The Bike A Most Elegant Piece Of Engineering

It’s difficult to imagine a device that serves utilitarian and recreational purposes as well as the bicycle. While some people really “love” their cars and find joy in driving them down the road, I can’t remember many driving experiences that elicit the giggle factor of a swooping mountain bike descent. I also know many people who find glee in skiing perfect fresh powder, but I don’t know anyone who regularly uses skis to fetch groceries or commute to work.

The bicycle is the most elegant piece of engineering ever invented, but it doesn’t stop at fun and function.

If you have a competitive itch, cycling is a wonderful way to scratch it. It offers the exhilaration of speed and turns, in addition to a combination of skill and fitness. Be it road, gravel, BMX, cross-country, downhill, cyclocross, trials, or alley-cat races, there’s a competitive cycling discipline to satisfy every style and personality. Bozeman and the surrounding area provide a plethora of opportunities to measure your skills against the best riders in the state and beyond. Local bike racing options include the Gallatin Gravel Series, The Gallatin Valley Trail Series, the Big Sky Biggie, and the Gallatin Valley Bike Club (GVBC) training series, among many others. Cycling also shares a unique and wonderful peculiarity with running. While none of us will ever get to play tennis with Raphael Nadal, any of us can line up for a cycling or running race with the best to find out exactly how we (don’t) stack up.

A lifelong pursuit, bikes are accessible for ages three to 83 (if you’re lucky, maybe more). Compare that to the lifespan of an American football career. Many of us first learn to balance on two wheels around five years old, give or take, and experience that feeling of freedom and independence as we instantaneously expand our exploration radius from a few blocks to a few miles. Getting a driver’s license can cause some poor souls to temporarily forget how amazing that feeling was, but you know what they say about riding a bike: you don’t forget, and it’s never too late to get back on.

Some rediscover their bikes when their knees can no longer handle the impact and abuse that other sports inflict upon them. Cycling is low-impact, and can be enjoyed well into later years, so we can continue feeling young for decades. Equally important, riding with friends provides much-needed social interactions, contributing to mental health in addition to the physical health benefits of riding. Look for group rides by various groups and bike shops on the GVBC Rides page.

If you work in the trades, a bike may not cut it as a work vehicle (although I know at least one electrician who makes it work). But for anyone who works in an office, the bicycle is an unbeatable commuting vehicle. It offers the independence and flexibility that public transit cannot. It delivers you to work feeling fresh and invigorated. It saves you money on gas and incorporates the physical and mental health benefits of riding into your daily routine. Winter commuting can require a bit of an investment. Fenders and studded tires greatly improve comfort and safety. But, once riding becomes part of your routine, the idea of brushing snow off the car, scraping an icy windshield, shoveling the driveway, and shivering in the cold while sitting “inside” a car starts to feel like a horrible alternative to stepping out the door and jumping on your bike. By the time all the scrapping and shoveling is done, you could already be at the office, alert and happy. If you’re looking for resources, motivation, or to connect with like-minded bike commuters, look up Go Gallatin, Bozeman Bike Week, and its culmination, the Festival of Bikes, which takes place June 28th.

For short trips, walking is fantastic. Cycling, however, can get you to your destination about four times as fast with half the effort. I’m calling that eight times more efficient. You might have a different algorithm but, in my mind, bikes strike the perfect balance between speed and the ability to contemplate the natural world around you. You miss a few things that you would have caught on foot, but you can cover some real ground without the mind-numbing blur of a car ride. Airplanes? They are time-traveling teleportation contraptions that deliver you to your destination jet-lagged and disoriented. Humans were not meant for that kind of wizardry. Traveling by bike is one of the richest and most satisfying travel experiences, one that lets you peacefully embrace the changing landscape, elevation, and climate while allowing you to connect with people and their culture.

Last but certainly not least, let’s address the environmental benefits of cycling. Using bikes instead of motor vehicles for one activity or another is a great way to reduce your environmental impact and alleviate congestion for the benefit of all road users. Manufacturing a car generates about 5.5 tons of CO2. An SUV can generate up to 13 tons of CO2 during manufacturing. Compare that to 0.1 ton of CO2 to manufacture a bicycle. And manufacturing is only the first part of the environmental impact. A motor vehicle’s reliance on fossil fuels while driving makes its impact obvious and undeniable. To be fair, pushing bike pedals requires shoving a few extra calories down the cake hole but it’s peanuts (potentially, literally peanuts) compared to the consumption and emissions related to driving. One good way to look at the impact of your vehicle of choice is the average emissions cost. Cars come in at around 220 g of CO2 per kilometer traveled over their 180,000 lifetime kilometers, compared to the bicycle’s 25 g of CO2 per kilometer traveled over their estimated 20,000 lifetime kilometers. Simply put, bikes do better than cars by a factor of ten.

If you have technical inclinations and aspirations, you can dive as deep as you want into the mechanical, hydraulic, and even electronic components of bikes, satisfying the most die-hard gearheads’ itch for tinkering with technology. For the traditionalists and not-so-mechanically inclined, there’s nothing wrong with a simple, all-mechanical bicycle that can be understood and fixed by just about anyone. If your mechanical inclination can be described as zilch, there are a dozen quality bike shops in Bozeman to keep your ride running smoothly.

The cost of ownership is highly variable. Depending on your passion for bikes and the depth of your pockets, you can drop anywhere between $50 and $12K on your ride. The right price is whatever feels right to you. Certainly, we can agree that the price of entry for a dependable and happiness-inducing bicycle can be low. To that end, the annual Bike Swap is a great way to get your hands on a nice ride at a reasonable price. For those who need the latest and greatest, selling a bike at the Bike Swap is a great way to make room in the garage and finance the next splurge. This year’s swap is May 4th. Finally, the Bozeman Bike Kitchen is a fantastic place for Bozemanites to find or build a dependable ride for very little money.

The Gallatin Valley Bicycle Club was founded in 1978 as a competitive cycling team. It has since evolved to meet the needs of the community and now embraces all facets of cycling. The club is dedicated to promoting cycling in all its forms (recreational, competitive, and utilitarian). GVBC is led by volunteer board members and directors who run the club’s activities, such as the annual GVBC Bike Swap. The swap serves as a service to the community, and to generate funds the club uses to support other cycling-oriented activities and initiatives. More information can be found at   

Alexandre Lussier is the current GVBC president. He has been riding bikes for fun and function his entire life.