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Anyone around during the Bike Boom of the 1970s? Tell me about your story!

Fifty Plus (50+) Share the victories, challenges, successes and special concerns of bicyclists 50 and older. Especially useful for those entering or reentering bicycling.

Anyone around during the Bike Boom of the 1970s? Tell me about your story!

Old 05-22-12, 07:42 AM
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In some ways the 1970s seem like a Utopia in which cycling was normal and taken for granted, rather as in Amsterdam today. It's also true that typical bicycles were much more convenient to ride and more utilitarian than almost all of today's offerings. For example, fenders and chainguards were universal, even on most derailleur bikes. However, there were some real problems with the equipment.

To begin with, most rims were steel, making for lousy wet braking. I recall applying brakes lightly every half minute or so to keep my brakes dry on the downhill to my office. Drum and disc brakes did not exist.

Bike lighting was worse. There were no blinkies, no halogen headlights, no LED lights. Your choices were zinc-carbon flashlight battery lights, which were dim and quickly ran down their batteries and sidewall generators that howled like banshees, slipped. and provided an equally dim, but flickering light. Whichever choice you made, the lights did little good and soon stopped working. There were lots of accidents.

Raingear consisted of heavy, hot yellow slickers. As for winter cycling, there were no studded tires, so riding on black ice was like tightrope walking. However, the classic singlespeeds were much better in the snow than typical front engine/rear-drive cars cars of the period. Finally, helmets were unknown.

It may have been a golden age, but there were some parts of it I would rather not go back to.
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Old 05-22-12, 07:56 AM
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Originally Posted by PaulH
...Finally, helmets were unknown.

It may have been a golden age, but there were some parts of it I would rather not go back to.
There were helmets around. Don't ya remember those black leather "tube" helmets that were filled with foam rubber? Probably wouldn't do much more than save a little skin/hair and were totally worthless in a head impact. You were really "cool" if you wore one of those.

You're right about going back. We are living in the "golden age" ... well, we were until about 2007 or 2008.
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Old 05-22-12, 08:23 AM
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I don't remember much of a bike boom in my area in suburban Chicago. It seems there was a slow progression from Schwinn to Shimano in that decade. It was kind of cool to ride a 10-speed in some circles, not so cool in others. I didn't know of any races. I was one of the few in my age group (born 1957) to keep cycling recreationally after I got my driver's license.

If you look at Olympic history, there wasn't much of a US presence in the sport until 1984, and that was largely because of the Soviet boycott, I think. I was living in Boulder then--heady days.

In my mind, the real bike boom in my lifetime was mountain biking in the 80s. That's when I started noticing bike shops springing up in every neighborhood, full bike racks around town, and you'd find a couple or four hybrids in every yuppie garage.

But like I said, I wasn't into racing, I rode for fun and transportation in an area where people just didn't do that, so I might have just missed that boom in the 70s.
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Old 05-22-12, 09:00 AM
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I was in high school during the first half of the 1970's when the bike boom hit Pittsburgh. Prior to reaching the magical age of acquiring a driver's license, friends started getting ten-speed bikes, but even to my uneducated eye, they were mostly junky C. Itoh models that were heavy and not sized properly to American proportions. Not into the high school dating scene, I skipped prom and used the money to buy a bike from a small Squirrel Hill bike shop on Forward Avenue called Velocipede. I don't remember what they else they sold, but I bought a silver Caloi Racer manufactured by Mundo Cycles in Brazil. Here's an ad for it: https://www.proteanpaper.com/scart_re...words=&srcateg= . Riding was always either for pleasure or transportation; I never raced and never knew anyone that did.

The bike boom ended and a bunch of small bike shops closed, including Velocipede, but I kept my bike. I went to University, got married, and moved to Philadelphia. I kept riding off and on, including the trail around Valley Forge. Ended up living in Northeast Philly and still rode a bit, but the traffic was a lot scarier. Finally we moved back to Pittsburgh and the bike made it on the moving van. Life got busy and my riding finally stopped and the Caloi Racer sat in the basement giving spiders a nice starting place to build webs.

My daughter wanted a bike a few years ago and we bought her one. On a lark, we took her to the Heritage Trails along the rivers downtown and I rented a bike to ride with her. I was instantly hooked again and soon bought a hybrid to ride with her. In a mid-life attack of "N+1" along with a case of "no free cash at the moment" blues, I cast an eye on the old 10 speed in the corner of the basement. With a little assistance from forums here and from a LBS, it's back on the road. In fact, it's standing about 10 feet away from me in my office even as I type this.

