bike most of the year, so I figured it was time to give it a little TLC to get us through the winter.

Apparently, some people are beginning to consider biking commuting now that gas prices have risen to new levels. As usual, it’s probably too little to late, but it’s at least been good to read several articles recently that renewed my own enthusiasm for the ideals of biking.  In the Globe last week, one article gave a favorable review to the experience of biking to work: "One week, two wheels For five days, a reporter leaves his car at home and commutes to work the gas-free way — on a bicycle," and the editorial section has been peppered lately with arguments for the wisdom of biking rather than driving, when possible. Another Globe article, "On a bicycle built, and run, by many," reported on a student project which designed a bus powered by people, a project that combined several interests for those involved: "environmental sustainability, use of recycled materials, and community interaction." And finally, Orion has a recent article on "Pedal Power: recycled bike machines give new life to Guatemalan farmers" which describes how bikes from Boston and elsewhere are being retooled for agricultural uses in rural Latin America. The article mentions the involvement of the Boston organization Bikes Not Bombs which has teamed up with engineering students at MIT to draw up blueprints and directions for various machines, which now are available on the web.

All this pro-biking buzz gets me excited, and it’s gotten me thinking about the cultural work of promoting technologies—in this case sustainable ones—especially since so much technology gets pushed on us without much reflection on whether we really need it or what consequences it may have on us in the long term. For alternative technologies to take hold, we need not just engineering types to design them, but people to think about them and argue for them—in short, rhetoricians of various stripes. Even though at times I wish I could work more directly to promote sustainable design, I’m glad that what I do as an instructional designer shares a concern with fostering healthy cultures of technology, in my case with educational technologies in a university setting, and I hope I’ll find other ways to chances to promote hopeful machines like bikes.

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