Thursday, December 20, 2007

Bike to exercise and/or bike to commute

Accidentally I came across Chris Fox Payne's comics. He has been the illustrator for the Readers Digest magazine's back cover. He has been focusing on a slice of modern American life. I like his provocative comics that make you think. Please go to his gallery to have a complete view of his work in Readers Digest. It is worthwhile to look carefully, and ponder upon.

This piece was cut from August 2007 issue which was named as 'alternative fuel'. With a gas station as the background: a huge SUV was pumping the gas from the tank, at a price well above three dollars per gallon; a biking lady is also taking a break to get something to drink- regaining some energy to continue biking.

The interpretation of the comic becomes interesting. Positive readers would like to think this might be promoting the use of bike, as a contrast to automobiles which needs to consume increasingly costly gas. However, looking through his other comics, it doesn't seem to be so sophisticated. As the title is alternative fuel, I feel it actually is more around the drink in this lady's hand. The blue color drink reminds me of the energy drink Gatorade. It is supposed to be a special drink for people doing exercise, rather than plain water, it is scientifically designed and works better than water to your body than plain water.

This brings me to think about the use of bike in US. Just look at the design of bikes in US, it is mainly for exercising. Bikes in the Netherlands are much more sturdy for commute uses: higher handles for sitting straight so that you can look at the front; strong frames to take loads including bags and kids; chain guard to prevent your pants getting dirty; dynamo attaching the front wheel to generate lights, both front and back, for biking at night; etc., etc.

In US, bikes are far away from being used as vehicles to replace automobiles. Even in the most bike friendly city Boulder Colorado, the design of the bike paths are mostly for the purpose of recreation rather than encouraging used as a commute replacement. Bikes rarely have back seats for carrying some load. My experience of biking for groceries in US was always with a heavy backpack. Later a friend gave me her bike Rosy with a front basket on it, which was so unusual. However, the basket was not strong enough to balance a one-gallon milk bottle in it. We even shipped a lying idle bike from US and found it was a bad decision. Bikes here in the Netherlands are more like those in China. Truly, bikes for commute are quite different from bikes for exercising.

It is not easy to change a city as well as people's life style into a bike friendly place, since life is so different: you go shopping more frequent since your bike wouldn't carry that much for a whole week's need; your frig can be smaller since you shop more often; shops should stay close to where you live so that you can easily reach by bikes; the city is friendly for bikes so that people on bikes are safe... ... It is too hard to imagine any US cities could someday adopt the Dutch model of living.

Back to Payne's comic, readers are allowed to have multiple interpretations. To be more pessimistic, I would think it more relates to the energy drink as an alternative fuel to the exercising athletes, rather than promoting the use of the alternative fuel powered bikes to replace the SUV. However, it is a great contrast to put them together to make people think of something.

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