It's interesting that Didier should choose the bicycle in the "search for the obvious." Just this weekend, my partner and I were riding our bikes to a farm stand in New Paltz, New York and estimating how long it would take to walk the distance without a bicycle. It would have taken hours, possibly most of the day, to walk what was a relatively short distance. In fact, we realized that if we had to walk to the farm stand, rather than ride our bikes, we would probably choose to grow our own food rather than buy it from the farmer! Think about it, the implications of that are pretty profound.
In this age of planes, trains and automobiles, the developed world often forgets what a barrier to development distance is. If your only way of getting from A to B is walking or running then your ability to participate in a community, an economy, or a civil activity is greatly reduced.
With its invention, the bicycle provided individuals with a cheap, easy, clean and efficient way to travel. But it did more than that. It changed the perception of distance -- what was once far was now close. It changed the concept of time -- what was once arduous was now quick and easy. It changed the concept of travel because what was once the purview of the few was now accessible to everyman. Correction, not just every "man.” Before the bicycle expensive forms of transportation were a masculine domain. The bicycle was a leveler, a significant factor in gender equality. Indeed the bicycle allowed women to wear the trousers, both figuratively and literally. Bicycle liberation.
If I think back to the fun and joy of my first bike, I realize that the pleasure came not from the machine but from the liberation that this machine gave me. My Bicycle gave me independence and taught me responsibility. With my first grazed knee it showed me the importance of safety and as I sped down the steepest hill in the neighborhood it taught me the rewards of irresponsible risk taking. Riding a bike is not just a skill I will never forget, it is of freedom we should never take for granted. I leave you with an anecdote I saw sprayed on a bike lane recently. "Bicycles save you money and reduce the fat on your body. Cars cost you money and make you fat....no contest."