So on days when the stress level runs a tad high and I feel like maybe I'm getting a little too close to taking it out on someone, I got for a short 3 or 4 mile ride around the neighborhood surrounding my building. It gets the aggression out, clears my head, and gives me a few moments to think without a phone ringing or an email pinging. As I contemplate it, the bike is probably approaching it's 40th birthday. I think we're both doing pretty well for our age.

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Old 05-22-12, 09:18 AM
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I too was in HS for the early part of the 70s. All kids had bikes where I grew up and when 10 speeds became widely available all kids soon had them. Gave us the freedom to go anywhere, from 10 miles to 100 miles. We were aware of some club riding and racing, but it didn't seem nearly that prevalent. I don't think we were aware that there was a boom particularly, but I suppose we were inadvertently part of it.

After a crash and resultant concussion, I got one of those leather helmets. Never had a head banging crash again, so I don't really know how worthless it would have been. Otherwise, we rode in jeans and tee shirts as that's what we were otherwise wearing. Bike gear was pretty uncommon.

Even though I wasn't into racing or even aware of much club riding, there must have been some common ethos at work beyond mere transportation as I remember getting up before school and riding a quick ten mile route to work on my speed. Not that I was actually doing anything with my speed, but for whatever reason I still felt the need to work on it. I had a Raleigh Record that was perceived as being the 'better' bike among my group of friends, but maybe that's just because it was British. I realize now it probably had crap tubing and bottom end componentry, but it was perceived as being above the Schwinn's and other common bikes and I thought it was a really great machine. I was proud as hell of it.
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Old 05-22-12, 10:13 AM
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Lots of interesting perspectives here. I agree with others who have pointed out that the 70's bike boom wasn't a universal presence across the country, was largely generational in nature, and driven by the widespread availability of the 10 speed bicycle. I can't view it in isolation, though, from all the other societal changes going on in the early 70's. The environmental movement was coming into full swing for the first time, and the bicycle was seen as a means to reduce our dependence on cars. It was a novel idea, as even then most adults considered a bicycle as something to be discarded when you grew up.

Two minor but humorous examples of that mindset come to memory: A Newsweek magazine article on the bike boom had pictures of people riding the newfangled 10 speeds in New York City traffic. The caption?

A Toy Finds A Place In Traffic.

and a scene from a movie popular at the time, "The Russians are Coming". In one scene, a man's car is disabled and he desperately needs to get to town. He grabs an old rusty bicycle and weaves off unsteadily like a drunk. A grown man riding a bicycle! How funny!
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Old 05-22-12, 11:39 AM
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We didn't have much money when I was a kid -- only the "rich" kids could afford a 10-speed bike. When I went to college in 1969 I had a Columbia 3-speed that I had won at the county fair during the summer after completing the 8th grade. (A bike store had a bike on display at the fair. A motor-driven rotating drum spun the front wheel; there was an odometer attached but not visible. They wanted you to guess how far the bike would go in 5 days. I did some calculations, put in my entry, and won).

I mainly participated in the running boom -- I grew up near Eugene, Oregon, and running was really big back then. There were frequent (running) road races on the weekends, some with pretty high caliber competition. I ran in races where Steve Prefontaine and other guys from the Oregon Track Club would show up and run in my age group (not that I was any threat to them). I knew nothing of bicycle racing.
I used my bike just to get around campus, go to the store, etc.

In 1976 I was working on a survey crew in central Oregon and saw hundreds of people pass through that area on the BikeCentennial. That seemed like something I should do, but I didn't buy a bicycle until the summer of 1978. By then I had started to develop knee problems and couldn't run as much anymore.

I remember telling my dad that I was going to go into town and buy a bike to ride to work. He thought I meant a motorcycle, so he was surprised when I came home with a bicycle -- a Nishiki Olympic Royale. The next day I started commuting to work, riding 16 miles each way. As the summer went by I would go on additional rides after work and on the weekends. I've been riding bikes ever since.

In 1980, after graduating from college for the 2nd time, I finally did my ride across the US, going from Oregon to Washington, DC, and on up to Newfoundland. I've made a number of other tours since then, but now mainly just ride road bikes.

I never became interested in bicycle racing. I knew a couple of guys back in the late 70s who raced, but they didn't promote it much and I never heard of any races in the area where I was living.

