When I was 12 years old I bought a small reflecting telescope, a 4.25" f/4 rich-field astronomical instrument from a company in Arizona called The Optical Craftsmen. It cost about $100, quite a sum for a kid in those days, and had to be shipped to me in Texas via truck rather than parcel post. I remember going with my Father (thanks, Dad!) to pick it up at the freight warehouse. I also remember the thrill that I felt, later that evening, when I looked at the primary mirror and realized that this aluminized surface was precise to within a quarter wavelength of light --- a few millionths of an inch. Awesome accuracy.

The same pulse-pounding emotional appreciation of fine workmanship came to me again years later in 1974, when I got my first 35mm single-lens reflex camera, a Canon TX-1. Likewise in 1984, as I unpacked a 128k Apple Macintosh computer. And most recently, experiencing Paulette's MINI Cooper automobile. Elegant engineering, delightful design, immaculate implementation. That's craftsmanship.

So I can forgive Gina Kolata when she rhapsodizes about her new bicycle (in "Fast Pace, Hard Seat: Now That's Cycling", New York Times, 6 Jul 2004):

The dimpled young man at the shop was crestfallen when I grabbed the bicycle and dashed out. He wanted me to ride it around the parking lot.

"Why?" I asked.

"I wanted to see the expression on your face," he explained.

I scoffed. After all, this was just a bicycle, I thought. The difference is it will fit me. The pain in the back of my neck will no longer plague me and I will do better on hills.

When I got home, my son and I headed out for a quick ride. Before I had gone a quarter-mile, I knew what the man at the shop meant. The bicycle responded, it handled, it moved, it was like a living thing. I was flying. Now that was bicycling.

And I also forgive Ms. Kolata her biker-chauvinism, when she suggests that cycling is the superior form of exercise. She suggests that "... runners rarely run for an hour and bicyclists rarely ride for less than an hour." Au contraire! I think it's scarcely worth tying on the stinky sneakers for a jog of under 90 minutes duration, and I've got a lot of company on the trails. LSD --- Long Slow Distance --- is a thriving religion.

I will concede that runners get injured; I've been fortunate on that front for many months, thank goodness. But how about all the cyclists that I pass, stopped to fix a flat tire or reinstall a derailed chain? Not to mention the catastrophic crashes that sometimes happen, particularly on dirt or gravel? OK, I guess I also have a Face Plant (9 Aug 2004) to report. In terms of calories burnt per unit of time, though, for a normal person there's no question that run trumps ride. And don't forget the cost of a fancy velocipede nowadays. Running shoes, in contrast, seem almost free, and they're the priciest part of a jog.

Probably I'll join Gina's team in a few years, when the old knees (and ankles, and hips) give out. Meanwhile I plan to keep pounding the pavement --- even though my puny physique can't compete with the sexy curves of a new high-tech bike.

Hmmm ... maybe if I start lifting weights ...

(see also ElegantTechnologies (10 Sep 1999), UltraMan (8 May 2002), HighPrecision (16 Jul 2002), BigBadBoxes (3 Dec 2002), MoreElegantTechnologies (8 Nov 2003), ... )

TopicRecreation - TopicRunning - TopicPersonalHistory - TopicLiterature - TopicHumor - 2004-09-21

(correlates: ParkwayDelay, Comments on Standard Model, VarietiesOfNotCaring, ...)