The design concept for the bicycle dates back to the time of DaVinci, however, it was another 150 years before an early version was manufactured. This human-powered vehicle was bulky and more carriage-like than the modern bicycle. In early 1800's Germany, a wooden two-wheeled bicycle appeared. It reached speeds of up to ten miles-per-hour and was efficient enough to be used for enjoyment. Since then, bicycle design has advanced along with technology. The modern bicycle offers a wide range of practical and recreational uses along with many environmental and health benefits. It also has a few potential disadvantages.
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As a form of transportation, cycling offers several distinct advantages to automotive transport. Cycling does not contribute to air or noise pollution. Cycling can also be a more convenient way to move around in busy cities or towns where navigating through traffic or finding parking for a car can add stress, inconvenience and expense to your travel time. Additionally, bicycles take up far less space than cars, alleviating congestion on roadways and reducing the need for parking garages and parking lots -- space that in population-dense areas can be used for more culturally or commercially useful purposes.
A Dutch study published in the January 2011 issue of the journal "Epidemiology" calculates that cycle-commuting offers 11 times the benefits of driving a car. The added physical activity you get from switching to bicycle commuting may add as much as 14 months to your life and offsets any risks of traffic accidents or increased exposure to automobile exhaust. The researchers add that potential societal benefits of cycling as a mode of transport may be even greater than individual benefits when you factor in the reduction of pollution and traffic accidents that occur when there are fewer cars on the roads.
The Cleveland Clinic lists cycling as one of the five best forms of aerobic exercise, along with walking, swimming, jogging, dancing, or using aerobic machines, such as stair climbers and elliptical machines. If you are restricted by arthritis or other orthopedic conditions that limit your ability to walk for sufficient lengths of time, Gordon Blackburn, M.D., Program Director of Cleveland Clinic's Cardiac Rehabilitation, Preventive Cardiology Section, says that cycling on a stationary bicycle is an ideal option that provides high quality aerobic exercise in your home or fitness club.
Hazards and Risks
Outdoor cycling puts you at the mercy of Mother Nature. Adverse weather conditions can detract from even the most enthusiastic bicycle commuter's enjoyment and can increase risk of injuries from accidents and exposure to air pollution from car exhaust fumes. The Centers for Disease Control reports that bicycling-related emergency room visits exceed half-a-million annually. Children are at greatest risk and account for more than half of these hospital visits. Not knowing or following traffic rules and not wearing a helmet are practices that increase your risk of injury. To increase your safety level, use hand signals to alert motorists when you are turning or changing lanes and wear brightly-colored clothes during the day and reflective materials at night.