At least among the people I knew when I was in college, bicycling was mainly a practical way to get around. A lot of us either didn't have cars or couldn't afford to drive them much, and parking at school was a hassle. It certainly wasn't elitist back then, and it wasn't a form of escapism.

I think the BikeCentennial spawned a "community" of sorts, and in the late 70s there was a community developing, at least at the university I attended, of bicyclists who rode for fun, put on "experimental college" classes on bike maintenance, etc. But I never saw anything like that during the early 70s, which is when I think most would say the bike boom occured.

Bicycling was a fad of sorts, but it had more staying power than some of the other fads before and after (as in hula hoops, CB radios, etc.).
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Old 05-22-12, 11:51 AM
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Bikecentennial was the 1st name of the current, Adventure Cycling Association.

ACA is still going strong..

they started promoting and scouting out Touring Routes in the US,
doing self supported group tours..

I Built a light touring bike frame from scratch , back then.. mid 70's..
community college and friends shops.

still have the bike..though the group set, setup, and purpose kept changing.
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Old 05-22-12, 04:22 PM
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Who still has his / her copy of "Richard's Bicycle Book"? Cover price, $1.95.
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Old 05-22-12, 05:28 PM
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In 1973 I started going with a girl who was into cycling. She convinced me to buy a Raleigh Record 10 speed. I thought that bike was the best thing since sliced bread. Within a couple years the rear derailer wasn't working very well. It was a Huret-Allvit and not working well was part of their charm. So I gave up cycling and focused on cars. Fast forward a bunch of years and I pick up a used 88 Nishiki Ariel MTB at a yard sale and take if for a spin. Long story short, the Raleigh Record was sold a few years ago but the Nishiki is still my gravel MUP rider.
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Old 05-22-12, 07:49 PM
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I didn't know there was a boom but me and my friends all had bikes. Mine was a too big used Motobecane. I wasn't much of a rider but my two best friends took off and rode across the US during summer break in I think 1976, our junior year of college. One was on a Peugeot that was too big for her--she still has it. The other on a Trek frame, from the first year they were made. She was a bike mechanic and built up the bike. I think that bike is long gone. I stayed home a worked a crappy job. I was too chicken to go.
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Old 05-22-12, 08:03 PM
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My guess the main reason being the sudden gas crisis in the mid 70's did the most.
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Old 05-22-12, 09:33 PM
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Originally Posted by trackhub
Who still has his / her copy of "Richard's Bicycle Book"? Cover price, $1.95.
My Bible was the "Complete Book of Cycling" by Richard Sloane (who died recently at about age 94). I remember complaining to a friend that it was hardcover only, and awfully expensive for my budget.
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Old 05-23-12, 05:27 AM
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Originally Posted by trackhub
Who still has his / her copy of "Richard's Bicycle Book"? Cover price, $1.95.
I do , along with Tom Doughty's The Complete Book of Long Distance and Competitive Cycling, 8.95 ,and The All New Complete Book of Cycling , 12.95 by Eugene Sloane . Both paperbacks .
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Old 05-23-12, 05:35 AM
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I got into bicycles just ahead of the big early 70's boom. I got a "10-speed" from Sears and Roebuck (that is what we called it back then.) A gas pipe, one piece crank, rubber covered pedal special. I started hanging out at the 2 LBS we had, a Schwinn Dealer and a Raleigh shop. I rode that heavy thing and its Simplex plastic ders to death. I put on Rat Trap and toe clips, cloth tape and center pull brakes along with the old Schwinn Puff 27X1-1/4 gum wall tires. Within a year I got a Bottecchia from the Schwinn shop. After I got married a few Schwinns went through my sweaty palms until I got a Raleigh International. Spoiled for life.

I had Richard's Bicycle Book, Sloane's Guide to Bicycles and several others form 10-Speed and XYXYX Press. I read them and what ever copy of Bicycling I could find.

