As I have commented before, when walking or riding a bicycle, one sees a whole lot more than when driving or riding in a car. To whit, this rusted, overgrown tricycle which rests just a few meters from the road we live on, not 100 meters from our house.
I've known of its existence for a long time, as I walk past it with Momo or ride past it on my bike almost daily. K, on the other hand, driving by in her car for many years was unaware of it until I pointed it out. A funny looking machine, but I saw a newer one the other day as I rode from town to home. An elderly man was riding it at slow but steady pace with a big box in a basket over the rear axle, two big heavy looking sacks on top of that, a full backpack, and a basket full on his handlebars. Not fast, but very practical for trips of 5 kilometers or so. Around here the major roads have wide sidewalks to ride on.
Today I went for a short (I thought) grocery run by bicycle. I decided to visit a local store (20 minute ride) rather than ride into the "city" (40 minute ride). The store's selection and some prices are not as good as in town, but they have a farmers market out front where one can buy local produce. I followed a route that would form a loop rather than a simple "there and back". It would take me down the hill to the rice fields and back up the bluffs, offering more interesting views than simply following the mostly level highway. This old house/store is one example of the things I see along the way. I also spied a '61 Chevy Impala in someone's garage.
Though the picture does not reveal it well, the old building is juxtaposed by a metal roofed addition on the back, the plastic rain catchment emptying into the old wooden tub, and a TV antenna on top. I am disappointed that the reflection of the sun on the tub of water, which played under the eaves, is not evident in the picture.
But such are the joys of bicycling and seeing the world at a slightly slower pace. One has time to notice a lot more and even say hello or talk to people you see. A more aware pace, yet not really a whole lot slower than that of expensive, polluting, gas guzzling automobiles. My trip should only be about 20 minutes longer than if I had gone by car, yet the cost of my bike was about 100th of the cost of a low priced car, I pay no insurance or inspection fees or annual license fees, or (gasp) GASOLINE. I also don't contribute to climate change, etc. and I get exercise in the bargain. Of course there are trade-offs, but obviously I accept them.
Unfortunately, I had a slight mishap today. There is a poorly maintained section of road near our house which leads down to the rice fields below our bluff. It is a section of road which has had several operations of digging trenches for drainage, sewer line, utilities, etc. leaving a patchwork of macadam and concrete. I did my best to take it easy going down, but along the bumpy way I heard a metallic "CRACK!". I waited for a crash as I thought the bicycle frame had broken somehow (not likely), but nothing happened except a strange squeaking sound which I couldn't precisely locate. It wasn't until I had crossed the flat rice fields and started up the bluffs again a few kilometers later that I noticed that the rear wheel was rubbing - off and on - against the rear brake pads. I noticed it because I was going up hill and it was slowing me down a great deal.
I had broken a spoke and as a result the rear wheel rim was bent. The last time this happened was on the way to a concert, which I missed. This time was not as severe, but it made it impossible to ride up a steep slope. I had left my tool kit at home, so I was unable to loosen the rear brake which would have temporarily solved my problem. Nothing to do but go on with the added drag of the out-of-true rim. I knew that K was going to Mito City today and that I had to be home soon to see her before she left. The added drag would slow me down enough to make that impossible - partly because I had misunderstood her schedule and partly because I had been optimistic about mine. Typical guy thing.
My mishap really didn't add that much time to my trip - perhaps 15 minutes. You may think that two broken spokes in a year proves a bike unreliable, but I've not experienced this with any bike in the past. I think it is due to one or more of the following: poor quality of my ahem "low cost" bike, poor maintenance of the roads (yep) and poorly "tuned" wheels (maybe). Bikes purchased from mass marketers (like mine) are not well adjusted by the store before being sold - I know, I used manage a sporting goods department in a department store. When I first brought it home I should have taken the time to "tweak" it by adjusting the spokes, wheel bearings, etc. Instead I've been doing piecemeal. Perhaps, if I find ANY readers interested (har har), I'll write a post about how to do that. The first broken spoke I simply removed, as replacements are hard to find in Kashima. For now, until I get new spokes, I'll probably have to "borrow" two spokes from the front wheel and put them in back. The rear wheel takes most of the weight after all. One thing I did not do going down that hill, which may have prevented this was to stand up on the pedals. Doing that when going over a bump takes some weight off the rear wheel and allows your legs to act as shock absorbers, reducing the stress on the wheels.
At one of my stops - a hardware store - I saw a brand new tricycle. It had a lithium-ion battery behind the seat post because it also had an electric motor assist to sort of level out the hills. When engaged, the electric motor comes on when you pedal, making it easier to go up hill. You may laugh at this vehicle at first glance, but get back to me in a few years when your gasoline costs $10 a gallon (if you can find it) and we'll see who is laughing. What about a retiree who can no longer drive? This trike had a package in the front basket and a canister of kerosene for home heating (weighing 30 pounds) in the back. How else would an elderly person get such a load home without a car? The clever little trike gives its owner a measure of independence.
After shopping, I headed home on the straight and flat "highway". Along the way, K passed me going the other direction, slowed down and opened the window to say "hi". Well, at least we made some contact.
In Fiji, I'd opt for an electric assist mountain bike. If I stay in Japan for much longer I might look into a recumbent trike like this one. Some recumbents are bicycles, some trikes. Since, at 25 mph a rider uses 90% of his/her energy to overcome wind resistance, recumbents are very fast on level ground. In fact they were outlawed by bicycle racing authorities back in the 1930's. They are slower that upright bikes going up hills due to their additional weight, and for the same reason they are much faster going back down. They are also more comfortable than an upright.
Or maybe a dream machine like this HPV (human powered vehicle) or "Velomobile" as they are sometimes called.
Oh, yeah! Is this HOT or what? Basically a recumbent trike as above, but with an aerodynamic shell for speed and to keep the rider out of the elements. This one is a "go-one³" built in Germany. Most velomobiles are built in Europe, but I read that one is now produced in Texas and a Japanese firm has one under development. They too can be equiped with electric motor assist. Zoom zoom zoom.