How the bicycle might have changed everything in 1994. Now, with footnotes


SAAB claimed it was born from jets. This Miyata, from a company that’s made bicycles since the 1890s, could just as accurately sport a “Born from Guns” decal. (It doesn’t.)

An essay from the January/February 1994 issue of Upbeat magazine. The headline, pictures, captions and footnotes are new.

What with all the talk about the information highway, I got to thinking about that other highway out there: America’s everyday road system.[1] And I started wondering how the U.S. would respond if the Japanese invented a highly efficient mode of transportation. One that used no fossil fuels, didn’t pollute (not even a little), and actually improved the health of those people who chose to employ it. Would it be the missile gap all over again? In other words…

What if the Japanese had created the bicycle just yesterday?[2] What would be the president’s reaction? Would he direct the vice president to make a speech about the bright future of transportation and how the government needs to actively promote the use of bicycles? And not just promote the bicycle, but actually encourage it? Would billions be poured into research? Would Rodale Press quit publishing Organic Gardening in favor of High Tech Transit?[3] How would the Saudis take the news?


The past, present and future of highly-efficient transportation. Russell’s 1981 Miyata 912, modified with 650B wheels, among other things. (Sorry, no Mr. Fusion Home Energy Reactor.)

Or would there be a super-secret American bicycle catch-up program like World War II’s Manhattan Project? “Sir, we believe the two-wheeled plan has merit, but none of the scientists are small enough for their fathers to hold them up while they attempt to pedal the machine.”

How would the movie industry portray the latest road-going innovation? “I’m the Derailleur. I’ll be back.” Arnold turns to his trusty dual-suspension carbon-fiber monocoque bicycle and races after his next victims, a pickup full of dirty dockworkers with tattoos like “Leave it or leave it” and “King of Leers.” The camera pans down from Arnold’s passionless face, across his bright lycra jersey, along the bike’s black and seamless frame to the downtube levers.[4] “No one expects a 63-tooth chainring,” he says to himself, grimly shifting the bicycle into the largest gear.


As you go back in history, Shimano Ultegra cranks are eventually replaced by Shimano 600EX Arabesque cranks. But when you reverse direction and go forward again, Ultegra never seems to reappear. Fortunately, MKS Lambda pedals work throughout the continuum.

And back in the real world…

What of the hapless millions stuck with their old-tech automobiles? “Gosh Marge, soon the streets will be packed with people of the future thinking future kind of thoughts while pedaling their super-efficient, future kind of bicycles. Will we still be able to buy gas? Do you think they’ll make car paths for us? I just hope those biker people don’t develop aggressive attitudes.”

Okay folks, there are plenty of new bikes for everyone.[5,6] For those of you who won’t be pedaling, all we can hope for is that your automobiles don’t depreciate too quickly. Hey, first one in line gets to see Al Gore sweat.[7]

  1. Before the information highway arrived, my paragraphs were longer.
  2. Remember Japanese bicycles? How old are you, anyway?
  3. Rodale acquired Bicycling! magazine in the late 70s and Hearst completed its acquisition of Rodale in 2018. Check the Wayback Machine for Rodale’s picture of itself before the end.
  4. Back then I didn’t need to explain what downtube levers were. I don’t need to explain them today, either.
  5. The “plenty of new bikes” line was pre-pandemic. If you’re looking for sub-$1,000 bicycles in May 2020 the pickings are slim indeed.
  6. I miss Slim Pickens.
  7. In 2006, Rodale published Gore’s book An Inconvenient Truth: The Planetary Emergency of Global Warming and What We Can Do About It.

About 16incheswestofpeoria

Former bicycle mechanic, current peruser of books, feeder of birds.
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