Mountain Bikes: Saving Weight and Work
Okay, you know bicycling is good for you. It pumps your heart, works your legs and fills your lungs with good, fresh air. You also know what using leg power instead of your favorite gas guzzler can do for the local ozone layer. So why is your bike still parked in the basement?Maybe it's because you haven't visited a cycle shop recently. Whether you want to commute to work, cruise in the country or run errands, chances are there's something on the expanding bicycle market for you.Saving Weight-And WorkSince mountain bikes first made a splash over 10 years ago, bicycles have generally become lighter in weight and more utilitarian. Gear shifts, brakes, handlebars-they're all more comfortable and easier to use. While steel alloy remains the most common frame material, other materials such as aluminum, titanium and carbon composites are gaining popularity.Trek Bicycles of Wisconsin was among the first large companies to make carbon fiber frames in the late '80s; now these bikes are bestsellers. Riders like carbon fiber because it is light (Trek's frame weighs 2 1/2 pounds), aerodynamic and extra shock absorbent. Manufacturers choose it because it is strong and moldable, allowing for a diversity of designs. Though carbon fiber bikes remain relatively expensive-Trek's versions start at $1,200-most large companies are now making them and prices should begin to drop.Perhaps the only drawback of carbon and the dozens of other materials which go into building increasingly high-tech cycles is that they are far from environmentally benign. As author David Perry points out in Bike Cult: The Ultimate Guide to Human-Powered Vehicles, bicycles may be a pollution-free transportation mode, but the process of making and selling them produces considerable amounts of garbage and hazardous waste. In fact, he says, at least 35 hazardous wastes are generated in making a typical cycle.While there's no getting around this completely, you can help by purchasing from companies, including Trek, Raleigh, Cannondale and many smaller ones, which still manufacture in the U.S., where environmental regulations tend to be stricter than overseas. You can also seek out companies such as Green Gear Cycling in Eugene, Oregon. According to marketing director Karen McConnell, one of the company's top priorities is to choose materials and processes which are the least environmentally damaging. A Green Gear product line, called Bike Friday, enables you to be a nearly pollution-free traveler. Not only does every bike (touring, mountain or tandem-all made to order) fold up for storage, they also fit in a TravelCase to take along on bus, train or airplane. Upon arrival, all you do is unpack, unfold, and-get this-the TravelCase converts into a trailer for your gear.With all the gear people carry around these days, compact bike trailers have become popular. B.O.B. Trailers in San Luis Obispo, California makes the Yak, a single-wheel trailer that's lightweight (about 12 pounds), aerodynamic and no wider than a bike's handlebars, and the Boomer, a two-wheeled child trailer.Burley Design Cooperative, which produces high-quality tandem bikes and trailers, makes the environment a priority in its factory. All frames are finished with a powder coating which, unlike solvent-based paints, contains no ozone-damaging hydro or fluorocarbons. The powder is baked on in an oven, where the color granules melt and flow together, resulting in a durable, high-gloss finish. Though most other manufacturers still use wet spray paints, a few-including Trek-are also switching to the less-toxic powder coating.Reducing factory pollution has always been the number one goal for Worksman Trading Corporation of New York. Founded in 1898 at the end of the horse-and-buggy era, the company now prides itself on replacing fume-emitting forklifts with healthier Worksman Business Cycles in factories and warehouses throughout the world (clients include everyone from Boeing and General Motors to Xerox and the U.S. Postal Service). Worksman also makes equally sturdy, yet sleeker "pleasure" cycles-folding, tandems, tricycles and basic one- or three-speed "Cruisers." And, more than a few green-business-minded entrepreneurs have bought the Worksman Pedi-Limo for transporting tourists in a number of cities.If it's limo-luxury you're after, check out the ReBike, one of the most popular recumbent, or sit-down, bikes on the market. With padded backrest, high handlebars and an extra-wide seat, it is arguably the most comfortable bike available. Not only does it drastically reduce arm, neck and back strain, it can also be ideal for people who are physically challenged. ReBike, based in Boca Raton, Florida, makes four models-the seven-speed touring bike, an 18-speed with either a 20" or 26" wheel, and the ReTrike, a seven-speed tricycle. Prices, beginning at $499.95, are about the lowest you'll find for a recumbent.Finally, if it's your own lack of leg oomph that's keeping that bike in the basement, perhaps you could use an electric boost. ZAP Power Systems of Sebastopol, California is a leading manufacturer of electric bicycles, tricycles and scooters. The company recently announced an initial agreement to sell 5,000 of its bike motors to China, an arrangement that will be followed by formation of a joint venture to sell a variety of electric vehicles-from bicycles to motorcycles and wheelchairs. China now suffers some of the world's worst air pollution, because its roads are filled with millions of bikes powered by small gas engines.Non-polluting, fast and quiet, ZAP bikes are most popular for commuting and urban use (the battery goes 20 miles before recharging). Users have the choice of just riding along or pedaling and increasing top speed to 18 miles per hour. ZAP systems can be installed on nearly any cycle, and kits begin at $449. Factory-built models start at $849.Of course, none of these options will suit if there's no safe place to ride. As the number of American bicycle owners (there are over 100 million) continues to rise, so does the need for better traveling conditions. The only source of federal funding for bicycle transportation, the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA), must be reauthorized in 1997; cycling advocates say it is critical that Congress pass a "bike-friendly" version.With all the options, bicycling has never been better. So dust off that bike in the attic, or give one of the new designs a try. Anything else is just an excuse.CONTACTS:Burley Design Cooperative 4020 Stewart Road Eugene, OR 97402 Tel: (800) 311-5294Green Gear Cycling 3364 West 11th Avenue Eugene, OR 97402 Tel: (800) 777-0258 World Wide Web: http://www.bikefriday.comReBike 103 NW 43rd Street Boca Raton, FL 33431 Tel: (407) 750-1304Trek Bicycles 801 West Madison Street Waterloo, WI 53594 Tel: (800) 369-8735Worksman Trading Corporation Worksman Cycle Industrial Park 94-15 100th Street Ozone Park, NY 11416 Tel: (800) 962-2453ZAP Power Systems 117 Morris Street Sebastopol, CA 95472 Tel: (707 )824-4150 World Wide Web: http://zapbikes.comSHEILA POLSON is a freelance writer based in Lincolnville, Maine.