Monday, July 22, 2013

Classics cars and modern bikes - why newer is not always better

I remember my first car quite well. It was a crappy, tiny Fiat 126p but it was all I needed at that time. It was so small that finding a parking space in the city was usually not an issue. It was so lightweight that when once I got blocked by some other cars and couldn't leave my parking space, I asked a few friends for help and we lifted the entire front end of the car up and moved it out of the parking spot (Front was lighter, as the engine was placed over the rear axle). It was so simply built that when the battery died I could just put the car in the 1st gear and push it to start up. It was built in 1975 and my parents drove me home in it from the hospital where I was born. Yes, it brings back some good memories.
Fiat 126p - my first car (Source: Google Images).

I owned some other cars years later, but none of them I felt particularly attached to. Now, I realize why. Modern cars became too complex, too closed, too distant. When my little Fiat had combustion problems, all I needed was a flat screwdriver to adjust the carburetor. If my modern Subaru ever had any of such problems I would definitely had to spend much more time by visiting an authorized service station. There is no carburetor in modern cars but an electronic fuel injection and ignition. All computer-controlled - something you can't fix yourself. And it's not just that. Often, once you pop the hood opened, you can't even see the engine. Everything is hidden behind a plastic cover. Let's say it's winter and the battery died in your modern car? You better call the AAA, since sometimes locating the battery and getting to it with those jumper cables your neighbor has, can be difficult. The battery is hidden as well. In my old Fiat, I could change the flat wheel roadside. In a modern car, I am not so eager to try it since many of them don't even come with a full set of tools. Not to mention a full-size spare wheel.

My old Fiat had (wait for it)... a 24HP engine. Yes, it was slow but it worked in the city. Modern city cars have engines with at least 80-100HP. And while they are faster, they are also much, much heavier. They have reinforced doors, controlled crash zones, multiple airbags, power windows and mirrors, ABS, ESP, 4WD, A/C, GPS and a whole bunch of extra gimmicks that are supposed to make our life easier. Well, in some cases they do. The one of them that I welcomed wholeheartedly is air conditioning. The rest is optional. I don't need GPS, I can read a map. I don't necessarily need power windows and all those airbags and crash zones don't make me feel any safer compared to driving my old Fiat. The one thing that does though, is slowing down.
Mini Cooper Classic - a car in its purest form (Source: Google Images).

What all these extra features mean on daily basis is that I have to dig deep in my wallet. With so much extra junk added, modern cars are much heavier, which means that despite all the progress in combustion engine technology, they burn more gasoline. They would also roll on the road so slowly that the ridiculously puny 24HP engine would not be enough. That's why they need those 100-200HP motors. But even if I wanted to buy a simple, lightweight car, with just the very basic features, I can't. There is a reason why the new Mini Copper is so much bigger and bulkier than its older classic brother. Modern cars are not necessarily heavier because we wanted to have power windows and A/C. They are heavier because of legislation. The new laws require manufacturers to make heavy cars with those controlled crash zones, a whole bunch of airbags and many electronic systems to control handling. That's why we will never see a new, classic Mini. This car would be considered too dangerous to drive today. And while you may think that this is a change for the better, I think that this is the reason why I treat all modern cars the same as my fridge - they are just tools that do their job. They move me from A to B. That's all.

Considering all this, bicycles remain the vehicle of the free. They are usually so simple that rebuilding a bike is something one can easily learn. Owning a bike means less hassle. Easy to fix, inexpensive to own, a bike is the vehicle anyone can personalize they way one wants. Whether you want to repaint the frame or do something much crazier - no problem. Actually, for a fraction of the price of a new car you can even have a completely custom bicycle made just for you, while if you buy a car, you will be joining the anonymous masses. Sure, there is progress in the bicycle industry as well. But unlike in the case of cars, it is a nearly all-good progress. We can have lighter frames, lightweight wheels, suspension forks, disc brakes. We can, but we don't have to. If you really want to, you can add an electronic "ignition" system to your bike such as the Shimano Di2. But there is no legislation that will force you to do it and no one will tell you that your old, single speed cruiser is illegal to ride today.

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