Bicycles definitely deserve their own thread. They do provide a genuinely practical alternative to fossil fuel powered transportation. They can be used to get an African farmers produce to market or to get an IT consultant to his inner city office (my case). The newer battery assisted electric models makes cycling a viable alternative for older people or those with temporary or permanent physical disabilities.
The bicycle itself is a technology which was pretty much perfected by the turn of last century (1900). Two triangles of steel, two wheels with air pressurised tyres, two sprockets joined by a chain, pedals, a handlebar and a seat. For the last 100 or so years the world's bicycle manufacturers have just been refining and tinkering.
For myself, I got my first bike at aged 8 and rode to and from school every day until I went to Uni. Then I lost interest, and, like most of my peers, I became a petrol head. This was the 70s and to be a man you HAD to have a car or motorcycle. The thought of riding a bike didn't really enter my head until about 25 years later when I had a house in the suburbs and needed to get to my job in the city. I used to drive a car, mostly alone and I spent hours stuck in traffic which just got worse and worse as the 90s turned into the 2000s and the population swelled and the suburbs expanded. I used to be one of those guys who would arrive at work and grumble about "the traffic" as though it were some kind of monster external to me. (Of course "the traffic" is always everybody else, its not you). But there were 2 or 3 guys who would ride their bicycles to work, then shower and get changed and sit around discussing Shimano vs Campagnolo derailleurs or Steel vs Aluminium frames. They always seemed refreshed, happy and were suspiciously lacking in that middle aged spread that was afflicting all the other over 40s in the office.
Anyway, after a house move, I was exploring the new neighbourhood and noticed that a bike path passed the end of my street. Further investigation revealed that this path went all the way to the city. So I got out the old bike and took it to the LBS (local bike shop) for a thorough service. Then the following Monday I rode the 20 or so kilometres to my work. Yes, I was exhausted every day for the first few months. But my fitness increased dramatically and I learned a few tricks from the cycling community. I learned not to push myself too hard and I still don't commute by bike every day. But when I take the train or drive I am now so much more relaxed. I generally use those days to take in a fresh towel, underwear and clean clothes to put in my locker. (Most Australian workplaces now provide lockers, showers and protected bike parking)
But its not simply about commuting, its a lifestyle. I no longer enjoy long drives to the countryside or beach because it's so bloody congested. I now much prefer to load my weekend tourer onto a train, get off at the last stop and just ride of up a country gravel road. In my home city of Melbourne Australia, peak hour is now pretty much 24 hours a day, 7 days a weeks. You cannot even go for a drive to the supermarket on Saturday afternoon without the risk of getting caught in traffic congestion.
And of course my health has improved dramatically, I can have a few beers without the risk of a beer gut and my doctor tells me that I am great shape for a 60 year old.
So I want to know about your own experiences around the world. And, even though I will be following the Tour de France quite closely, I don't want this to become all about elite pro athletes.