Semper Fi, USMC, 1975-1977

I Can Do All Things Through Him, Who Gives Me Strength. Philippians 4:13

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Old 05-23-12, 07:01 AM
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Originally Posted by trackhub
Who still has his / her copy of "Richard's Bicycle Book"? Cover price, $1.95.
I do.
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Old 05-23-12, 08:32 AM
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I still have my Sloane book. In the early 70s I got a fairly light lugged frame 10 speed. It served me well until I go my Schwinn Le Tour in the early 80s when I started riding with my two oldest sons.
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Old 05-23-12, 08:56 AM
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Originally Posted by volosong
p.s. Still have that bike from the early 70's. A Super Mondia with Nuovo Record. I think that I had the first compact crankset. My chainrings are 47-42 and the rear cluster (we called them "clusters", not "cassettes" - cassettes were those little plastic things what we put music from the radio onto) is a 14-34 with rings that meant I had to shift the front derailleur at every shift. We made our own gearing in those days.
LOL, every time I call a "cassette or freewheel" a "cluster", the younger mech's at my LBS, just give me the "DUH" look! Only the guy who owns the shops, knows what I'm talking about!
Take Care, Ride Safe, have FUN! :)
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Old 05-23-12, 09:37 AM
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I too was in high school in the early 70's, there was not a "bicycle boom", in Security, CO., infact, it was a "shameful" thing if you were an adult and were caught riding a bicycle!! Still for us KIDS, Security was a township about 20 miles from Colorado Springs via road back in the early 70's and IF you wanted to buy anything but staples, you RODE you bike!

I had a really cool Huffy 3 speed, (fenders, racks, twist grip shifter) in Jr. High, I traded it in for Schwinn Collegiate 5 speed with drop bars for a while. My church group had a youth pastor from Austria, he'd NEVER owned a car , (Rode a Astra with Wingnut axle nuts) and he put together a out of state muti-day trip from C. Springs to Santa Fe, NM. so I traded the Schwinn for a 10 speed Columbia bike. LOL, that bike made it back home with duct tape holding the frame together in 3 places. A new bike shop opened in Security and I got a job as "clean up and gopher", I saved my funds and bought the most awesome, Bright Yellow OLMO, 10 speed racer, it was beautiful. Most of my friends had Schwinn Varsity's or K-Mart junkers, man I LOVED that bike! Then of course came the cars but I never gave up on owning a good bicycle again someday, that happened in 1984 when I bought my Univega 18 speed Grand Turismo and kept going from there. Never raced until I bought a MTB in the mid-1980's and my son and I did Novice Level NORBA races throughout Colorado. In the 70's for me, it was all about freedom to go anywhere and the bicycle was my magic carpet.

My Olmo looked like this but it was bright yellow:
Take Care, Ride Safe, have FUN! :)
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Old 05-23-12, 09:45 AM
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"Ten speeds" were kind of a hot item in the mid-70s. Before we had kids, we lived in a little cabin out in the country on a beautiful bike road: rolling, scenic, quiet and well paved. So I bought a cheap CCM road bike, which I loved to ride up to a little ski resort a couple of miles up the road and then coast back down at scary speeds. No thought of a helmet or gloves.
I kept the bike for years, eventually using it for commuting when I took my car off the road to save for a special vacation. It got sold in a yard sale when we moved from Northern Ontario to Ottawa in the early 80s.
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Old 05-23-12, 11:40 AM
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My answers from the parallel thread in C&V:

Does anyone have any stories or memories from the 1970 bike boom? If you could answer any of these questions I'd love to hear your ideas.

I started cycling with the local AYH club in about 1971 at age 12. By 13 I was leading rides. Started racing in '73 at age 14.

Q: What do you believe attracted people to bikes in the 1970s?

A: On the heels of the 60s, and the Ecology movement, bikes were somewhat counterculture and in keeping with the times. Also it was a fad.

Q: Was cycling, in the 1970s, a individualistic type of sport? Or was it a sport that people built communities around?

A: The latter. Locally AYH and FBCI racing clubs had closely knit communities and did all sorts of activities together, including volunteering. Large weekend centuries and double centuries were popular, as is still true today.

Q: Were the majority of cyclists in the 1970s riding to race? Or just for the enjoyment of getting out on a bike?

A: No. Vast majority were "club" riders, who did group rides that even then were rated A, B, and C. The A group was competative, like today, and included some racers. The rest were out to have fun. They were sometimes referred to as "tourists."

Q. Do you think the introduction of the 10-speed derailer peaked people's interest in biking?

A: No, they had been around a long time before the bioke boom of the 70s.

Q: Were people buying bikes in the 1970s buying bikes for the first time? Or were they upgrading to something better?

A: I don't quite understand what you're asking here. Many people bought 10-speeds for the first time, ranging from crappy Huffys to Colnagos. Some people upgraded, and some bought multiple bikes.

Q: Was the bike boom just a fad?

