The two oldest modes of mechanized land transportation are also two of the best – still – even after all these years. Not surprisingly, it is the train and bicycle we are talking about here.
The latter, about 180 years1 in the making and the former, 20 years the bicycle’s senior; about a generation difference.2
Whereas early on railways and trains both were dirty and polluting deals (to generate power from steam first requires boiling water. To do this a fire has to be created underneath a tank of H2O. The water is superheated to create steam and under considerable pressure, this steam moves a piston back and forth, the enclosed piston connected to a rod that is attached to a driving wheel and the said to-and-fro action through this rod converts reciprocating motion into rotational movement enabling this driving wheel to turn. Well, the smoke created from the combustion process needs to be vented or exhausted from the locomotive and, to allow that, there is the smoke stack. Meanwhile, to manufacture iron rails and rails using other metals, the process to do this is likewise an air-polluting one), the bicycle on the other hand, and the manufacture thereof, not nearly as much. Both industries have since cleaned up their acts considerably.
So, let’s talk about the bicycle first, shall we?
The greatest two-wheeled, human-powered mobility device ever, right? Could be. There would need to be some kind of poll taken, to know for sure. Okay, so let’s look at it this way. In those 180 some odd years, the basic bicycle configuration hasn’t changed. It hasn’t. The apparatus has two wheels – a front and a rear, a seat, handlebars and a handlebar stem, a frame, forks (the wheel stays for the front wheel), pedals, pedal arms, gears – center and rear, axles, spokes, rims, tires, on some models a gear-shift lever and derailleur, and a mechanism used for slowing and stopping – brakes. Add a little dab of grease here and there and a chain for drive purposes, and, off you go, provided, of course, one learns how to keep from toppling over. It’s called maintaining one’s balance.
Bikes can provide an excellent aerobic workout, so there is a tremendous exercise benefit from using or riding such. And, the real beauty of the two-wheeled marvels is that they don’t emit any pollutants of their own.
So, as far as mechanized transport and air quality are concerned, it doesn’t get any better than this. No really, it doesn’t.
Now, as to the train, there is some work to be done there still, I’ll admit. This is not to say, however, that in its two centuries of development, the technology and industry have not come far. They have. But, this is not to say there isn’t room for improvement. I’d be fibbing if I said there wasn’t.
Internal combustion still is the mainstay of train propulsion. This, however, seems to be changing, albeit slowly. Railroad companies it appears are continuously striving to make operations more efficient and safer, not to mention, greener. As such, the realm continues to evolve.
Meanwhile, there are those electrified pikes which, by virtue of their operations, go far to keep pollution, as much as is practical in many cases, at bay.
Now, add bicycling and railroading together and what more perfect a marriage could one ask for? I mean, really!
Case in point: Many railway conveyances have bicycle provisions right on board, so cyclists can tote their velocipedes with them. Progressed have we from a time when there were not any such offerings, to what is available today. At stations, it is not uncommon for there to be racks to accommodate bicycles on site.
For your reference, there is this: Cycle-Rail Toolkit 2 here, which contains a wealth of information.
For further perspective, read some related adventures using the “Categories” tool and click on “Travels.” What will be displayed are various titles; quite a few selections within the Travels category from which to choose.
Article updated on Aug. 21, 2017 at 7:45 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time.
- Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bicycle
- Oliver Jensen, The American Heritage History of Railroading in America, 1975, p. 17