A: It was more than a fad, but fad was a large part of it. Everyone wanted a 10-speed whether they planned to ride it or not. That's why there're so many well-preserved 70s bikes--many were barely ridden. But the bike boom was also a movement that affected changes cycling in America which are still felt today.

Q: Do you have any stories about your experiences racing in the 1970s?

A: Yes, but I'd have to kill you if I told. Racing then was an attempt to copy racing in Europe. My first big road race when I was 14 had so many entries that they started it in two "heats." I broke away and was way ahead in the first heat, but as I approached the finish line the County Sherif Deputy pulled out and started the second heat right in front of me. I had to brake hard and slow down. Someone from the second heat beat me by 1/10 of a second. So I came in second.

Q: Was cycling an "elitist" sport in the 70s?

A: Not at all. A $350 high end bike was within the means of any high school kid who worked and saved his money. And it was counterculture back then.

Q: Do you think people were attracted to cycling in the 70s as a form of escapism from the pressures of society?

A: Not sure how to answer this. Are all avocations escapist?

Q: What prompted your interest in bikes?

A: I grew up with stories about the local double century--TOSRV, which started in the 60s. It sounded like a great adventure. Also I lusted for the Schwinn Paramount my neighbor had.

Q: What prompted your interest in competitive cycling?

A: I liked riding fast, people encouraged me to try it, and I could be my own coach (following the CONI Manual).
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Old 05-23-12, 11:50 AM
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Hi a_morrow: Interesting thread. Before I answer your questions here are a couple of mine. Who are you, why do you want to know and what will you do with the information once it is collected?
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Old 05-23-12, 07:55 PM
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It was a boom. Years before gas rationing and the warnings that carbon emmissions would bring about the next ice age, (funny thing, those same people are now telling us carbon emmissions are heating up the planet!). Anyway I spent my adolescent years during this time. Every where you looked there were advertisements for bikes; everywhere you looked there was someone riding one. I grew up in a small town, but the next city over had one bike shop. By the early 70's there were 4. My friends and I grew up with stingrays, but we began to hear whispers of the Schwinn Varsity. We didn't know much about it, but soon learned it was a status symbol. My first "road" bike was an impulse buy by my dad. We were in a Western Auto for what I don't remember, but there it was; a silver Murray 10 speed, red plastic handle bar tape, 26 1x3/4 tires and a one piece crank. The bike also came with some sage advice from my dad; "learn to fix it yourself, I don't know a darn thimg about it." And I did; as one by one my friends got a "10 speed", I was the go to wrench. For the rest of my junior high through high school, I was caught up in this boom. My Murray gave way to a Raleigh Record, then a schwinn Continental. We rode every day, drooled over bikeology, and bike warehouse catalogs for all those shiny european componants we could never afford. I managed to get a job working at a bike shop one summer; probably the most fun I'd ever had. I got to wrench bikes like Peugeots, Gitane, Ralieghs, and the like. I learned about quality, what made a good bike a good bike. The pinnacle of my high school years was when I worked all summer to get the money to buy a Motobecane Grand Jubilee. I rode that bike everywhere. Still do, 37 years later.
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Old 05-23-12, 08:29 PM
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Originally Posted by yugdlo
... a Motobecane Grand Jubilee. I rode that bike everywhere. Still do, 37 years later.
Still have mine and my wife's. Her's is a mixte frame. We must have bought at the same time. Haven't ridden them for years, but they still have all the OE drive train components, including the Huret Jubilee derailleurs - lightest ever made.
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Old 05-23-12, 09:04 PM
What??? Only 2 wheels?
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Originally Posted by yugdlo
Years before gas rationing and the warnings that carbon emmissions would bring about the next ice age, (funny thing, those same people are now telling us carbon emmissions are heating up the planet!).
I know this may sound like injecting politics into a bicycle discussion but it is actually an historical note. Scientists, or at least some scientists, have been predicting global warming due to CO2 generation for a long time. It just wasn't part of the public discussion. It wasn't controversial enough to be controversial. Nobody took it seriously until people started disagreeing!

But you are right that public awareness of hydrocarbon consumption was a driving force for some of the bike boom, regardless of whether one's own budget could benefit or not and regardless of what caused that public awareness. Prior to that few people besides scientists and perhaps some policy makers ever questioned whether consuming more gasoline was a good idea. The convenience of personal transportation was just too good to pass up, and sometimes there weren't many alternatives.
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